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Archive for the ‘read in 2016’ Category

Happy New Year!! I thought I would start off 2017 by celebrating the best of the books I read last year. Rather than do my usual Top 10 list, I thought I’d try something new this year and list my favorites in various categories, with links to (and quotes from) my reviews.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (WWII)

A Moment Forever by Cat Gardiner

A Moment Forever Cover LARGE EBOOK

A Moment Forever is not a book you merely read; Gardiner ensures you actually live the story — from the overindulgence of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the wartime excitement in the Big Apple, from the airfields and USO dances and the fashions of the ’40s to the solemnity of Paris 50 years after the roundup of its Jewish residents for deportation. There are so many layers to this story, and I never wanted it to end.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (OTHER ERA)

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

lost among the living

Simone St. James is a new-to-me writer, and as soon as I finished Lost Among the Living I determined that I must read her previous novels, which all seem to be equally suspenseful. I loved her writing here, particularly the passages that describe the intensity of Jo and Alex’s relationship, which enable readers to feel Jo’s grief and the frustration inherent in not knowing Alex’s fate. I also liked that while there was romance and passion, Lost Among the Living is at its core a ghost story, but it’s so much more than that. St. James shows the impact of the war on the returning soldiers and the women whose men never came home, as well as the blurring of the boundaries between social classes and how greed and selfishness can tear families apart.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (REGENCY)

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes

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Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter is a beautifully written novel, with just the right amount of angst to move me to the brink of tears without making me put the book down in despair. Starnes has a knack for putting Elizabeth and Darcy in impossible situations, delving deep into their souls, and keeping readers on the edge of their seats as they wonder how a happily ever after will be achieved. I loved the pacing of the novel, and Starnes does a wonderful job evolving their relationship through many ups and downs as they navigate the challenges posed by their families and themselves.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (MODERN)

Without a Conscience by Cat Gardiner

without-a-conscience

Like Denial of Conscience, Without a Conscience is sexy (definitely for mature audiences only) and exciting from the very first page. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who weaves clever plots and navigates Darcy and Liz through the twists and turns while further evolving their relationship. In the midst of the danger and excitement, Gardiner provides plenty of humor, and the obvious rivalry between Liz and Caroline had me laughing out loud several times. The novel is perfectly paced, and there’s just something about Gardiner’s writing style that has me hanging on every word.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (SECONDARY CHARACTERS)

The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace

the-trouble-to-check-her

The Trouble to Check Her exemplifies why Grace is one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction. Her attention to detail in terms of character development and the history of the era is fantastic, and I hope there is another book in the series (mainly because I want to find out what happened to Jane Bingley after her falling out with Elizabeth Darcy).

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (OTHER)

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James

TEPcover

I enjoyed reading both Elizabeth’s diary and about the rocky start to Charlie and Evie’s relationship and their determination to find Elizabeth’s papers. I especially loved how James showed that even Austen’s beloved couple likely didn’t have a perfect marriage, and by telling that story from the point of view of Elizabeth, readers are able to see her insecurities and her frustration while having little clue what Darcy is thinking or feeling, which creates just the right amount of tension. I also loved getting a glimpse of the Darcys and their family years into their marriage, so they are no longer bright-eyed newlyweds but older and wiser and settled into their life together. Charlie and Evie’s story was exciting and even had some similarities to Darcy and Elizabeth’s, and Charlie’s client, Cressida Carter, is very Caroline Bingley-esque. The dual narratives were seamlessly connected, and the shifts between the two were timed perfectly to ensure readers can’t put the book down.

MOST UNIQUE AUSTEN VARIATION

The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Beau North and Brooke West

fitzwilliamdarcy_frontcoverprint-1

The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy is unique and exciting. It made me laugh, and it left me in tears, so much so that my husband kept asking if I was okay and I worried I would short out my Kindle! It’s been a while since I’ve been so emotionally affected by a Pride and Prejudice variation. It’s absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this year, possibly one of my all-time favorites, and definitely one I won’t forget!

BEST HOLIDAY NOVEL

Lucky 13  by Cat Gardiner

lucky 13

Oh, how I loved this novel! Gardiner is a master at bringing Jane Austen’s characters into the present day and turning up the heat (and the laughs). From their heated arguments to their heated encounters at the jaw-dropping calendar audition and the chest-oiling photo shoot, I couldn’t get enough of this Lizzy and Darcy. The secondary characters are equally entertaining, from Jane, the supermodel with a secret, to Caroline, the matchmaking poochie mama, and especially Charlotte (aka “Punky) and Darcy’s cousin, Rick (aka “Preppy”), who are the most obnoxious of the numerous matchmakers.

BEST POETRY COLLECTION

The Jane and Bertha in Me by Rita Maria Martinez

BerthainMe

Martinez’s poems are full of vivid imagery (“The Bertha in me sleeps until three in the afternoon and sits on the back porch with a cup of Earl Grey that quells the desire to chop up her crotchety landlord,” from “The Jane and Bertha in Me”), sensual (“Charlotte’s manuscript sepulchered like an incorruptible saint, splayed on its back like a woman whose architecture I want to touch,” from “At the British Library”), insightful (“Pain caused by first love never truly subsides,” from “Jane’s Denial”), and even humorous (“She’ll be sorry for canoodling with the missionary, thinks Rochester, who’s exceeded his cursing quota and looks like Wolverine,” from “Jane Eyre: Classic Cover Girl”). Martinez even writes about Brontë herself, from her different personas to the migraines she suffered through in order to create her “pristine prose” (from “The Literature of Prescription”).

BEST SHORT STORY/COLLECTION

“Tea Time” by Tiffani Burnett-Velez

tea-time

I finished reading “Tea Time” in less than half an hour, and I was satisfied with the abrupt ending even though I wasn’t ready for the story to be over. The final few lines pack a punch and made it a story I won’t soon forget. I can’t wait to read more from Burnett-Velez.

FAVORITE COVER

Undercover by Cat Gardiner

undercover book cover

Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who had me hooked from the very first page. The use of slang from the era, her vivid descriptions, the steamy scenes, and the murder mystery are handled so perfectly that I could picture the entire book in my head, as though I were actually watching a black-and-white hard-boiled crime drama on the screen. She moved Austen’s characters into 1952 New York City in a way that felt true to them. I loved that she gave Darcy a painful back story and that Elizabeth and Jane weren’t the best of friends. Gardiner’s portrayal of Georgiana as a modern and independent though innocent and sheltered young woman is handled beautifully, as is Lydia’s downfall at the hands of Slick Wick.

****

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Some of the more memorable 5-star books from 2016 (click the covers to read my reviews)

darcys-hope

denial-of-conscience

undeceived

COAOEB cover

Miss Darcy's Companion front cover_V4

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Liebeslied-Final-Kindle

the forgotten room

What were your favorite books of 2016? I’d love to know!

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miss-bingleys-christmas

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Miss Jane Bennet was pretty, sweet and tolerable. Her only flaw was that it had taken Miss Bingley considerable effort to wrench her brother back from pursuing a disastrous union between them. Elizabeth Bennet was by far worse. She was distressingly strong willed, oddly alluring to men in general and, most horribly, to Mr. Darcy in particular. Miss Bingley couldn’t think of anyone worse to meet in London.

(from Miss Bingley’s Christmas)

Renata McMann and Summer Hanford’s short story, Miss Bingley’s Christmas, is a variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that finds our beloved characters in London for Christmas. Set after Caroline Bingley conspired to remove her brother and the rest of their party from Hertfordshire to separate him from Jane Bennet, the story finds Caroline and her sister, Louisa, stranded in a freezing carriage on their way home from a trip to the flower market. Caroline hopes her Christmas preparations bring her closer to becoming Mrs. Darcy, but all her plans go awry when she and Louisa are forced to abandon their carriage, find themselves soaking wet and lost, and are rescued by Jane and Elizabeth Bennet and their aunt Gardiner.

Being forced to stay at the Gardiners’ home for Christmas Eve gives Caroline a chance to observe the Bennet sisters and their relations and relax in their company. When Mr. and Miss Darcy arrive for Christmas dinner with other guests, including a Joseph and a Mary, Caroline takes a good look at the people around her and even inward, seeing the differences between “Miss Bingley” and the true “Caroline” for the first time.

Miss Bingley’s Christmas packs a lot of character development into a short story that can be finished in less than an hour. The story takes place over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so Caroline’s soul searching and revelations occur rather quickly, but that is to be expected and didn’t dampen my enjoyment. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy take a back seat in this story, and at first I was a bit hesitant to spend too much time in Caroline’s head, but it worked here as her observations uncover some pretty harsh truths about her expectations versus reality. But rest assured that there is a happy ending and an epilogue set during the following Christmas. Although I wish Miss Bingley’s Christmas had been longer (it really would make a great novel or novella), it made for a quick and satisfying read during the busy holiday season.

Disclosure: Miss Bingley’s Christmas is from my personal library.

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darcys-first-christmas

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

She locked the door behind her and fell headlong onto the bed. The room was cold. The servants had stopped lighting the fire when it was clear it would not be used.

Fitting.

She could call a girl to light the fire easily enough, but to what point? Fire would do nothing to chase the chill lodged deep within.

Nothing would.

(from The Darcys’ First Christmas)

In The Darcys’ First Christmas, Maria Grace’s holiday novella sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are planning to celebrate a quiet Christmas at Pemberley with the Gardiners. Already worried that she isn’t up to the task of being the Mistress of Pemberley, Elizabeth nervously begins preparations for the first Christmas ball in years and has an idea to start a new tradition, a Christmas picnic for the children. Darcy seems pleased with Elizabeth’s ideas and how she is settling into her new role with the help of Mrs. Reynolds, Pemberley’s longtime housekeeper.

However, the Darcys’ holiday plans quickly fall apart when Lord and Lady Matlock and Colonel Fitzwilliam arrive unexpectedly, and Aunt Matlock — already upset at Darcy marrying beneath him — is hellbent on taking charge of the preparations for the ball and appalled at the changes Elizabeth has proposed as Pemberley’s new mistress. To make matters worse, Darcy — used to running Pemberley on his own and panicked by his relations’ sudden arrival — usurps Elizabeth’s authority in household decision-making, crushing her already fragile self-esteem. When Georgiana’s fear of Aunt Matlock keeps her confined to her rooms and an accident puts even more strain on the Darcys’ marriage, things go from bad to worse, and neither Elizabeth nor Darcy is able to reach out to the other for comfort.

The Darcys’ First Christmas is another sweet story that I enjoyed in the little time I had to myself over Christmas weekend. Grace does a great job showing Elizabeth’s insecurities about her new role and how the Darcys’ relationship is still so new that misunderstandings are bound to pop up. I loved seeing Elizabeth and Darcy both find the courage they needed to take on Lady Matlock and even Georgiana, who still has so much growing up to do. However, it didn’t feel right to me that Darcy and Elizabeth would turn away from one another at the first sign of tension and wait so long to finally address their troubles. I understood it for the sake of the story and appreciated the insight from Fitzwilliam and Mrs. Gardiner, but it just felt like Elizabeth was a bit too weak in this story.

Still, that didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the novella, and I loved that Grace included some holiday traditions like the Yule log and even addressed Fitzwilliam’s trauma from the war. Grace managed to pack so much into so few pages, and I was left feeling fully satisfied.

I hope you’re all not sick of my Christmas-themed reviews because I have one more left for tomorrow!

Disclosure: The Darcys’ First Christmas is from my personal library.

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holidays with jane

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

“I’ve an assignment for you,” Samuel said as he clunked the cup back down.

Jane sighed. “I thought as much. Why does He always send you? Couldn’t He send someone with a sharper wit to entertain Cassandra and me?”

“It was either me or a Brontë, my dear girl. I thought I’d spare you that.”

(from “It’s a Wonderful Latte” in Holidays with Jane: Christmas Cheer)

Holidays with Jane: Christmas Cheer is a collection of six Christmas-themed stories based on each of Jane Austen’s novels.

“The Work of an Instant” by Jennifer Becton  (based on Persuasion)

An oddly dressed Santa working in the Mansfield Perk coffee shop informs Dr. Anne Elliot that she will receive her Christmas wish just before her old flame, Lieutenant Commander Frederick Wentworth waltzes in, apparently on leave from the USS Kellynch. Her nurse friend Louisa pounces immediately, but could a Christmas ball and some Christmas magic reunite Anne and Frederick after so many years apart?

“Mischief and Mistletoe” by Melissa Buell (based on Northanger Abbey)

Pastor’s daughter and aspiring fashion designer Catherine Morland gets a chance to spread her wings when she is offered a job making new costumes for the annual Dickens’ Christmas Festival in Santa Barbara. Cate is over the moon when she meets Henry Tilney, but she worries that a misunderstanding of her situation could alter his feelings for her.

“A Tale of Three Christmases” by Rebecca M. Fleming (based on Sense and Sensibility)

The lives of the Dashwood sisters are in chaos following the death of their father. The youngest, Maggie, finds solace in her writing, and a thoughtful gift from her father and a bit of Christmas magic help her navigate the family and romantic dramas over a period of three years.

“With Love, from Emma” by Cecilia Gray (based on Emma)

Emma Gold may not have any family to keep her company during the holidays, but she takes comfort in her matchmaking abilities. However, she fears her efforts to pair up members of the bridal party at her best friend’s wedding may have gone awry amid her confusing feelings for and competitive banter with Lance Knightley, whose bar is next to her flower shop and whose kiss under the mistletoe she can’t forget.

“It’s a Wonderful Latte” by Jessica Grey (based on Mansfield Park)

Mansfield Perk manager Evie and her best friend Frank find themselves at odds when the Piper siblings solicit their help for a fundraiser. Not sure what to do about her new relationship-going-nowhere and her complicated feelings for Frank, Evie needs the help of Jane Austen herself, who uses a bit of Christmas magic to help Evie realize love (and the real meaning of the novel Mansfield Park).

“Pride & Presents” by Kimberly Truesdale (based on Pride and Prejudice)

Liz Bennet is ready to take the reins at the Longbourn Community Center and enable her father to retire. She hopes for a Christmas to remember, with the help of basketball star Charles Bingley. Meanwhile, his lawyer friend Will Darcy has Liz all out of sorts, and he certainly made a bad first impression, so when he asks her out, she is shocked and turns him down. And then the fantastic Christmas she has planned for the children starts to crumble, along with her family’s grasp on Longbourn, and Liz must swallow her pride and realize she may not be such a good judge of character after all.

As with Holidays with Jane: Trick or Sweet, I enjoyed all of the stories in this collection, and again, I loved how they were connected in little ways, through the Mansfield Perk coffee shop and Cate’s Creations. In fact, this time it’s too hard for me to choose a favorite story! I also love how these are modern takes on Austen’s novels and how they aren’t straight retellings, and even though the stories are short, I was satisfied with all of the endings. I hope to squeeze more holiday reading in before the new year, but if I don’t have time, I’ll be thankful to have ended on a bright note. I’m looking forward to reading the other Holidays with Jane collections next year!

Merry Christmas!!

Disclosure: Holidays with Jane: Christmas Cheer is from my personal library.

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to-forget

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Though he was not apt to socialize like Bingley, he did not on principle object to Christmastide socializing. This year was different. All he wanted was to be left alone that he might quiet the cacophony in his own head.

One which centered around Elizabeth Bennet.

(from To Forget)

To Forget: Darcy’s London Christmas is a short story by Maria Grace that is inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  It opens with Darcy and Elizabeth spending their first Christmas as husband and wife, settling in for the night after their guests retire. Elizabeth asks Darcy about the previous Christmas he spent in London, his last as a bachelor, and he tells her the story of how he conspired to separate her sister Jane from his friend Bingley after the Netherfield Ball — but most importantly, how he tried to forget her.

Darcy relives that lonely Christmas season in London, how he looked for Elizabeth on the chance she might be staying with her aunt and uncle in Cheapside while he sought to avoid being seen with any woman for fear of making it into the gossip pages.  In the midst of socializing with the Bingleys and their guests, Darcy remembers his Christmases as a child at Pemberley. In fondly recalling family traditions and the lessons learned from his mother, Darcy realizes what he needs to do about his feelings for Elizabeth.

The story goes back and forth in time, between Darcy and Elizabeth’s first Christmas as a married couple and his last lonely Christmas, and because readers already know the ending up front, there is considerably less angst than in most Pride and Prejudice variations. While the shifts in time slightly lessened the impact of Darcy’s confusion and frustration, it was interesting to hear Elizabeth’s comments on his actions and odd behavior during that time.

In To Forget, Grace includes holiday traditions of the Regency era, from decorations and food to entertainment. I enjoyed these details just as much as I did the story itself. She does a fantastic job weaving in these elements while keeping the story short and sweet. I read this one during the late afternoon, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate and the Christmas tree lights. It was the perfect way to spend some time with my favorite characters!

Disclosure: To Forget: Darcy’s London Christmas is from my personal library.

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fitzwilliam-ebenezer-darcy

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“I am going insane. This cannot be happening,” Darcy grumbled.

George turned to his son so he could look him directly in the eye. “You are not losing your mind, but you are headed there. This is your last hope.”

(from Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy)

Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy is an enjoyable mash-up of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Barbara Tiller Cole’s novel imagines a brokenhearted Fitzwilliam Darcy who has abandoned all hope of winning Elizabeth Bennet’s love and plans to spend Christmas alone at Pemberley where he can drown his sorrows in drink. Although he orchestrated the wedding of George Wickham and Lydia Bennet, thereby rescuing Elizabeth’s family from ruin, Darcy thinks Elizabeth will never forgive him for failing to prevent the scandal in the first place. As a result, he does not return to Hertfordshire for his best friend Bingley’s wedding to Elizabeth’s sister Jane.

Seeing her son devoid of hope and on a steadily downward path, the ghost of Anne Darcy visits Fitzwilliam in hopes of helping him emerge from this misery. She explains that the ghosts of the past, present, and future will visit him that night to reveal some harsh truths and the choices that lay before him. Soon Darcy is forced to revisit his insult to Elizabeth at the Meryton Assembly, her despair at his absence from Hertfordshire, and the lives that await her and his sister Georgiana if he doesn’t realize soon that all hope is not lost.

I enjoyed Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy for its lesson about hope, the idea of a Christmas miracle, and the bits of humor from the ghosts in the midst of Darcy’s pain. The ghosts of Darcy’s parents and Mrs. Pat were delightfully funny and more than a tad impertinent. The only thing I didn’t care for was the epilogue, in which details about the angels and what transpired that night long ago are revisted in a more heavy-handed way that lessens the impact of Darcy’s experience. However, there were plenty of laughs in the final pages to make up for it.

As a novella, Darcy’s journeys with the ghosts pass quickly, and his troubles are resolved in short order, but this brevity makes for a sweet read during the busy Christmas season. Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy is another Austen-inspired Christmas tale I could see myself re-reading during the holiday season.

Disclosure: Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy is from my personal library.

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lucky 13

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

Like all the men, Darcy provocatively and slowly slid his spread hand down his greased, bare chest, and it was then that Elizabeth knew she was more than just intrigued. She was attracted to him like a moth to a dangerous flickering flame.

(from Lucky 13)

Cat Gardiner’s Lucky 13 is a modern-day Pride and Prejudice that follows confident NYC advertising executive and kickass kickboxer Elizabeth Bennet as she embarks on a quest to find a date for Christmas dinner at her parents’ house in Meryton, Long Island, and for her sister Jane’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. Lizzy has long considered herself Unlucky 13 — from the day of her birth when she should have been a boy to Thanksgiving Day 2013 when she’s the only single at the table, much to her mother’s disappointment.

As part of her quest, she enlists the help of her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, who persuades Lizzy to start a blog about her adventures — beginning with a disastrous personal ad — and even convinces her to try everything from speed dating to a Jewish matchmaker. Meanwhile, Lizzy is working on a fundraiser for the FD Burn Foundation, which involves putting together a calendar of the smokin’ hot men of the NYFD. Her job puts her in the sights of firefighter and Pem Tech executive Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is still smarting from his perceived snub by “The Black Widow” at the gym.

Christmas is a difficult time for Darcy, as the anniversary of his parents’ tragic death approaches, but since meeting Elizabeth, he thinks it just might be possible to embrace the Christmas spirit and live again. However, Elizabeth is dead set against “Mr. December” and resists his every attempt to show her that he really isn’t the arrogant and cranky man she thinks he is. Lizzy and Darcy’s friends and family see what the pair keep trying to deny, but can they succeed in bringing together two strong-willed people determined to misunderstand each other?

Oh, how I loved this novel! Gardiner is a master at bringing Jane Austen’s characters into the present day and turning up the heat (and the laughs). From their heated arguments to their heated encounters at the jaw-dropping calendar audition and the chest-oiling photo shoot, I couldn’t get enough of this Lizzy and Darcy. The secondary characters are equally entertaining, from Jane, the supermodel with a secret, to Caroline, the matchmaking poochie mama, and especially Charlotte (aka “Punky) and Darcy’s cousin, Rick (aka “Preppy”), who are the most obnoxious of the numerous matchmakers. In a fun addition, Gardiner offers readers the chance to read Lizzy’s and Charlotte’s blog posts, which are linked at the end of every chapter in the Kindle edition. (Check out these extras as well: Lucky 13 Pinterest Board, Lucky 13 Audition Pinterest Board, Lucky 13 Spotify List, Lucky 13 Audition Spotify List)

Lucky 13 takes readers on a romantic journey as Elizabeth and Darcy put their past hurts behind them, and Gardiner even takes readers on a tour of NYC during the hustle and bustle of Christmas. Another winner by Gardiner, and a book I could easily re-read every year during the holidays.

Disclosure: Lucky 13 is from my personal library.

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