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Archive for the ‘read in 2017’ Category

Source: Author
Rating: ★★★★☆

He confused her. He irritated her. He pleased her and he thrilled her. She was going crazy, and William Darcy was the cause.

(from The Perfect Gift)

The Perfect Gift is a sweet novella by Christie Capps (the pen name for author J. Dawn King) and a modern-day take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It was just the right book for me now when I’m swamped with work and family commitments, as it’s intended to be read in about an hour or so. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the only reading time I’ve had lately is right before bed when I’m really sleepy, I would’ve devoured it all at once. But it was nice to savor this one over a few days.

Elizabeth Bennet is still smarting from William Darcy’s insult to her at Meryton’s pizza hangout when he asks for her help in dealing with his soon-to-be teenage sister, Gianna. Darcy doesn’t know how to handle a young girl going through puberty, what she wants and needs for clothes, or the perfect gift to commemorate her 13th birthday. Elizabeth is the perfect person for the job, given that she has four sisters, and she and Gianna hit it off right away. She still isn’t sure what to make of Darcy; he seems so serious sometimes, but when it’s just the three of them, she can almost see his charm.

For a short and sweet novella, Capps does a great job building the tension, with the infuriating Caroline Bingley and the Darcys’ impending return to their home in New York City. There’s the right balance of drama, humor, and passion, and despite the fast pace given that it’s a novella, I was completely satisfied with the ending. I have three other novellas by Capps waiting patiently to be read, and since my busy schedule doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon, I will turn to them in the brief moments when I can escape the real world.

Disclosure: I received The Perfect Gift as a gift from the author. Thank you, Joy!

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Source: Blog giveaway 
Rating: ★★★★★

She hissed, “I am an excellent judge of character. I would know.” She realized how silly she sounded, but her pride would not allow her to admit her mistake.

“An excellent judge of character? When you would accuse me — if not for certain events of which we must not speak — of murder? You would not know a murderer if he confessed it to you,” Darcy scoffed, returning ire for ire loudly enough that Mr. Bingley turned around to look at them.

(from The Honorable Mr. Darcy)

The Honorable Mr. Darcy (A Meryton Mystery Book 1) was my first time reading a Pride and Prejudice variation by Jennifer Joy, and I was delighted from start to finish. When Mr. Wickham is found dead in his tent during the Netherfield Ball, the inhabitants of Meryton are quick to point fingers at Mr. Darcy. They have a poor opinion of him since he insulted Elizabeth Bennet at the Meryton Assembly, and he was seen leaving Wickham’s tent in anger. Elizabeth isn’t Darcy’s biggest supporter, but she knows he couldn’t have committed murder. However, explaining how she knows would tether her to the man forever.

Darcy doesn’t help his cause by refusing to say where he was at the time of the murder and why he had argued with Wickham, and Elizabeth’s perception of him begins to change as she realizes he is a man of honor. However, Darcy must contend with the cantankerous Mr. Tanner, Meryton’s innkeeper and constable, and Mr. Stallard, the magistrate, as they make it difficult for Darcy to prove his innocence while hiding secrets of their own. As Darcy and Elizabeth navigate their changing feelings for one another, Elizabeth finds herself determined to solve the crime and help Darcy clear his name, while he worries that danger may befall her as a killer continues to roam free.

Joy does a great job creating a sense of mystery and danger, and she stays true to Austen’s characters while dramatically altering events. I enjoyed how Darcy and Elizabeth worked together to uncover the truth behind Wickham’s death and how Darcy embraced Elizabeth’s inquisitiveness and didn’t expect her to change even while wishing she would be careful in her sleuthing. Joy adds several original characters, including the Bennet daughters’ new companion, Mrs. Yates, and the magistrate’s daughter, Miss Stallard, who liven up the plot. What I loved most was the fast pace and how I was able to piece some things together but was still surprised in the end. And Colonel Fitzwilliam, oh how I loved his dramatic entrance and take-charge attitude!

The Honorable Mr. Darcy is a solid start to an exciting series, and I can’t wait to read more. In fact, as soon as I finished this book, I immediately started book 2, The Indomitable Miss Elizabeth (stay tuned for my review). I have a feeling that this is a series I won’t want to end!

Disclosure: I received The Honorable Mr. Darcy from a blog giveaway.

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Source: Author
Rating: ★★★★☆

“That’s why they call love a leap of faith. There’s no guarantee it’s going to work out — not for anyone.”

(from Bridges)

Bridges in the second Daphne White novel by Maria Murnane, picking up where Wait for the Rain leaves off. However, Murnane provides plenty of backstory so you can easily read Bridges as a stand-alone novel. In the year since Daphne and her best friends Skylar and KC celebrated their 40th birthdays on the Caribbean island of St. Mirika, she has moved on from her divorce and embraced the promise of a new beginning at this stage of her life. She is in a long-distance relationship with Derek, who also is a divorced parent, but more importantly, she has embarked on the writing career she gave up nearly two decades ago when she became a wife and mother. Daphne has written her first novel, sent it to three dozen agents, and is eagerly waiting for her career as a published author to take off.

She is reunited with Skylar and KC in New York City for a girls’ weekend over the July 4th holiday to celebrate Skylar’s recent engagement. The news came as a shock to both Daphne and KC, as Skylar was always so focused on her career and never planned to settle down. But KC has a surprise for them as well. Meanwhile, Daphne begins to again question her future when the rejection emails start coming in, especially as Skylar’s success and wealth is on full display.

Once again, Murnane has crafted an enjoyable story about the power of female friendship. This time, she added more tension between the women to emphasize the ups and downs in every relationship, the insecurities we all feel from time to time, and the healing that comes with heart-to-heart talks and forgiveness. She brings back some of the secondary characters from the first novel and adds Skylar’s NYC friend, Krissa, an attorney who enthralls them with her hilarious online dating stories, and Sloane, Skylar’s intimidating soon-to-be-stepdaughter. Murnane does a fantastic job keeping these stories lighthearted, humorous, and, most importantly, believable. I really hope there is a next book in the series, as I’m not ready to let go of these characters just yet.

Disclosure: I received Bridges from the author for review.

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Source: Author
Rating: ★★★★☆

“There’s something about a burst of rain that makes everything fresh and new. It’s as if Mother Nature is giving us another chance.”

(from Wait for the Rain)

Maria Murnane’s Wait for the Rain is a delightful tale about friendship, growing older, and rediscovering yourself as other responsibilities emerge over time and consume your life. Daphne White feels like a failure following her divorce, and focusing on her daughter has kept her afloat. But Emma is 15 now and doesn’t need her mother the way she once did. And her ex-husband has moved on and is getting remarried. These are the burdens Daphne carries when she arrives on the Caribbean island of St. Mirika to reunite with her best friends from college, Skylar and KC, for the first time in a decade. They are together again to celebrate turning 40, which Daphne is set to do on their trip — and the thought hangs over her head like a dark cloud.

Daphne is only beginning to admit her innermost feelings to herself, and she can’t bring herself to confide in her closest friends. Skylar has achieved the professional success that Daphne gave up to become a wife and mother, and the happy-go-lucky KC is succeeding in marriage where she so dramatically failed. With the help of her friends, the island atmosphere, and a kind and sexy twenty-something staying in the beach house next door, Daphne starts to realize that the big 4-0 is not the end but the beginning of something better.

In Wait for the Rain, Murnane has created an endearing and lovable cast of characters. It is evident from the start why these women are friends, and I loved their bantering, how they bring out the best in each other, and how they remain close even after having been apart for so many years. This is a true friendship, and I grew to love each of these characters so much that I wanted to be part of it! It was easy for me to relate to Daphne’s issues with turning 40 and having a teenage daughter, so that made the story more poignant for me. And most importantly, the romantic aspect of the novel was completely believable, which made the ending so satisfying! So many times in these kinds of novels there are over-the-top adventures and romantic escapades, and I loved that Murnane kept it real.

The best thing is that I don’t have to say goodbye to Daphne and her friends just yet. Stay tuned for my review of the second book in the series, Bridges, which will be posted here tomorrow.

Disclosure: I received Wait for the Rain from the author for review.

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Source: The authors
Rating: ★★★★★

How could she have known what a love of Jane Austen’s writing had brought her: the friends, the life choices which had led to a job she loved, a slow but steadily growing confidence in herself as someone of value?

She felt like someone had died, the sense of loss was so severe.

(from The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen)

In The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen, Ada Bright and Cass Grafton ponder what the world, and one woman’s life in particular, would be like if Jane Austen never existed. The novel is set in Bath during the annual Jane Austen Festival and centers on Rose Wallace, who lives in a basement apartment in the building the Austen family occupied in Bath. Rose is happy with her job at a company that rents out luxury apartments in the city for people on holiday, and she is ecstatic that her online friend, Morgan, is coming from California to meet her in person and attend the festival.

Rose and Morgan’s friendship is a testament to the welcoming online community that has been created around a mutual love for Jane Austen’s novels. Rose is quiet and reserved, especially around her crush, Dr. Aidan Trevellyan, who she sees only once a year during the festival. Morgan’s outgoing personality, and her ability to make friends everywhere and anywhere she goes, takes Rose out of her comfort zone but complements her perfectly. And it is this friendship, as well as the novels of Jane Austen, that could be lost forever when Rose meets a mysterious, intriguing stranger.

If I hadn’t been so busy the last couple of weeks, I would’ve devoured this book in a day! Bright and Grafton give readers a little of everything: friendship, romance, time travel, and plenty of humor to keep the sense of despair from weighing down the story. The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen is an endearing tale that had me pondering how my life would be different without the influence of Jane Austen — from the novels I love so much that I read them over and over again to the fan fiction that means I never have to say goodbye to my favorite characters, from the friends I’ve made in the JAFF community to the novel I’m working on right now.

I loved everything about this book: the characters, the relationships, the setting, the writing. I especially enjoyed how Bright and Grafton opened the door for a sequel, and I am dying to see what happens next! Definitely a contender for my list of favorite books read this year.

Disclosure: I received The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen from the authors for review.

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Source:: Author
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Frederick sat there for a moment, thinking. “You know, I have to say the number one barrier in a lasting relationship with me is weakness of character. If a woman can easily be persuaded by her friends and family to do something she doesn’t really want, then she and I won’t make a good pair.”

I sat there looking at the television and I realized I was never going to be able to fix the mistake I had made. This next month was going to be torture.

(from Modern Persuasion)

Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks takes Jane Austen’s Persuasion into the present day. Emma Shaw (Anne Elliot) is an editor at the publishing house run by family friend Karen Russell, who is grooming Emma to take over the imprint run by her father, Walter Shaw. Somehow Emma manages to sort out her father’s and sister Elizabeth’s financial troubles, cater to her needy sister Mary, and get everything in order for PubCon. She’s hit hard by the appearance of Frederick Wentworth, who is there to promote his new book before going on tour.

Circumstances conspire to put Emma in charge of Frederick’s book tour, which makes for some awkward situations given that they haven’t been in touch since she turned down his marriage proposal eight years ago. Emma holds it together the best she can as she and Frederick, accompanied by his friend Patrick and her assistant Louisa, go from city to city barely speaking to one another, and definitely not addressing their unresolved feelings.

Marks’ knowledge and appreciation of Austen’s novel shines through in her retelling. I recognized Anne and Captain Wentworth in her Emma and Frederick (though I wonder why her name was changed to Emma). I liked the setting of the novel, the various cities on the book tour and then in Cape Cod, and how Marks translated the obstacles faced by the characters into modern times and made them feel real and relevant. However, some of the scenes could’ve been fleshed out with some dialogue, and some of the repetitive elements at the end could have been eliminated.

Even so, I enjoyed Modern Persuasion. It was fresh and fun, a fast-paced read, and I always enjoy when authors are inspired by an Austen novel other than Pride and Prejudice.

Disclosure: I received Modern Persuasion from the author for review.

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Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

But I do know there is no justification. No possible rationalization for what the Nazis did, for what civilian Germans permitted and encouraged to happen.

And yet: you. Here you are. You have the temerity to sit in my home, at my table, with your lights and your cameras and your questions and your historical credentials. You dare to seek some explanation. You dare to record the stories of the butchers and those who abetted them. You dare to seek some exoneration of a people who committed wholesale slaughter of an entire race!

(from Those Who Save Us)

Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us focuses on a broken relationship between a mother and daughter who lived in Weimar during World War II. The book centers on Anna Schlemmer, who has spent 50 years in silence about her wartime experiences. Her daughter, Trudy, who was just a baby during the war, remembers only bits and pieces of her life then.

The novel opens upon the death of Anna’s husband, Jack, the American soldier who married Anna shortly after the war and brought her and Trudy to Minnesota. Trudy, a professor of German history, does her duty in caring for her mother, but the distance between them is palpable. Her unanswered questions and desire to understand her mother’s wartime choices prompt her to take on a project in which she interviews Germans about their experiences during the war, including how they survived and what they knew about the Nazi atrocities.

Trudy has long been haunted by a photograph she found in her mother’s drawer as a child: what looks to be a family photo of Anna, Trudy, and an SS officer. The truth behind the photo is revealed over the course of the novel, which shifts back and forth between Anna’s wartime story and 1997 as Trudy interviews subjects for her project and navigates her mother’s coldness and silence.

What struck me most about this novel was how the war resulted in a sense of guilt and isolation for both Anna and Trudy. Anna stands by her actions during the war, both good and bad, as a means of survival and protecting her daughter, though the shame and the lingering trauma closed her off to both her husband and daughter. Trudy carries guilt based on her interpretation of the photo, and her mother’s refusal to revisit the past has left her without a support system. It was interesting how both of them carried the weight of guilt, though Trudy was too young to remember the war.

Those Who Save Us is a rare instance for me in which both the past and present aspects of the novel were fascinating. Although it is hard to connect with Anna and Trudy, as they keep themselves at arm’s length even from each other, Blum enables readers to understand their motivations and empathize with them as the story unfolds. Blum also doesn’t shy away from detailing the violence of war, and there were several times that I had to put the book down and calm my emotions. I had hoped for more resolution in the mother/daughter relationship at the end, but Blum stays true to their characters while giving them and readers a sense that healing is on the horizon. Those Who Save Us is a well-crafted, thoughtful novel that takes on some pretty ambitious subject matter but handles it with care and without assigning blame.

Serena and I featured Those Who Save Us as the June/July readalong on War Through the Generations. Our discussions can be found here (beware of spoilers): Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4. Stay tuned for an interview with author Jenna Blum, which also will be featured on War Through the Generations sometime soon.

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