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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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denial-of-conscience

undeceived

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the forgotten room

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

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A Moment Forever Cover LARGE EBOOK

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

The profile of her grin was as awe inspiring as the impressive bombers themselves, and it was then he truly knew Lizzy Renner was special, different from any other woman he knew. She was a brilliant beacon of light in a dark world and an ingénue, ready and anxious for the next chapter of her life.

(from A Moment Forever)

A Moment Forever is a beautifully crafted novel by Cat Gardiner about a wartime romance that was so much more and a young woman determined to solve the mystery behind a handful of photos and letters that threaten to dig up long-buried secrets. In 1992, 24-year-old Juliana Martel inherits Primrose Cottage in Brooklyn, New York, from her great uncle Will, who simply walked out of the home in 1950 and never returned. Upon entering the home, dusty and unchanged from the past 50 years, Juliana finds a burned letter in the fireplace and a shrine to a beautiful, vivacious young woman named Lizzy, who obviously stole her uncle’s heart and appears to be connected to his reasons for disappearing.

Still struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her father and the fact that she was abandoned by her mother when she was a child, Juliana has lost faith in true love. But when she stumbles upon the World War II-era letters and photos in her uncle’s footlocker, she is sure that Will and Lizzy’s romance is a love story for the ages and proof that a deep, abiding love is possible. A writer for Allure magazine, Juliana sets out to tell Will and Lizzy’s story and soon uncovers a tale of all-consuming passion, unimaginable evils, and overwhelming loss. Juliana’s investigation leads her to Jack Robertson of Newsday, whose connections could help her piece together the puzzle but whose determination to let sleeping dogs lie could stand in her way.

A Moment Forever is a breathtaking novel that takes readers on an emotional roller coaster as it shifts between the 1940s romance of debutante Lizzy Renner and her flyboy, Will Martel, and Juliana’s journey 50 years later that opens up old wounds while healing the holes in her own life. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller, and this novel is perfectly paced. She reveals bits and pieces of information throughout, so you think you know what’s going to happen, and then there’s another twist and turn. I had a hard time putting the book down. I laughed, I cried, I simply loved it. The characters are all endearingly flawed and skillfully developed, and there is so much to ponder about secrets, betrayals, and forgiveness. And I love how Gardiner plays homage to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and not just in the names of her characters. It was fun to see a little something Austenesque here and there.

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. It definitely will make my Best of 2016 list and ranks among my all-time favorite WWII romances.

Disclosure: I received A Moment Forever from the author for review.

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

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I’m delighted to welcome Cat Gardiner back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of her latest novel, A Moment Forever. Cat is here to share an excerpt from the novel and has a fantastic giveaway for my readers. Please give Cat a warm welcome, and stay tuned for my review of A Moment Forever later this summer!

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A Moment Forever Cover LARGE EBOOK

In the summer of 1992, a young writer is bequeathed the abandoned home of a great-uncle she never knew. The house has a romantic history and is unlike any home she has ever seen. Juliana Martel felt as though she stepped into a time capsule—a snapshot of 1942. The epic romance—and heartache—of the former occupant unfold through reading his wartime letters found in the attic, compelling her on a quest to construct the man. His life, as well as his sweetheart’s, during the Second World War were as mysterious as his disappearance in 1950.

Carrying her own pain inflicted by the abandonment of her mother and unexpected death of her father, Juliana embarks on a journalist’s dream to find her great-uncle and the woman he once loved. Inadvertently uncovering the carefully hidden events of his and others’ lives, she will ultimately change her own.

This story of undying love, born amidst the darkest era in modern history, unfolded on the breathtaking Gold Coast of Long Island in 1942. A Jewish, Army Air Forces pilot and an enchanting society debutante—young lovers—deception—and a moment in time that lasted forever.

~~*~~

Where did yesterday go? It’s hard to imagine that my own past is considered 20th Century historical nonfiction! It’s true! Those early years that I spent as a secretary, when I had learned to type 60 wpm on an IBM Selectric and took Gregg Shorthand dictation, were blips on a timeline, replaced by word processors and memo recorders. E-mail had been only a thought, and mobile phones were so large that they were in bags.

In this excerpt, I’d like to take you to our 1992 heroine, Juliana Martel, a junior style writer for the new fashion magazine, Allure. Following the discoveries made within her newly inherited home, she visits her editor with a fascinating proposal—a human interest article. Let’s take a look and see if she makes a convincing argument why a romance in 1942 is worth a second look in 1992.

~~*~~

“So, what brings you in to see me on this beautiful day?”

Juliana reached into her bag and removed the box, resting it at the edge of the desk. She noted Maxine’s piqued interest focusing at what was written along the sides of the pretty blue box in black, block letters that caused her to tilt her head to read, “William and Lizzy—My Dearest Darling.”

“William?”

Juliana nervously chuckled. “Yes, and he’s the story I’d like to tell, but I need your help.”

Maxine tapped her Sharpie marker upon the desk and the slick images of Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford. “Do tell. Do tell.”

“It’s a World War Two love story.”

The editor dropped her marker, the creative wheels in her brain turned at the possibilities. “Oh yes, I can see it—in love with the clothing … the elegance even during the ration. Gloves, hats, half-moon manicures, no hosiery, and hand sewed garments. The return to the basics of beauty.”

Ten fisted fingers burst in punctuation. “Here’s your hook: How to obtain an effortless, stylish look on a shoestring budget! How to resemble an MGM starlet during the Golden Age of Hollywood and return to an era of feminine allure and mystique. Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, and Brooklyn’s own Gene Tierney—the young bride of Oleg Cassini, fashion designer to the stars!”

Maxine’s voice rose with passionate excitement at the idea. “The hair! Oh the hair! Victory Rolls! All leading up to the pinnacle of post-war change in fashion: ‘The New Look’ by Dior. Yes! Ushering in short hair, cinched waists, full skirts, and luxurious fabrics in a romantic French explosion of sophisticated style. Julie—you are brilliant!”

Disheartened, Juliana responded with a slight grimace of embarrassment. “No, it’s not a fashion love story—it’s a human interest love story—an honest to goodness wartime romantic relationship—sweethearts.”

Maxine’s reply fell flat, deflated with the wind completely knocked out of her sails. “Oh.”

“I know it isn’t something we normally feature, but I’m sure this piece I’m working on could very well be an excellent F.O.B. An article such as this at the front of the magazine could segue into the feature well, covering your idea. I believe in the power of this story between this young couple and … and I intend on finding out what happened to them at the end of my research, which could very well mean a follow up feature story in another issue. Maybe during November for Veteran’s Day or on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Peleliu.”

“The battle of what? Julie, we’re a fashion magazine. The only battles we face are those of wrinkles and fat.” Maxine chuckled. “Well, so, I guess the Battle of the Bulge may well be an appropriate topic. Perhaps, we could compromise if you’re insistent on a World War Two hook.” She laughed at her joke. “Get it? Battle of the Bulge?”

Juliana shrugged a shoulder. She had never heard of the Battle of the Bulge.

Maxine slid June’s mock-up cover in front of her friend. “I’m sorry, hon, but see here … ‘Split-Second Beauty’, ‘Diet Doctor.’ Allure offers trends, cosmetics, fashion and hair, an insider’s guide to a woman’s image. That’s what we do. We try to make people feel good about themselves, and if they don’t we tell them how to do so. The closest we get to a love story is how to have an explosive orgasm or how to strip for your man in twelve easy to follow moves.”

Like her editor, Juliana simply replied, “Oh.”

Maxine opened the box and pulled out the thick stack of letters. “Is this your story?”

“Only the surface. The house I was given is at the heart of it. These are the wartime letters to my great-uncle from his girlfriend and his family. I’ve only read a couple, and they are starting to fill in tiny blanks. I’d like to travel to some of the places written on the pages and see if I can connect the dots about this fantastic, heartbreaking love affair. It’s a mystery of sorts.” Juliana swallowed hard. “I’d like to concentrate on this story, Max. It’s … it’s important to me.”

“Why do you assume it’s heartbreaking?”

“Because as far as I know, they never married, or … worse … she died. See why I have to know?”

Fanning the tied fifty-year old letters, the professional in Maxine couldn’t deny the appeal to uncover a good mystery not just for her magazine but for herself, too. Not to mention everyone loved a heart-tugging story about a veteran. She gazed up at Juliana’s stylish charcoal suit. “That pin you’re wearing, is it authentic?”

Juliana fingered the cool edge of William’s pilot wings secured below her shoulder. “Yes, they were William’s.” She raised an eyebrow. “Why? Are you interested? Is there something pulling you toward this story? You see it don’t you?”

“Perhaps.” Maxine slid a letter from the top of the stack and admired the fine penmanship. She ran her finger over the salutation. “This is lovely stationery. Expensive.” She thoughtfully sighed. “I fear the day when this ‘so called’ electronic mail Bill Gates talks about comes along. You’ll see, before long, no one will write letters or even pick up the telephone to say hello. I shudder at what we will become. Hmm … I shudder at what will become of the memory and stories of the Silent Generation.”

She held out the letter to her friend. “May I read it?”

A sly, knowing smile appeared on Juliana’s lips. “Sure, knock yourself out.”

“June 8, 1942

Dear William,

What a delightful surprise it was to receive your letter, especially since I was under the impression that you did not wish an acquaintance. I was sure you interpreted my letter as too forward, even—dare I say—pushy! I have been told, on occasion, that I can be quite relentless in getting my way, but in your case, I was prepared to accept that you weren’t interested. So, with a resounding YES, I would love to meet you at four o’clock, Saturday, June 13 beside the lion at the Public Library closest to 42nd Street! Just look for the girl with a beaming smile of anticipation, that’ll be me.

I am so excited about attending the New York at War Parade on the arm of such a dashing pilot. Are you sure your marching will have completed by then since the parade travels such a long way up Fifth Avenue? Rest assured, I will wait with bells on until your arrival downtown. My sister will be marching with the ARC. Perhaps, we can send your brother a snapshot should we get a glimpse of her. I am so proud of her, and I imagine you are just as proud of Louie. I’m looking forward to hearing any news you have about his destination. Oh, does that fall under ‘careless talk’? Never mind then.

My other sister, Kitty and I have embarked on quite the endeavor since we met you on Memorial Day. I bet you’ll be surprised to learn that we have officially begun a nylon stocking drive because you know how we debs just love our hosiery! Now if I can only get them to donate then I’ll really have something to boast about. However, I do think our other venture may be a bit more realistic. We have decided to volunteer for the Victory Book Campaign through our local library. These old homes around here must all have libraries filled with hundreds of unread, like-new books, and it is our hope to get our neighbors to part with them for the war effort. I plan on visiting our librarian, Mrs. Tinsdale to discuss our ideas. In a way, I feel as though it is my first real job interview, and I’m very excited!

I wonder, do you enjoy reading? I do. I find it a fantastic escape and now that the Zephyr is in the repair shop, I am thoroughly engrossed in an Agatha Christie novel. I simply adore crime, mystery, and suspense. Once, I stayed awake until the wee hours of the morning just to finish, “Murder on the Orient Express.” That was one of the most suspenseful books I have read.

Well, Lieutenant Ducky Shincracker, I look forward to a swell afternoon spent in your company. Thank you for your letter and the invitation for a date. Don’t worry about my travels into the city. I’ll be taking the 1:15 train from Glen Cove—see I do take public transportation! Ha! If you change your mind, which I sincerely hope you don’t but am sure you won’t (remember I’m an optimist,) my telephone number is ORiole-67126.

Sincerely,

Lizzy”

Maxine lowered the letter. “Ducky shincracker? Oh, I like her—a girl going after what she wants and she wants him. It sounds as though she’s trying to impress him. Any indication of his feelings for her? By the sound of it, he wasn’t too gung ho at first. Are any of his letters in this stack? It would be great if we can hear his voice.”

“I haven’t gone through them all. As far as I can see from the first few, they are mostly hers and placed in chronological order. I’d like to read them as such so I can experience the development of their relationship. I know how he felt about Lizzy. My uncle was head over heels in love. There is a shrine to her sitting on my fireplace mantle that I haven’t had the heart to remove.”

~~*~~

Thank you, Anna for hosting me and A Moment Forever on its blog tour. I am, once again, honored to visit with your readers. I’d love to hear some of their reflections on how things have changed in just the short time of 24 years. Is Maxine correct in her prophesying about the lost art of letter writing and communication? Have we lost something or are we more connected than ever? And what of Lizzy’s volunteering for the Victory Book Drive? Certainly technology and modern advances have changed how we read books and their ready accessibility, but what about for our servicemembers today?

I’d like to offer a special swag for Diary of an Eccentric domestic (U.S.) entries.
• One e-Book A Moment Forever
• Decorative vintage-style picture frame
• Bath & Body Works Paris lotion and shower gel
• Paris Decorative soap and box
A Moment Forever bookmark
• Delft Blue swan

One A Moment Forever e-book for International entries

Giveaway details: To enter to win Cat’s generous giveaway, please leave a comment with your email address, let me know if you’re entering the U.S. or the international giveaway, and reflect on Cat’s questions about the lost art of letter writing. This giveaway will close on Sunday, June 26. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck, and as always, thanks for stopping by!

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Check out A Moment Forever on Amazon and Goodreads. Visit Cat’s website and 1940s Pinterest board, as well as A Moment Forever‘s Spotify playlist and blog.

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June 15: Austenesque Reviews (Interview)
June 17: Of Pens & Pages (Review)
June 18: Romantasy Through the Ages (Guest Post)
June 20: Diary of an Eccentric (Excerpt)
June 24: Savvy Verse & Wit (Guest Post)
July 29:  Goodreads Sofa Chat w/ Sophia Rose
Aug. 3:  True Book Addict (Guest Post)
Aug. 9:  So Little Time… (Guest Post)
Aug. 11: Impressions in Ink (Review)
Aug. 16: The Calico Critic (Guest Post & Giveaway)
Aug. 23: Margie’s Must Reads (Review)
Aug. 29: Jorie Loves a Story (Review)
Aug. 30: Celticlady’s Book Reviews (Review)
Aug. 31: Jorie Loves a Story (Interview)

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

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