Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

Sun-Kissed

Source: Review copy from Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

“You honestly expect me to splash about in the brine, naked as the day I was born?” Darcy scoffed.  “I think not.”

“Prig.”

“Just because I prefer privacy and prudence does not signify I am prudish.  I swim — without clothing, I’ll have you know — at Pemberley Lake.”

(from Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer, “Spyglasses & Sunburns” by J. Marie Croft)

Quick Summary: Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer is Meryton Press’ first short-story anthology featuring eight feel-good tales of summer, most of which involve Jane Austen’s novels and characters in some way.  Included in the collection are several takes on Pride and Prejudice, from a young Darcy’s education in becoming a great lover to Anne de Bourgh’s splash in the sea at Sanditon to the confessions of foolishness and love at a masquerade ball.  Sun-Kissed also features modern-day takes on Persuasion and Northanger Abbey set on the beach and a sweet non-Austen-related story about how a chance encounter can turn one’s life upside down.

Why I wanted to read it: Short stories, particularly lighthearted, romantic stories with a Jane Austen connection, sound perfect for the beach…or at least when you’re dreaming about a beach excursion.

What I liked: The selection of stories was fantastic.  I enjoyed the mix of period and modern-day stories and the mix of new-to-me authors and authors whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past.  I also was impressed that Sanditon was included; Austen’s unfinished novel about a seaside resort begs to be included in a summer anthology, and it was nice to see those characters mingling with characters from Pride and Prejudice.  I loved or at least really liked every story in the collection, and despite their brevity, I felt like I really got to know the characters, and each had a satisfying ending.

What I disliked: That there were only eight stories in the anthology.  Don’t get me wrong, the anthology was the perfect length, but once I was immersed in the collection, I didn’t want it to end.

Final thoughts: Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer is the perfect summer read for fans of Austen-inspired fiction, with a little something for everyone.  Hats off to the editor, Christina Boyd, for helping to create an anthology that flows beautifully from story to story and provides enough variety to both satisfy readers and keep them wanting more.  Although I didn’t read this book at the beach, these authors and their delightful tales transported me to the sun and surf at least for a few hours.

Meryton Press will be releasing a holiday-romance-themed anthology late this fall. The short story contest for that volume is now open for submissions. Click here for further details: Official Rules

Disclosure: I received Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer from Meryton Press 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 »

cover to covers

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

Maybe Monique was the kind of woman he needed in his life.  No one had held up a mirror to his empty existence quite like she had.  The characters she had based on him had opened his eyes to the possibility that all was not right with his world.  He had made mistakes, a lot of them, but perhaps there was always room for redemption.

(from Cover to Covers, page 55)

Quick summary: Cover to Covers is about Tyler Moore, an oil company CEO who likes to be in control and is used to getting what he wants, especially when it comes to women.  After running into his girlfriend from 20 years ago, romance author Monique Delome — the only woman he was unable to forget — Tyler leaves his company behind and flies to New Orleans, hoping for a second chance.  He knows she still has feelings for him; after all, she’s based all of the leading men in her books on him.  But Monique finds it hard to trust him because he’s broken her heart before, and Tyler has issues of his own, as the battles with his stepfather for control of the company and the effects of a devastating loss from his childhood threaten his chances of happiness.

Why I wanted to read it: I don’t read many dark and steamy romance novels, but I am a fan of Weis’ writing and am willing to read outside my comfort zone now and then.

What I liked: Weis does a great job developing her characters.  The novel was narrated in the third person from Tyler’s point of view, but I still felt like I understood Monique and the reasons behind her actions.  I also appreciated that the characters were older (Tyler is 50, and Monique is in her 40s), and they have two decades of life experiences under their belts when they meet again at the beginning of the novel, which made it easier for me to relate to them.  The plot itself was interesting, how a man so seemingly in control actually needs to learn to take control of his own life and stop doing what is expected of him.  The sex scenes are very steamy, and in this novel, they actually contribute to the plot and the evolution of the characters and their relationship.

What I disliked: There were times I wished the book were told from Monique’s point of view because I really liked her, and I spent much of the book disliking Tyler.  Even in the end, I appreciated the changes in his character, but I never fell in love with him.  However, Weis did make him believable as a CEO, and I guess that was the point.

Final thoughts: I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read by Weis so far, and Cover to Covers is no exception.  It may not be my favorite of her novels, but I found the characters intriguing, and even if I didn’t particularly like Tyler, I still rooted for him in the end.

Disclosure: I received Cover to Covers 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 »

first impressions

Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“It’s a tragedy,” I insisted. “Sure, Elizabeth and Jane get their guys, and Lydia makes an exciting, scandalous marriage, and the author hopes that Kitty will turn out okay, but Mary…it’s a tragedy for Mary.”

(from First Impressions, page 1)

Quick summary: First Impressions by Marilyn Sachs is a young-adult novel told from the point of view of Alice, the third child in a family of five who feels unappreciated by her parents and siblings.  She is a straight-A student forced to spend Christmas break rewriting a paper on Pride and Prejudice so her teacher will reconsider the C+ she received for misinterpreting the novel.  Given Alice’s place in her family, it’s not surprising that she identifies most with Mary Bennet, and she is unwilling to believe her teacher’s contention that Jane Austen intended for Mary to be a minor character who provides comic relief, not a tragic character who needs a chance to shine.  After a mysterious woman in a raincoat appears at random moments, and her new boyfriend, Kevin, offers to read and discuss the book with her, something magical begins to happen.  Alice finds herself and Kevin within the pages of Austen’s novel, and as she sets out to change Mary’s fate, she finds that her own life may be changing, too.

Why I wanted to read it: I was in the mood for a short Austen-inspired novel that wasn’t simply a retelling of Elizabeth and Darcy’s story.

What I liked: I liked the premise of the novel, that someone might identify with one of the other Bennet sisters and the idea of being able to dive into a novel and play with the storyline a bit.  I also thought it was nice that Alice slyly encouraged her father to ask her mom out on a date after recognizing how much fun her mom had helping Alice pick out a dress for her first New Year’s Eve party.

What I disliked: I wished the novel focused more on the magical aspects of the book, which took a backseat to Alice’s relationship with Kevin and helping her parents rekindle their relationship.  I didn’t like how Alice’s teacher thought her interpretation of the novel was wrong, especially since she was able to back up her arguments.  It also felt like Alice’s newfound sense of self seemed too heavily reliant on Kevin.  The secondary characters felt flat, but at 117 pages, there wasn’t much room for character development, aside from the changes in Alice.

Final thoughts: Overall, I thought First Impressions was an okay novel.  There was nothing wrong with the writing, but there was nothing memorable about the characters.  Part of that might be related to the fact that I’m not the target audience for this novel, but I have enjoyed plenty of YA novels in the past.  I think I would have enjoyed the novel more had the magical aspects been fleshed out a little more.  Still, I must applaud Sachs for making readers think more critically about Mary Bennet and how the events of Pride and Prejudice would have affected her life.

Disclosure: I borrowed First Impressions from the public library.

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

Read Full Post »

the travels of daniel ascher

Source: Review copy from Other Press
Rating: ★★★☆☆

The plane rose above the clouds, the ocean disappeared.  Perhaps that was what becoming an adult was, emerging from the clouds, leaving behind the sweet half-light of childhood, coming out into the blinding clarity of a truth you haven’t asked to know.

(from The Travels of Daniel Ascher)

Quick summary:  The Travels of Daniel Ascher by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter, follows Hélène, a 20-year-old archeology student living in her great-uncle Daniel’s Paris apartment.  Hélène remembers Daniel’s antics at family gatherings over the years, acting out the travels that formed the basis of the young adult adventure series he writes under the pen name H.R. Sanders.  Hélène wasn’t as enthralled with Daniel’s stories as the other children and never read The Black Insignia series.  However, when a friend from school discovers that she is related to his favorite author, Hélène grows increasingly interested in her mysterious great-uncle, but all she knows is that he’s really Daniel Ascher and was adopted by her family as a child when his parents were deported during the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II.  Hélène pieces together the fragments of her great-uncle’s life and stumbles upon a secret that could tear her family apart.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m always intrigued by wartime stories and secrets.

What I liked: I liked Daniel for his complexity, and I was fascinated by his ability (or necessity) to navigate different personae.  He was the only character I grew to like over the course of the novel, and the only character I felt was fully developed.

What I disliked: The writing style kept me at arm’s length from the story, particularly the run-on sentences, the lack of quotation marks around the dialogue, and the abrupt ending to the chapters.  Aside from Daniel, I didn’t really care for any of the characters, but in the end, the story was really about him anyway.  I must admit that I struggled at times to finish the book, but in the end, I continued because it was so short (less than 200 pages), and I wanted to know what happened to Daniel.

Final thoughts: Overall, I thought The Travels of Daniel Ascher was interesting, particularly the way the layers of Daniel’s story were peeled back and his secrets were revealed.  I’m not sure if the issues I had with the writing style had anything to do with the translation, and while these issues made finishing the novel a challenge at times, I’m glad I plowed through to the end.  I was satisfied with how Daniel’s story was wrapped up and impressed with how Lévy-Bertherat creatively illustrated the challenges faced by Holocaust survivors, particularly children, in navigating the post-war world on their own.  Daniel’s coping mechanisms were both fascinating and heartbreaking, and even if I didn’t love this novel, Daniel is a character I won’t easily forget.

Disclosure: I received The Travels of Daniel Ascher from Other Press 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 »

the mapmaker's children

Source: Review copy from Crown
Rating:: ★★★★★

Today could not have meaning without the promise of ending.  Birth and death, beginning and ending — they were one in the universe’s memory.

But who would remember her tomorrow?

(from The Mapmaker’s Children, page 67)

Quick summary: Sarah McCoy’s latest novel, The Mapmaker’s Children, is a dual narrative whose threads are connected by two women struggling with the fact that they are unable to have children.  Eden Anderson in present-day New Charlestown, West Virginia, has moved away from the hubbub of Washington, D.C., in hopes of finally conceiving a child, but when that doesn’t pan out, she’s left with anger toward her husband, a dog she doesn’t want, and a mysterious porcelain doll head found in the root cellar.  In Civil War-era New Charleston, Sarah Brown, daughter of the abolitionist John Brown, aims to use her artistic talents for the Underground Railroad and find a greater purpose for her life since a husband and family are not an option.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve loved McCoy’s writing since The Baker’s Daughter.

What I liked: McCoy is a word artist, and I loved this book from start to finish.  The pictures she paints with only a few words draw you into the characters’ worlds, and she’s one of only a few authors able to make the present-day storyline just as compelling as the historical one.  Eden’s relationships with Cleo and Cricket and Sarah’s relationships with Freddy and the rest of the Hill family are touching and show how families can be created in the most unexpected ways.  The mystery of the doll head and the history of the Underground Railroad enrich the story and beautifully connect the past and present narratives, and I appreciated the author’s note at the end where McCoy explains her inspiration for the novel and all the research involved.

What I disliked: Absolutely nothing!  The Mapmaker’s Children is another winner from McCoy!

Final thoughts: The Mapmaker’s Children is a beautifully written novel driven by heroines who are real in their emotions and their flaws, and McCoy brilliantly pulls Sarah Brown out of the shadows of history and brings her to life in full color.  Sarah and Eden are separated by more than a century, but their journeys toward love and family are universal.  McCoy is a master storyteller, and The Mapmaker’s Children is destined for my “Best of 2015″ list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for The Mapmaker’s Children.  To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received The Mapmaker’s Children from Crown 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 »

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

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

Even if you were only a girl, words made you mighty.

(from Young Jane Austen, page 79)

Quick summary: Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer is a unique biography of Jane Austen in that it focuses on her early years, from birth until she first picks up her pen.  There is very little information available about Jane as a young girl, but Lisa Pliscou takes what little history there is and what is known about where she lived and when she lived and creates a beautiful portrait of “Jenny,” her relationship with her family, and the love for reading and words that would one day inspire her to become a novelist.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued by the focus on Jane as a young girl, especially since I’ve read much of her juvenilia, and the cover is gorgeous.

What I liked: I loved the presentation, with illustrations by Massimo Mongiardo that are simple yet beautiful and transport readers back to Jane’s time.  Like the cover, the interior is styled to look like an old book.  The first half of the book is the illustrated biography, written in the style of a novel from the point of view of a growing child as she navigates her world.  The latter half of the book features annotations that explain the inspiration for each little section of the biography.  This structure is brilliant because it allows readers to get lost in the charming story of young Jane, nicknamed Jenny, and then delve into the history and analysis.

What I disliked: Absolutely nothing!

Final thoughts: In the introduction, Pliscou calls Young Jane Austen a “speculative biography” that straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction simply because of the lack of details about Jane’s early years.  However, it is obvious that Pliscou spent a great deal of time combing through various sources about the Austen family, Jane’s correspondence, the scientific study of creativity, the history of the era in which Jane lived, and Jane’s later writings, enabling her to plug in the gaps in young Jane’s story.  Pliscou takes a handful of facts about Jane Austen and makes Jenny come to life.  Young Jane Austen is a must-have for any Austen fan’s collection and another contender for my “Best of 2015″ list.

Disclosure: I received Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer 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 »

bianca's vineyard

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

“What is possible will come only at a great cost to all of us.  Perhaps tomorrow will be our day of reckoning, but it is the days that will come after many tomorrows that we must keep our eyes fixed on.”

(from Bianca’s Vineyard, page 239)

Quick summary: Bianca’s Vineyard is a novel set primarily in Tuscany during World War II and centered on the Bertozzi family, known for making wine and sculpting marble.  Teresa Neumann based the novel on the true story of her husband’s grandparents, Egisto and Armida Bertozzi, who hastily married in 1913 on the eve of Egisto’s immigration to America.  While the political storms begin to brew in Europe, a storm rages in Egisto and Armida’s St. Paul, Minnesota, home as secrets from the past are brought to light.  When Armida finds herself back in Italy, separated from her husband and children, her ties to the fascists jeopardize the new life she has created.

Why I wanted to read it: I haven’t read many books set in Tuscany (a place I hope to visit someday) during World War II, and I was intrigued by the fact that it’s based on a true story.

What I liked: I was swept up in this novel from the very beginning, intrigued by the setting and the secrets hinted at by Bianca Corrotti, Egisto’s 88-year-old niece, as she prepares to meet his American grandson for the first time in 2001.  I liked how after the prologue, Neumann told the story in chronological order, rather than going back and forth in time like so many historical novels do these days.  Neumann inserts the history of the region during World War II into the story without jarring readers out of the narrative, and those details were helpful to me since I can only remember reading one other novel set in Italy during the war (The Golden Hour by Margaret Wurtele).  Most importantly, Neumann brings these characters to life, especially Armida, emphasizing their complexities so readers cannot forget that they are based on real people, flaws and all, and filling in the gaps in the family history with realistic scenarios.

What I disliked: Nothing!

Final thoughts: Bianca’s Vineyard transports readers back in time to a chaotic period in Italy’s history and how people did what they had to do in order to survive or at least be able to live with themselves when all was said and done.  It’s a novel about loyalty, survival, compassion, and forgiveness and touches upon such themes as war, familial obligation, mental illness, and cultural differences.   The story of the Bertozzis is so fascinating that I can see why Neumann decided to write about them.  Bianca’s Vineyard is definitely a contender for my “Best of 2015″ reading list.

Thanks to Italy Book Tours for having me on the tour for Bianca’s Vineyard.  For more information on the book and author or to follow the rest of the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received Bianca’s Vineyard 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 »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 230 other followers