Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

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.

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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.

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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.

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pride and prejudice limericks

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Mr. Bingley (the young man in question)
Is the object of much introspection
With the Bennet girls prowling
Soon, perhaps, he’ll be howling
To be locked up — for his own protection.

(from Pride and Prejudice, Retold in Limericks)

Quick summary: Pride and Prejudice, Retold in Limericks is exactly that.  Each chapter is one limerick.

Why I wanted to read it: I was curious whether Pride and Prejudice and limericks could work together.  And I like to say Séamus O’Leprechaun.  And I like to read delightfully silly things from time to time.

What I liked: This retelling of Pride and Prejudice is unique, humorous, and so short that I finished it in about 10 minutes.

What I disliked: There really isn’t anything to dislike.  It’s obviously not a great work of literature, but it’s not meant to be.  If anything, I was surprised by how many times it made me laugh.

Final thoughts: Pride and Prejudice, Retold in Limericks came in handy recently when I couldn’t sleep.  It was enjoyable without requiring me to think, and it was a nice way to relax.  However, I downloaded it onto my Kindle when it was offered free, and while I thought it was fun, I’m not sure I would’ve had such happy thoughts if I’d paid for a book that I finished in just a matter of minutes.  Still, I can’t help but think Jane Austen herself would find this retelling amusing.

Disclosure: Pride and Prejudice, Retold in Limericks 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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accidentally yours

Source: Review copy from Indie Jane
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Nana, you’ve spoiled me for any other woman. There are no Elizabeths in this century. You’re the last of the breed.”

“You haven’t tried to find one,” she answered, a little sharply.

“I have. You know that I’ve dated quite a bit. I just don’t see the point in a second date when I know a girl isn’t right for me from the very beginning. It’s not fair to either of us to continue building a relationship that I’m already sure won’t work,” he replied firmly.

“Elizabeth is fictional, Will, and even she wasn’t perfect, you know,” Nana said, resting her hand on his.

(from Accidentally Yours)

Quick summary: Accidentally Yours is the first book in Robin M. Helm’s Yours by Design trilogy, in which Will Darcy from 2013 Atlanta swaps places with Fitzwilliam Darcy in 1795 England after each suffer an accident. Will and his grandmother shared a love for Pride and Prejudice, both the book and the BBC miniseries, so waking up in the body of Mr. Darcy gives him a chance to make up for that man’s wrongs and win over Elizabeth Bennet, the not-so-fictional woman he has loved for so long. Meanwhile, the last thing Fitzwilliam remembers is giving Elizabeth the letter explaining the faults she’d found in his disastrous proposal, then riding his horse into a tree, so waking up in a barely there hospital gown in the present day is a big shock, to say the least. Both men must learn to live in their new bodies and new worlds and figure out God’s plan for their lives, Will with the help of Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Fitzwilliam with the help of Will’s housekeeper, Mrs. Thomas.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve read and enjoyed several Pride and Prejudice retellings with a time travel element but never one where Mr. Darcy swaps bodies with one of his descendants.

What I liked: Will’s character is endearing, a man who loves Pride and Prejudice and wants to find his own Elizabeth, a man who truly loved his Nana Rose and shared her love of all things Austen. He is the Mr. Darcy who is good enough for Elizabeth, a man not too proud to do business with a tradesman or flout the style of the time to suit his own tastes. He uses his knowledge of Regency England and Austen’s novel to take charge of Fitzwilliam’s affairs, even if it means being too quick to believe people he has only just met in the days since waking up in Fitzwilliam’s body. But what was most entertaining was Fitzwilliam’s struggles to come to terms with modern society, from female nurses to dental hygiene to Southern BBQ. The scenes where he watched the BBC miniseries with Mrs. Thomas and commented on the difference between himself and “Firth” were hilarious!

What I disliked: It took some time before the story really started going somewhere, but in a way that was good because I felt like I really got to know Will and Fitzwilliam. However, it seemed like Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s valet Austen, and Mrs. Thomas, for instance, were too easily accepting of their claims of being a Darcy from another time. Moreover (and this didn’t affect my feelings about the novel itself), I really disliked Fitzwilliam, the real Mr. Darcy, whose arrogance goes above and beyond any portrayal I’ve read so far. Some of the things he thought about Elizabeth were actually horrifying! While I understand that he is supposed to be the polar opposite of Will, it was still difficult for me to imagine a different Darcy winning over Elizabeth, even if Will is the better Darcy at the moment. It certainly makes me wonder what Helm has planned for them in the next installment.

Final thoughts: Accidentally Yours incorporates both time travel and Christian elements into a story about recognizing your flaws, actively trying to change them, and being open to God’s plan for your life. Although Fitzwilliam seems to be the Darcy most in need of change, there is plenty of room for growth in Will’s character as well. Helm’s take on Pride and Prejudice is creative and humorous, with some deeper moments of grief and despair to round things out. With the accident and Mr. Darcy’s abrupt and significant personality change altering the course of events, I am dying to know which Darcy will ultimately earn Elizabeth’s love…and Mr. Bingley even has some competition when it comes to Jane! I can’t fathom how this will all be ironed out in the end, so I can’t wait to read more.

Disclosure: I received Accidentally Yours from Indie Jane 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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a berlin story

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

The women of Berlin were all different now. Not one of them were untouched. They were skins separated from their souls. The women they had been before the Red Army entered Berlin’s city limits and before Hitler had shot himself in the head were all dead even if their lungs still took in air and their hearts were still beating wildly against the inside of their tortured bodies.

(from A Berlin Story)

Quick summary: A Berlin Story is the first novella in Tiffani Burnett-Velez’s Embers of War series set in the days immediately after the end of World War II. The novella follows Annalise Bergen, a 19-year-old pulled out of hiding by a group of Red Army soldiers and chained to a wardrobe for two weeks after they began raping their way through the city. Annalise, whose mother was a Russian dancer, has a hard time comprehending that these monsters are from her mother’s homeland, yet she also believes that the Germans are getting what they deserve for the atrocities committed by the Nazis. After being saved by a Ukranian officer, Annalise tries to make a new life for herself, living in the remains of her family’s apartment building and spending the day hauling rubble in buckets for the little bit of food provided by the Americans. She catches the eye of a friendly American private, Aaron, and begins to hope for better days to come, but those hopes are dashed by the tensions between the Soviets and the Americans and the ultimate division of the city.

Why I wanted to read it: I was in the mood for something short, and I’ve long been drawn to stories about Berlin in the aftermath of the war because of the stories my mother has told me about her aunt, who unfortunately was a victim of rape when the Soviets entered the city.

What I liked: Burnett-Velez deftly paints a portrait of Berlin as a city of battered, starving, hopeless people. I couldn’t help but admire Annalise because she refused to give up despite knowing that her experiences would haunt her forever and that she would never be able discuss them. From my vantage point as the reader, I wanted to yell at her to stop when she left the American tent for displaced persons or walked the streets at night, but I could understand her motivations for those decisions. Despite being such a short work, there were several times I had to put it down because the scenes were too difficult to process, such as when Annalise is forced to take clothes off a woman who had been shot to death in the street along with her baby. As much as I wanted to turn away, Burnett-Velez made the ruins of Berlin come to life, and that is what makes this novella so fantastic.

What I disliked: There were a few grammatical errors in the text and some instances where the third-person narrative shifted to first person for a moment, which seemed more of an editorial issue and not intentional. These issues didn’t prevent me from liking the novella, but I might have given it a 5-star rating had it been a bit more polished. There’s also a cliffhanger ending, but the pages leading up to the ending were exciting, so I guess what I really dislike is that the next installment isn’t yet available and I am dying to know what happens next!

Final thoughts: A Berlin Story is short but powerful and deep. It is full of contrasts, from the differences in how the Soviets and the Americans treated the Germans to the differences between the horrors Annalise endured for two weeks at the hands of the Soviets and the horrors her roommate Rebecca endured for years in a Nazis concentration camp. There are glimpses of humanity in the midst of inhumanity, and it is sure to make readers ponder the idea of blame, whether German civilians deserved harsh treatment for the actions of the Nazis and, in particular, whether a teenage girl should feel like she deserved to be raped by the conquering soldiers as punishment for the atrocities committed by her country. I didn’t expect to be blown away by this novella, but now I can’t wait to find out what happens next in Annalise’s story.

Disclosure: A Berlin Story 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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suddenly mrs. darcy

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

I understood there was no escape from a union with this high-handed and disagreeable man, and the only advantage, though he loved me not, was that he appeared to wish me no ill.

(from Suddenly Mrs. Darcy)

Quick summary: Suddenly Mrs. Darcy imagines what would have happened in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice if Mrs. Bennet’s scheming to marry off her daughters resulted in Elizabeth being forced to marry Mr. Darcy immediately after the Netherfield Ball in order to preserve her reputation and that of her family.  Jenetta James takes the newly married Darcys on a journey fraught with misunderstandings, secrets, tragedy, and of course, hope.

Why I wanted to read it: Although I’ve read at least one adaptation in which Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are forced to marry, I was curious about Mrs. Bennet’s involvement.  And isn’t the cover just beautiful?

What I liked: James tells the story from Elizabeth’s point of view, which lends some mystery to her portrayal of Mr. Darcy.  I liked having to guess what he was thinking (and hiding) from Elizabeth at various times.  The novel also was perfectly paced; I didn’t have to keep guessing about Mr. Darcy’s secrets for too long, nor did I have to endure pages and pages of them doubting the feelings of the other.  James’ take on Lady Catherine, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Lady Matlock, and Lydia Bennet, along with the inclusion of several original characters, particularly Mrs. Lovelace and Elizabeth’s maid, Hannah, made the story even more enjoyable.

What I disliked: Absolutely nothing!  It’s another winner from Meryton Press!

Final thoughts: Suddenly Mrs. Darcy is a charming novel with just the right amount of angst and romance.  Readers will enjoy watching Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s relationship evolve and strengthen over time, especially as they navigate various obstacles from the original novel, such as Mr. Wickham, in different ways.  I loved this book from start to finish, and I hope James has plans to write another Austen-inspired novel down the road.

To follow the blog tour, click the banner below.

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Disclosure: I received Suddenly Mrs. Darcy 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.

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