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determined

Source: Review copy from author’s daughter
Rating: ★★★★☆

I inched toward the Allied lines less than a mile away, desperately trying to escape from the murderous Nazis.

Suddenly, I heard shouts of “Halt!” as several Nazi soldiers launched toward me from the side of the road.  As I stood up, one of them grabbed my arm and demanded in German that I tell him who I was and where I was going.

A horrible thought flashed through my mind: After years of dangerous escapes, so close to liberation, would this be my end?

(from Determined, page 1)

Quick summary: Determined is the memoir of Holocaust survivor Avraham Perlmutter, who was only a boy when the Nazis arrived in his hometown of Vienna in 1938.  Perlmutter describes how his parents sent him and his older sister, Thea, to live with family in the Netherlands to keep them safe.  But it seems as though the Nazis follow him from hiding place to hiding place.  Perlmutter pays homage to the men and women who put their lives on the line to save him and many other Jewish children, but it soon becomes obvious that his quick-thinking, intelligence, and of course, determination played an integral role in his survival.

Why I wanted to read it: It is important for stories like Perlmutter’s to be told, and his message of never giving up, treating people how you want to be treated, and not doing to others what you do not want them to do to you is one that bears repeating.

What I liked: Determined is not a memoir that emphasizes the gruesome atrocities committed by the Nazis.  Instead, it is a short book focused on the survival of one young man and how he made a successful life for himself in Israel and the United States after World War II and Israel’s War of Independence.  There are pictures of Perlmutter, his family, some of the people who orchestrated his various escapes or hid him from the Nazis, and various documents, including those filed by his family in order to leave Vienna.

What I disliked: The latter part of the book describing Avraham’s life after the war seemed a bit rushed with far fewer details than his Holocaust survival story.  That’s only a minor issue, though, because getting to know even just a little bit about the man he became and the life he lived after the war was inspiring.

Final thoughts: Determined is a fascinating and important story that chronicles much of the life of a man who knew, even at a young age, that he had to think on his feet, take risks, and keep pushing to survive and succeed.  Readers who usually avoid Holocaust memoirs because they are heartbreaking and graphic will appreciate Perlmutter’s inspirational story, which provides plenty of historical details but remains engaging throughout.  I am honored to have been contacted by his daughter and asked to review his book.

Disclosure: I received Determined from the author’s daughter 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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the matters at mansfield

Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★★

“If Henry Crawford found dealing with his own mother-in-law unpleasant, Maria Rushworth’s is worse. Today has been enough to make me grateful for my own.”

“Indeed? My mother will be in such transport over your admission that she might require a visit of several months to sufficiently vocalize her felicity. Shall we invite her to Pemberley as soon as we return ourselves?

“I am not that grateful.”

(from The Matters at Mansfield, page 103)

Quick summary: The Matters at Mansfield, or The Crawford Affair is the fourth book in the Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mystery series by Carrie Bebris. The novel brings Elizabeth and Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, along with their baby daughter, to Riveton Hall as a guest of Darcy’s cousin, the Earl of Southwell. While Lady Catherine is scheming behind her daughter’s back to arrange a seemingly advantageous marriage, Elizabeth inadvertently encourages Anne to make her own decisions. After Anne elopes with Henry Crawford, the Darcys, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Lady Catherine find themselves at an inn near Mansfield Park, and the Darcys soon find themselves sorting through a case of multiple identities, duals, betrayals, and of course, murder.

Why I wanted to read it: I loved the first book in the series, Pride and Prescience, and am intrigued by the Darcys as amateur sleuths.

What I liked: The Matters at Mansfield is the fourth in the series, but it stands on its own. I couldn’t bring myself to return this book to the library unread, so I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of spoilers from the previous installments. I loved how Anne shocked her mother by running off to get married, and I loved seeing a more sinister side to Lady Catherine. I wasn’t sure how Bebris would bring together Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, but it worked. I figured out who the villain was early on, but that didn’t bother me, especially since all the twists in the murder mystery kept me on my toes.

What I disliked: I only wish the characters from Mansfield Park, aside from Henry Crawford, had been featured more prominently.

Final thoughts: This is such a delightful series! The mysteries are complex enough to hold my attention, even if I do manage to pick out the villain fairly quickly, and they are well paced. I enjoy watching Elizabeth and Darcy mature as a couple and as detectives, and I love to see them interact with characters from Austen’s other novels. I definitely intend to read the whole series.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Matters at Mansfield from the public 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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doll god

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

Quick summary: Doll God is a poetry collection by Luanne Castle that touches upon such themes as childhood innocence, the passage of time, and the loss that accompanies growing older. Some of the poems read like a memoir, while others are more abstract in their imagery.

Why I wanted to read it: I try to read at least a couple of poetry collections a year, and what better way to bring more poetry into my life than by taking part in the first blog tour of my friend Serena‘s new business venture, Poetic Book Tours.

What I liked: I read the entire collection aloud, and I loved the way the poems sounded, even when I didn’t quite understand them. I liked the mixture of narrative poems and those that require the reader to ponder the meaning. The imagery is fantastic, especially in “YouTube Interview of the Life-Sized Toddler Doll.” I could see the mother’s childhood doll positioned on the guest room rocking chair and her creepy, Annabelle-like qualities in these lines:

I belong to her but I own
her children. When she’s downstairs
I pop my lids just for them. (page 24)

What I disliked: There were more poems that were difficult to understand than there were poems that grabbed me upon first reading. But even in the more difficult poems, there were lines, images, and themes that I thought were interesting. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to read the collection more than once, so I’m sure I’m not doing it justice.

Glimpses of my favorite poems:

Her granny sewed us matching
dresses–my kneeless legs
stiff under the crisp pink sateen,
her legs marred by red scabs
at her knees, her pink cotton
diminished with washes. I held her
beauty, a flawless twin.

(from “YouTube Interview of the Life-Sized Toddler Doll,” page 24)

The boy on my boat, who may or may not
be the boy of the light, visited the Louvre
twice. The first time to find what people seek
in her. A year later, he wandered from her cluster
of admirers, bored with what he could not understand:
Lisa’s face held in a moment between the day-to-day
and the something more. She is not even pretty or
slender. The kind of girl who might jump in the back
of someone’s pickup and head out to the river.

(from “Fishing,” page 33)

Final thoughts: Doll God is an intriguing poetry collection that uses dolls as a symbol of childhood and evokes a sense of sadness about what is lost as we age, with poems about miscarriage, divorce, and cancer. The poems deserve careful reading and reflection and to be read aloud.

To learn more about Doll God and follow the tour, visit Poetic Book Tours.

Disclosure: I received Doll God 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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the darcy brothers

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

“They really are — I can see why they hold your attention…” his head lolled forward for a second and Darcy feared he had lapsed into unconsciousness and grabbed his good arm to steady him, but then Theo shook his head again and raised it to meet his brother’s confused gaze.

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.  She has — do you not think, she has the finest pair of…”

“Theo!”

Theo blinked; then, he fixed Darcy with a stern look.  “If you would only let me finish, Brother!  She has the finest pair of eyes I have ever seen on a woman.”

(from The Darcy Brothers)

Quick summary: The Darcy Brothers is a collaborative retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks, and Abigail Reynolds.  Fitzwilliam and Theophilus Darcy barely tolerate one another but embark on a trip together to visit their Aunt Catherine at Rosings, at the same time that Elizabeth Bennet is visiting her friend, Mrs. Collins, at the parsonage.  It’s not long before Theo meets Elizabeth and is entranced, and Elizabeth is surprised that Theo is much more charming and amiable than his older brother.  But even as Elizabeth learns that William is not as proud and arrogant as she initially thought, she can’t help but notice the rift in the brothers’ relationship, and she wants nothing more but for them to reconcile.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve enjoyed several books by Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, and Abigail Reynolds, so I couldn’t resist.  Plus, I’ve heard Theo is a charmer, and I wanted to meet him.

What I liked: Giving Darcy a younger brother who is everything he is not and who immediately captivates Elizabeth puts a wrench in his plans to win her over.  The authors’ portrayal of Anne de Bourgh is hilarious, from her outspokenness and her scheming to her ability to perfectly tie a cravat.  Theo is a fantastic character, and his complicated relationship with Darcy ensures the novel is not just another romantic retelling of Pride and Prejudice.  But what I loved the most is that the narrative is seamless and the voices are consistent, despite having multiple authors.

What I disliked: Nothing, except that I had to say goodbye to Theo before I was ready, and I wanted to know how things played out for Anne.

Final thoughts:  The Darcy Brothers is a novel full of misunderstandings and schemes, with the right balance of humor and heaviness.  It’s easy to fall in love with Theo, who has the easy charm of Mr. Wickham, the amiability of Mr. Bingley, the goodness and honor of the Darcys, and of course, a touch of mischief.  I hope it’s not the last we see of him!

Disclosure: I received The Darcy Brothers from the authors 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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stella bain

Source: Personal library
Rating ★★★★☆

Publisher’s summary: It is 1916, and a woman awakens, wounded, in a field hospital in northern France.  She wears the uniform of a British nurse’s aide but has an American accent.  With no memory of her past or what brought her to this distant war, she knows only that she can drive an ambulance, and that her name is Stella Bain.

As she puts her skills to use, both transporting the wounded from the battlefield and ministering to them in hospital tents, the holes in Stella’s psyche gnaw at the edge of her consciousness.  At last, desperate to find answers, she sets off for London to reconstruct her life.

She is taken in by Dr. August Bridge, a surgeon who becomes fascinated with her case and with the agonizing and inexplicable symptoms that plague her.  Delving into her deeply fractured mind, Bridge seeks to understand what terrible blow could have separated a woman from herself.  Together, they begin to unlock a disturbing history — of deception and thwarted love, violence and betrayal.  But as her memories come racing back, Stella realizes she must embark on a new journey to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.

In a sweeping, dramatic narrative that takes us from England to America and back again, Anita Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, and about loss and redemption in the wake of a war that devastated an entire generation.

My thoughts: I really liked how Shreve focuses on the experiences of women during World War I and acknowledges that they might not have been in the trenches but still put their lives on the line and suffered the consequences.  By telling the story from Stella’s point of view when she has no memory, readers see how the war took its toll on her, and through her drawings, Shreve emphasizes the complexity of memory.  The novel is about more than the war and shell shock; it is about the difficulties women faced when they sought independence from the confines of marriage and home.  I might have loved this book, but the ending was a bit flat, though satisfying overall.

Disclosure: Stella Bain 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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I’m going to finish this week in blogging by FINALLY posting reviews of two books I read last summer.  These books have been staring me down for months, but I just haven’t been motivated to blog about them.  Well, I figured it was time for me to share a few thoughts on them so I can finally put them away.  Stay tuned for the second mini-review on Friday.  Also, I may not be around much for the next month or so, as I’m busy with some freelance editing projects.  I can’t wait to tell you all about the books I’ve been editing!  Anyway, on to today’s mini-review:

once we were brothers

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Publisher’s summary: Elliot Rosenzweig, a respected civic leader and wealthy philanthropist, is attending a fund-raiser when he is suddenly accosted by Ben Solomon and accused of being a former Nazi SS officer named Otto Piatek, the Butcher of Zamość.  Although the charges are denounced, his accuser is convinced he is right and engages attorney Catherine Lockhart to bring Rosenzweig to justice.  Solomon reveals that the true Piatek was abandoned as a child and raised by Solomon’s own family, only to betray them during the Nazi occupation.  But has Solomon accused the right man?

Once We Were Brothers is the compelling tale of two boys and a family who fight to survive in war-torn Poland, and a young love that struggles to endure the unspeakable cruelty of the Holocaust.  Two lives, two worlds, and sixty years converge in an explosive race to redemption that makes for a moving and powerful tale of love, survival, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit.

My thoughts: I had such mixed feelings about this book.  The narrative set during World War II was very interesting, as was the quest in the present to bring a Nazi war criminal to justice.  However, I had some issues with the structure of the narrative.  Despite all the time constraints on the legal side, Ben insists on telling the story in chronological order, and with Catherine always cutting him short, it seemed to drag it out longer than necessary.  And the author would insert information/statistics about the Holocaust into the dialogue, which was unnecessary and felt forced.  I also felt it was unnecessary to focus on Catherine’s life outside of the case; I didn’t find her to be very interesting.  I liked the book overall, but it could have been a great book if it had been structured differently, without Catherine’s story and without all the shifts from past to present.

Disclosure: Once We Were Brothers 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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jane and the 12 days of christmas

Source: Review copy from Soho Crime
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Perhaps,” I said unwillingly, “they are mere caricatures, and thus demand nothing more.”

“Your Darcy is no caricature,” he retorted.  “Nor is Willoughby.  I have met that gentleman’s like on countless occasions, in the gaming hells and ballrooms of London — petted, indulged, weak, and subtle.  That is where you excel, Miss Austen — in the subtleties.”

(from Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas)

Quick summary: Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas is the 12th book in Stephanie Barron’s Being a Jane Austen Mystery series.  I can vouch for it being a standalone novel because it’s the only book in the series I’ve read so far.  It’s Christmas 1814, and Jane Austen, along with her sister, Cassandra, her mother, and the family of her brother, James, are invited to spend the holidays at The Vyne, the lavish estate belonging to her old friend, Eliza Chute, and her husband, William, a member of Parliament.  They are barely into the celebrations leading up to Twelfth Night when an accident occurs that Jane and another guest, the artist Raphael West, suspect to be murder.  The stakes are high, given that the Treaty of Ghent — which is intended to end the war between the British and the Americans — has gone missing, and the fact that The Vyne is snowed in means that the murderer is a fellow guest.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve heard such good things about this series, and I can’t resist a novel with Jane Austen as the heroine.

What I liked: Barron’s portrayal of Jane Austen felt real to me.  She is 39 years old, celebrating the success of Mansfield Park, and currently working on Emma.  Readers see varied opinions about her career, with Mr. West obviously a fan of her novels and her brother scoffing at her success.  Barron also portrays her as a loving and fun aunt, playing billiards with her nephew and spoiling her niece with gifts for her new doll over the twelve days of Christmas.  We also see a Jane who is not afraid to speak her mind and whose powers of observation enable her to write realistic characters and piece together seemingly small details to solve a complicated crime.  The characters at The Vyne are all intriguing, and while I had my suspicions about them, I was happy that I hadn’t figured it all out on my own.  I enjoyed all the twists and turns of the mystery and was happy to just go along for the ride.

What I disliked: There were a few places where the narrative slowed down a bit, and it was hard to keep track of all the characters at first, but neither of those issues prevented me from enjoying the novel.

Final thoughts: Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas was a fun novel, with some dark characters, some ridiculous characters, plenty of historical details, and even a bit of a love story.  Jane’s astute observations of the people she encounters make her the perfect sleuth.  I definitely plan to work my way through the rest of the series.

Disclosure: I received Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas from Soho Crime 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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