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Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

the forgotten room

Source: Review copy from NAL
Rating: ★★★★★

But it was better this way, wasn’t it? Better that she pretended it hadn’t happened. Better that the door to the room upstairs remained shut, because what beckoned beyond it — she had a vague impression of colors and vibrancy and imagination and laughter, something extraordinary and never ending — was nothing more than a fairy tale.

(from The Forgotten Room)

Quick summary: In 1944, Kate is a doctor at Stornaway Hospital who is drawn to one of her patients, Captain Cooper Ravenel, who seems to recognize her from somewhere, though she’s never seen him before. The mystery of a miniature portrait and a ruby pendant bring them together while the reality of their lives outside the hospital threaten to keep them apart. In 1920, Lucy is a secretary for a dashing lawyer whom she believes holds the key to uncovering her true identity, but she is captivated by a smooth-talking art dealer from Charleston who is looking for the truth about his father. In 1892, Olive is a housemaid seeking revenge against the wealthy family who tore her family apart, but her attraction to the charming, artistic Harry Pratt could be her undoing. The Forgotten Room is a beautifully written collaboration by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig that follows three generations of women as they navigate society’s constraints, love and loss, secrets and betrayals — all connected to an attic room in a Gilded Age mansion in Manhattan.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m a big fan of Karen White, and I was intrigued by the mystery and the World War II setting.

What I liked: I loved this novel from the start. The women’s stories switch from chapter to chapter, and the layers of the mystery are gradually and beautifully unraveled. The writing is so seamless, it’s hard to believe that it’s a collaboration among three authors. I felt like I truly knew and understood all three women, and I loved that each was ambitious, hardworking, and strong.  There were some aspects of the story that were predictable, but there also were some twists and turns that I didn’t expect. I also equally enjoyed each of the narratives, which is unusual for me when the story shifts back and forth in time.

What I disliked: Sometimes it was hard for me to keep track of all the characters and their connections, but that’s only a minor quibble. There are some pretty amazing coincidences that occur throughout the novel, which are hard to believe, but it is fiction after all.

Final thoughts: I was surprised by how emotional I was at the end of the book. I liked that the stories weren’t all happily ever after and tied up neatly, but that made me a bit sad, too, because I’d grown so connected to the characters. The Forgotten Room is a rich novel with memorable characters whose stories span more than five decades, from the Gilded Age to Prohibition to World War II. The authors did a fantastic job with each setting, and the pacing was spot on. I really hope they team up again for another novel!

Disclosure: I received The Forgotten Room from NAL 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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seeking the star

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

She remembered dark days, too. The hopelessness felt like looking up from the bottom of a deep, narrow well, into a light that was impossible to reach on her own. But, sooner or later, she’d had to make a choice: keep living that way and die a slow, painful death of the spirit or decide to live and to do more than simply exist. She’d chosen to get up, dust off, and move along, day by day. She hoped, soon, that Ben might choose that path, too. But she couldn’t choose it for him.

(from Seeking the Star)

Quick summary: Seeking the Star is the third book in Traci Borum’s series set in the village of Chilton Crosse in the Cotswolds. Each of the novels in the series focus on different characters, so they can be read on their own. Those who read them in order will enjoy seeing the characters from the previous installments while getting to know new ones. This time around, Borum introduces George and Mary Cartwright, an older couple who generously take in the man found passed out in the snow in front of their house. Ben obviously is running from a tragedy in his past, but the Cartwrights welcome him into their home, no questions asked, assuming he will open up to them eventually. As the village prepares for Christmas and the Dickens festival, Ben slowly becomes part of the Chilton Crosse community and learns that he isn’t the only one who has suffered a horrible loss.

Why I wanted to read it: I fell in love with Chilton Crosse in the first two novels in the series, Painting the Moon and Finding the Rainbow, so I couldn’t resist reading this one, too.

What I liked: Borum paints a beautiful picture of a small but bustling village in the midst of holiday preparations. Everyone knows everyone else, and everyone wants to know more about Ben. The Cartwrights are the kind of people you’d love to have as neighbors; they are kind-hearted and generous, but they give you plenty of space. Ben soon finds he can’t say no to their offer to stay in their cottage until after the holidays, and just as much as the Cartwrights help him, he helps them. Borum does a great job portraying a broken man who doesn’t know what to do with his grief and guilt, and I appreciated that the Christian aspect of the story wasn’t too heavy-handed.

What I disliked: I really wished it was longer, and while I was satisfied with the ending overall, I hope Borum finishes Ben’s story later in the series. There is so much more left to tell!

Final thoughts: Seeking the Star shows how the holiday season isn’t a happy one for everyone, and while it is a tale of loss, it also is a story of hope. Mary has learned to live with her grief, and she shows Ben that it is possible to move on without forgetting one’s past. There were plenty of light-hearted scenes about the village’s holiday celebrations to keep the story from getting too sad, and readers who enjoyed the first two books will be happy to see where Noelle and Holly are now. Borum has created a delightful village with characters that are as intriguing as they are endearing, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

Disclosure: I received Seeking the Star 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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blame the mistletoe

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Their mother is vulgar, their younger sisters are senseless, and their father is a fool to think his jokes about his family are in any way appropriate. No, they are not worthy of our association.”

“Does my past not prove to you that our own family is not without its flaws as well?”

(from Blame the Mistletoe)

Quick summary: Sarah Johnson’s Christmas novella, Blame the Mistletoe, is a delightful retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Georgiana Darcy convinces her brother to pursue Elizabeth Bennet, and the pair, along with Mr. Bingley, return to Netherfield Park for the holiday. An accident on a mistletoe-gathering adventure puts Elizabeth on the path toward thinking she might have misjudged Mr. Darcy, but Mr. Wickham’s presence in Meryton — and his tense interactions with the Darcys — leave her feeling confused. In the midst of holiday preparations, a sleigh ride, and strategically placed mistletoe boughs, can Darcy win Elizabeth’s heart?

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve been in the mood for Christmas stories this year, and I couldn’t resist the Austen connection and the gorgeous cover!

What I liked: Blame the Mistletoe weaves Christmas traditions into a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I loved getting a glimpse of Mr. Darcy helping the Bennets hang a mistletoe bough, and I wished I could have enjoyed the sleigh race alongside the Bennet sisters. Johnson jazzes things up by putting Wickham at a card table with Darcy, Georgiana, and Elizabeth. I also liked how Georgiana pieced together what was bothering Darcy and Bingley and was willing to point out her flaws as a reason for Darcy not to miss out on his chance at happiness. Elizabeth’s encounter with a drunken Wickham in Meryton and the outcome of Mr. Collins’ interference in Darcy’s affairs are scenes that are not to be missed!

What I disliked: I wished that the story had been longer, not because there was anything missing, but because I got so wrapped up in Johnson’s version of events that I didn’t want it to end.

Final thoughts: Readers will enjoy Johnson’s portrayal of Austen’s characters and how she incorporates mistletoe into the story. The pacing is well done, so despite the brevity of the story, the plot doesn’t seem rushed. I read Blame the Mistletoe on a recent day off from work, curled up on the couch with some peppermint tea, our Christmas tree in the background. It was the perfect book and the perfect setting to put me in the Christmas spirit.

Disclosure: Blame the Mistletoe 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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then comes winter

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

What I did know was that I needed to go to that party. I was trying to be Elizabeth, not Fanny, after all. Fanny would stay at home and pine after her cousin (gross). Elizabeth would go and have fun, be witty, and impress men with her “fine eyes.”

(from Then Comes Winter, “Becoming Fanny” by Melanie Stanford)

Quick summary: Then Comes Winter is the second short-story anthology from Meryton Press, with stories inspired by the winter season and Jane Austen. There are a mix of modern-day re-imaginings and Regency-era stories, from a Northanger Abbey-inspired story set in Tahoe to a Pride and Prejudice-inspired story that has Elizabeth Bennet running a successful Italian restaurant. There’s something for everyone in this collection!

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued by the Austen connection, of course, but I also really enjoyed the summer-themed short-story anthology, Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer, so I just had to read the winter-themed one, too. And it’s the perfect time of year for a collection of stories that can be enjoyed by the Christmas tree with a cup of hot chocolate.

What I liked: The selection of stories was perfect, and I enjoyed them all. The anthology introduced me to several new authors, and again, editor Christina Boyd did an excellent job ensuring plenty of variety and a seamless flow from story to story. It would be hard for me to select a favorite story, but some that stood out were “Holiday Mix Tape” by Beau North and Brooke West, a modern-day take on Persuasion, “A Man Whom I Can Really Love” by Natalie Richards, a unique retelling of Sense and Sensibility, and “The Unexpected Gift” by Erin Lopez, a Pride and Prejudice-inspired tale in which Georgiana Darcy refuses to let her brother give up on love.

What I disliked: Nothing at all!

Final thoughts: Then Comes Winter is a perfect addition to my small library of holiday-themed books and would make a perfect gift for fans of Austen-inspired fiction. I’m very picky when it comes to short stories because I often feel like I’m left hanging at the end, but both Meryton Press anthologies are full of stories that leave readers satisfied. Not once did I think something was missing or that a story would have been better suited as a novel. It’s a delightful collection that can be read a little at a time amid all the holiday chaos.

Disclosure: I received Then Comes Winter 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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darcy's christmas wish

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

He tried to recall her face again, but already the memory was even hazier than before. Her eyes, though… she had the most beautiful, fine brown eyes… He did not think that he would ever forget them…

(from Darcy’s Christmas Wish)

Quick summary: Darcy’s Christmas Wish is a variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by Penelope Swan in which Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet cross paths during the holidays, as he is staying with Lady Catherine at Rosings and she is staying with the Collinses at the parsonage. Elizabeth and Darcy grow closer as she takes a stand against his aunt’s treatment of a young maid, and when his cousin Richard’s son is in danger, Darcy revisits his memories from 15 years before and the young woman who saved his life.

Why I wanted to read it: Who can resist a holiday-themed Pride and Prejudice tale?  Not me!

What I liked: Darcy’s Christmas Wish is one of those books you read in one sitting. After meeting a young and fearless Fitzwilliam, there was no way I could put the book down. I also enjoyed Swan’s original characters, especially Colonel Fitzwilliam’s son, George, and Pirate the puppy. Swan changes up the timeline of Pride and Prejudice, with Jane and Bingley already married and on their honeymoon and Darcy and Elizabeth meeting at Rosings at Christmas, but she stays true to Austen’s beloved characters. Watching Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship evolve from misunderstandings to a partnership of sorts was delightful and perfect for a holiday tale.

What I disliked: Nothing!

Final thoughts: Darcy’s Christmas Wish is a sweet, heartwarming story that emphasizes the true meaning of the Christmas season: love, family and friends, and compassion for those in need. The novel opens in the past with a Christmas wish and comes full circle beautifully. If you are an Austen fan looking for a charming Christmas story, I highly recommend this one!

Disclosure: I received Darcy’s Christmas Wish 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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finding the rainbow

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

Holly took one last look at the ever-changing purples and greens and greys of the stunning valley and pushed off the stone wall to resume her jog. And to feel the pinch of regret that she couldn’t stay in this beautiful limbo forever.

(from Finding the Rainbow)

Quick Summary: Finding the Rainbow is the second book in Traci Borum’s series set in the village of Chilton Crosse in the Cotswolds that began with Painting the Moon. This is a standalone novel that focuses on a different set of characters, though some characters from the first novel make an appearance. Holly Newbury left college and returned to Chilton Crosse to care for her father and three younger sisters following her mother’s sudden death. Several years have passed, and she has settled into a routine of taking care of the household, working part time at the village art gallery and pub, and taking online classes to finish her business degree. But her life is upended when a film crew arrives to film an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. Holly befriends Fletcher Hays, the American who wrote the script, and starts a book club when her father’s Lady Catherine-esque cousin, Gertrude, says she has never read the Austen novel. Holly becomes dependent on Fletcher’s friendship when her father drops a bombshell on the family and her sister’s behavior gets out of hand, and Holly realizes she doesn’t know what to do with her life when it seems as though her family doesn’t need her to care for them anymore.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued by the Cotswold setting and wanted to see how Austen factored into the story.

What I liked: I really enjoyed Painting to Moon, and Finding the Rainbow didn’t let me down either. Again, Borum has created a cast of memorable characters, and I liked how the villagers were like old friends this time around. I felt like I really got to know Holly and understand her devotion to her family. Her life was thrown into chaos when her mother died, but her new routine became comfortable over time, and she doesn’t know how to go back to the independence she knew before. Her family leans on her, and when Fletcher enters her life, she finally finds someone she can lean on. And just like in Emma, that friendship becomes confusing when other feelings come into play. I enjoyed the Austen references at the beginning of every chapter, as well as the similarities between Holly’s story and Austen’s novel.

What I disliked: Nothing. It was a charming, feel-good novel overall.

Final thoughts: Finding the Rainbow is a pure comfort read, complete with a sweet romance, family drama, literary references, and that charming small-town setting. I can’t wait to see what comes next in this series!

Disclosure: I received Finding the Rainbow 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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painting the moon

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

Noelle took a few steps back to sit on the couch, to wish herself into the painting. To those summers spent in England, where everything remained safe, intact.

Not that she didn’t appreciate her life now. But lately, she’d become…stilted. An unfulfilling job, a stagnant social life, where she only played a role of herself, a pretend version. But those precious English summers centered her, brought out her genuine self. And she craved that again more than ever.

(from Painting the Moon)

Quick Summary: Painting the Moon is the first novel in a series by Traci Borum set in the village of Chilton Crosse in the Cotswolds. Noelle Cooke returns to England after 14 years when she learns that her Great Aunt Joy has died, leaving her a cottage and an art gallery in Chilton Crosse. She plans to take care of her aunt’s affairs and return to her job in San Diego, but she discovers a locked room in the cottage and her aunt’s journal, revealing a history of secrets and betrayal.  Noelle also finds other reasons to stay, including Adam, whom she loved as a teenager.  But it’s possible that the magic of those early summers in England cannot be recaptured, and digging into her aunt’s past and the reason she cut herself off from the rest of the world in the last years of her life may be too much for Noelle to bear.

Why I wanted to read it: I wanted to escape to the Cotswolds and life in a small village, if only in the pages of a novel!

What I liked: I was swept up into Noelle’s story right away. Borum does a great job portraying life in a small town, where everyone knows everyone and is like family. Noelle seems to have been drifting since losing her mother and grandmother and losing touch with her aunt, but staying at her aunt’s cottage, forging a friendship with her aunt’s gardener, Mac, rekindling her friendships with Adam and Jillian, and trying to find a way to save her aunt’s art gallery put her on the path to making herself whole again. Borum enables readers to get to know Joy through her journal and her paintings and to see Noelle evolve as she puts all the pieces together, rediscovering her artistic soul. Her relationship with Adam is important to the story, of course, but I liked that there was more to this novel than that.

What I disliked: It was hard for me to believe that Noelle would take so long to read through her aunt’s journal, especially since none of the entries seemed long and there was a mystery for her to uncover. Too many years have passed and too many questions have been left unanswered, so if I had been in Noelle’s shoes, it would have been impossible for me to wait that long. Maybe a single read-through wouldn’t provide all the answers, but I definitely couldn’t read it one entry at a time.

Final thoughts: Painting the Moon is a solid start to the series, with an intriguing mystery, beautiful descriptions of the artistic process, endearing villagers, the sadness and regret of a romance that never had a chance to blossom, and the hope and freedom that comes from finding oneself. Borum has created a village readers will want to return to and characters they will want to revisit, and I can’t wait to read more.

Disclosure: I received Painting the Moon 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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