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saris and a single malt

Source: Review copy via Poetic Book Tours
Rating: ★★★★☆

Saris and a Single Malt is a moving collection of poems written by a daughter for and about her mother. The book spans the time from when the poet receives a phone call in New York City that her mother is in a hospital in New Delhi, to the time she carries out her mother’s last rites. The poems chronicle the author’s physical and emotional journey as she flies to India, tries to fight the inevitable, and succumbs to the grief of living in a motherless world. Divided into three sections, (Flight, Fire, and Grief), this collection will move you, astound you, and make you hug your loved ones.

(publisher’s summary)

There are so many poignant lines throughout Saris and a Single Malt, and Vikram does a fantastic job of portraying the depth of her grief and her love for her mother in just a few short lines, emphasizing the value of writing as a coping strategy.

This is my mom’s favorite travel breakfast.
If I can’t fight for her life,
I am going to fight for her memory.

(from “Fifty Minutes from New Delhi”)

It’s in our tears
that you see the marks your absence left behind.

(from “It’s Not Easy”)

These poems churned up so many memories for me, as I lost my father nearly 17 years ago. In a handful of words, Vikram brought me back to the phone call I received from my mother telling me my father had died, and as with Vikram’s mother, his death was sudden and completely unexpected. Her poems brought me back to those early days of learning how to move on without my father, how the hardest thing was having news and not being able to pick up the phone and talk to him. And in the very short poem “Crashing,” Vikram sums up how I still feel about my father’s death more than a decade later:

I can’t be a Zen wave in the ocean–
crashing into the shore,
pretending
you never returning is okay.

I appreciated the afterword in which Vikram shares what she learned about the process of grieving her mother, and her advice was something I could have used when I lost my father.

Saris and a Single Malt is a touching tribute to Vikram’s mother, a love song from a grieving daughter. The rawness and the truth in these poems really touched me, and the collection ends with Vikram’s return to New York, but it’s obvious that the story doesn’t end there. Saris and a Single Malt emphasizes the hole left behind after the loss of a parent, how the pain never goes away but just dulls over time. It’s not often that I find a collection of poems that truly speaks to me, but Saris and a Single Malt did, putting Vikram on my short list of favorite contemporary poets.

***

About the poet

SwetaSVikram_backcoverphoto_WET SILENCESweta Srivastava Vikram, featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning writer, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Amazon bestselling author of 11 books, writing coach, columnist, marketing consultant, and wellness practitioner who currently lives in New York City. A graduate of Columbia University, she also teaches the power of yoga, Ayurveda, & mindful living to female trauma survivors, creative types, entrepreneurs, and business professionals. Sweta is also the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife, which helps you attain your goals by elevating your creativity & productivity while paying attention to your wellness.

Follow her on Twitter | Facebook | Website

Check out Saris and a Single Malt on Amazon | Goodreads

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Disclosure: I received Saris and a Single Malt via Poetic Book Tours 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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last adventure

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

Violet’s gaze was frank and open, with a hint of interest. It was similar to the penetrating look often seen in Sir Percy’s eyes. This was no simpering miss; this was a woman-in-waiting, mature and intelligent beyond her years. Her full lips smiled in honest approval — approval of him.

A strong stirring filled Frederick’s being. It was more than simple desire. He needed this girl to think well of him.

(from The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel)

Jack Caldwell’s latest novel, The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel, is inspired by both The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. It also is a companion novel to Caldwell’s The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men, but it is a standalone novel. In fact, I’ve never read The Scarlet Pimpernel — just searched for a detailed summary online — and I had no trouble following the story.

The novel opens with a bang: Captain Frederick Tilney, the heir of Northanger Abbey, is challenged to a duel over Isabella Thorpe, and then his close friend, Colonel Sir John Buford, cut ties with him until he sees the error of his ways, takes responsibility for his shortcomings, and essentially grows up. Frederick is not a scoundrel like Wickham, but he needs to sever ties with some unsavory people of his acquaintance.

When he is reacquainted with Violet Blakeney, the sister of his longtime friend, George, Frederick realizes he wants to be a better man. However, he has a lot to live up to in the eyes of her father, Sir Percy Blakeney — the retired Scarlet Pimpernel — and Frederick’s fumbles and missteps raise Sir Percy’s ire. While Frederick works to earn Sir Percy’s favor and become worthy of his daughter, an M. Lafarge in Paris is scheming to put an end to the Scarlet Pimpernel once and for all. When Violet encounters trouble on a holiday to Paris, will Sir Percy accept Frederick’s help to save the woman they both love?

Caldwell does a great job mixing in characters from various Austen novels — the Darcys, the Tilneys, and Colonel Brandon, among others, all make an appearance — and it was exciting to read an Austen-inspired sequel that wasn’t about Pride and Prejudice  for a change. I can’t comment on Caldwell’s interpretations of the characters from The Scarlet Pimpernel, but I found them thoroughly enjoyable — from Sir Percy’s wit and his passionate relationship with his wife to the strong bonds of the Blakeney family and Lady Marguerite’s refusal to stay quiet when her husband is being stubborn and foolish.

In The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Caldwell seamlessly merges The Scarlet Pimpernel and Northanger Abbey into an exciting adventure novel led by an aging hero whose mind is as sharp as ever and a young man who is not inclined to sit idle. There’s plenty of action to balance out the more romantic aspects of the story, and if I had to find something I didn’t like, I would only say there are places in the story where the pace slows down just a bit, though that’s a minor quibble. Overall, I found The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel to be a delightful tale full of interesting characters, a heartwarming love story, some history, a dash of humor, and quite a bit of danger. I hope Caldwell revisits these characters again in the future.

***

Giveaway

Jack Caldwell is generously offering a copy of The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel to one lucky reader. This giveaway is open internationally. If the winner is from the U.S., there is a choice between an ebook (mobi or epub) and a paperback. If the winner is outside the U.S., he/she will receive an ebook. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address about what intrigues you most about this novel. The giveaway will close Sunday, September 4. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Disclosure: I received The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel 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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the-secret-language-of-stones

Source: Review copy from Atria
Rating: ★★★★★

In our war-torn world, no one believed in enchantments. They thought witches and spells and conjurers were the stuff of fairy tales. The only mystery anyone still believed in were ghosts.

(from The Secret Language of Stones)

Quick summary: M.J. Rose’s latest novel, The Secret Language of Stones, is set in Paris during World War I and is told through the point of view of Opaline Duplessi, a young jewelry maker who spends much of her time crafting talismans for women who lost loved ones in battle. Weighed down by guilt over the death of a friend, Opaline fled the life her parents planned for her in America to use her gifts to help these women in their grief. She can receive messages from beyond through the energy emanating from gemstones, which is haunting enough by itself, but then Jean Luc, a dead soldier whose mother has turned to Opaline’s magic for comfort, speaks to her directly. As she struggles to come to terms with her powers and her feelings for Jean Luc, her gift and her connection to the Orloffs, who own the shop where she works, take her to England — and to the exiled dowager empress anxious to learn the fate of the Romanovs.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve been a huge fan of Rose’s for several years, and I certainly couldn’t pass up the chance to read a novel about World War I and the occult. How intriguing! Also, even though this is the second book in The Daughters of La Lune series, it’s a standalone novel; now I need to go back and read The Witch of Painted Sorrows, which is the story of Opaline’s mother.

What I liked: I was held captive by this novel from the very first sentence: “Every morning the pavement in front of our shop in the Palais Royal is washed clean by the tears of the mothers of dead soldiers, widowed wives, and heartsick lovers.” Right away it becomes obvious that Rose is truly a painter of words. Rose’s vivid descriptions bring Opaline, and Paris, to life. I was fascinated by the historical aspects of the novel, particularly how the massive losses during the war prompted grieving women to seek out people like Opaline and how an old ban on fortune telling was enforced because these women were being preyed upon by charlatans. Rose skillfully weaves together Opaline’s powers with the history of the war and the Bolshevik Revolution and even a ghostly love story.

What I disliked: Nothing! It was a beautifully written page-turner from start to finish, and one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.

Final thoughts: The Secret Language of Stones is M.J. Rose at her best. There are so many layers to this story, and the characters and descriptions are so well done that I wasn’t ready for it to end. The historical and supernatural elements are so well combined that I never once doubted them as I read. Rose is a fantastic storyteller, and The Secret Language of Stones is a definite on my Best of 2016 list.

Thanks to France Book Tours for having me on the tour for The Secret Language of Stones. To learn more about the book, follow the tour, and enter the giveaway, click the banner below.

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Disclosure: I received The Secret Language of Stones from Atria 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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Liebeslied-Final-Kindle

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

Why did I have to wait until marriage–until I was a mother–to be able to say I’d contributed to society in a meaningful way? I couldn’t fight on the front lines like my brother; I couldn’t work overnight like my mother since I was in school; I knew nothing about the construction of airplanes. I felt the sudden urge to ask my mother what she thought I could do before hearing her voice in my head say, “Make my life easier. That’s what you could do.”

(from Love Song (Liebeslied))

Quick summary: In 1944 Virginia, Cassie Wyndham is 16 years old and wants to matter to someone. The only one who seems to appreciate her is Lucy, her 2-year-old sister. Her father is always away from home running the family business, and her mother is constantly berating her. Her brother, Amos, the apple of her mother’s eye, was the only one who could redirect her mother’s bullying, but he’s gone off to fight, leaving Cassie to fend for herself. Between taking care of her sister and avoiding her mother, Cassie volunteers for a ministry program at a nearby POW camp, where she meets Friedrich Naumann. Despite their obvious differences in both beliefs and circumstances, the two are drawn to one another. Tensions run high amidst the losses of war and a fractured family, and Cassie and Friedrich must keep their relationship secret. But secrets in the wrong hands tend to be revealed, with dramatic consequences.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve been a fan of Baumgartner’s writing since I started reading her Sophia’s War series. Her obvious love of World War II history and detailed research shine through in her novels.

What I liked: I loved how Baumgartner told the story in the first person through Cassie’s eyes. I really got to know Cassie, and I hadn’t read far before I’d grown to love her. She felt real to me, from the tumultuous emotions of adolescence to her desire to find a purpose. And given that she’s my daughter’s age, I had a hard time with how her mother treated her, and I just wanted to give her a hug. Baumgartner did a great job developing Cassie and Freidrich’s relationship, making it believable, and even though I didn’t like Cassie’s parents very much, Baumgartner skillfully crafted them into complicated and even sympathetic characters. I haven’t read much about the POW camps in the United States, so I found it fascinating that programs were established to talk to the German POWs about Christianity. (For more about Baumgartner’s research on this and the inspiration for Love Song (Liebeslied), check out her guest post here.) Cassie’s faith is important to her and the plot, but Baumgartner doesn’t make the Bible study meetings sound too preachy. In fact, the questions that Cassie and Friedrich are expected to discuss reveal a lot about their characters and further their friendship.

What I disliked: Although Love Song (Liebeslied) is the first book in the Captive Hearts Trilogy, the ending is satisfying. However, I wish I could immediately dive into the next installment!

Final thoughts: Love Song (Liebeslied)is a story about a young girl’s efforts to break free from the oppression of her family, to find herself and her purpose in life, and the love that helps her accomplish this. The impossible relationship at the core of the novel is one that readers can’t help but root for. Baumgartner has created a novel with many layers and complexities, and it is so much more than a romance. Love Song (Liebeslied) is Baumgartner’s best novel yet (and I’ve really enjoyed all of her novels so far), and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Disclosure: I received Love Song (Liebeslied) 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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undercover book cover

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

If she hadn’t been a principled woman (and undercover) she would’ve shacked up with the suit — had he offered. He might have made her rethink that Eli Bennet doctrine. Of all the men who had made passes at her, his would have been the one she welcomed and accepted. When he had glanced in her direction her breath caught. Tall, mysterious, and handsome, his brooding smolder was hard-boiled through and through.

(from Undercover)

Quick summary: Cat Gardiner’s Undercover brilliantly blends Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with crime fiction Noir, telling the tale of Elizabeth “Eli” Bennet, a gumshoe on the trail of George “Slick Wick” Wickham as she investigates the disappearance of her best friend, Mary King. Elizabeth’s family thinks she’s a bookkeeper for Macy’s but instead she runs Bennet Private Investigations in an office/apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. She’s a career girl who high-tailed it out of her drunken parents’ home in Queens as soon as she was able. She’s at odds with her sister, Jane, who’s biting comments put a dent in Elizabeth’s self-esteem, and she knows what it’s like to have loved and lost. Her investigation leads her to wealthy bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, and you can cut the sexual tension between them with a knife. The two join forces when Darcy’s socialite sister, Georgiana, gets entangled with Wickham and some communist thugs. Set in 1952 in the midst of the Red Scare, Gardiner takes readers on an exciting ride through the dark side of New York City and the nightlife in Havana.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve long wanted to read Gardiner’s work, and the cover is among my all-time favorites.

What I liked: 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.

What I disliked: Only that I’ve been so busy lately that I couldn’t finish the book in one sitting! And that I waited so long to finally read one of Gardiner’s books. (I am so thankful that I have a few more waiting on my Kindle!)

Final thoughts: Undercover is unique among Pride and Prejudice variations, and if I were to attempt to create a list of my all-time favorite variations, it likely would be near the top. Gardiner is a breath of fresh air in JAFF (and historical fiction in general), and I can’t wait to read more of her work. Undercover is a definite on my Best of 2016 list.

To learn about Gardiner’s inspiration for Undercover, check out this guest post from April.

Disclosure: I received Undercover 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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in twenty years

Source: Review copy from Lake Union Publishing
Rating: ★★★★☆

What mattered was the six of us. What mattered was our star. What mattered is that in this moment in time, we were unbreakable. We were light and destiny and a meteor shower of invincibility.

We were twenty-one. We were allowed to believe impossible things.

(from In Twenty Years)

Quick summary: Allison Winn Scotch’s latest novel, In Twenty Years, follows five friends as they return to their old college haunts 20 years after graduation. They had lost touch over the past 13 years following the death of Bea, their unofficial leader, the one who was solid, always there when they needed advice or just a shoulder to lean on.

Annie pretends that her marriage is perfect, that motherhood is nothing but wonderful times, molding these truths in her social media posts and using filters on her photos so that everything is seen in the best light. Lindy is a famous musician whose lies are about to catch up with her. Catherine and Owen, college sweethearts trying to live up to everyone’s vision of happily ever after, seem to do nothing but argue, as Owen grows weary of being a stay-at-home dad and Catherine’s crafting blog/company is quickly losing steam. And Colin must carry the burden of Bea’s secret and come to terms with his need to be a rescuer.

They reunite on the 4th of July on what would have been Bea’s 40th birthday, forced to confront the old hurts that pushed them apart and the unexpected ways in which their lives have changed over the years.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve been a fan of Scotch’s since I read The Time of My Life, and I enjoyed her later novels, The Song Remains the Same and The Theory of Opposites.

What I liked: Nearing 40 myself, I was able to understand the characters as they reminisced about their college days, when they had yet to experience grown up worries and responsibilities. As the characters considered the letters Bea had them write 20 years before to their older selves, I thought about how different my life is now than I expected it would be when I was 20.

As always, I loved Scotch’s writing, the poignant passages interspersed with moments of humor. I thought the characters were interesting, and the struggles and arguments among the married couples felt real to me. I also loved how Scotch presented Bea, in her own words at the beginning and the end, and how those small sections, coupled with her friends’ memories, were enough to understand who she was, why she was their anchor, and why they all felt a bit lost without her.

What I disliked: I didn’t mind that I couldn’t truly identify with any of the characters, as I found their stories intriguing. However, I found them to be very childish at times, especially their actions toward the end of the book. It just seemed to get more unbelievable and ridiculous with every chapter, and while I was never bored and did find their antics entertaining to a certain extent, I think it lessened the impact of the novel.

Final thoughts: In Twenty Years is a novel about friendship, love, and growing up. It’s also about accepting what happened in the past, accepting responsibility for one’s actions and happiness/unhappiness, and realizing that the future is a blank slate with promise and hope. I look forward to reading more by Scotch in the future.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for In Twenty Years. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received In Twenty Years from Lake Union Publishing 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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IMG_0888 2

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

‘You have tremendous power and need not be ruled over, or dictated to by any man,’ Mrs. Gardiner had insisted. ‘You may become your own woman; you may command your own ship, and you may do tremendous good, if you should choose. This is your life now, and you ought to make the most of it. Wishing for something else will not change things and you are wasting your life away if you carry on letting others take on the duties that ought to be yours.’

(from The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet)

Quick summary: The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that significantly departs from canon. Caitlin Williams tells the story of a 15-year-old Elizabeth Bennet who makes some foolish decisions after the death of her father that result in her having to marry 23-year-old Fitzwilliam Darcy, the son of her new guardian. Mr. Bennet’s death sees the Bennet sisters split up, and Elizabeth is whisked off to Pemberley, where she is isolated from her beloved sister, Jane, and married to a man who acts like she doesn’t exist. With Darcy away for the first few years of her marriage and under the watchful eye of Colonel Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth grows into a charming young woman, a true mistress of Pemberley. But just because Darcy sees her in a new light doesn’t mean she sees him differently.

Why I wanted to read it: It sounded unique in terms of Pride and Prejudice variations. I’m still amazed that authors continue to find fresh ways to retell a single novel!

What I liked: Williams certainly took time to develop her characters. Darcy and Elizabeth were not very likeable at the beginning of the novel, and Darcy continued to be unlikeable for much of the first half of the novel. While disliking these beloved characters could turn some readers off, I thought it worked in that you see how their circumstances change them over time and how they grow into a mature couple. It’s hard to imagine that anyone forced to marry under such circumstances would find happiness together right away, so it was a realistic portrayal in my opinion.

I also loved how Williams worked in various aspects of Austen’s novel but using different characters and situations, and I enjoyed the original characters, namely the governess Miss Temple and Elizabeth’s maid Rose. Mr. Wickham and Caroline Bingley still manage to be delightfully horrid, and it was nice getting to know the elder Mr. Darcy as well. Colonel Fitzwilliam was a very likeable character, and his relationship with Elizabeth was sweet and his playing middleman between Darcy and Elizabeth was entertaining.

What I disliked: I admit that it was hard to dislike Elizabeth and Darcy for some of the book, but making them disagreeable definitely furthered the story in terms of character development and evolution. But other than that, I enjoyed the story from start to finish.

Final thoughts: The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet is a thoughtful portrayal of Darcy and Elizabeth in less than ideal circumstances. Williams does a fantastic job transforming them into the characters we know and love. I can’t wait to read more of her work in the future!

Caitlin WilliamsAbout the author: Caitlin Williams lives in Kent, England, with her family. She fell in love with all things Regency as a teenager, but particularly admires the work of Jane Austen and the way she masterfully combines humour and romance, while weaving them through such wonderful stories and characters.

Pride and Prejudice is Caitlin’s favourite novel and she finds Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet so deliciously entertaining that she likes to borrow them from Ms Austen and enjoys the challenge of putting them in different places and situations.

Her debut novel, Ardently, was written as a hobby, usually with her laptop balanced on the kitchen worktop, typing with one hand, a glass of wine in the other, while she also attempted to cook dinner and keep her children from killing each other. The success of Ardently was as much a surprise to her, as it was to anyone else, and she has been thrilled and genuinely thankful for the positive responses and reviews it generated.

Her second novel, The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet, is a portrait of a much younger Elizabeth, who is thrown into an extraordinary set of circumstances due to the premature death of Mr Bennet, and she hopes you all enjoy it very much.

Connect with Caitlin on Facebook, her Goodreads author page, and Goodreads blog.

Check out The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet on Amazon and Goodreads.

Follow the blog tour:

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June 13/ My Jane Austen Book Club/Launch Post/“Happy Birthday Fanny Burney & The Coming Of Age Of Elizabeth Bennet” & Giveaway
June 14/ So Little Time… / Book Excerpt & Giveaway
June 15/ Just Jane 1813/An Exclusive Interview with Caitlin Williams
June 16/ From Pemberley to Milton/Book Review & Giveaway
June 17/ Margie’s Must Reads/ Book Excerpt & Giveaway
June 18/ The Calico Critic/Book Review & Giveaway
June 19/ Babblings of a Bookworm/“The Education of a Young Lady” Guest Post & Giveaway
June 20/ Half Agony, Half Hope/Book Review
June 21/ More Agreeably Engaged/ Book Review & Giveaway
June 22/ My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice /Book Excerpt & Giveaway
June 23/ Liz’s Reading Life / “A Nod and A Wink to Austen” Guest Post & Giveaway
June 24/ Diary of an Eccentric/Book Review
June 25/ Laughing With Lizzie/ “The Young Master” Guest Post & Giveaway
June 26/ A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life/ “A Most Scandalous” Guest Post

Disclosure: I received The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet 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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