Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

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.

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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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even in darkness

Source: Review copy from PR by the Book
Rating: ★★★★★

At the bottom of the canvas, a woman clutching her baby appeared to stare straight out at her, and Kläre thought she could hear her ask, “How must I save them?”  An answer flew to Kläre from a place of deep knowing.

“With a strong heart,” she said quietly.

(from Even in Darkness)

Quick summary: Even in Darkness is a novel that spans the world wars and beyond, focusing on Kläre Kohler, a Jewish woman living in Germany in a time of turmoil.  Barbara Stark-Nemon brings to life the story of her great aunt, portraying a strong woman who lives a life filled with hardship and loss but finds love in a most unexpected way.  From a German village with memories of a happier time to the horrors of Theresienstadt to a flourishing kibbutz in Israel, Stark-Nemon takes readers on a journey marked by deep grief but also hope, love, and peace.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m drawn to novels set during the world wars, and I was intrigued by Kläre’s story, more so when I learned the novel was based on a true story.

What I liked: Even in Darkness is a beautifully written novel centered on a strong woman. Kläre is such a complex character, a woman who loves fiercely and completely, a woman who goes to extraordinary lengths to keep her family safe. She marries Jakob despite his serious manner, and while her passion is directed toward someone else, Kläre tenderly cares for him as the tremors related to a gas attack during World War I worsen over the years. She knows she must get her children out of Germany despite the pain of separation. She reaches out to her best friend’s stepson, who is isolated from his family, and she protects her frail mother after their deportation. She even uses her training in massage from her work during the first war to keep her alive in the second. Time and again I was amazed by her strength and her courage and fascinated by her story.

What I disliked: That there wasn’t a tissue in sight when I needed one!

Final thoughts: Even in Darkness is a novel that shows both the best and worst of humanity, and in showing how Kläre rebuilt the broken pieces of her life after World War II, Stark-Nemon shows how hope and love won in the end.  Love is at the core of this novel, in all its forms, and the fact that Kläre felt that emotion and so strongly after all she endured is remarkable and inspirational.  I felt so connected to Kläre and invested in her story that I wasn’t ready for it to end, though the final lines of the novel are true gems.

Disclosure: I received Even in Darkness from PR by the Book 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 peculiar connection

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

I would be as I had ever been…before I loved him.

With a determined set to my shoulders, I turned and quietly crawled back into bed, hoping to avoid waking Jane.  The only problem that remained was what to do with the pain in my heart.

(from A Peculiar Connection)

Quick summary: Jan Hahn’s A Peculiar Connection is a variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that opens with Lady Catherine’s arrival at Longbourn.  In this “alternate path,” Lady Catherine drops a bomb on the Bennet family in the form of an old letter that drives a wedge between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy even as it brings them together.  Unable to acknowledge or deny the passion that flames between them, the pair journeys from London to Bath to Ireland and must piece together clues from paintings, a rundown mansion, a hidden church, and old documents to shed light on long-buried secrets.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued by the cover of this novel, and once I read the summary, I just had to know what happens!

What I liked: I was hooked from the very first page and found it hard to tear myself away to work, eat, or sleep.  Seriously, this novel took me on an emotional roller coaster, making me laugh, cry, and get angry, sometimes in the same chapter.  Hahn’s writing is fantastic; I could feel the desire, sorrow, and despair, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the lighter moments, like Darcy and Elizabeth discussing potential nicknames for each other.  Hahn’s decision to write the novel from the first person viewpoint of Elizabeth was brilliant, as giving readers a front seat to her emotional turmoil, though painful, was so much more powerful.

What I disliked: Absolutely nothing!

Final thoughts: A Peculiar Connection is one of the best Austen-inspired novels I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of really good ones!  It has everything I’m looking for in a Pride and Prejudice variation these days, including a unique plot, a bit of mystery, and even a little darkness to balance out all the lovey-dovey stuff you expect in a novel about Darcy and Elizabeth.  A Peculiar Connection will definitely be on my “Best of 2015″ list!

Disclosure: I received A Peculiar Connection 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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hummingbirds in winter

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

For Solansky, it was a new beginning that started with one great sweep of an arpeggio spanning several octaves and then several smaller arpeggios falling part way back down the keyboard. It was as if for every great step forward, Solansky had to endure several tumbles back downward, but that was just the beginning. There would be other great sweeps forward, again and again.

(from Hummingbirds in Winter, page 78)

Quick summary: Hummingbirds in Winter is a novel about composer Ben Solansky and his determination to save himself and his family — his wife, Ilonia, a soprano, and their children, David, a musician, and Lily, an artist — from the Nazis. Solansky manages to get his family out of Poland before the Nazi invasion, and author Anna Franco chronicles the family’s movements from country to country in a quest to get to New York. Franco details the lengths Solansky is willing to go to keep his family safe and the musical pieces he composes during the war, particularly the ones that bring to life America’s involvement in the war, both in Europe and the Pacific. The novel also follows the Resistance activities of people the Solanskys meet in Denmark and Brussels, providing a variety of wartime perspectives.

Why I wanted to read it: I can’t resist novels about escapes set during World War II.

What I liked: Hummingbirds in Winter shines in Franco’s descriptions of Solansky’s musical compositions, and I enjoyed how I could almost hear the pieces while I read about them, which is saying a lot because I know so little about classical music. It was a quick read, and I was intrigued by the characters and their stories.

What I disliked: The narrative lacks description, aside from the musical aspects of the story, and feels like the narrator simply tells readers what has happened. While I found the story readable and interesting, the characters and the various scenes could have been fleshed out more. Huge events that were important to the plot and the evolution of the characters were described in just a few paragraphs, which prevented the scenes and the characters from really coming to life. I was able to understand the characters and their motivations, but I just couldn’t connect with them.

Final thoughts: Hummingbirds in Winter is a novel about perseverance and making the best of any circumstance. The Solanskys gave up successful careers and left all of their belongings behind in an effort to survive persecution (and worse) at the hands of the Nazis, and they started over, settled into a routine, then uprooted themselves over and over again in order to stay alive. But Ben and his family kept living and creating, never taking their eyes off the prize. Although I would have preferred a fuller, more descriptive narrative and an emotional connection with the characters, the fast pace and intriguing characters enabled me to enjoy the novel overall.

Disclosure: I received Hummingbirds in Winter 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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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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Source: Review copy from Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

Whatever the consequences of my actions have been, I have lived my life exactly the way I wished to.  I suppose no one can ask for anything more than that.  Yes, I am content.  What good will it do to go on hating circumstances that are out of my very limited control?  It is better to have lived with sorrow than not lived at all.  After all, without great sorrow how would we know when we are fortunate enough to experience great joy?

(from Aerendgast)

Quick summary: After the death of her grandmother, literature professor and historian Violet Desmond learns that her whole life has been a lie.  Millie leaves behind a few clues that send Violet on a hunt for the truth, and Violet soon learns that a cameo that belonged to her parents has put her life in danger.  Plagued by dreams and visions of Jane Austen, Violet realizes she is seeing a part of the author’s life that no one knows about and that Jane needs her help.  With the help of professional treasure hunter Peter Knighton, Violet must solve a riddle and uncover the dark secrets that haunted Jane before it is too late.  In Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen, Rachel Berman takes Violet and readers on a journey from London to the archives and unexplored depths of Aerendgast Hallows to the places Austen visited in her lifetime and worked into her novels.

Why I wanted to read it: Of course, the Jane Austen connection grabbed my attention right away, but I’m always intrigued by novels that imagine some secret life for Austen, as I think she’d find them amusing.

What I liked: The “lost history” of Jane Austen is creative, and Berman makes it believable.   I was surprised how emotional the novel made me, and when I teared up a few times, I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t a true story!  When reading a dual-narrative novel, I often find it hard to connect with the main character in the present-day, but Violet was a likeable heroine.  I wanted to shake some sense into her at times, but I could understand her need to keep going at all costs, given all the gaps in her past and everything she missed while growing up.  I especially liked the pacing of the story and the hint of danger throughout.

What I disliked: Although it didn’t bother me that I’d figured out the mystery before Violet did, there were things that should have been obvious to her earlier on but weren’t.  I liked Peter and how his motivations for helping Violet were a bit complicated, and while his motives could have thrown a major wrench in Violet’s plans, this obstacle was eliminated a bit too easily.  Also, the novel seemed to lose some steam toward the end, when the villains were hot on Violet’s trail, mostly because it wasn’t always clear what they were after, and all the running around was almost too much.

Final thoughts: Overall, Aerendgast was an exciting novel that drew me in from the shocking prologue.  I enjoyed Berman’s writing, and I loved how she left open the possibility of Violet and Peter going on another treasure hunt.  I really hope to see them again!

Disclosure: I received Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen 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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