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tasa's song

Source: Review copy from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing
Rating: ★★★★☆

As she drew out the deepest of notes and boldest of chords, from lightly melodic to sharp and unyielding, and the song asserted its melancholic voice, she felt her tears fall, unrestrained, down her cheeks.

(from Tasa’s Song)

Quick summary: Tasa’s Song spans the years 1933-1947 and follows Tasa Rosinski, whose peaceful life in Eastern Poland is torn apart by war. Linda Kass, inspired by her mother’s childhood, tells the tale of a young Jewish girl whose passion for music and the violin, the happy memories of her parents, and the love of her cousin, Danik, help her stay strong as the war leaves her without a home and forces her fractured family underground.

Why I wanted to read it: I have a weakness for World War II novels, especially those set in Europe and with a strong female character in the lead.

What I liked: Kass opens the novel with Tasa’s family having to run from the approaching Germans and then takes readers back in time, when Tasa’s father was so sure that the political turmoil following the rise of Hitler would leave their village and their lives unaffected. Kass does a fantastic job developing the characters of Tasa and Danik as they leave their small village for an education in Brody and the warm home of Frau Rothstein and then are brought back together by the war and find solace in their love for one another. Shortly after Germany declares war on Poland, Tasa’s village and the surrounding area become part of the Ukrainian Republic, and Kass shows the confusion and the chaos over the course of the war as control of the area frequently changes hands between the Germans and the Soviets.

What I disliked: The novel opens with a bang, but quickly backtracks to Tasa’s childhood and then moves forward chronologically, and that slowed the pace a bit. There also was a bit too much description in spots, particularly at the beginning, but somewhere around page 60-70, I finally felt invested in the characters, and the pace picked up. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying and appreciating the novel, especially since I really enjoyed Kass’ writing overall. It might’ve just been my mood at the time, so I’m so glad I kept on reading!

Final thoughts: Tasa’s Song shows the various changes that occurred in Europe in the years before the war and how signs of trouble brewing were visible but not always taken seriously. The novel emphasizes everyday life in wartime, how people became immune to the sounds of the fighting after a time, how they waited for months or years to receive letters from loved ones, and the moments of hope that shone through the dark clouds of loss. Despite all that Tasa endures, she never gives up, never stops fighting, and never stops hearing the music inside of her. She is definitely a character I won’t soon forget.

Disclosure: I received Tasa’s Song from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing 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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weeping women springs

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

“There must be another way to protect our country that doesn’t involve the death of all of our young boys.”

“The world hasn’t discovered it yet.”

“They haven’t looked very hard. Maybe that’s because all the young men keep offering themselves up for war. Perhaps because they keep sacrificing themselves. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

(from Weeping Women Springs)

Quick summary: Weeping Women Springs is a novel about an isolated town in New Mexico known as Hope Springs, where just a taste of the water from the spring will make you feel hope, maybe even heal you, and you’ll never want to leave. No one knows the reason why the spring water has such a magical effect on people, but the residents go to great lengths to protect their secret. However, Hope Springs’ wartime losses draw attention to the town, and the grieving women are no longer able to draw strength from the water. Tamara Eaton takes readers on a journey from the early days of the United States’ involvement in World War II through the Korean War and beyond as the women of what once was known as Hope Springs remember how things were before the wars and explain how they did their best to honor their men and pick up the pieces left behind in the aftermath.

Why I wanted to read it: I liked the idea of a World War II novel with a bit of magical realism.

What I liked: I enjoyed how Eaton told the story in the voices of the women of the town: Liv, who is strong, determined, and outspoken, puts the needs of the town first, and ultimately becomes a leader in the Council; Maxine, who runs the general store alone after the deaths of her parents and marries her high school sweetheart just before he goes off to war; Ruth, who often butts head with Liv and whose desire to find happiness is at odds with the goals of the Council; and Susie, who loses herself in books to escape her grief. Eaton also includes the journals of Anna, whose three sons all went off to war. Even though the women are revisiting the past and telling their stories to a journalist, Eaton manages to put readers into the center of the town and into the heads of each of the characters, feeling the excitement right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the despair that accompanies their losses.

What I disliked: At times I found parts of the story hard to believe, mainly the actions of the Council in controlling the lives of the townspeople and the extreme actions of the grief-stricken women. However, it did make sense in the context of the story and in the way the characters were developed, and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel.

Final thoughts: Weeping Women Springs is a thoughtful, complex tale of the sacrifices made on the homefront during wartime, with those left behind forced to contend with the fact that their loved ones were never coming home. Eaton shows how war rips apart people in the literal sense and also tears apart the lives of those who never set foot on an actual battlefield. The women are able to go on because of their devotion to their soldiers, the routines they adopt to honor their memory, and the town’s ability to hide from the outside world. And when their way of life must come to an end, Eaton shows how they still manage to move forward.

Disclosure: I received Weeping Women Springs 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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lost among the living

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

Someone should write a poem, I thought, about the women. Not just about the men marching bravely to war and dying, but about their wives, their girls, their mothers and sisters and daughters, sitting in silence and screaming into the darkness. … Someone should write a poem about the women. But I already knew that no one ever would.

(from Lost Among the Living)

Quick summary: Lost Among the Living, the latest novel by Simone St. James, is an atmospheric tale set in Sussex, England, in 1921. The novel is told from the point of view of Jo Manders, whose husband, Alex, went missing in The Great War when his plane went down. She is an unofficial war widow, and without a body to claim, and therefore no widow’s pension, she takes the role of paid companion to her husband’s aunt, Dottie Forsyth, who is focused on two things: selling the art she bought while touring the Continent and finding a wife for her wounded son, Martin, who is only now returning from the war. Not long after she arrives at Wych Elm House, Jo sees the ghost of Dottie’s daughter, Frances Forsyth, whose mental illness and mysterious death sparked numerous rumors about the family. Jo is determined to find out why Frances keeps appearing only to her — even if it means she must come to terms with the fact that she didn’t know her husband as well as she thought she did.

Why I wanted to read it: I love ghost stories, and I was intrigued by the connection to the Great War.

What I liked: So many times I stumble upon a novel that is supposed to be creepy, atmospheric, and suspenseful only to be let down. But St. James exceeded my expectations with her vivid descriptions (I could easily picture the mist and the blowing leaves that characterized the dreary landscape), and there were even a few times that I contemplated putting the book down because I didn’t want to read it while alone in the house at night. I thought the plot and the characters were well developed, and the pacing was spot on in terms of building suspense. I liked that I was able to put together some but not all of the pieces of the mystery, and the way St. James weaves in the war and Alex’s secrets was clever. The use of the first person viewpoint created even more suspense in that readers only know what Jo knows.

What I disliked: Nothing! If I hadn’t been so busy, I probably would’ve read this book in one sitting.

Final thoughts: Simone St. James is a new-to-me writer, and as soon as I finished Lost Among the Living I determined that I must read her previous novels, which all seem to be equally suspenseful. I loved her writing here, particularly the passages that describe the intensity of Jo and Alex’s relationship, which enable readers to feel Jo’s grief and the frustration inherent in not knowing Alex’s fate. I also liked that while there was romance and passion, Lost Among the Living is at its core a ghost story, but it’s so much more than that. St. James shows the impact of the war on the returning soldiers and the women whose men never came home, as well as the blurring of the boundaries between social classes and how greed and selfishness can tear families apart. It was a deeper, richer novel than I expected and a strong contender for my Best of 2016 list.

Disclosure: I received Lost Among the Living 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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BerthainMe

Source: Review copy from Poetic Book Tours
Rating: ★★★★★

Publisher’s summary: This spring marks the bicentennial of Charlotte Brontë’s birth. In her ambitious and timely debut, The Jane and Bertha in Me, Rita Maria Martinez celebrates Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre. Through wildly inventive, beautifully crafted persona poems, Martinez re-imagines Jane Eyre’s cast of characters in contemporary contexts, from Jane as an Avon saleslady to Bertha as a Stepford wife. These lively, fun, poignant poems prove that Jane Eyre’s fictional universe is just as relevant today as it was so many years ago. The Jane and Bertha in Me is a must-read for any lover of Brontë’s work.

My thoughts: The Jane and Bertha in Me is the best poetry collection I’ve read in a long time. Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much is that I loved Jane Eyre when I read it first in high school and then in college. But the main reason is that Martinez’s voice is fresh, unique, and exciting. She brings Jane Eyre and its characters into the present day and shows how classic novels remain relevant to readers hundreds of years later.

Martinez’s poems are full of vivid imagery (“The Bertha in me sleeps until three in the afternoon and sits on the back porch with a cup of Earl Grey that quells the desire to chop up her crotchety landlord,” from “The Jane and Bertha in Me”), sensual (“Charlotte’s manuscript sepulchered like an incorruptible saint, splayed on its back like a woman whose architecture I want to touch,” from “At the British Library”), insightful (“Pain caused by first love never truly subsides,” from “Jane’s Denial”), and even humorous (“She’ll be sorry for canoodling with the missionary, thinks Rochester, who’s exceeded his cursing quota and looks like Wolverine,” from “Jane Eyre: Classic Cover Girl”). Martinez even writes about Brontë herself, from her different personas to the migraines she suffered through in order to create her “pristine prose” (from “The Literature of Prescription”).

These poems make one consider the numerous personas inside each of us and how, in the hands of a skilled author, fictional characters are just as complex as real people. I appreciated the Notes section at the end of the book that explained Martinez’s inspiration for some of the poems. As in any poetry collection, there were poems I liked better than others, but I can definitely see myself revisiting The Jane and Bertha in Me in the future.

While it’s not necessary to have read Jane Eyre to enjoy The Jane and Bertha in Me, it certainly would help. Even if you’ve only seen one of the movie adaptations, that’s enough for you to know the main characters who appear in these poems.

What others are saying about The Jane and Bertha in Me:

The Jane and Bertha in Me is a Rubik’s Cube(TM) of Janes. Each poem is a smartly annotated, hauntingly revisionist homage to Jane Eyre. Martinez’s astounding poems are literary, conversational, personal, fun, as she confidently transports her Janes from the Moors to Macy’s, from Thornfield Hall to the world of tattoos. —Denise Duhamel, author of Blowout

Rita Maria Martinez’s The Jane and Bertha in Me gives an unusual twist to the well-known characters from Jane Eyre, envisioning Jane at the guidance counselor, Bertha getting a makeover. These persona poems give us greater insight into the minds of madwoman and governess alike and even minor characters like Blanche and Alice, with beautiful, lush language and empathetic vision. Even casual fans of Brontë’s great book will enjoy this lively re-imagining. —Jeannine Hall Gailey, author of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter

About the poet:

IMG_0377 - CopyRita Maria Martinez is a Cuban-American poet from Miami, Florida. Her writing has been published in journals including the Notre Dame Review, Ploughshares, MiPOesias, and 2River View. She authored the chapbook Jane-in-the-Box, published by March Street Press in 2008. Her poetry also appears in the textbook Three Genres: The Writing of Fiction/Literary Nonfiction, Poetry and Drama, published by Prentice Hall; and in the anthology Burnt Sugar, Caña Quemada: Contemporary Cuban Poetry in English and Spanish, published by Simon & Schuster. Martinez has been a featured author at the Miami Book Fair International; at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida; and at the Palabra Pura reading series sponsored by the Guild Literary Complex in Chicago. She earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Florida International University.

To follow The Jane and Bertha in Me blog tour, visit Poetic Book Tours.

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Disclosure: I received The Jane and Bertha in Me from 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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htmabhCOVER

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

Mr. Darcy represented a time in her life when she had been happy, when everything was normal, and when her family was complete. While she may not have thought much of Mr. Darcy at the time, he reminded her of those days, giving her a sense of home and the familiar before everything went so wrong in her life. The new life she had just accepted would set her down a new path with new experiences and new people.

(from How to Mend a Broken Heart)

Quick summary: How to Mend a Broken Heart is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set three years after Mr. Darcy’s failed proposed to Elizabeth Bennet at Hunsford. A lot has happened in those three years: Mr. Wickham eloped with Lydia Bennet and then immigrated to America, Mr. Bennet died, and Mrs. Bennet and her daughters moved to Standfield Hall to live on their cousin Lady Webberley’s estate. The countess, Emily, took Elizabeth under her wing, and the book opens shortly after her death as Elizabeth arrives in London to stay with Emily’s cousin, the dowager Lady Matlock. Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy has never forgotten Elizabeth but realizes he needs to move on, to provide Pemberley with an heir and Georgiana with a sister who can guide her through the upcoming Season. But right after Darcy proposes to the widow Mrs. Wagstaff, he encounters Elizabeth in his aunt’s drawing room and vows to make her change her opinion of him. Elizabeth’s presentation at court with the dowager as her sponsor means she and Darcy are often in each other’s company — which is dangerous when he is promised to another, a woman who is determined to become Mrs. Darcy.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued by the prospect of Darcy being engaged, and knowing that his honor would force him to make good on his promises made me curious about how he and Elizabeth would achieve a happily ever after.

What I liked: I’ve never read a Pride and Prejudice variation in which Lady Matlock was a main character, and I really enjoyed getting to know her and watching her relationship with Elizabeth strengthen as they both worked through the problems that had been keeping them from embracing life. I liked how Parsons changed up some of the romantic pairings of the characters and introduced some interesting original characters, like Mrs. Wagstaff. The fate of the Bennet family and the decisions Elizabeth was forced to make in the wake of Lady Webberley’s death were unique touches.

What I disliked: I must admit I had a hard time with this book, especially the first half, but I was curious to learn how things would play out, and overall I am glad I kept reading. I had a hard time believing that Darcy would choose someone like Mrs. Wagstaff as a wife, even if he was lonely and determined to move on with his life. I also had a difficult time with the sexual aspects of the story; I don’t mind reading sex scenes, but I’m not fond of reading about characters pleasuring themselves, and while it was common for the upper class men to visit brothels, I don’t want to read detailed scenes involving the romantic heroes.

Final thoughts: I appreciated the unique aspects of How to Mend a Broken Heart, from Elizabeth’s new circumstances in life to the consequences of Darcy’s impulsive actions in the midst of loneliness. Without the sex scenes that I found to be a bit much for such a tale, I would have loved it.

Click the banner below to check out the other stops on the How to Mend a Broken Heart blog tour!

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Disclosure: I received How to Mend a Broken Heart from Mertyon Press 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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ASA cover

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

“I clean up pretty well for a tomboy, don’t I?” She stared Darcy straight in the eye.

Bloody hell. “You heard that?” He glared at Charles. “Your phone was on speaker? And you didn’t tell me?”

Charles shrugged. “I was doing yoga. It never occurred to me that my highborn friend would say something stupidly insulting about my girlfriend’s sister.”

(from A Searing Acquaintance)

Quick summary: J.L. Ashton’s debut novel, A Searing Acquaintance, is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet is a grad student working for a marketing firm who wants to become a writer. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a businessman from a well-known family with a tragic past. They meet at a University of Meryton football game, where Darcy earns the nickname “Mr. Noir,” and Elizabeth calls him out for his lack of team spirit. When his best friend, Charles Bingley, and her sister, Jane Bennet, hit it off and start dating, Elizabeth and Darcy are forced to endure each other’s company, but a heated moment and a misunderstanding during a weekend getaway to Netherfield lead to months of tension between the pair. Complicating matters are Elizabeth’s work on a sports book, with help from the sports agent George Wickham; George’s characterization of Darcy as a ladies’ man; Elizabeth’s mother, who ran away from the family when Elizabeth was a little girl to pursue her dream of being a country singer; and Darcy’s need to deal with his past and the guilt he has carried with him since he was a teenager.

Why I wanted to read it: I can’t pass up a modern-day Pride and Prejudice!

What I liked: Ashton transforms Darcy into a tragic hero, which means there are more obstacles for him to overcome than his awkwardness in social situations and his pride. Elizabeth’s relationship with her family is more complicated here, which adds another layer to the story. I loved Ashton’s take on the secondary characters, particularly Sylvia Bennet-LaRue, an outrageous take on Mrs. Bennet; Catherine de Bourgh, who reminded me of the Lady Catherine in the Laurence Olivier/Greer Garson movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; and Annabella de Bourgh, the performance artist who thinks far outside the box. Ashton does a great job building the romantic tension and inserting some humorous and passionate scenes to keep the story from getting too heavy.

What I disliked: The pacing felt a little off about halfway through the book, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment at all. I liked that readers got to see Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship progress.

Final thoughts: A Searing Acquaintance is the perfect modern-day Pride and Prejudice for readers who want a little more darkness and complication with the romance. Ashton does a great job bringing Elizabeth and Darcy into the present and letting readers see their fears, confusion, and desires. The characters felt real to me, and her take on Mr. Darcy is one of my favorites.

Click the banner below to check out the other stops on the A Searing Acquaintance blog tour!

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Disclosure: I received A Searing Acquaintance from Mertyon Press 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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fall of poppies

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★★

We were a wounded people — walking wounded — with some of us more scarred inside than our exteriors revealed. Who and what was going to glue us together again?

Love.

(from “After You’ve Gone” by Evangeline Holland in Fall of Poppies)

Quick Summary: Fall of Poppies is a collection of stories by nine contemporary best-selling authors all set on or near Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Each of these stories beautifully tell a tale of love and hope, but also loss and pain. These stories detail the ways in which World War I, or the Great War, forever upended lives. From a young girl who finds love while helping create facial masks for wounded soldiers to an airman whose fear of loneliness prompts him to make a spontaneous offer right before going into combat, Fall of Poppies shows the impact of war, both the horrifying and the uplifting.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m drawn to stories set during the Great War, and I’ve enjoyed novels by several of these authors in the past.

The Stories: “The Daughter of Belgium” by Marci Jefferson * “The Record Set Right” by Lauren Willig * “All for the Love of You” by Jennifer Robson * “After You’ve Gone” by Evangeline Holland * “Something Worth Landing For” by Jessica Brockmole * “Hour of the Bells” by Heather Webb * “An American Airman in Paris” by Beatriz Williams * “The Photograph” by Kate Kerrigan * “Hush” by Hazel Gaynor

What I liked: I loved all of the stories in this collection, and it was hard to choose my favorites. The settings are varied, including an abandoned hospital in Belguim, an estate in England, the sky above the trenches, and various places in France, and the characters are all unique and memorable in their personalities and circumstances. This variety, coupled with the ability of each of these authors to quickly pull readers into their stories, made me want to read the entire book in one sitting but also made me glad that the chaos of daily life forced me to savor these stories over a longer period.

What I disliked: I only wish that I could’ve spent more time in each of these stories to see how the characters fared years after the war.

Final thoughts: People have a tendency to remember exactly where they were during important dates in history, and Fall of Poppies shows where the characters in each story were — both physically and emotionally — when the Great War ended. In the aftermath of the war, countless people wondered how to move forward and rebuild their lives after they lost so much, but these stories show that even in the midst of all the grief, there was a sense of relief and hope. At a time when I’m culling tons of books from my library and keeping very few new arrivals in the interests of space, Fall of Poppies has earned a permanent spot on the shelves and likely will be re-read at some point. Definitely a contender for my “Best of 2016” list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the Fall of Poppies tour.  Click here to follow the tour.

Disclosure: I received Fall of Poppies from William Morrow 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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