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a-vintage-valentine

Source: Read online at Vanity & Pride Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

She was sure of the magic of Valentine’s Day, felt it in her bones. She didn’t know what to expect, but she knew this dress was part of it.

(from “A Vintage Valentine”)

Cat Gardiner’s “A Vintage Valentine” is a modern-day short story inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Lizzy Bennet is a dance instructor without a sweetheart on Valentine’s Day. At her sister Jane’s recommendation, Lizzy visits the Memories of Old antique shop on the rundown east side of Meryton, where the elderly shopkeeper, Doris, insists she check out the booth full of items from the 1940s. After picking up a plastic red heart brooch, Lizzy is magically transported back in time to a USO dance in 1943 and is swept off her feet by a charming GI named Will Darcy.

Traveling back 74 years is enjoyable to Lizzy, who has been contemplating a simpler life with less reliance on technology that has absorbed so much of people’s time and attention they don’t actually experience things anymore. However, Lizzy’s place is in the present.  Doris explains the reason why she needed to go back and right a major wrong, but being a true romantic, Doris assures Lizzy that there is something special in store for her as well.

“A Vintage Valentine” is a delightfully sweet tale that combines two of my favorite things: Jane Austen and the World War II era. Gardiner does a great job shifting the characters from past to present and cleverly incorporating aspects of Pride and Prejudice with time travel. Gardiner’s tales never fail to put a smile on my face, and I found myself wishing I could travel back to the romance of the 1940s myself. It’s a feel-good story with a heart-warming ending and a bit of passion and humor throughout.

Disclosure: I read “A Vintage Valentine” for free online at Vanity & Pride Press but it also is available on Amazon

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Happy New Year!! I thought I would start off 2017 by celebrating the best of the books I read last year. Rather than do my usual Top 10 list, I thought I’d try something new this year and list my favorites in various categories, with links to (and quotes from) my reviews.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (WWII)

A Moment Forever by Cat Gardiner

A Moment Forever Cover LARGE EBOOK

A Moment Forever is not a book you merely read; Gardiner ensures you actually live the story — from the overindulgence of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the wartime excitement in the Big Apple, from the airfields and USO dances and the fashions of the ’40s to the solemnity of Paris 50 years after the roundup of its Jewish residents for deportation. There are so many layers to this story, and I never wanted it to end.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (OTHER ERA)

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

lost among the living

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.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (REGENCY)

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes

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Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter is a beautifully written novel, with just the right amount of angst to move me to the brink of tears without making me put the book down in despair. Starnes has a knack for putting Elizabeth and Darcy in impossible situations, delving deep into their souls, and keeping readers on the edge of their seats as they wonder how a happily ever after will be achieved. I loved the pacing of the novel, and Starnes does a wonderful job evolving their relationship through many ups and downs as they navigate the challenges posed by their families and themselves.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (MODERN)

Without a Conscience by Cat Gardiner

without-a-conscience

Like Denial of Conscience, Without a Conscience is sexy (definitely for mature audiences only) and exciting from the very first page. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who weaves clever plots and navigates Darcy and Liz through the twists and turns while further evolving their relationship. In the midst of the danger and excitement, Gardiner provides plenty of humor, and the obvious rivalry between Liz and Caroline had me laughing out loud several times. The novel is perfectly paced, and there’s just something about Gardiner’s writing style that has me hanging on every word.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (SECONDARY CHARACTERS)

The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace

the-trouble-to-check-her

The Trouble to Check Her exemplifies why Grace is one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction. Her attention to detail in terms of character development and the history of the era is fantastic, and I hope there is another book in the series (mainly because I want to find out what happened to Jane Bingley after her falling out with Elizabeth Darcy).

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (OTHER)

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James

TEPcover

I enjoyed reading both Elizabeth’s diary and about the rocky start to Charlie and Evie’s relationship and their determination to find Elizabeth’s papers. I especially loved how James showed that even Austen’s beloved couple likely didn’t have a perfect marriage, and by telling that story from the point of view of Elizabeth, readers are able to see her insecurities and her frustration while having little clue what Darcy is thinking or feeling, which creates just the right amount of tension. I also loved getting a glimpse of the Darcys and their family years into their marriage, so they are no longer bright-eyed newlyweds but older and wiser and settled into their life together. Charlie and Evie’s story was exciting and even had some similarities to Darcy and Elizabeth’s, and Charlie’s client, Cressida Carter, is very Caroline Bingley-esque. The dual narratives were seamlessly connected, and the shifts between the two were timed perfectly to ensure readers can’t put the book down.

MOST UNIQUE AUSTEN VARIATION

The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Beau North and Brooke West

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The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy is unique and exciting. It made me laugh, and it left me in tears, so much so that my husband kept asking if I was okay and I worried I would short out my Kindle! It’s been a while since I’ve been so emotionally affected by a Pride and Prejudice variation. It’s absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this year, possibly one of my all-time favorites, and definitely one I won’t forget!

BEST HOLIDAY NOVEL

Lucky 13  by Cat Gardiner

lucky 13

Oh, how I loved this novel! Gardiner is a master at bringing Jane Austen’s characters into the present day and turning up the heat (and the laughs). From their heated arguments to their heated encounters at the jaw-dropping calendar audition and the chest-oiling photo shoot, I couldn’t get enough of this Lizzy and Darcy. The secondary characters are equally entertaining, from Jane, the supermodel with a secret, to Caroline, the matchmaking poochie mama, and especially Charlotte (aka “Punky) and Darcy’s cousin, Rick (aka “Preppy”), who are the most obnoxious of the numerous matchmakers.

BEST POETRY COLLECTION

The Jane and Bertha in Me by Rita Maria Martinez

BerthainMe

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”).

BEST SHORT STORY/COLLECTION

“Tea Time” by Tiffani Burnett-Velez

tea-time

I finished reading “Tea Time” in less than half an hour, and I was satisfied with the abrupt ending even though I wasn’t ready for the story to be over. The final few lines pack a punch and made it a story I won’t soon forget. I can’t wait to read more from Burnett-Velez.

FAVORITE COVER

Undercover by Cat Gardiner

undercover book cover

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.

****

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Some of the more memorable 5-star books from 2016 (click the covers to read my reviews)

darcys-hope

denial-of-conscience

undeceived

COAOEB cover

Miss Darcy's Companion front cover_V4

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Liebeslied-Final-Kindle

the forgotten room

What were your favorite books of 2016? I’d love to know!

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lucky 13

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

Like all the men, Darcy provocatively and slowly slid his spread hand down his greased, bare chest, and it was then that Elizabeth knew she was more than just intrigued. She was attracted to him like a moth to a dangerous flickering flame.

(from Lucky 13)

Cat Gardiner’s Lucky 13 is a modern-day Pride and Prejudice that follows confident NYC advertising executive and kickass kickboxer Elizabeth Bennet as she embarks on a quest to find a date for Christmas dinner at her parents’ house in Meryton, Long Island, and for her sister Jane’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. Lizzy has long considered herself Unlucky 13 — from the day of her birth when she should have been a boy to Thanksgiving Day 2013 when she’s the only single at the table, much to her mother’s disappointment.

As part of her quest, she enlists the help of her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, who persuades Lizzy to start a blog about her adventures — beginning with a disastrous personal ad — and even convinces her to try everything from speed dating to a Jewish matchmaker. Meanwhile, Lizzy is working on a fundraiser for the FD Burn Foundation, which involves putting together a calendar of the smokin’ hot men of the NYFD. Her job puts her in the sights of firefighter and Pem Tech executive Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is still smarting from his perceived snub by “The Black Widow” at the gym.

Christmas is a difficult time for Darcy, as the anniversary of his parents’ tragic death approaches, but since meeting Elizabeth, he thinks it just might be possible to embrace the Christmas spirit and live again. However, Elizabeth is dead set against “Mr. December” and resists his every attempt to show her that he really isn’t the arrogant and cranky man she thinks he is. Lizzy and Darcy’s friends and family see what the pair keep trying to deny, but can they succeed in bringing together two strong-willed people determined to misunderstand each other?

Oh, how I loved this novel! Gardiner is a master at bringing Jane Austen’s characters into the present day and turning up the heat (and the laughs). From their heated arguments to their heated encounters at the jaw-dropping calendar audition and the chest-oiling photo shoot, I couldn’t get enough of this Lizzy and Darcy. The secondary characters are equally entertaining, from Jane, the supermodel with a secret, to Caroline, the matchmaking poochie mama, and especially Charlotte (aka “Punky) and Darcy’s cousin, Rick (aka “Preppy”), who are the most obnoxious of the numerous matchmakers. In a fun addition, Gardiner offers readers the chance to read Lizzy’s and Charlotte’s blog posts, which are linked at the end of every chapter in the Kindle edition. (Check out these extras as well: Lucky 13 Pinterest Board, Lucky 13 Audition Pinterest Board, Lucky 13 Spotify List, Lucky 13 Audition Spotify List)

Lucky 13 takes readers on a romantic journey as Elizabeth and Darcy put their past hurts behind them, and Gardiner even takes readers on a tour of NYC during the hustle and bustle of Christmas. Another winner by Gardiner, and a book I could easily re-read every year during the holidays.

Disclosure: Lucky 13 is from my personal library.

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without-a-conscience

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

Still entangled within his embrace, surrounded by the peaceful cadence of the park, Liz watched how every word the caller spoke brought forth the Iceman. Darcy’s lips grew taut; his body went rigid in her arms. When he finally clicked off without even having voiced a word into the phone, the affectionate man, who moments before was about to seduce her beside the riverbank, was gone.

(from Without a Conscience)

Cat Gardiner has done it again! She knocks it out of the park with her latest release, Without a Conscience, which is book two in the Conscience series that began with Denial of Conscience. Elements of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice emerge again in this newest installment, as Fitzwilliam and Liz Darcy — six months into their marriage and living peacefully at their Virginia estate, Pemberley, training horses and riding their Harleys — seem destined to misunderstand one another. But in Gardiner’s world of drug lords out for revenge, CIA corruption, and contract killers, these misunderstandings can be deadly.

Darcy has retired as the stone-cold assassin Iceman, settling into a quiet and blissful existence with his new wife. Or so thinks, until he receives a call that forces him back into Obsidian to extract his cousin from the jungles of Peru. He has no choice but to go and see Operation Macarena through to the end or the people he loves the most will be in danger. Meanwhile, back at Pemberley, Liz and her sister Jane are being taught self-defense skills — Liz because Darcy deems it necessary and thinks she has some serious skills that need only be teased out, while Jane dreams of being a Bond girl and joining Obsidian alongside her lover, Charlie Bingley.

Liz’s world is thrown into chaos with the arrival of Caroline Bingley to teach the sisters some of her ninja skills. Caroline is jealous of Liz and determined to steal back Darcy, and when Liz overhears a conversation that sends Caroline off to Paris and into her husband’s arms, Liz isn’t just going to sit idle. Already worried that Darcy has grown bored in the new life they have created, Liz is determined to fight for him — and leaves on what she doesn’t realize is a dangerous adventure.

Like Denial of Conscience, Without a Conscience is sexy (definitely for mature audiences only) and exciting from the very first page. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who weaves clever plots and navigates Darcy and Liz through the twists and turns while further evolving their relationship. In the midst of the danger and excitement, Gardiner provides plenty of humor, and the obvious rivalry between Liz and Caroline had me laughing out loud several times. The novel is perfectly paced, and there’s just something about Gardiner’s writing style that has me hanging on every word.

Cat Gardiner has quickly become one of my favorite authors, not just among Austen-inspired fiction. I’ve read several of her novels this year — Undercover, A Moment Forever, and Denial of Conscience — and all were 5-star reads for me. I’m sure one or more of these books will make my Best of 2016 list!

wac-blog-tour

Disclosure: I received Without a Conscience from the author for review.

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denial-of-conscience

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

Yes, the stone-cold sniper hated snakes, each and every one of them, but he knew that while danger was real, fear was never an option. He feared no man, woman, or experience. The only thing the assassin feared was his own demons — or rather, facing them.

(from Denial of Conscience)

Cat Gardiner’s Denial of Conscience is a modern-day Pride and Prejudice of sorts — not a straight retelling but inspired by Jane Austen’s characters. It’s safe to say I’ve never read anything like it. Fitzwilliam Darcy is an assassin contracted by the CIA. Part of the covert civilian contract group Obsidian, Darcy is the Iceman — able to eliminate targets without flinching and so haunted by his past that he has frozen his heart to any woman. That is until he is hired to kill Thomas Bennet and can’t pull the trigger once he spies the stunning Lizzy Bennet in the window of the dilapidated Longbourn Plantation House in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Lizzy knows what it’s like to suppress her true self, having devoted the last eight years of her life to her depressed father’s every need. She’s even willing to marry a man she doesn’t love to save the plantation — her father’s legacy and obsession — from ruin. Darcy’s decision sets in motion a dangerous series of events that force both of them to acknowledge the passion between them and conquer their demons.

Denial of Conscience is a downright hot and sexy novel. Darcy oozes sex appeal; he’s a bad boy with tattoos and a Harley, but he’s also James Bond, suave in a suit in a Monte Carlo casino with Liz on his arm. Oh, how I loved Gardiner’s take on Darcy! The danger and excitement, the passion and the painful soul-searching on nearly every page made this novel unputdownable. I loved how Gardiner worked in other characters — from Jane Bennet the wild child to Caroline Bingley as a cold and calculating member of Obsidian. The intricacies of the operations were well thought out, and there was plenty of humor and action to go along with all the sex. (And, yes, there is a lot of sex in this novel, so be aware!)

guilty-conscience

Source: Gift from the author
Rating: ★★★★☆

Gardiner was so kind as to send me a copy of Guilty Conscience, a novelette to get readers excited about the upcoming sequel, Without a Conscience. I breezed through these vignettes right after finishing Denial of Conscience, loving the scenes with Liz on a Harley and being able to get a glimpse of the next novel. It’s not necessary to read Guilty Conscience, but it sure was fun!

Denial of Conscience was the third novel I’ve read by Gardiner this year (check out my reviews of Undercover and A Moment Forever), and it’s another winner. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller, whether writing a steamy take on Pride and Prejudice or historical fiction. She has a knack for crafting fun and sexy characters and exciting plots. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of her novels, and I’m anxiously awaiting Without a Conscience!

Disclosure: Denial of Conscience is from my personal library.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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A Moment Forever Cover LARGE EBOOK

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

The profile of her grin was as awe inspiring as the impressive bombers themselves, and it was then he truly knew Lizzy Renner was special, different from any other woman he knew. She was a brilliant beacon of light in a dark world and an ingénue, ready and anxious for the next chapter of her life.

(from A Moment Forever)

A Moment Forever is a beautifully crafted novel by Cat Gardiner about a wartime romance that was so much more and a young woman determined to solve the mystery behind a handful of photos and letters that threaten to dig up long-buried secrets. In 1992, 24-year-old Juliana Martel inherits Primrose Cottage in Brooklyn, New York, from her great uncle Will, who simply walked out of the home in 1950 and never returned. Upon entering the home, dusty and unchanged from the past 50 years, Juliana finds a burned letter in the fireplace and a shrine to a beautiful, vivacious young woman named Lizzy, who obviously stole her uncle’s heart and appears to be connected to his reasons for disappearing.

Still struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her father and the fact that she was abandoned by her mother when she was a child, Juliana has lost faith in true love. But when she stumbles upon the World War II-era letters and photos in her uncle’s footlocker, she is sure that Will and Lizzy’s romance is a love story for the ages and proof that a deep, abiding love is possible. A writer for Allure magazine, Juliana sets out to tell Will and Lizzy’s story and soon uncovers a tale of all-consuming passion, unimaginable evils, and overwhelming loss. Juliana’s investigation leads her to Jack Robertson of Newsday, whose connections could help her piece together the puzzle but whose determination to let sleeping dogs lie could stand in her way.

A Moment Forever is a breathtaking novel that takes readers on an emotional roller coaster as it shifts between the 1940s romance of debutante Lizzy Renner and her flyboy, Will Martel, and Juliana’s journey 50 years later that opens up old wounds while healing the holes in her own life. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller, and this novel is perfectly paced. She reveals bits and pieces of information throughout, so you think you know what’s going to happen, and then there’s another twist and turn. I had a hard time putting the book down. I laughed, I cried, I simply loved it. The characters are all endearingly flawed and skillfully developed, and there is so much to ponder about secrets, betrayals, and forgiveness. And I love how Gardiner plays homage to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and not just in the names of her characters. It was fun to see a little something Austenesque here and there.

A Moment Forever is not a book you merely read; Gardiner ensures you actually live the story — from the overindulgence of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the wartime excitement in the Big Apple, from the airfields and USO dances and the fashions of the ’40s to the solemnity of Paris 50 years after the roundup of its Jewish residents for deportation. There are so many layers to this story, and I never wanted it to end. It definitely will make my Best of 2016 list and ranks among my all-time favorite WWII romances.

Disclosure: I received A Moment Forever 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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