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I read 73 books last year, and while I enjoyed most of them, there are a handful that really stood out. Here are my top 10 favorites, with links to my reviews (in no particular order):

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Darcy by Any Other Name by Laura Hile

The Honorable Mr. Darcy by Jennifer Joy

The Best Part of Love by A. D’Orazio

A Lie Universally Hiddenby Anngela Schroeder

T

he Darcy Monologues edited by Christina Boyd

Rules for a Successful Book Club by Victoria Connelly

These Dreams by Nicole Clarkston

The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen by Ada Bright and Cass Grafton

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

Wait for the Rain by Maria Murnane

Attempting Elizabeth by Jessica Grey

Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey by Ginger Monette

Mendacity & Mourning by J.L. Ashton

A Most Handsome Gentleman by Suzan Lauder

What were your favorite books of 2017? Please tell me in the comments!

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Source: Review copy from author

She’d been a little tempted to keep it herself, she had to admit. Indeed, she’d placed it on her shelf of beloved hardbacks just to see what it looked like. But wasn’t that the test of a really good gift? If it truly hurt you to give it away then you knew that it was a good present.

(from Christmas with the Book Lovers)

Christmas with the Book Lovers is the latest installment in Victoria Connelly’s series, The Book Lovers. It is set right after the first book, The Book Lovers, which introduced readers to the Nightingale family, which owns a trio of bookshops in the village of Castle Clare, and children’s book author Callie Logan, who moved from London to Owl Cottage in Newton St. Clare after her marriage ended and befriended Sam Nightingale, the owner of a secondhand bookshop and the founder of the village’s new book club.

In this novella, Callie is spending Christmas Eve with the Nightingale family at Campion House, and she is excited to experience the family tradition of reading ghost stories aloud, specifically those by M.R. James. Callie is intrigued by the family’s recollection of a first edition of a James book that Sam read from in the past and that his mother, Eleanor, swears is haunted. When eerie noises and shadows outside begin to make the family anxious, Callie second-guesses her gift for Sam.

So far I’ve loved every book in this series, and Christmas with the Book Lovers is no exception. This book is perfect for the weeks between Halloween and Christmas, merging spooky stories with yuletide traditions. I loved the idea of a haunted book, and with the entire Nightingale family present for the evening, there was enough banter and anxiety to keep me on the edge of my seat. As with every book in the series, Connelly makes the Nightingale family come alive, and I was envious of Callie because she got to be a part of the family and share in their traditions.

Christmas with the Book Lovers is a short and sweet tale that would be best enjoyed with a hot drink, a warm blanket, darkness outside, and the twinkle of Christmas lights inside. It’s a stellar addition to the series and one I would definitely re-read during the holiday season. I can’t wait to see where Connelly takes these characters next!

Disclosure: I received Christmas with the Book Lovers from the author for review.

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Source: Purchased

‘Thank goodness for books,’ Bryony said. ‘They rescue us so many times, don’t they?’

(from Natural Born Readers)

Natural Born Readers is the third book in The Book Lovers series by Victoria Connelly. Although it can be read on its own, it builds on the previous books, so I highly recommend that you read The Book Lovers and Rules for a Successful Book Club first.

The series centers on the members of the Nightingale family, who own a trio of bookshops in the small village of Castle Clare. Natural Born Readers focuses on Bryony, who runs the children’s bookshop. Bryony is an outgoing, colorful, and passionate person, but she’s hurting inside and has been since her best friend and childhood sweetheart Ben Stratton left Castle Clare behind six years ago to travel the world. She couldn’t bring herself to go with him and didn’t understand how he could leave her behind. And then Ben comes back and seems to want to pick right up where they left off, but he broke Bryony’s heart, and she is determined for him to feel the same pain that he caused her.

Of course, there are things that Bryony doesn’t know, like why Ben was forced to leave Castle Clare, and since she refuses to talk to him, he doesn’t have an opportunity to tell her. Meanwhile, Bryony befriends her neighbor, Flo, an older woman who lives alone and spends her time gardening and caring for the animals on her property. Flo’s life is turned upside down when her great-nephew, Sonny, is dropped on her doorstep, and Bryony is there to provide support when Flo learns the reason Sonny has been left in her care.

Natural Born Readers is another fantastic installment in the series. I can’t get enough of the Nightingales, their Sunday gatherings, their love of books, and their close bond. I liked that Connelly presents the different viewpoints of each character so you can really understand them and their motivations. I wanted to smack Bryony at times and tell her to just tell Ben how she feels, but it was realistic that she wasn’t willing or able to welcome Ben back with open arms after so many years. Bryony and Ben are far from perfect, and I loved that Connelly showed their strengths, their weaknesses, and their mistakes. I can’t wait to see what happens next in this series, as there are still some Nightingales left with stories to tell! Stay tuned for my review of Christmas with the Book Lovers, a novella set between books 1 and 2.

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Source: Review copy from author

Wasn’t reading about other people’s mistakes a welcome relief from living your own? To know that countless other people out there — even if they were fictional — were making great fat miserable mistakes was wonderfully reassuring because it meant that you were not alone.

(from Rules for a Successful Book Club)

Rules for a Successful Book Club is the second installment in Victoria Connelly’s new Book Lovers series. It features the characters from The Book Lovers but is a standalone novel. The focus this time is on Polly Nightingale, a member of the Nightingale clan and Sam’s sister. She spends a lot of time helping out at her siblings’ bookshops and is helping Sam establish his book club in the village. When she’s not at the bookshops or her part-time teaching job, she is a single mother to six-year-old Archie.

Polly’s family worries about her since the disappearance of her husband, Sean, three years ago. Without knowing what happened to him, whether he is dead or alive, Polly is in limbo, afraid to move on with her life. When Jago, a younger musician, enters her and Archie’s lives, Polly isn’t ready to let herself feel again. Slowly, Jago tears down the walls she has built around her heart, but eventually Polly will have to deal with the past, with the truth, and figure out what is best for her son and herself.

I absolutely loved The Book Lovers, and I found myself even more in love with Rules for a Successful Book Club. Again, Connelly focuses on the strong bond of the Nightingale family, especially their love and concern for Polly. I can’t imagine what Polly endured not knowing what happened to her husband for so long and how she managed to get through each day. I couldn’t help but admire her courage, not only in allowing love back into her life but also in overcoming her worries about the thirteen-year age difference. This time, Connelly tackles some serious issues, but she manages to balance it out with plenty of lighthearted and romantic moments, not to mention the hilarious banter among the book club members.

I was so sad when this book ended; it’s been several weeks since I finished it, and I still find myself thinking about these characters. Connelly made them come alive, and I really wish there were a way to jump into the book and become part of the family myself! Needless to say, I can’t wait to read the next installment, Natural Born Readers, and the upcoming Christmas with the Book Lovers. This was definitely one of my favorite books of 2017!

Disclosure: I received Rules for a Successful Book Club from the author for review.

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

‘A good book lives forever,’ he said.

‘I sometimes think it’s easier to love a book more than a person, don’t you think?’ she said. ‘A book doesn’t change — it remains constant and perfect no matter how many times you read it.’

(from The Book Lovers)

The Book Lovers is the first in a new series by Victoria Connelly, whose writing I have loved since I discovered her Austen Addicts series several years ago. This was the first non-Austen-inspired book I’ve read by Connelly so I didn’t know what to expect, but oh my goodness, it was fantastic!

The novel centers on Callie Logan, a children’s book author who leaves the fast pace of London to settle in Owl Cottage in Newton St. Clare. She’s going through a divorce and needs to rediscover her creativity, and a small village where everyone knows everyone seems like just the place to heal. She soon meets the wild adventurer Leo, who takes her hiking through the woods and cooks her meals from ingredients he has foraged, and Sam Nightingale, the owner of a used book store who is trying to start up a book club and is dealing with relationship troubles of his own. Callie forges a friendship with both men, as they each bring something different and needed into her life.

I loved how Connelly introduced such an exciting cast of characters in the Nightingale family, including Sam, his sister Bryony, who owns a children’s bookshop, his parents, and his grandparents, especially the grandfather who is always hanging around Sam’s shop. This is a close-knit family who gets together every Sunday for dinner, and the love they have for one another — even when they get on each other’s nerves — is infectious. I loved how they welcomed Callie with open arms, and how Callie — whose parents are cold and distant — blossomed in their presence.

I couldn’t put this book down, and the characters felt so real to me that I thought about them when I wasn’t reading and couldn’t wait to jump back in and find out what happened next. The best part is they are standalone books, so no cliffhangers, but you’ll want to dive into the next book right away. Stay tuned for my review of book 2 later this week!

Disclosure: I received The Book Lovers from the author for review.

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At Home With Mr. Darcy

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

‘Shall I tackle her now?’ Warwick asked Katherine.

‘I don’t like your use of the word tackle,’ Katherine said.  ‘It sounds like you’re going to get her in some sort of head lock.’

‘I wish I could,’ he said, ‘then maybe I could make her see reason.’

‘You haven’t got to make her see reason,’ Katherine said, ‘only the joys of Jane Austen.’

‘Isn’t that the same thing?’ Warwick asked with a lopsided smile that still melted Katherine.  ‘Leave her to me.  You go and buy yourself a book or something in the shop.’

Katherine laughed.  ‘I don’t need any encouragement to buy books.’

(from At Home With Mr. Darcy)

Quick summary: In the 6th installment of Victoria Connelly’s Austen Addicts series, At Home With Mr. Darcy, Dame Pamela Harcourt of Purley Hall is hosting a Jane Austen Holiday in Derbyshire, the home of Mr. Darcy.  Connelly brings back characters from her previous novels and novellas — newlyweds Warwick and Katherine, Robyn, sisters Roberta and Rose, the moody Mrs. Soames (who brings along her daughter, Annie), and the endearing Doris Norris — for a trip to Chatsworth House and Lyme Park, which became Mr. Darcy’s grand estate, Pemberley, in the movie adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.  But the Janeites are in for some trouble in the form of journalist Melissa Berry, who knows nothing about Jane Austen and doesn’t understand why people remain so interested in her novels today.  The gang sets out to show Melissa the relevance of Austen’s work in the present day and to make her fall in love with Austen herself.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m a big fan of the Austen Addicts series.  (Check out my reviews: A Weekend With Mr. Darcy, Dreaming of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy Forever, Christmas With Mr. Darcy, and Happy Birthday, Mr. Darcy)

What I liked: I love that Connelly has continued this series.  I love these characters, and every time I read a new installment, it feels like I’m catching up with old friends.  Connelly made me feel like I was on holiday with the Janeites and actually visiting the homes with them.  There was a hint of romance for one of the characters, and I couldn’t help but laugh at what happened to another character.  I loved the side stories about Katherine and Warwick settling into their Georgian manor and Robyn’s husband, Dan, trying to take care of their cottage, their toddler, and his horse riding center on his own for a few days.  But most of all, I loved all the talk about books and all-things-Austen, especially the conversation between Robyn and Katherine, a doctor of English literature, about whether Chatsworth was Austen’s inspiration for Pemberley:

‘You think it foolish to try and find the real Pemberley?’ Robyn asked.

‘Not foolish, exactly,’ Katherine said.  ‘I think we all carry it inside us, don’t we?  We each have our own individual version that no film director can really create for us.’

What I disliked:  This novella was delightful and entertaining, and the only thing I disliked was that I finished it so quickly.

Final thoughts: At Home With Mr. Darcy (and the entire Austen Addicts series) is a pure delight for Jane Austen fans.  Readers will want to start from the beginning to fully appreciate these characters and their Austen obsession, but it won’t take long to catch up because only the first three installments are full-length novels.  I may not own any Mr. Darcy trinkets or be able to quote extensively from the novels, but I connect with these characters through a shared love of reading.  Connelly shows that Janeites are proud of their love of Austen but also are able to poke fun at their obsession, and she highlights the sense of community among the Janeites.  At Home With Mr. Darcy is lighthearted and fun, and I really hope Connelly plans on continuing the series.

Disclosure: I received At Home With Mr. Darcy from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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happy birthday mr. darcy

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

‘Can you believe Pride and Prejudice is two hundred years old?’ Robyn said.

‘Mr Darcy is doing very well for his age,’ Dame Pamela said with a little chuckle. ‘Pleasing women for two centuries is no mean feat!’

Everybody laughed and Warwick proposed a toast. ‘Happy Birthday, Mr Darcy!’ he said and they all echoed his sentiments, clinking their glasses with each other as they did so.

(from Happy Birthday, Mr. Darcy)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Darcy is the fifth installment in Victoria Connelly’s Austen Addicts series, reuniting readers with their favorite characters from A Weekend With Mr. Darcy, Dreaming of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy Forever, and Christmas With Mr. Darcy.  The wedding of Dr. Katherine Roberts, a professor who lectures and writes about Jane Austen, and Warwick Lawton, an author of Regency romances, coincides with the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, so it’s quite fitting that they are to be joined in marriage at Dame Pamela Harcourt’s Purley Hall — the estate where they met at a Jane Austen conference.

With Dame Pamela, her brother Dan, and his wife Robyn taking care of all the details, Katherine and Warwick should have little to worry about.  But Warwick’s unlucky-in-marriage sister, Lily, keeps telling him that walking down the aisle is a big mistake, and Katherine is worried about what marriage will mean for her career and her identity.  Although Austen’s novels always end with a happily ever after for the main characters, Katherine uses the novels to question whether she is making the right decision — and while Robyn and Dan try to get the lovebirds down the aisle, they face a problem of their own.

Connelly does a wonderful job portraying Katherine’s pre-wedding jitters; it was totally fitting for an Austen professor and Janeite to use the novels as a sort of guide to love and marriage.  Of course, taking Austen’s words out of context and focusing on the fact that she never married is a recipe for disaster on one’s wedding day!  I only wish this had been a full-length novel, with more time to develop Katherine and Warwick’s relationship after its rocky beginning, flesh out the obstacle in the path of Robyn and Dan’s happiness, and even focus more on Dame Pamela and her most ardent fan, Mr. Piper.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Darcy is a fun and quick novella, with appearances from such characters as Mia Castle, Doris Norris, and even the formidable Mrs. Soames.  To fully appreciate this series, I think the novels and novellas should be read in order, but they are all page-turners with endearing characters, a good mix of humor and drama, parallels to Austen’s novels, and even hilarious discussions among Janeites about the novels and the movie adaptations.  I’m always happy to revisit these characters, especially when Dame Pamela is throwing the party, and I can’t wait to see where Connelly takes them next!

Disclosure: I received Happy Birthday, Mr. Darcy from the author for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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