Book Review – The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

raven boys - book coverSince finishing The Lunar Chronicles last year, I’ve been searching for a replacement YA series to become invested in and I think I may have found it in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series—or at least, the first book, The Raven Boys has left me still intrigued enough to check out the next book sometime soon. Bringing together mystical and mythological elements I’ve read about in both other novels and studied the histories of over the years, The Raven Boys definitely sets up a larger story than just the one that gets told in its pages.

Blue Sargent has grown up in a house full of psychics—her mother and her mother’s friends—but she shows no ability herself; she only serves as an amplifier or battery of sorts, helping to strengthen those around her. But one thing all the psychics in her life seem to agree on is that she will somehow spell death for her true love—whoever he might be—and must avoid kissing him to protect him… even though she’s just a teenager and has no idea who he might be. But on St. Mark’s Day when she accompanies one of those friends of her mother’s to the Corpse Road and actually sees and hears one of the spirits—a teenage boy named Gansey who attends the local private boys’ school, Aglionby—she might have learned the first bit about him. Blue has her doubts, however, when she actually meets Gansey and his friends, Adam, Ronan, and Noah, and begins assisting them in their search for the historically mythical Glendower and things in their small town of Henrietta begin getting even weirder than any of them could have dreamt.

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Book Review – The Return of Sir Percival: Guinevere’s Prayer by S. Alexander O’Keefe

Sir PercivalI was exteremely intrigued when I first read the description for S. Alexander O’Keef’s The Return of Sir Percival: Guinevere’s Prayer and it promised to be the first novel in a new series. I go through phases of fascination with all things Arthurian so I’ll try just about any take on Camelot at least once. O’Keefe’s premise is an interesting one but while I can get behind the plot, the characters and style of story telling have me less likely to pursue this series beyond this first book.

It has been ten years since Arthur and Camelot fell in battle. Morgana and her mercenaries have the people of Britain under her thumb while she continues to hunt for her archenemy, Merlin the wise. Guinevere and a few of her ladies are protected in hiding by the church and via a promise Morgana made to one of her most capable knights. The Knights of the Round Table have been wiped out, or so everyone thought until Sir Percival returns from the holy lands with a friend. Having been sent to seek the Holy Grail alone, Sir Percival has failed in that quest but might have returned just in time to bring Morgana down and restore Guinevere to her rightful place as queen of the late Arthur’s broken kingdom. Continue reading

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

harry potter and the cursed child - book coverI haven’t reviewed any plays on my blog here before, but with all the hype around the release of and my own nostalgic affection for the novels, it seemed like the perfect place to break with tradition. The most difficult thing about reading a play is that much of what transpires is meant to be literally seen; thinking of it or treating it as a novel isn’t quite fair. But I should hope that in reading it I would at least be inspired to want to see it on stage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The play begins where the book and movies ended—on Platform 9 ¾ as Harry and Ginny’s son Albus prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for his first year. There are several time jumps that then take place in rapid succession advancing the present to Albus’ third year—making him thirteen—and it’s clear that Albus’ relationship with Harry is strained at best. Harry isn’t thrilled with Albus’ friendship with Scorpius Malfoy and Albus resents the expectations and attention he receives as the son of Harry Potter—it isn’t fair. As rumors circulate that the Ministry of Magic has confiscated a Time-Turner (which were supposed to have all been destroyed), Amos Diggory shows up with an appeal for Harry to travel back in time and intervene to prevent Cedric from ever having been killed during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry refuses but Albus overhears and decides he wants to help right an injustice he sees as being Harry’s fault. But of course, terrible things can happen to those who meddle with time.

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Book Review – Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

9781250091840_p0_v2_s192x300Where many young adult series are told in one character’s first person perspective, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles wasn’t. With each novel additional characters were added to the mix and the perspective shifted regularly between them. This meant that where many young adult authors release complementary/supplementary short stories that offer a different character’s take on scenes the audience is already familiar with, her collection of stories, Stars Above, provided a different kind of depth—backstory. Most of the stories in Stars Above are greater explorations of the circumstances surrounding key moments in the series’ central characters’ lives that took place before the readers met them but that were hinted at or referenced briefly within the main books.

Most of the stories function as prequels to the books of the main series: how Scarlet’s grandmother became involved in hiding and healing Cinder as well as how Scarlet came to live with her grandmother in the first place; Cinder’s first days with her adoptive family in New Beijing; how Cress came to find herself in the satellite orbiting Earth; some of Thorne’s earliest schemes; Wolf’s early days as a soldier in Levana’s army; Winter’s perspective of growing up in her step-mother’s palace; Kai’s first impressions of Cinder. There are two stories that break from that pattern, however. The Little Android, while featuring an appearance by Cinder prior to the events of the first novel of the series, stands on its own as a reimagining of The Little Mermaid (the Hans Christian Anderson original more than the Disney version). Finally, the last story in the collection is a happy epilogue/sequel which finds the series’ four couples gathering on Earth for a long-awaited reunion and wedding. Continue reading

Book Review – The Black Country by Alex Grecian

book cover - black countryAfter finishing The Yard a few months ago, I quickly put the rest of the books in Alex Grecian’s Scotland Yard Murder Squad series on my To Read list with the intent that I pace myself rather than read them all at once. It will be easier to wait before moving on from The Black Country, the second book in the series. Though the characters that helped make the series’ first installment so thrilling are still present, something of the magic is missing in book two.

Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith have been called away from London to assist the constable in Blackhampton—a coalmining town—with the search for two parents and their missing son. The inclement weather (a late season snowstorm) promises to be the least of the obstacles impeding the investigation. The people of Blackhampton are falling ill left and right and those who are well want little to do with the out-of-town law enforcement. Everyone seems to know more than they are willing to share leaving Day and Hammersmith with no one to trust but each other. Continue reading

Book Review – Alone by Lisa Gardner

book cover - aloneI was amazed by how well Find Her read after I discovered it was actually the eighth book in an established series. Since I tend to be a bit of a completest, I decided to go back to the beginning of that series to read the others as well. Going to the start of Lisa Gardner’s Detective D.D. Warren series, Alone, I have high hopes that the books will all end up being strong enough to stand-alone like the series’ first and latest installments.

Bobby Dodge is a Boston cop who also works as a sniper with a special tactical response unit. The first to respond when the team gets called to a domestic incident in which a husband is holding his wife and child hostage, Bobby finds himself taking the shot and killing the husband as the man raises his gun on his wife and puts his finger on the trigger. As if killing a man weren’t enough, it turns out the man was the son of a very influential judge who has it out for Bobby, accusing the officer of colluding with the dead man’s wife to kill him. Pulled into the thick of the case by the judge’s vendetta against him, Bobby learns more about the widow, Catherine Gagnon whom the judge accuses of abusing her son for attention. Continue reading

Book Review – The Crown by Kiera Cass

the crown - book coverHaving finally gotten my hands on a copy of The Crown by Kiera Cass—the final book in her Selection Series—I’m mostly left wishing that there had been more to the series as a whole. It was a satisfying conclusion as far as the characters and where they end up as their arcs come to a close, but the series could have been so much more than just what was presented. There are hints at the depths it could have explored but it was content to go through the more superficial motions leaving this reader pondering what might have been.

Following her mother’s heart attack in the wake of her brother’s elopement, Eadlyn Schreave, the heir to the throne of Illéa feels the need to step things up when it comes to taking on responsibilities related to running the kingdom so her father doesn’t have to leave her mother’s side—and part of taking on more responsibilities means making some decisions concerning the Selection and narrowing down her choices. Going so far as to get rid of all but six, her Selection has suddenly entered the Elite stage. Still struggling with her public image and her people’s discouraging opinions of her, Marid Illéa—a descendant of a different branch of the royal family dating back to the nation’s origins—steps in to help Eadlyn with her public appeal. But as Eadlyn takes on more formal responsibilities and juggles them with the final stages of the Selection, she discovers she may have taken on more than she realized and her throne is unexpectedly threatened.

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Book Review – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

golem and jinni - book coverA friend recommended The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker to me a few weeks ago and after reading the description, I was more than a little intrigued. Though it took some time for me to get into it, once I was in there was no turning back. It’s a novel comprised of pairings that don’t seem like they would make much sense initially but which are brought together in surprisingly beautiful, complementary ways. Compelling in the simple surface action of the story, The Golem and the Jinni proves even more engaging at deeper, philosophical levels.

The story begins with introducing—or in the case of the Golem, creating—the two central and titular beings of the narrative. The Golem’s creation and waking are quickly followed by the death of her master, leaving her untethered during the critical early days of her existence. She arrives in America with no one waiting for her who can help her navigate a city teeming with the hopes and wishes of thousands of people. A young tinsmith inadvertently releases the Jinni from a copper flask but the Jinni can’t remember the specifics of how he came to be trapped in a human form or who it was that put him in the flask. He too is wildly unprepared for life in New York City during the height of immigration. The Golem and the Jinni soon come to grips with how to survive in their new lives but both yearn for something more—to be able to be their true selves without fear though first they have to figure out what those true selves are. Continue reading

Book Review – Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

thunderstruck - book coverHaving read and enjoyed so many of Erik Larson’s books in the past, I eagerly took up Thunderstruck though I had no real knowledge of the underlying subject matter—the development of trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy and the 1910 Cellar Murder in London. Given his skill at weaving together seemingly disparate narratives elsewhere, I was eager to see how he managed to connect these two historical threads and while he managed to do so, it wasn’t as compelling as I would have hoped though it is a remarkable and effective juxtaposition.

Guglielmo Marconi took a concept that British scientist Oliver Lodge had lectured about and spent decades experimenting with it and developing a system of wireless telegraphy from it. With no formal scientific education—and little true understanding or interest in the science behind it—he becomes the epitome of “trial and error” invention. After he moved from Italy to England with the idea of patenting, marketing, and expanding his invention that he started clashing with the British scientists and their established way of doing things—in large part because he was rather socially obtuse. The politics of science, invention, and underlying copyrights helped drive his obsessive need to demonstrate his superiority and relevance, culminating in his determination to transmit wireless messages across the Atlantic ocean.

Juxtaposed against this biographical look at Marconi’s development of wireless telegraphy, Larson lays out the history of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen and his second wife, Cara. Though his medical background stemmed from early homeopathy, he spent most of his professional life making and selling pharmaceuticals in the industry’s formative (and unregulated) years. His wife longed for the attention and glamor of the stage and was a domineering personality where he struck most who met him as submissive and kind. Living in London for some time, his wife’s friends became concerned when she apparently up and left for the United States only for her husband to later tell them he’d had word of her death overseas. Unconvinced, his wife’s friends brought their concerns to Scotland Yard and trigger an investigation that yields disturbing answers. Continue reading

Book Review – The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

book of life - book coverOf the three books in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, this was the book I read the fastest. The final installment in the trilogy—though it’s unlikely to be the last in this universe she has created—The Book of Life deftly weaves together several of the plot threads that almost felt like they’d been dropped through the second book, while still holding tight to the newer plot threads from that second book. Once everything is brought together, the story presses toward a climactic showdown that probably won’t work for everyone but worked well enough for me.

Having returned from the sixteenth century with a better understanding of her powers and what they need to accomplish with regards to the Book of Life, Diana and Matthew must first adjust to the changes that have occurred in the twenty-first century in their absence—including the death of Diana’s aunt, Emily. Vampire customs and the rules of the Congregation’s covenant begin clashing with increasing frequency against the de Clermonts’ expanding family but their biggest problem proves to be a vampire son of Matthew’s who’d been disowned centuries earlier—Benjamin. Obsessed with discovering a way for vampires to reproduce with witches to create a master race, Benjamin has been working at the edges of things longer than anyone realized and is just as determined to find the Book of Life—and gain revenge on his sire by getting his hands on Diana and the twins she is carrying. Continue reading

Book Review – Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

death comes to pemberley - book coverAs a general rule, I avoid what I consider unauthorized sequels to famous works—especially those that I love. In the last decade, there have been an absurd amount of novels along these lines for Jane Austen’s works and I have avoided them almost entirely. But having heard only good things about the 2013 television adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberely and recognizing the name of author P.D. James, I decided to make one of the rare exceptions to my general rule—and after all, I do like most twists on fairy tales and there are amazingly interesting novels like Wide Sargasso Sea (with its origins in Jane Eyre) and plays like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (with its origins in Hamlet), that I thoroughly enjoy. I feel that the novel, Death Comes to Pemberley falls somewhere between those and what I usually see as glorified fanfiction (which is not a criticism of fanfiction; when I say ‘glorified’ like that, I’m referring to books that would be considered ‘only fanfiction’ if the authors hadn’t found publishers and profited monetarily from them).

It has been six years since Elizabeth married Mr. Darcy and became mistress of Pemberley. As they prepare for the annual ball—referred to as Lady Anne’s Ball in honor of Darcy’s mother, who started the tradition—a terrible storm strikes along with tragedy. Elizabeth’s unfortunate and presumptuous youngest sister, Lydia, arrives in a carriage the evening before the ball, hysterical and claiming that her husband, Mr. Wickham, set out into the woods after their friend, Captain Denny, who first stopped the carriage to be let out, and that she fears one or both of the men must be dead having heard gunshots. When Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and a third gentleman set out to search for the pair, they discover Captain Denny dead and Wickham in a terrible state over his friend’s body, blaming himself for the man’s death. Bringing Wickham and the body back to Pemberley, Darcy must summon the proper authorities to deal with the inquest and the general suspicion that Wickham had more to do with Denny’s death than he’s willing to admit, dragging Darcy and Pemberley into the thick of things and notoriety once more.

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Book Review – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

jonathan strange mr norrell - book coverOne of my friends back in college recommended Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell to me so I went ahead and bought a copy but with all the reading I already had to do for my literature classes, I didn’t have the time or motivation to start such a long book and it went into my massive To Read pile. Then last year BBC America started advertising their miniseries adaptation of the novel. Since I had a vacation coming up and would be spending many hours in the car—prime reading time—I decided it was the perfect time to tackle the book and thought I’d have it finished in time to watch the show. I quickly found myself bogged down by the pacing of the novel and ended up sidelining it, reading a chapter here and there between other books but after almost a full year, I’ve finally finished Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

At the start of the nineteenth century, men of leisure in England are looking for new areas of study to explore and the illustrious history of English magic finds new life as Mr Norrell appears on the scene as the first practical magician in an age. But Mr Norrell is a bit possessive and controlling when it comes to magic. He hoards books of magic in his massive library, bars others from attempting to practice magic or call themselves magicians, and controls what magical theory is published—until Jonathan Strange stumbles into magic. Younger and with little knowledge of magical theory or history, Mr Norrell actually agrees to teach and work with Strange but he is still restrictive in what he will allow Strange to learn—a practice which begins to sow resentment between the pupil and his mentor until they eventually part ways and turn antagonistic towards one another. All through this, a faerie, initially summoned by Mr Norrell for assistance, intervenes with people in the two magicians’ lives to general misery without detection. Efforts to countermand the faerie’s enchantments may require the two magicians overcome their enmity and work together again. Continue reading

Book Review – The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas

illusionists - book coverRosie Thomas’ novel, The Illusionists is one that I bought a few years ago after reading The Night Circus and rewatching a few of my favorite magic/illusion movies (The Illusionist, Scoop, The Prestige except for the last few scenes, etc.). I don’t remember now why I had put off reading it but it has inspired me to do another rewatch. The Illusionists captures more than just the wonder of the illusions the novel’s central troupe performs, it captures the ways that reality and illusion play into each of their lives as well.

Devil Wix is a struggling magician looking for more regular work than what he gets performing in the streets. He stumbles across a dwarf by the name of Carlo Boldoni who has a knack for devising illusions as well as gift for performing them. The two prove to be effective collaborators as their competitive sides drive them both forward. Nabbing a recurring act on the stage of the newly reopened Palmyra Theater, their biggest obstacle to success becomes the theater’s owner, a greedy man called Jacko Grady who knows nothing about marketing or talent. The pair aren’t the only ones dissatisfied with Grady and soon the performers and their friends outside the theater begin to form an alliance and finally a company of their own. Heinrich is an engineer who builds automatons but is socially awkward and has difficulty grasping the line between real and machine, the controllable and those with free will. Jasper knows Devil’s real name and history having grown up together as boys, but his waxwork models prove valuable to Boldoni and Wix’s illusions. Eliza becomes a focal point for most of the men in the company as she challenges so many expectations of women during the time in which the novel is set but knowing what she needs from a relationship in order to maintain her sense of independence, she cannot make them all happy though she aims to keep them balanced without losing herself. Continue reading

Book Review – Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

shadow of night - book coverSince I read and posted my review of A Discovery of Witches, I’ve heard that there will actually be more books in the series than just the initial trilogy. Having gotten further attached to the characters in the Shadow of Night, the second book in the trilogy, I’m excited that the next book won’t be the end—though I’m perhaps more excited to see how things played out in the present timeline while Diana and Matthew were in the past as well as how this particular plot ultimately wraps up.

Despite Diana’s familiarity with the history of Elizabethan England, when she and Matthew arrive after timewalking there, she has a lot to learn—about how to behave and live in the sixteenth century, about Matthew’s family and past, and about who she is and how her magic works. The tasks they set out for themselves—finding a witch to educate Diana and locating the Ashmole 782 text—aren’t as simple as they had hoped or planned them to be. Matthew becomes conflicted as he must act in accordance with his sixteenth century self though many of his beliefs have shifted drastically; Diana must come to terms with her magic, training so she can protect herself from those who covet her powers or might wish her harm. In the present, those Matthew and Diana have left behind wait and watch for signs of a changing history and portents of their return. Continue reading

Book Review – 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #170

2001 a space odyssey - book coverI’ve been working my way through some of the “classic” science fiction books to see and understand more of the genre’s origins and how it’s evolved. The science fiction titles on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list feel like a good way to kill two birds with one stone. What I knew about Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey before reading it was mostly just two things strongly connected to the film—the music from Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra and the bit of dialogue referencing the pod bay doors—and neither of which turns out to have given much of anything away from the story at hand.

Beginning with the early education of mankind as he evolved from man-apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey follows a rather disjointed structure that makes pinning down the main plot a bit difficult. Some sort of extra-terrestrial force arrive in the African plains and study and educate those early ancestors of mankind in part one. By part two, man had already established working colonies on the Moon and made an unexpected discovery while exploring and excavating the Moon’s surface—a monolith that dates back to the days before mankind had fully evolved. A clear indication that intelligent life has or continues to exist in the greater universe, the rest of the book is much more focused on the mission to make contact—though who knows about the discovery and the true nature of the mission is kept pretty quiet. Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole are the two active crew-members as the ship Discovery—with the assistance of a supercomputer, HAL—embark for Jupiter while their three companions wait in suspension to be reawakened upon arrival when they will conduct their experiments. Before they can reach Jupiter, however, the secrets of the “true mission” begin to cause problems with the HAL computer system. Continue reading

Book Review – The Godfather by Mario Puzo, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #169

godfather - book cover Unlike when I started reading The Shining, I have seen the film adaptation of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather—in fact, it was part of an assignment back in my high school psychology class (I no longer remember or care what we had to do for the assignment but it remains one of my favorites). Though it’s been a few years since I saw the movie, they did a fantastic job of remaining true to the book and the characters—The Godfather is one of those instances of book to screen adaptations where both are genuine masterpieces. Even if I hadn’t already seen the quintessential mafia movie, Puzo’s prose provides a crystal clear picture for every scene.

On his daughter’s wedding day, Don Vito Corleone has meetings with several men who seek favors. His youngest son, Michael, attends the wedding with his WASP girlfriend, Kay Adams, trying to make light to her what the family business is and why so many people revere and fear Don Corleone. Michael insists to her—and anyone who knows him is already aware—that he has not part in the family business and has no intention of ever getting involved in it. But a short time later, Don Corleone’s polite refusal of a business deal is taken the wrong way and he is attacked, putting the fate of the Corleone family at risk and Michael realizes staying out of things is easier said than done. Continue reading

Book Review – The Heir by Kiera Cass

the heir - book coverI wasn’t blown away by The Elite or The One from the Selection Series so I came into The Heir with reservations similar to those I had when starting the series and was pleased to find that in many ways, The Heir has renewed my interest in the series. Now I’ve reached the end of the series’ published books and must wait for the next to be published later this year.

Twenty years after America married Maxon, The Heir is told from the perspective of their oldest child, Eadlyn. The first female heir in the monarchy’s history, she grew up in a very different, caste-less Illéa than the one readers came to know in the first three books. But the dissolution of the castes hasn’t been as smooth as her parents hoped and the Selection has been resurrected to buy them all some time to figure out how to handle the growing unrest in their post-caste country. But with Eadlyn at the center of the Selection and thirty-five young men staying at the palace, it’s a Selection unlike any before. Continue reading

Book Review – The One by Kiera Cass

book cover - the oneMy number finally came up for my library’s copy of The One by Kiera Cass and after finishing it I had to laugh at the timing having just finished Sophie Perinot’s Médicis Daughter (though you’d probably have to both to understand why). There were definitely some surprises in this third installment of Cass’ Selection Series—I’ve already put my name in for the The Heir—surprises that were an improvement on some of the disappointments in The Elite but there are still areas I think could have been stronger.

Having made up her mind to fight for Maxon, America must navigate the more treacherous Selections tasks that King Clarkson puts before her. Still doubtful about both whether she wants the responsibilities that would come with being a princess and where she ranks in Maxon’s affections, America also learns more about the larger political situation the palace and her country are embroiled in—the differences between the northern and southern rebels and what their goals are. She must also confront telling Maxon the truth about her history with Aspen. Continue reading

Book Review – The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #167

glimpses of the moon - book coverAnyone who’s read my blog for a while should know by now that I’m a fan of Edith Wharton. In working my way through the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, I love that I have an excuse to discover the less-famous works of authors I already love. This works out better for my opinions of some authors rather than others—Edith Wharton is one of the former. The Glimpses of the Moon is not a novel of hers that I have heard discussed much as far as what gets recommended when Wharton’s work is brought up—but it should be.

Susy Branch, like many Wharton heroines, has been born and raised in the wealthiest circles of society and struggles to maintain her place there though much of her family’s fortune is gone. She sustains herself through the kindness—and favors—of her female friends. Accepting their castoffs and presents comes with a price and while Susy may occasionally despise her position, she doesn’t see any way out of it. When she meets Nick Lansing, he shares a similar place in their circle and they are able to commiserate and find themselves drawn each other. With the way their set sees marriage, Susy proposes that they go ahead and marry each other using the generosity of their friends’ gifts—checks, jewelry, offers of a few weeks or a month at various vacation houses around Europe—to sustain themselves for a year. At the end of that year when their funds dry up, they would release each other (a.k.a. divorce) so that they could then make more profitable though less personally desirable matches. They embark on marriage in agreement over the theory but putting it into practice proves a greater challenge as personal feelings, principles, and simply being around their “set” begins to affect how they each view themselves, each other, and the dictates of their arrangement.

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Book Review – The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

the romanov sisters - book coverI was ten when the animated film Anastasia hit theaters and my mother took me to see it. That was the first I learned about the Romanovs and what happened to them—I believe I began asking questions after the movie and my dad explained a little more about what really happened as opposed to the simplified and happier version in the cartoon. But that was the beginning of my minor obsession with Russian history and literature. When Helen Rappaport’s recent The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra showed up on various New Releases pages if frequent, I quickly added it to my library list.

Beginning with Alexandra’s upbringing—as it would affect her own maternal philosophy—Rappaport relies heavily on the few primary sources that have survived, quoting the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia as often as possible to tell the story of their experiences in their own words. In order to understand the sisters and why they led the surprisingly sheltered lives they did, it is important for some greater historical context to be given and—especially during Nicholas and Alexandra’s attempts for a son and heir—public and international attention was very focused on the royal family and the daughters they kept producing. The historical context grows increasingly important as the narrative reaches the events of World War I and the Russian revolutions of 1917 as they led to the end of the Imperial Family.

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Book Review – The Selection by Kiera Cass

selection - book coverI think I mentioned in my review of Cress that I’ve been wary of YA series lately given my disappointment over Allegiant. The Lunar Chronicles have been enjoyable with Cress going a long way to getting me excited for Winter’s publication later this fall, but in the mean time, I’ve been trying to figure out which YA series to try next. I’ve heard so many good things about Kiera Cass’ Selection Series but given the premise, I was hesitant and put off starting the first book for a while (I’m not a fan of reality television in general and the Bachelor/Bachelorette series are probably at the bottom of the list of programs I can even stomach). I was actually shocked that I enjoyed The Selection as much as I did and am looking forward to reading The Elite when my number comes up at the library.

America Singer is a five in the caste system of Illéa – in a system with eight castes, things could be worse. She’s in love with her childhood friend, Aspen, and they must keep their relationship quiet because he’s only a six. When the nation’s Prince Maxon comes of age and the Selection is announced, America is surprised by the fact that Aspen wants her to put her name in as much as her mother wants her to. Though she has no desire to trade her home and family for a chance at becoming a princess, America obliges, only to be selected to represent her province in the Selection – much to her mother’s satisfaction and her own personal misery. But the palace and Maxon aren’t what she was expecting and America begins to wonder just what her future could hold.

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Book Preview – Footprints in the Desert by Maha Akhtar

book cover - footprints in the desertI was able to preview Orhan’s Inheritance earlier this year and have noticed more about the Armenian genocide in Turkey during WWI this year – in part because the novel heightened my awareness of the subject and also because this year marks the hundredth anniversary of most of those killings. When I read the description for Maha Akhtar’s upcoming Footprints in the Desert, I was under the impression it would also address the Armenian genocide. While it does involve the role of Turkey in WWI, I was wrong about the Armenian genocide being brought up. Instead, Footprints in the Desert focuses on the guerrilla and espionage tactics taken by orchestrators and participants in the Arab revolt – and the important role played by the women supporting them at home in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo.

Salah Masri is one of several college friends involved in spying on Turkish and German movements in Izmir, but he is the only one of his friends to escape capture and execution, fleeing to his mother’s home in Cairo. He soon learns that Noura, the widow of one of those friends, is moving to Cairo to stay with relatives and her infant daughter while she rebuilds her life. His mother proves to be a valuable friend for Noura, introducing her to a small, tight-knit community of women in the bazaar, many of whom are widows that have been forced to similarly rebuild their lives. As Noura grieves, Salah continues with the work to generate and support an Arab revolt, pushing for an independent Arab state when the end of the war inevitably comes. Working alongside T.E. Lawrence, who would come to be called Lawrence of Arabia, Salah recruits more friends to the cause while evading and outwitting Turkish officers who want to catch the spy and make an example of him. Continue reading

Book Review – Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

9780307408860_p0_v3_s260x420I put myself on the library’s wait list for Erik Larson’s latest book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, as soon as I saw they had it and after a few months of waiting, my number finally came up. I was already a fan of his from having read The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of the Beasts but the fact that the subject was the sinking of the Lusitania meant I was already three-quarters of the way to liking the book (I went through a phase where I was obsessed with the Titanic a year or two before the film came out; I was fascinated by the history and the science of Ballard locating the wreck site). My excitement to read the book only grew when I found out he was live-tweeting the events of the Lusitania’s final voyage on the hundredth anniversary early last month – and I wasn’t disappointed when I finally got the chance to read Dead Wake.

By the end of April 1915, World War I was in full swing in Europe. The trenches of the western front were dug deep and thousands of men had been killed on both sides. At sea, the British navy was still considered the best in the world but Germany’s use of submarines was growing and the tactics of war at sea were changing. America under Woodrow Wilson remained steadfastly neutral in the conflict, continuing to conduct regular business with both sides. But Britain wanted America in the war on the Allies’ side and Germany was beginning to test the patience of America’s neutrality as their U-boats began sinking ships with an increasing disregard for the vessels’ origins, cargo, or passengers. It was under a veil of threat that the Lusitania set sail from New York on May 1, 1915.

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Book Review – The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns feat. Shelly Davies

cover57457-mediumEvery once in a while I like to read a collection of short stories to take a break from novels. There are some collections of short stories where the pieces do a fantastic job of working together as a cohesive unit while maintaining their ability to stand solidly at an individual level. The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns is one such collection. Comprised of eight of Burns’ stories focused on British emigrants’ experiences in colonial New Zealand and one story by Shelly Davies providing a native’s perspective on the new comers, the collection takes care to look at an array of experiences that crosses the lines of both class and gender.

The hopes and dreams that brought individuals from their homes in Great Britain are tested as they face the realities of life in New Zealand. While some crossed for love or marriage, others sought to escape their pasts or otherwise difficult circumstances. What they all have in common is that none of them found the new land quite what they expected, whether to their benefit or detriment. But the emigrants brought more than just themselves, and as they try to transplant their own lives, they also wind up transplanting some of the structures of the society they left behind (the very same that some of them were actively fleeing). Continue reading

Book Review – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort Of) Challenge #159

9780062073563_p0_v1_s260x420Agatha Christie is one of the greats when it comes to mysteries and psychological thrillers. Unfortunately, I started with what I consider her all-time best, And Then There Were None. Years later, I read Murder on the Orient Express which was also fantastic and is similarly famous for its climactic reveal. I hadn’t heard much about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd but since it was on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, I figured it would have a similarly iconic twist and I was not disappointed.

One of Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is narrated by Dr. James Sheppard. Soon after the death of a local woman, Mrs. Ferrars, a local gentleman, Mr. Roger Ackroyd who had been romantically involved with Mrs. Ferrars, seeks an audience with Dr. Sheppard. Combined with the personal complications of living with his dependent sister-in-law and niece, the money problems of his stepson, and a household staff with secrets of their own, there are many issues weighing on the man’s mind. Dr. Sheppard offers what counsel he can before leaving for the evening. Several hours later, Dr. Sheppard receives a mysterious call that Mr. Ackroyd had been murdered. Arriving to find Mr. Ackroyd still shut up in his study, the door locked from the inside. Lucky for Dr. Sheppard and the local authorities, the recently retired Hercule Poirot has just moved to the neighborhood. Continue reading