Book Review: I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Title: I Was Anastasia

Author: Ariel Lawhon

Publisher: Doubleday

Release Date: March 20, 2018

From GoodReads:  

I Was Anastasia

Ariel Lawhon, a rising star in historical suspense, has set her sights on one of history’s most beguiling mysteries: Did Anastasia Romanov survive the Russian Revolution, or was Anna Anderson, the woman who notoriously claimed her identity, an impostor?
Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along wi
Ariel Lawhon, a rising star in historical suspense, has set her sights on one of history’s most beguiling mysteries: Did Anastasia Romanov survive the Russian Revolution, or was Anna Anderson, the woman who notoriously claimed her identity, an impostor?
Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.
Germany, February 17, 1920 A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water or even acknowledge her rescuers, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious young woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess.
As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre at Ekaterinburg, old enemies and new threats are awakened. The question of who this woman is and what actually happened to Anastasia creates a saga that spans fifty years and three continents. This thrilling page-turner is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.”

Review: I love, love, love this book.  So well done with the masterful handling of the complicated plot structure. Very well researched and beautifully written—the characters are vivid and alive, and I just could not put it down, even knowing how it ended for the Romanov family. This is one of those stories that resonates and is still following me around long after I’ve finished it. It brought me to tears more than once. The icing on the cake is the author’s afterword—the best I’ve ever read, even better than Stephen King’s! 😉 I’ll be reading more Ariel Lawhon, too.

Thank you NetGalley and Doubleday 🙂

 

Book Review: Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener

Title: Strangers in Budapest

Author: Jessica Keener

Publisher: Algonquin Books

Release Date: November 14, 2017

Genre: General, Literary 

GoodReads: “Jessica Keener has written a gorgeous, lyrical, and sweeping novel about the tangled web of past and present. Suspenseful, perceptive, fast-paced, and ultimately restorative.” —Susan Henderson, author of Up from the Blue

Budapest: gorgeous city of secrets, with ties to a shadowy, bloody past.  It is to this enigmatic European capital that a young American couple, Annie and Will, move from Boston with their infant son shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. For Annie, it is an effort to escape the ghosts that haunt her past, and Will wants simply to seize the chance to build a new future for his family.

Eight months after their move, their efforts to assimilate are thrown into turmoil when they receive a message from friends in the US asking that they check up on an elderly man, a fiercely independent Jewish American WWII veteran who helped free Hungarian Jews from a Nazi prison camp. They soon learn that the man, Edward Weiss, has come to Hungary to exact revenge on someone he is convinced seduced, married, and then murdered his daughter.

Annie, unable to resist anyone’s call for help, recklessly joins in the old man’s plan to track down his former son-in-law and confront him, while Will, pragmatic and cautious by nature, insists they have nothing to do with Weiss and his vendetta. What Annie does not anticipate is that in helping Edward she will become enmeshed in a dark and deadly conflict that will end in tragedy and a stunning loss of innocence.

Review: What a great premise and setting but, sadly, so badly done.  There was nothing literary about this, either. The main character was dense and overwrought and the prose repetitious enough that I nearly didn’t finish it.  My own stubbornness and the question of how the author was going to tie everything up were the only things that keep me going but again I was disappointed in the mishandling of an interesting concept. A lot of the writing felt like filler and felt distant, though conversely the husband was one of the most one-dimensional characters I’ve read this year.  I wish the author had invested as much in her characters as she did in the setting.

thanks NetGalley and Algonquin Books

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #8

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

I’m on the fence about this one.    I love the writing and the characters, and though the plot is a little on the slow side, I want to keep reading. I thought maybe it would be a little Dean Koontz-like but with much better writing. But there are few things that throw me out of the story: Up until I saw this is also in the Christian/Inspirational category, I was there. Also, the various churches and religions in town exist in a harmony that, to me, clashes with the era. I realize it’s part of the supernatural historical fantasy, but it doesn’t go down well.  It felt like modern wishful thinking and the seams are showing. I’m going to keep reading, though.

Description

What did you recently finish reading?

From NetGalley:

Doing what she does best, a haunting story based on an old Appalachian folktale and rendered into a murder mystery.  I haven’t read Sharyn McCrumb in oh so long, and I have a lot to catch up on.  When a new bride dies in an accidental fall, her mother knows who did it and works to get justice for her daughter.  Deceptively simple and haunting prose…I’m halfway through and have trouble putting it down! edit: wonderful! Review to come!

Description

From NetGalley:

Another 5 star winner! Wow, this historical suspense blew me away. I’ll be looking for more from this author.  Review to come!

Description

 

I’m always looking for good vivid Victorian mysteries, and this series is perfect.  I listened to the audiobook on my morning walks around the horsetrack in town and finally finished. I don’t usually listen to audiobooks, but this story got me out of bed and lacing up the sneakers, so I’m definitely moving on to the next audiobook in the series 🙂 Review to come.

Blurb:

An atmospheric debut novel set on the gritty streets of Victorian London, Some Danger Involved introduces detective Cyrus Barker and his apprentice, Thomas Llewelyn, as they work to solve the gruesome murder of a young scholar.

When a student bearing a striking resemblance to artists’ renderings of Jesus Christ is found murdered — by crucifixion — in London’s Jewish ghetto, 19th-century private detective Barker must hire an assistant to help him solve the sinister case. Out of all who answer an ad for a position with “some danger involved,” the eccentric and enigmatic Barker chooses downtrodden Llewelyn, a gutsy young man whose murky past includes recent stints at both an Oxford college and an Oxford prison.
As Llewelyn learns the ropes of his position, he is drawn deeper and deeper into Barker’s peculiar world of vigilante detective work, as well as the dark heart of London’s teeming underworld. Together they pass through chophouses, stables, and clandestine tea rooms, tangling with the early Italian mafia, a mad professor of eugenics, and other shadowy figures, inching ever closer to the shocking truth behind the murder.

Not from NetGalley, either. I love Megan Chance and this was on sale a few days ago, oh look, it still is! https://www.amazon.com/Spiritualist-Novel-Megan-Chance-ebook/dp/B0019O6IXY/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Exactly what I expected and love about Megan Chance!!

Blurb:

Sometimes truth is the greatest illusion of all.

In a cold January morning in 1856, Evelyn Atherton’s husband is found murdered after attending an exclusive séance. Having “married up” into New York society, Evie herself is the immediate suspect. Ostracized and vulnerable, she knows that to clear her name she must retrace her husband’s last steps. And so, joining forces with her husband’s best friend–and the only Manhattan lawyer who will accept her case–Evie dives into the mysterious underworld of the occult.

Before long, the trail brings them to a charismatic medium, Michel Jourdain. Evie’s instincts tell her the smooth-talking Jourdain is a charlatan–and her only hope for exoneration. But getting close to Jourdain means embracing a seductive and hypnotic world where clues to murder come through the voices of the dead.

Caught in a perilous game in which she is equal player and pawn, predator and victim, Evie finds there is no one to trust, perhaps not even herself. As her powerful in-laws build a case against her, and with time running out, Evie must face the real ghosts of her past if she is to have any hope of avoiding the hangman

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not sure, but these are my choices:

I picked up an Isabel Allende novel Island Beneath the Sea in a Bookbub deal. Another author I’ve lost track of. I loved Fortune’s Daughter, but that was published quite a while ago.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8149392-island-beneath-the-sea

And three gay romances from my favorite authors:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35561986-the-bones-of-our-fathers?from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32600210-the-ruin-of-a-rake?from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35118935-spectred-isle?ac=1&from_search=true

Sunday Book Review: Amazon Wisdom Keeper by Lorraine Y. Van Tuyl

 

Author: Lorraine Y Van Tuyl

Publisher: She Writes Press

Release Date:  October 24, 2017

Genre: Memoir, Psychology, Spirituality

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one, but I’m glad I took the chance to read and review it.  The spiritual memoir isn’t my usual fare, at least not recently. I read many spiritual awakening memoirs in the 90s, so at least I had those to compare. 

I enjoyed very much reading about the author’s childhood on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, in Suriname.  The family had to move, and once she was separated from her beloved home, it feels as if she was always trying to get back to what she had lost.

I don’t truly feel the author had anything new to say, though her experience is unique and a compelling story. I loved the part of her trying to develop a multicultural dynamic to aid her thoroughly western education in psychology and psychotherapy; her dedication, despite a growing sense of isolation, is impressive. 

I think the big lesson for me was a reminder, as a creative person, of the need to not only trust intuition and deeper feelings, but to continue to develop them until we can rely on them, until they’re second nature, to trust that the intuitions and dreams aren’t just a symptom or sign of a delusional psychosis.  As a psychologist, though, the author had to struggle with the fear of hurting someone inadvertently, as illustrated by her interactions with Paloma.

There are gems of insight in the author’s prose, though I don’t think she meant this memoir as a “teaching” guide or system of belief, as she studied many of them in her quest to integrate native wisdom with psychology.  I highly recommend this if you like spiritual memoirs.

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #5

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

From Net Galley, a nonfiction book about the Amazon.  I read a bunch of books related to some research for a novel about the history of South America and the Amazon–gruesome and gorgeous reading, so when I saw this, I picked it up to continue my queries, as the novel hit a snag and sits in a drawer at this moment. My research made me curious for more.

I’m really hoping it’s more like Wade Davis and less like Lynn V. Andrews…update:  Nothing at all like Lynn V Andrews (Medicine Woman, et al), thank goodness, and a fascinating memoir so far…not like Wade Davis, either, though I love Wade Davis’s work.

 

The next in the Regency Mystery series by Tracy Grant…update: just got back to this…

What did you recently finish reading?

From the UK publisher Cheyne Walk, which published “The Way Back to Florence.” Review to come on this. I loved this book!

From Amazon: Set in the 1960s, the story of Jody, her little daughter Anna, and Zé, veers between an unhappy marriage in the North of England and a journey to find love amid the vivid landscapes of Portugal, while exposing the darkest shadows of Europe’s longest-running dictatorship. A Sea of Straw is a haunting debut that will linger in the memory.

From Net Galley, and it’s release isn’t until October 3, so watch this space for a release day review.  I love KJ Charles’ gay historical romances–she is the queen of the genre, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve read every story she’s written (Except for Last Stop Tokyo, which I really must get to!) This series, Sins of the City, revolves around an inheritance, secret births, and more than one murder.  The first novel is An Unseen Attraction and the second An Unnatural Vice.

What do you think you’ll read next?

 

I’ve got to finish the Tracy Grant in order to move on in the series.  I’ve got a list longer than I-don’t-know-what to check out.  From Net Galley, I’ve got this to look forward to:

Description

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Address by Fiona Davis

Title:  The Address

Author: Fiona Davis

Publisher: Dutton

Release Date: 2017

Genre: Historical Fiction

Setting: The Dakota, NYC, 1880s and 1980s 

Her debut novel is The Dollhouse.

 The concept of this novel is fantastic. The famous NYC Dakota luxury apartment building in two different eras—1880s and 1980s.  The story revolves around a mystery woman, Sara, who in the past had worked her way up to head housekeeper at an upscale London Hotel. When the opportunity to emigrate to America emerges, she takes it though not without some trepidation.  

In the present, Bailey has just got out of rehab and is also looking for a second chance.  She’s renovating an apartment in the Dakota for an extravagant cousin with bad taste, and thus she’s able to investigate some old trunks left in the basement. In these, she meets a woman from the previous century who was imprisoned in the madhouse for the murder of her lover.

What I liked about the story is the similarities and contrasts between these two women as the narrative plays out.  Bailey meets Sara between the pages and in pictures from the trunk and all these things not only make her curious, but affect her own future at the Dakota. The alternating histories work really well here, as both women dig deeper to the truth about themselves.

 

Standalone Sunday Book Review: Black Teeth by Zane Lovitt

 

Publisher: Text Publishing

From NetGalley:

Description

Review: This is my first Aussie Noir, and, wow, I could not put it down. Told in the first person, for the most part, by millennial computer geek Jason, the prose is rife with slang singular to Australia and Jason’s generation. I found the author’s wonderful writing style enhanced by this–keeping in mind the original Noir authors pioneered the use of 1930s and 1940s slang in their dark stories, so this really worked for me. It’s a story of a weird kind of multigenerational revenge plot that keeps sucking Jason in, pitting him against criminal machinations past and present. I think he wanted to stop what was going to be happen, but can’t be sure—he’s the more honest of the group of morally decrepit folks, but what keeps him involved? A week later the story still resonates with me, and I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen. This is like nothing I’ve read before, and I can’t wait to go back and read the author’s first book, and his next.

Book Review: The Ghosts of Galway by Ken Bruen

Mysterious Press

Release Date: November 17, 2017

I have to admit, I fell for the cover, but it’s the synopsis that pulled me in (from NetGalley):

Description:  “Bruen is a singular voice in crime fiction with his ear for lilting Irish prose and his taste for the kind of gallows humor heard only at the foot of the gallows” (New York Times Book Review). In The Ghosts of Galway, he brings those elegiac talents to bear on a case involving a famously blasphemous red book and Bruen’s equally profane antihero Jack Taylor. As well-versed in politics, pop culture, and crime fiction as he is ill-fated in life, Jack Taylor is recovering from a mistaken medical diagnosis and a failed suicide attempt. In need of money, and with former cop on his resume, Jack has been hired as a night-shift security guard. But his Ukrainian boss has Jack in mind for a bit of off-the-books work. He wants Jack to find what some claim to be the first true book of heresy,The Red Book, currently in the possession of a rogue priest who is hiding out in Galway after fleeing a position at the Vatican. Despite Jack’s distaste for priests of any stripe, the money is too good to turn down. Em, the many-faced woman who has had a vise on Jack’s heart and mind for the past two years, reappears and turns out to be entangled with the story of The Red Book, too, leading Jack down ever more mysterious and lethal pathways. It seems all sides are angling for a piece of Jack Taylor, but as The Ghosts of Galway twists toward a violent end, he is increasingly plagued by ghosts – by the disposable and disposed of in a city filled with as much darkness as the deepest corners of Jack’s own mind.”

This is the 13th novel in the Jack Taylor series from the prolific, award-winning Ken Bruen. I love Noir and crime fiction and ripped through this in a very short time. The first person point of view prose of the rambling, sometimes shambling, Jack Taylor is riveting. The author tips his hat to other crime writers, quoting snips from their novels where appropriate, but I especially loved that the title is homage to James Lee Burke’s “In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead.” James Lee Burke is one of my top favorite authors—though I only read the Robicheaux stories—I never really fell into the Montana or Texas novels. Big plus, Electric Mist is my favorite of his novels.

Apparently, Jack has had a long and harrowing fall from having once been a Garda, and he’s left a lot of violence and hatred in his wake, but new trouble always seems to find him. Also, the story takes place in 2016 where the deaths of music icons Bowie, Prince, and Cohen have an affect on Jack’s inner landscape, as does Trump creeping up America’s skirts…something ugly has crept into Galway dragging with it a fallen priest, a psycho ex, and a long list of innocents.

I’ve never read Ken Bruen before, and I love his short and lilting, yet brutal, style, the near stream-of-consciousness of Jack’s thoughts as he races from pun to pun only he seems to get. He must have a good rep, though, as everyone wants to hire him to get the job done.

My one complaint: Contractions don’t get used enough and the language sometimes feels a little stilted, which takes away, in my opinion, from the casual style.

So, I’m going to go back to the beginning of this series and start reading. You should to, if you like noir and crime fiction 🙂