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 🙂

 

Monday Book Review: The Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam

Title:  The Lost Season of Love and Snow

Author:  Jennifer Laam

Publisher: St Martin’s

Release Date: January 2, 2018

Genre:  Historical Romance

The unforgettable story of Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife, Natalya, a woman much admired at Court, and how she became reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg.

At the age of sixteen, Natalya Goncharova is stunningly beautiful and intellectually curious. But while she finds joy in French translations and a history of Russian poetry, her family is more concerned with her marriage prospects. It is only fitting that during the Christmas of 1828 at her first public ball in her hometown of Moscow she attracts the romantic attention of Russia’s most lauded rebel poet: Alexander Pushkin.

Enchanted at first sight, Natalya is already a devoted reader of Alexander’s serialized novel in verse, Evgeny Onegin. The most recently published chapter ends in a duel, and she is dying to learn what happens next. Finding herself deeply attracted to Alexander’s intensity and joie de vivre, Natalya hopes to see him again as soon as possible.

What follows is a courtship and later marriage full of equal parts passion and domestic bliss but also destructive jealousies. When vicious court gossip leads to Alexander dying from injuries earned defending his honor as well as Natalya’s in a duel, Natalya finds herself reviled for her alleged role in his death.

With beautiful writing and understanding, Jennifer Laam, and her compelling new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, help Natalya tell her side of the story—the story of her greatest love and her inner struggle to create a fulfilling life despite the dangerous intrigues of a glamorous imperial Court.

Review: This isn’t my usual story to read, but I loved the title and the premise was on a bit of a theme because I had “I Was Anastasia” in my queue, two completely different books but both about Russia, with roughly one hundred years between them.  Neither is Pushkin on my radar, but the author’s premise that his wife had likely been painted by a tainted brush by history, was appealing.  Very well researched and flawlessly written with a tragic ending that ripped at my heartstrings—but…and this is me and not the author, but the bugaboo of females in nearly every century is being forced into this submissive role where her marriage, at first, was only about changing houses and the view from the window. Gradually she learns how to be Mrs. Pushkin and survive in her role with revolution whispering around the edges of society…who wouldn’t go mad? The endless rounds of parties and costume making and setting up the marriageable sisters made my eyes cross after awhile, but that’s me. The story couldn’t be told otherwise, and I thought this was a great slice of historical fiction very well told.

Thanks NetGalley and St. Martin’s 🙂

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Sunday Book Review: A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

Title: A Treacherous Curse

Author:  Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: Doubleday

Release Date: January 16, 2018

Genre:  Historical Mystery

From GoodReads:  Members of an Egyptian expedition fall victim to an ancient mummy’s curse in a thrilling Veronica Speedwell novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries.
 
London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

Review:  The third installment in the Veronica Speedwell series is just the way I love it.  A cheeky, no-holds-barred heroine to both cheer on and roll my eyes at and a sexy, broody, damaged hero.  The plot is centered around Stoker’s ex-wife Carolyn (whose name he murmured to Veronica during their one and only sexual encounter) and the man she ran off with, abandoning Stoker in South America when he was near death.  This is the story I was ready to hear…with the author’s usual excellent writing and voice creating another intriguing mystery with just a touch of romance.  Victorian Egyptologist themes have been done to death, but I felt the author gave it a fresh feel.

I’d love to read a short story or a whole novel from Stoker’s point of view 😀

Thanks Net Galley and Doubleday…

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Thursday Book Review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

Title:  Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Author:  Samantha Silva

Publisher:  Flatiron Books

Release Date: October 31, 2017

From Good Reads:   Shakespeare in Love meets A Christmas Carol in this transporting debut novel set during the whirlwind period in which Dickens wrote his beloved classic, as he embarks on a Scrooge-like journey of his own.

For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, and he is famous on the streets of London, where avid fans sneak up on him to snip off pieces of his hair. He and his wife have five happy children, a sixth on the way, and a home filled with every comfort they could imagine. But when Dickens’ newest book is a flop, the glorious life he has built for himself threatens to collapse around him. His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, he accepts, but with relatives hounding him for loans, his wife and children planning an excessively lavish holiday party, and jealous critics going in for the kill, he is hardly feeling the Christmas spirit.

Increasingly frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace and inspiration in London itself, his great palace of thinking. And on one of his long walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets a young woman in a purple cloak, who might be just the muse he needs. Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy, propel Dickens on a Scrooge-like journey through his Christmases past and present—but with time running out, will he find the perfect new story to save him?

In prose laced with humor, sumptuous Victorian detail, and charming winks to A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva breathes new life into an adored classic. Perfect for fans of Dickens, for readers of immersive historical fiction, and for anyone looking for a dose of Christmas cheer, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is destined to become a perennial holiday favorite.

My Review:  This is a novel deeply steeped in Dickens’s lore and Victorian London, but probably not for the purists.  That being said, I really enjoyed this bounce through the life of the creator of “A Christmas Carol.” I wish I had read it closer to Christmas—though I’ll likely give it a re-read.   I loved the characters who inspired him, the origins of the names, Dickens’s fictional “process.”

I loved the gang of urchins following him and their motives, and the return to his roots, as it were, when he moves into the Boz museum that is actually the room he and his wife had first lived in at the start of his career, and their marriage, to cure his writer’s block.  

The author does an excellent job—you can feel his panic when his audience begins to turn away from him, how the love for his family begins to strangle him creatively. Sounds depressing, but it’s not—the prose is a joy, and this is a genuinely heartwarming story.

Thank you Net Galley and Flatiron Books

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #13

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 Good Reads:  Members of an Egyptian expedition fall victim to an ancient mummy’s curse in a thrilling Veronica Speedwell novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries.
 
London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

From Good Reads: In this wholly absorbing historical novel, Mrs. Lucy Carelton, who comes from one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in 1880s New York City, has been completely undone by her nerves. Her ambitious husband, a nouveau riche stockbroker, drags her from one doctor to another in search of a cure that will allow her to fulfill her many social obligations without giving in to hysteria. They think they have found the solution in charismatic neurologist Victor Seth, a champion of a relatively new procedure called hypnotism. Seth sets about freeing Lucy from the social constraints that have made her so unhappy, encouraging her to pursue her artistic talents and explore her sexuality. Seth convinces himself that his techniques, including his handy way with an electrotherapy wand, are all in the name of science, but even he is unprepared for the new Lucy who emerges–a passionate, calculating, amoral creature of large appetites. Chance’s straightforward prose and over-the-top plotting effectively combine in this diabolically clever, thoroughly entertaining take on women’s liberation.

What did you recently finish reading?

I have read quite a few Megan Chance books, and she never lets me down.

Description: Chicago socialite Geneva Langley is a woman used to pushing boundaries. When she inadvertently pushes too far, she finds herself banished, along with her husband, to Seattle, Washington Territory. In 1888, Seattle is a city on the cusp of greatness, but there Ginny feels stifled and alone, suffocated by her husband’s forgiveness, always cognizant of her need to atone.

Beatrice Wilkes is an actress who has lived by her wits since she first set out on her own at the age of fifteen. She has learned not to trust, that in the theater friends rarely stay friends for long. She longs for a career as a leading lady on the stage, although that dream seems to grow less possible with every passing hour. When she meets Geneva Langley, Bea pegs her correctly as the kind of woman who has had everything handed to her, who understands nothing of real life.

Fate—and the great Seattle fire of 1889—will bind these two different women together in a dark and perilous alliance. Neither suspects that their relationship will challenge everything they know about themselves, or that it will set them on a path that must lead to either redemption or damnation. 

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m working on nonfiction American history right now, doing research for the novel 😀

Tuesday Book Review: No Safe Anchorage by Liz MacRae Shaw

Title: No Safe Anchorage

Author: Liz MacRae Shaw

Publisher: Top Hat Books

Release Date: October 27, 2017

From Good Reads: Tom Masters, a nineteenth century naval officer, is a round peg in a square hole. A tantalizing glimpse of a stranger leads him to jump ship on a quest to find her. His adventures, interwoven with the life of a young Robert Louis Stevenson, take Tom from the Isle of Skye to Canada. There he encounters others who have been jettisoned by society, including Silent Owl, a Native American who becomes his soulmate. But, danger and exposure threaten Tom’s every move as he is forced to continue on his journey…

My Review: I resisted the story, at first—the disparate points of view in the beginning threw me off.  Then, finally, came Tom and the story took off.  Well written and well researched. I find that I liked the type of narrative, though it was a little more like “telling” than I prefer, but for some reason it works for the scope of the novel. It was hard to put down once I got used to the style.

 

Monday Book Review: An Unsuitable Heir by KJ Charles (Sins of the City #3)

Publisher: Loveswept/Penguin Random House

Release Date: October 3, 2017

Genre: Romance

Setting: Victorian London

Series: Sins of the City #3

From Good Reads:  A private detective finds passion, danger, and the love of a lifetime when he hunts down a lost earl in Victorian London.

On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met—and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.

Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now—his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.

But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive—or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.

My Review: I love the novels of KJ Charles, from Magpie Lords to Green Men. I’ve read everything but the last book released and Last Stop Tokyo.  The author knows her history, and her writing style is crisp and clear.

This third novel is the conclusion to the ensemble series, the characters passing the spotlight on as their involvement in the over-reaching story, a murder mystery that evolves into the frantic search for a missing heir.

The first novel, An Unseen Attraction, involves Clem and Rowley, who are friends whose passion for each other remains locked under their skin as they share tea and conversation in Clem’s quiet boarding house. Until a murdered lodger is dumped on the doorstep…Not only is this a gay romance, but Clem is half East Indian (long story) and has an invisible disability, which always made him a target of his bullying family. Rowley, too, enjoys a quiet life as a taxidermist—his own history reveals another reason why these two have such a lovely affinity between them. A slow burn romance.

The second novel, An Unnatural Vice, is completely opposite, pitting Justin, the Seer of London, and Nathaniel, an investigative journalist, against each other.  Enemies to lovers, opposites attract—I think KJ really shines the more complicated the sexual and emotional tangles are (re: “Wednesday to Wednesday”). Justin and Nathaniel have picked up the next thread of the murder and the search for the missing heir.

These men are of a small group of friends who often meet at tavern that caters to men like them, a safe refuge where they can be themselves, and where they share this story.

In the third novel, Mark, a private inquiry agent, is on the trail of the missing heir, who is also related to Clem. The existence in the heir has Clem’s aristocratic family in an uproar, and has put Clem and his friends in danger. Pen and his sister are completely happy working as acrobats. Pen is nonbinary and the inner workings of his heart and identity are fascinating as they are revealed to both himself and to Mark through the days of a thick London fog and working out the tangles of the mystery.

Seriously satisfying resolutions to the romances and the murder mystery.  Top-notch writing and plotting.  Charles always leaves me hungry for more, in a good way.

Thank you NetGalley and Loveswept 😀

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #12

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?

I got behind in my NetGalley reading and reviews in order to catch up on other reading and reviews. The good news is that my WWW aren’t overlapping today like they were a few weeks back.

What are you currently reading?

I guess I’ve been in a swashbuckling mood…

Well-written, awesome historical set in colonial tidewater Virginia.  Also written by a fellow Mainer– my local library featured him one day, and I’ve had his books on my mind ever since.

Description: Shortly after Thomas Marlowe’s arrival in Williamsburg, Virginia, all in that newfound capital city are speaking his name. With the bounty from his years as a pirate–a life he intends to renounce and keep forever secret–he purchases a fine plantation from a striking young widow, and soon after kills the favorite son of one of Virginia’s most powerful clans while defending her honor. But it is a daring feat of remarkable cunning that truly sets local tongues wagging: a stunning move that wins Marlowe command of Plymouth Prize, the colony’s decrepit guardship.

But even as the enigmatic Marlowe bravely leads the King’s sailors in bloody pitched battle against the cutthroats who infest the waters off Virginia’s shores, a threat from his illicit past looms on the horizon that could doom Marlowe and his plans. Jean-Pierre LeRois, captain of the Vengeance–a brigand notorious even among other brigands for his violence and debauchery–plots to seize the colony’s wealth, forcing Marlowe to choose between losing all or facing the one man he fears. Only an explosive confrontation on the open sea can determine whether the Chesapeake will be ruled by the crown or the Brethren of the Coast.

I don’t usually read fantasy, but I hoped this would fill the giant black hole while we wait for the next Gentlemen Bastards (Scott Lynch).  It’s pretty good 🙂

Description:  Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

I have read quite a few Megan Chance books, and she never lets me down.

Description: Chicago socialite Geneva Langley is a woman used to pushing boundaries. When she inadvertently pushes too far, she finds herself banished, along with her husband, to Seattle, Washington Territory. In 1888, Seattle is a city on the cusp of greatness, but there Ginny feels stifled and alone, suffocated by her husband’s forgiveness, always cognizant of her need to atone.

Beatrice Wilkes is an actress who has lived by her wits since she first set out on her own at the age of fifteen. She has learned not to trust, that in the theater friends rarely stay friends for long. She longs for a career as a leading lady on the stage, although that dream seems to grow less possible with every passing hour. When she meets Geneva Langley, Bea pegs her correctly as the kind of woman who has had everything handed to her, who understands nothing of real life.

Fate—and the great Seattle fire of 1889—will bind these two different women together in a dark and perilous alliance. Neither suspects that their relationship will challenge everything they know about themselves, or that it will set them on a path that must lead to either redemption or damnation. 

What did you recently finish reading?

This is Kendra Donovan #2, and I loved it. The mystery is superb, even though I guessed it, but I love the whole process.

Description: Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s attempts to return to the twenty-first century have failed, leaving her stuck at Aldridge Castle in 1815. And her problems have just begun: in London, the Duke of Aldridge’s nephew Alec—Kendra’s confidante and lover—has come under suspicion for murdering his former mistress, Lady Dover, who was found viciously stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved up in a bizarre and brutal way.

Lady Dover had plenty of secrets, and her past wasn’t quite what she’d made it out to be. Nor is it entirely in the past—which becomes frighteningly clear when a crime lord emerges from London’s seamy underbelly to threaten Alec. Joining forces with Bow Street Runner Sam Kelly, Kendra must navigate the treacherous nineteenth century while she picks through the strands of Lady Dover’s life.

As the noose tightens around Alec’s neck, Kendra will do anything to save him, including following every twist and turn through London’s glittering ballrooms, where deception is the norm—and any attempt to uncover the truth will get someone killed.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I have to work on my NetGalley list, so here it is:

 

Sunday Book Review: The Cloister by James Carroll

 

The Cloister is a novel of ideas that made me feel as breathless and on edge as I do when reading a thriller. With masterful writing and pacing, the author creates two worlds for the characters to inhabit—1140s Paris and the scholastic sphere of the brilliant Peter Abelard and Heloise, and their inevitable, and separate, retreat from the world.

How this all fits into Nazi occupied Paris, concentration camps, and on to post WWII New York City is an amazing literary feat. Entering this hall of mirrors is the Catholic priest Kavanaugh and the Jewish docent for the Cloisters, Rachel. Rachel’s father is the link back to Abelard and Heloise, as before the war he was a scholar in Paris working on a study of Abelard’s: Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian (1136-1139).  She carries Abelard’s book History of My Calamities with her everywhere because it was her father’s. When the priest seeks the shelter of the Cloisters during a rainstorm, they fall into conversation, and she spontaneously hands it over to the priest.

The themes of obligation and exploitation, retreat and annihilation, manipulation and survival are golden threads to follow through this labyrinth. A beautifully horrifying and shattering story.

Thank you NetGalley and Doubleday.

Sunday Book Review: The Orphan of Florence by Jeanne Kalogridis

Title:  The Orphan of Florence

Author: Jeanne Kalogridis

Publisher: St. Martin’s

Release Date:  October 3, 2017

Genre: Historical

Setting: Renaissance Florence

I am an absolute sucker for anything set in (Renaissance) Florence, but the author is a bit of a hit or miss for me, and I approached the novel with trepidation…

And fell right into the consuming rabbit hole of the story. Wow! 

My other absolute sucker-ness is for stories with women getting by in the world masquerading as men.

I loved Guilia—she knew from the get-go that her mind was different than the other children and adults around her.  Smart as she is, she struggles to overcome the real talent that keeps her alive—her distrust of all things except for the small family she’s made of a former prostitute and a street urchin.  She supports them by being a pickpocket, until she picks the right pocket, and though her circumstances are much improved after that fateful encounter, her new life is far more dangerous than the life she had led on the streets.

Medici spies versus Roman spies, orphans, codes and ciphers, and best of all, magic.

I loved the descriptions of Florence and the arcana—the author hit all the right notes for me from the moment I started reading. The fight scenes with Niccolo are absorbing and well researched.

BUT—does Guilia really need to say “OK” in this setting? I only laughed and moved on, but some might not. It takes more away from the story than adds to it, and as this is an ARC, I hope they remove “ok” from the finished manuscript.

P.S. Da Vinci, as much as I love him, doesn’t need to appear in every story set in Renaissance Florence, and for anyone who thinks “Da Vinci’s Demons” is history—it’s not, it’s an AU.