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

 

Sunday Book Review: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Title: Juliet Takes a Breath

Author: Gabby Rivera

Publisher:  Riverdale Avenue Books

Release Date: January 18, 2016

From Good Reads:  Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.

Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?

With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.

My Review: I shouldn’t have read the other reviews (on GR) because most of them are so good, and  now I’m blocked.  I feel like I should have more to say because I loved this story so much—hanging onto Juliet’s coattails as she negotiates some pretty scary steps to adulthood, but an adulthood on her own terms.

This is Juliet’s story, Gabby Rivera’s #ownvoice.  There’s also a universality to Juliet’s story (I was thinking about Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle when I first started it.)  Coming out and rites of passage, coming of age, finding a mentor and discovering your hero has feet of clay…then the joy of finding your tribe and returning home triumphant.

I’m a well-read, straight, white, older lady living in rural New England—so just had to get that out of the way, because I love to read diverse books (not just gay romance lol). There’s so much meat on this story’s bones, and the prose is phenomenal. Gabby Rivera has a sharp, clear lens, and I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended.

Thank you NetGalley and Rivendale Avenue Books.

 

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: Tale of A Boon’s Wife

Title: Tale of A Boon’s Wife

Author:  Fartumo Kusow

Publisher: Second Story Press

Release Date:  October 10, 2017

Genre: Literary, Multicultural

Setting: Somalia

Idil, a young girl in Somalia, is the daughter of a general and whose family is of the dominant Bliss tribe. Her older brother is a sadistic creep and her younger brother has a heart as big as her own. Her mother does what is expected of her, repeating all the toxic masculinity brainwashing that goes on in patriarchal cultures everywhere.

Oh, this is a beautifully written and terrifying book!

Because of her general father’s numerous affairs, the last one ending in violence, they are moved closer to the capitol.  Thus Idil meets Sidow, and their friendship is fast and immediate.  For both her and her younger brother, Sidow is a healing balm when they can get away from their toxic household. Sidow is sweet, smart and talented, but he’s also of the Boon tribe, who are, historically, of a lower social order to the Bliss.

In a country already torn apart by civil war, the love that grows between Sidow and Idil is strong, strong enough for Idil to defy her parents and marry her soul’s mate, creating their own small resistance in the face of destructive traditions that would tear them apart. 

There is so much more going on than in this brief summary.  The author’s graceful and eloquent yet earthy language creates an immediacy and emotional immersion into Idil’s world, her mind and heart. Heartbreaking, though Idil remains strong and true as her mother, her family, her home, and country break apart.

Highly recommended. I’ll be looking for more from this author.

Thank you NetGalley and Second Story Press 😀