Reader, Writer, Reviewer

the romanov sistersPublished by St. Martin’s Press, June 2014 *****

This biography of the four Romanov sisters (collectively known as OTMA) demonstrates the absolute tragedy of their lives. Rappaport does an amazing job conveying their sheltered existence, but also illustrates their distinct personalities. What I found most sad about their circumstances were the many miscalculations their mother, Empress Alexandra, made in their upbringing. They were shielded from public view during their formative years and did not have any friends their own age. Their existence was secondary to their brother the tsarevich, though his hemophilia was a closely guarded secret, and his illness was a great strain on the entire family. Alexandra’s relationship with Rasputin did not help their reputation either. I also find it heartbreaking that Olga and Tatiana had such limited prospects for marriage when they came of age.

I feel I learned a great deal more about each individual Grand Duchess. I adored Tatiana’s steadfastness, her nursing skills, and her inner strength. Poor Olga seems to have suffered most through the war and their captivity, both from heartache and the moroseness of the situation. Anastasia was the much needed comic relief, and Maria was hearty and helpful. One can only imagine how things would have turned out differently if their parents had made different decisions as they grew up or all of the other circumstantial elements (like exile) would have worked in their favor. Regardless, these are four young, promising, and beautiful lives that were unnecessarily cut short.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

Another great Romanov book by Rappaport is The Last Days of the Romanovs.

the map thiefThe publisher of this book has graciously offered a copy for me to giveaway! So please leave a comment below for a chance to win. Open to US residents only. Contest ends Friday, April 18 at midnight.

Published by Gotham, May 2014 ****

The Map Thief has so many compelling things to offer: the history of cartography, insight into the world of rare and antique map dealing, and a true crime story. My favorite aspect was the detailed chronicle of how early navigators discovered new coastlines and continents, developing mapmaking to aide in exploration. During the time of cartographical renaissance, America was a blank space on a map that would eventually be filled in as travelers ventured further inland. As more sophisticated techniques were developed, the maps created were more detailed and varied.

Then there is the contemporary trade of these maps, and at the forefront of this is E. Forbes Smiley III. An reputable map dealer, he educated himself on the history of his ware in various libraries. Alas, these institutions would eventually become his victims. The book follows him from his early days establishing relationships with collectors, to the time when he became so financially desperate, he resorted to stealing rare and highly valuable maps from library collections. Smiley is the kind of guy you want to like, but end up despising, and the one aspect of the book that I didn’t particularly care for detailed his disputes with the townspeople in the village where he kept a summer home.

Otherwise, I feel like I learned a great deal about the history of maps, their provenance, and their value. I found it very interesting how the institutions that Smiley stole from had to prove whether the maps Smiley stole were from their collections and the various techniques use to prosecute him. Overall, this is a fascinating combination history and scandal.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.

allegiantPublished by Katherine Tegen Books, 2013 ***

Having finally finished the trilogy, I’m almost at a loss for what to say. Book three was definitely a departure from the prior books and went a completely different direction than I anticipated. Yes, questions were answered in regards to the city’s factioned existence and the history of the destruction. But the whole premise wasn’t entirely satisfying. It was another bureaucracy trying to control a population by any means necessary. And more rebellions against the big bad government, since no one can be satisfied with their station no matter what excuse is provided.

Don’t even get me started on the ending. Now I understand why Roth angered so many of her readers. Changing her narrative device made sense after the conclusion, but it really ruined the flow. There were certainly aspects of the book I liked, especially the surprisingly profound commentary on guilt and forgiveness. There’s also the satisfaction of completing a trilogy that occupied a good amount of my time and learning the outcome of the characters I’ve gotten to know. Though the end result offered hope, the means of achieving it kind of sucked.

Reviews for Divergent and Insurgent

that nightPublished by St. Martin’s Press, June 2014 *****

Troubled 18 year-old Toni and her boyfriend Ryan are accused of murdering Toni’s younger sister and spend the next fifteen years of their life in prison. Hardened by the system, Toni just wants to live a peaceful life after her release, but Ryan is determined to prove their innocence. Though Toni is wary of violating her parole, she knows the real killer must be brought to justice.

The story alternates between Toni’s high school days, her time incarcerated, and afterward. In high school she dealt with manipulative bullies who would do anything to make her miserable. In prison she had to watch her back against other inmates who want to cause her harm. On the outside, Toni has to contend with both the bullies and the ex-cons. Being a convicted murderer proves to be a terrible existence, but I appreciated Toni’s determination to make things right.

Stevens has done it again, delivering an exciting psychological thriller that kept me completely enraptured. While there was some predictability, it was fast-paced and utterly engrossing. There were villains I loved to hate, frustrating situations that kept me on edge, and secrets that I couldn’t wait to be revealed. I enjoyed every intense moment and devoured every page.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

Also by Chevy Stevens (all of them I ranked 5-stars because she’s awesome):

eye of godPublished by William Morrow, 2013 ****

The world is in trouble (again) and only Sigma Force can stop the possible destruction of the planet. A comet harboring dark matter is looming in the sky, a portent of annihilation. So of course this cosmic calamity has everything to do with St. Thomas (doubting), Attila the Hun, and Genghis Kahn. As the team races around the globe (Macau, Romania, North Korea, Mongolia) collecting macabre clues, adversaries are around every corner, danger tracking them to every exotic locale.

I love novels like this because they are exciting despite being formulaic. It’s always fun to pick out the fiction from the history with characters I have gotten to know from past books in the series. I appreciate how authors can make esoteric connections like Rollins does here with Christ’s apostle, a fifth century Germanic conqueror, and a thirteenth century Mongolian warlord. Throw in some astrophysics and space/time continuum philosophy, and you’ve got yourself a decent novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.

On Lending Books

My books are my children. I do not have children, therefore my time and energy has gone into cultivating my extensive home library. They are all catalogued, carefully shelved, and at any point and time, I can locate any book in my house. When a book leaves its home on the self and there is a conspicuous gap where it belongs, all is not well in the universe. I have learned over the years who is trustworthy enough to borrow a book. The Moms have proven their worth. MiL sends me her book club list every year and I try to fulfill her list with what’s already in my collection. Most years it’s only 2 or 3 out of the twelve. Recently when my Mom came to stay, she devoured a mystery I recommended. I sent her home with three more and it looks like we’ve started a book exchange through mail. She reads the mysteries I recommend, then sends them back and I send her a new batch.

But no matter who you are, there are specific rules:
• You are not allowed to dog-ear, write, highlight, or make any marks whatsoever (obvs).
• I do not loan signed copies. Period.
• If you have sticky-fingered children in your household, you will most likely be denied.
• If I send you on your way with a hardcover, you better take care of that dustjacket.

I think these are no-brainers. But there are other considerations, like borrowing for an extensive duration. I once had a coworker who, not being a regular reader, took several months with a single book. I can make exceptions, of course. But he was so grateful about the loan and felt slightly guilty about keeping it for so long, he returned it with a B&N gift card. Props, buddy. Another friend had a book for almost a year. Borrowing privileges revoked.

I understand I am in a unique position to have a nice collection and can make recommendations to pretty much anyone, so I don’t mind sharing. I will keep track of who has what at any given time because, well, it’s necessary, lest one of my children go astray.

As for me, I am not a book borrower. If I want to read a book bad enough, I will acquire it so that it can have a permanent home among the other well-loved books on the shelf. Please don’t try to throw a book at me that you think I should read; we’ve already addressed that here. I am open to recommendations, but I don’t want your copy on a temporary basis.

Point being: treat my books as you would treat your own. Return it as you received it. And more than anything else, I want to hear what you thought about it! That is the joy of sharing books after all.

the tudor chroniclesPublished by Metro Books, 2008 ****

Any Tudor-phile will appreciate this thoroughly comprehensive and beautiful volume. It documents the entire dynasty year by year and is full of gorgeous color images, paintings, document facsimiles, and contemporary accounts. It is incredibly detailed, occasionally tedious, recounting every privy appointment and title, political maneuverings on the continent, treasonous plots, executions, riots and every last element of Tudor life. Of course, the latter half of the book is dedicated to Elizabeth I and her long reign. It becomes mildly redundant with assassination attempts, naval expeditions, and administration.

Regardless of any monotony, this is an incredible resource covering all aspects of the six Tudor monarchs.

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