Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: The Last Palace by Norman Eisen

The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House by Norman Eisen 
Release date: September 4, 2018
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group 
Pages: 416
Reading level: Adult 
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: First to Read 
Links: Author • Goodreads • Amazon

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars 
When Norman Eisen moved into the US ambassador’s residence in Prague, returning to the land his mother had fled after the Holocaust, he was startled to discover swastikas hidden beneath the furniture. These symbols of Nazi Germany were remnants of the residence’s forgotten history, and evidence that we never live far from the past.

From that discovery unspooled the twisting, captivating tale of four of the remarkable people who had called this palace home. Their story is Europe’s, and The Last Palace chronicles the upheavals that have transformed the continent over the past century. There was the optimistic Jewish financial baron Otto Petschek, who build the palace after World War I as a statement of his faith in democracy, only to have that faith shattered; Rudolf Toussaint, the cultured, compromised German general who occupied the palace during World War II, ultimately putting his life at risk to save the house and Prague itself from destruction; Laurence Steinhardt, the first postwar US ambassador, whose quixotic struggle to keep the palace out of Communist hands was paired with his pitched efforts to rescue the country from Soviet domination; and Shirley Temple Black, an eyewitness to the crushing of the 1968 Prague Spring by Soviet tanks, who determined to return to Prague and help end totalitarianism – and did just that as US ambassador in 1989.
Weaving in the life of Eisen’s own mother to demonstrate how those without power and privilege moved through history, The Last Palace tells the dramatic and surprisingly cyclical tale of the endurance of liberal democracy.

This was a fascinating story by the former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Every US ambassador lives in this beautiful palace in Prague and have done so for many years. THE LAST PALACE takes the reader through the history of this famous building; we learn about its creation, role in World War II, and how it came to be the residence of the US Ambassador. Norman Eisen also weaves in the story of his mother's life as she was a Holocaust survivor from the former Czechoslovakia. This is not the history of one person though, THE LAST PALACE allows the reader to experience the changes in the country though the eyes of the different residents of the palace. 

The beginning took me a bit to get into, but I found myself moving quickly through this rather long book. Norman Eisen does a great job of fully immersing the reader in what is happening in Prague at different moments in history. Otto Petschek is the original builder of the house and we see as it falls into the hands of the Nazis, Communists, and eventually the United States. As interesting and heartbreaking as the chapters on World War II and the German occupation of Prague were, I found myself enjoying the later chapters on the US ambassadors and recent history a bit more, simply because I hadn't read much about this before . From the Soviet occupation to the student led protests, it was eye-opening to watch these citizens who had already been through so much take a stand for democracy and freedom. I also knew very little about the role Shirley Temple Black played in US government. I knew she played a role in diplomacy, but had no idea just how much she was able to accomplish and experience as US Ambassador to the Czech Republic. I am also interested in reading more about her role as Ambassador to Ghana in the future. 

At the center of THE LAST PALACE is, of course, the palace itself and it was an experience to be able to see how the palace survived and endured through all those years of history. I wish that the ending was a little less.. abrupt? It did feel as though the book ended rather suddenly and I was interested in getting more closure on his mother's story. All in all, I found this book to be an extremely well-written and researched story about an unusual subject- a building. I definitely recommend this to any history or political buff. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books By My Favorite Authors I Still Haven't Read

Book 1: US AGAINST YOU by Fredrick Backman - I have loved every book I've read by Backman. They are at times heartbreaking and uplifting, but the most powerful part of his stories is the characters. Every single one leaps off the page. This is the sequel to BEARTOWN which was at times difficult to read because of the subject matter, but I know I need to see how things play out for all of the characters. 

Book 2: PAPER TOWNS by John Green- I know I am so behind on this one! I've only recently started reading more of Green's books, so I am looking forward to getting to PAPER TOWNS. 

Book 3: TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE by Jenny Han- Jenny Han's Summer series was one of my favorites in high school and now with the popularity of the Netflix movie I know I need to read this one!

Book 4: A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles- RULES OF CIVILITY was one of my favorite books of the year already and so I know I need to read this one soon. Towles has a unique and engaging writing style and I enjoy historical fiction that brings the time to life. 

Book 5: ISAAC's STORM by Erik Larson- I have read all of Erik Larson's books but this one! My first read was DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY and my most recent was DEAD WAKE. Highly recommend Larson. This book in particular is about a storm I'm not too familiar with, so I'm looking forward to checking it out. 

Book 6: TRULY DEVIOUS by Maureen Johnson - Maureen Johnson was one of my favorite authors throughout high school and it's been several years since I've read anything by her. TRULY DEVIOUS sounds like an exciting murder mystery and is the start to a new series. 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES was actually one of the first YA books I remember reading, so I am excited to see what's new for Maureen Johnson.

Book 7: THE HYPNOTIST'S LOVE STORY by Liane Moriarty - Liane Moriarty's popularity escalated with the release of the Big Little Lies tv show on HBO. I admit that is when I jumped on the Moriarty train and I have since read all but one of her published books. I have this one on my shelf and look forward to reading it this fall.

Book 8: LILY OF THE NILE by Stephanie Dray - LILY OF THE NILE appeals to me for two reasons. The first being that two of the best books I read this year were by Stephanie Dray, stories about Patsy Jefferson and Eliza Hamilton. The other reason is that I am currently reading CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER by Michelle Moran and am loving it. I would love to read more about this family.

Book 9: EMMA by Jane Austen - Jane Austen is legendary and I have a huge book that contains all of her published works. I recently read SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and loved it. I also have read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE several times. EMMA is next on my list.

Book 10: VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon - I devoured the first two books in the Outlander series and am eager to see how Jamie and Claire's story continues. This book is also waiting on my shelf and I hope to read it soon. These books are long, but extremely engaging.


Have you read any of these?

Top Ten Tuesday Is Hosted By: The Artsy Reader Girl 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Review: Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter 
Release date: August 21, 2018
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 480
Reading level: Adult
Genre: Thriller
Source: Publisher
Links: Author  Goodreads  Amazon 

Overall: 3 out of 5 stars 
Andrea Cooper knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Belle Isle; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?
But all that changes when a trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.
The police want answers and Laura’s innocence is on the line, but she won’t speak to anyone, including her own daughter. Andrea is on a desperate journey following the breadcrumb trail of her mother’s past. And if she can’t uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for either one of them. . . .

I guess I have been out of the loop because this is my first Karin Slaughter book. When I went to mark PIECES OF HER as "currently reading" on Goodreads I realized Karin had a ton of other books that were bestsellers and highly rated. PIECES OF HER had a lot going on and was an exciting thriller, but I also found certain aspects of the plot predicable and other plot points not well explained at all. The story follows Andrea Cooper as she deals with the aftermath of a shooting that revealed a side of her mother she has never seen before. Andrea's mother, Laura, is no longer the person she believed her to be and it's up to Andrea to find out the truth.

There isn't too much I can say without spoiling, but I will do my best. The early chapters of the book were exciting and tense. I had no idea what the truth was about Laura or Andrea and I flew through the pages. When other time lines are introduced I quickly realized much of the truth and while it didn't explain everything, it was enough to not keep me as excited about where things were headed. Soon though there are a ton of characters and plot points thrown together and that also left a bit to be desired. What started as an exciting thriller soon left me thinking that many aspects of this story were not even believable. I also struggled to connect with Andrea. She made dumb mistakes and didn't question things in a way I would think a normal person would. I was impressed with how deep Slaughter went with this story, it was very elaborate, but once I started realizing certain parts of the mystery I was less enthused.

This was a long book but I flew through it. It's definitely fast paced, but the end left me with a little to be desired. I still didn't think it was clear why Andrea's mother made her do what she did. I read a lot of thrillers and this was something different which was refreshing, but I had several issues with it. Slaughter's other books seem to all have positive comments so I will certainly check her out in the future. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis

Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis
Release date: September 28, 2018
Publisher: Razorbill 
Pages: 456
Reading level: Young Adult 
Genre: Fantasy 
Source: First to Read 
Links: Author • Goodreads • Amazon 

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
When seventeen-year-old Nedra Brysstain leaves her home in the rural, northern territories of Lunar Island to attend the prestigious Yugen Academy, she has only one goal in mind: learn the trade of medicinal alchemy. A scholarship student matriculating with the children of Lunar Island's wealthiest and most powerful families, Nedra doesn't quite fit in with the other kids at Yugen, who all look down on her.

All, except for Greggori "Grey" Astor. Grey is immediately taken by the brilliant and stubborn Nedra, who he notices is especially invested in her studies. And that's for a good reason: a deadly plague has been sweeping through the North, and it's making its way toward the cities. With her family's life--and the lives of all of Lunar Island's citizens--on the line, Nedra is determined to find a cure for the plague.

Grey and Nedra continue to grow closer, but as the sickness spreads and the body count rises, Nedra becomes desperate to find a cure. Soon, she finds herself diving into alchemy's most dangerous corners--and when she turns to the most forbidden practice of all, necromancy, even Grey might not be able to pull her from the darkness.

Beth Revis' ACROSS THE UNIVERSE trilogy was one of my favorites. I loved how unique and engaging it was. So, of course, I was eager to read GIVE THE DARK MY LOVE. While I didn't love this one quite as much, I still found it to be a great read. Fast paced, dark, and mysterious this was a great start to a new series. The story follows Nedra as she leaves her small town and family behind to attend school for alchemy. Meanwhile, there is a deadly plague ravaging the country and Nedra quickly becomes caught up in how she can find a cure for this disease, protect her family, and succeed as an alchemist.

The book was told in semi-alternating chapters between Nedra and fellow-student Greggori Astor. To me, this was Nedra's story though and I didn't get too much out of Greggori's character or felt he contributed much. It was sweet to see her be vulnerable with him, but beyond that I didn't love this part of the story. Nedra is incredibly strong-willed and independent and knows what she wants to accomplish. I enjoyed reading about her experiences at school, but even more so when she became more involved in directly combating the plague. What a horrible disease! Beth Revis did not hesitate to describe gruesome surgeries, slow deaths, and painful amputations. The practice of alchemy was interesting to me, but I would like to know more about the reasoning behind the rats and other aspects of alchemy that I didn't feel were fully explained.

The last half of the book was especially exciting and we get to see certain characters begin to descend more and more into the darkness. At almost 500 pages this is not a short book, but I read it fairly quickly. There are several plot twists that kept me guessing and while the ending wasn't necessarily a cliffhanger, I am interested in seeing what the sequels will bring. I am hoping to learn more about the world and how alchemy and necromancy will continue to shape the characters. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems

Book 1: BLOODY JACK Series by LA Meyer - This series is one of my all time favorites. I love the adventures that Jacky gets into and I wish more people would discover these exciting and well-written books. Jacky is an awesome protagonist. 

Book 2: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by Andre Aciman - Now I know this movie is incredibly popular, but the book was even better. This is such a beautiful story and many of the passages have stuck with me long after I turned the last page. Elio and Oliver's story deserves even more attention in the literary world. 

Book 3: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent - I picked this book up randomly at a bookstore in La Jolla earlier this summer. It's been out for a few years, but it was such a beautifully written and tragic story that I think more people need to take a chance on it. Plus, Iceland is a very rare setting for a book. 

Book 4: Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrick Backman - My third book by Backman after A MAN CALLED OVE and BEARTOWN. Those two I hear so much about, but I think Britt-Marie's story also deserves more love. It was a sweet and inspiring story about a women who starts to break free from her shell. It wasn't as impactful as OVE and BEARTOWN, but I still enjoyed it and would definitely recommend to any fans of Backman. 

Book 5: GILT by Katherine Longshore - I have had this one on my shelves for years and am so glad I finally got around to it this summer. Books about Henry VIII and his wives have always been so interesting to me and Catherine Howard was one of the wives I knew the least about. Longshore has several other books out from the same time period so I am eager to pick those up. 

Book 6: MY DEAR HAMILTON by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie - MY DEAR HAMILTON was an incredible read. The broadway show, Hamilton, is sweeping the nation and for anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating man and, in particular, his brave and supportive wife, please check this out. Eliza Hamilton is someone I knew next to nothing about and this was an incredibly well researched story that was also entertaining to read. 

Book 7: SEAFIRE by Natalie C. Parker- SEAFIRE was only released last month, but I highly recommend picking it up as soon as you can. It was an engaging and exciting tale of the high seas with a strong cast of female characters. This is the first book in a new series, as well. 

Book 8: WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES by Georgia Hunter- A heartbreaking true story that follows one family as they are torn apart by World War II and the Holocaust. I have read a ton on this time in history, but still Hunter's story opened my eyes to even more experience's that I was not too familiar with. This is out in paperback now and I highly recommend it. 

Book 9: THE GATEKEEPERS by Chris Whipple - There was been an influx of "political" books out lately and I don't want this one to get lost in the shuffle. Whipple's book explores the intricacies of the Chief of Staff position and gives a lot of interesting information about the many people who have held the position through the years. I learned a lot from this book and highly recommend it. 

Book 10: THE ROOM ON RUE AMELIE by Kristin Harmel - Easily one of the best books I read this year! Beautifully written historical fiction set in Paris during World War II with a great cast of characters. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and Kristin Harmel has been added to my list of authors to watch. Can't wait to read more by her. 


What are some of your favorite hidden gems? 

Top Ten Tuesday Is Hosted By: The Artsy Reader Girl 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Review: Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

SEAFIRE (Seafire, #1) by Natalie C. Parker 
Release date: August 28, 2018
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 384
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Source: First to Read
Links: Author 
• Goodreads • Amazon 

Overall: 4.25 out of 5 stars 
After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one misson: stay alive, and take down Aric's armed and armored fleet.
But when Caledonia's best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all...or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for? 

SEAFIRE was great! I loved the characters, the plot, and all of the exciting adventures. The story opens with Caledonia and her best friend losing their families to the evil Aric Athair and then continues with Caledonia captaining a ship full of fellow women as they fight to preserve their lives and stop Aric Athair. I've always enjoyed novels and movies that take place on ships. Pirates of the Caribbean is one of my favorite series on film and I've loved the Bloody Jack books for years. SEAFIRE was not historical fiction, but was taking place in an alternate world. Natalie C. Parker did an awesome job bringing this world to life. While the majority of the novel took place at sea, we also got to learn about different communities and groups of people on land. The ending was a big cliffhanger, so I am eager to read the second book when it is released.

Caledonia was an awesome main character. She was dealing with significant trauma because of her role in the loss of her family, but she was also a brave and well-liked captain. The relationships Caledonia had with her fellow crew members was my favorite part. You don't often come across a book with so many strong female characters and the relationships varied from close friendship to love. I especially enjoyed seeing Caledonia and Pisces (her oldest friend) challenge each other to be their best selves. Redtooth, Hyme, and Amina were all great secondary characters. There is romance, but it is not the main focus of the story and is more in the background. Caledonia is focused on getting revenge and protecting her crew first and foremost.

The beginning was a little slow, but the last half of the book was very exciting. We didn't get to see much of their enemy, Aric Athair, but I am sure he will make an appearance in the rest of the trilogy. Aric brainwashes and kidnaps kids from around the world and uses them to do his dirty work. This was an interesting concept, and I'm interested in seeing how that will play out. It only took me a day to read SEAFIRE and while I wish the ending gave more clarity, it left me eager for the sequel (which I'm sure won't be out for quite some time). If you are a fan of fast-paced adventure novels with a strong female cast of characters, this will not disappoint.