I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This was our book club pick for November!  I didn’t get to read the book before attending book club, which gave me a different perspective when I did get a chance to read it!

I had to do some googling for historical purposes as this book takes place from 1918-1920 when under orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police took Anastasia Romanov and her family into a basement in Siberia to kill them.  None survive…..

Then, a couple years later, a woman who looks identical to Anastasia is found in a canal in Berlin.  She even has the same sort of scars as Anastasia.  She is taken to a hospital and when she finally speaks, she claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia!  Some are convinced that this woman is only after the Romanov fortune and call her by a different name, Anna Anderson.  The pot starts to boil when old and new enemies are brought to light.

Is she the real Anastasia, somehow saved from the brutal killings, or is she a brilliant impostor?  If you are up on your history, you may know how this story ends, but this is a great book of deception and uncanny truths of what happened to the Romanov family.

If you’ve read this, let me know what you thought!!  Just a quick note – yes this is the same Anastasia that is in the Disney movie – however – the true story is much more grim…

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A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

I really wanted to like this book because I had all three, so I wouldn’t have to wait to begin the next book after finishing the first…well…I didn’t make it to #2.

I can’t really put my finger on the reason I couldn’t get into this story.  Although I have several friends who absolutely loved all three books!  You’ll just have to read them to see what you think!

The story revolves around a young woman named Diana Bishop.  She comes form a long line of powerful witches and despite it all, Diana tries her hardest to NOT practice magic.  Although one day she accidentally calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript while doing research in the Oxford Bodleian Library.  Unfortunately for Diana, word spreads to other witches, vampires and even demons who soon start hanging around the library.

The story was interesting, but I feel like the author would get long winded in her writing and I would get bored.  Then something would happen and it would grab my attention again only soon to be back in the rut again.  Please let me know if you have read this book and what you thought!

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

The cover for this book is amazing especially with the gold accents!  The story on the other hand was interesting and not what I was expecting!

It’s 1785 and a man named Jonah Hancock hears a knock on his door late into the evening.  There is a captain standing there and tells Jonah that he has sold Jonah’s ship for what he claims is a real (but dead) mermaid!  Jonah isn’t sure how to take this news as his ships are his life and his only source of income, lost all for a claim to a real mermaid?

No sooner than it arrives, gossip spreads through the town and everyone wants a peek at this new wonder.  The mermaid takes him to places he’s never dreamed in the high society ranks as a show piece.  One night at a showing party, he meets a woman who changes his life forever.

The two slowly learn that priceless things come at a great cost…including the destructive power mermaids are said to possess.  The story isn’t what you would think.  After reading the first chapter, then to the end you realize it’s not the story you thought it was going to be.

Although the curiosity is there surrounding the finding of this mermaid, the story more focuses on the destruction it brings to those closest to it.  Which does make for a story in itself I suppose!

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This was our Book Club Selection for August!

The Devil in the White City had a super slow start for me, although we were warned at Book Club that this is somewhat how Erik Larson’s books all are…but then about a third of the way through, it got interesting.

The story is several stories in one, it is a book about the White City — the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and a book about a devil — a psychopathic serial killer.  I enjoyed both stories here, but wasn’t interested with the author’s decision to try to integrate them into one book.  I think the historical pieces about the Chicago’s World’s Fair were great to have in the story to set the place and time, but having all the detail about how the World’s Fair came to be among the murdering madness of H.H. Holmes – it was a bit much.

The White City half certainly dealt with a fascinating cast of characters, architecture was skyrocketing in importance, and Chicago was a hotbed of architectural innovation. And since architects invariably deal with wealth, all the contradictions and surprises of the Gilded Age are brought to the fore.  And perhaps the devil half contained enough meat to reach the topmost tier of true-crime nonfiction.  The social changes seen by the poor — the gilded age’s dark lining, as it were — were just as important as the boardroom side of the story.

The Devil the the White City tells the story of the men and women who shed sweat and tears into making the Chicago Worlds Fair into the most spectacular event of the time period.  It also tells of the women whose blood was shed behind the curtains during the Chicago Worlds Fair – by the hands of the madman Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.

 

 

 

 

 

A Hundred Fires in Cuba by John Thorndike + Interview

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I would first like to thank the author, John Thorndike for the opportunity to review his book A Hundred Fires in Cuba!

John takes us to Cuba in the 1950’s into the mind of Claire, a photojournalist who finds herself in a love triangle between a Cuban business man and the father of her child, Camilo Cienfuegos, who also happens to be one of Castro’s head commanders.  Claire met Camilo while he was in New York working as a cook and fell instantly in love.  Not long after, Camilo is deported back to Cuba and Claire never hears from him again.  Her fear is that he has died in Fidel’s invasion of the island.  Claire also discovers she is pregnant with the child of a man she thinks she will never see again.

Claire marries a wealthy Cuban businessman and moves to Havana with her two-year-old daughter, only to discover that her first love is not only still alive, he’s now head of the Cuban Army.  She cannot believe it.  Soon Claire finds herself right in the middle of the chaos and danger, in hopes of finding him.  As the story unfolds, you will find that love never dies, even in the darkest of times.   It was interesting to read about a side of history that I may not typically be familiar with, and John Thorndike’s account of Clare and Camilo is all too real and heartbreaking at times.

This story has just enough depth to it, that I almost had to read it in one sitting but unfortunately sleep got the best of me.  It has a pinch of romance but not like what you find in other stories.  It’s a well rounded, interesting and enjoyable read.

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John Thorndike

Tell us a little about yourself?

John: My first real job, after the Peace Corps, was farming. I started out raising chickens on a backcountry farm in Chile, then moved to Athens, Ohio and grew vegetables, which I sold at the local supermarket and farmers’ market. My house still sits beside a field that once held 2500 tomato plants, along with peppers, squash and a dozen other crops. I loved farming, but the profit was slim. Today, the organic vegetables I grew would bring a better price, but in the late seventies I actually took down my Organic Produce sign, because it made people suspicious. Full of bugs, some of them thought. Eventually I left farming behind and started building houses. I still own several of these, and rent them out.

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

John:  I always wrote. I started in high school and wrote in college. (A few years ago I stumbled across a couple of my early short stories: rather embarrassing.) I wrote during the winters when I had a break from my crops, and found more free time as my son grew up: I was a single father from the time he was three. When he turned thirteen we moved to Colorado, and I stayed out West for a dozen years, first in Boulder, then in Santa Fe, NM. In those years I wrote full-time.

Tell us a little bit about your first book or the first book in the series.

John: My first novel, Anna Delaney’s Child, is a book about loss. My mother died early, at 57, and year after year I missed her. Then, a woman I was in love with left me, and those two miseries drove me to start a book about the worst loss I could imagine, the death of one’s child. It’s something that all parents fear, I’m sure. I made the boy in the novel nine, the same age my son was when I started making notes for the book. After a while, of course, the story went off on its own path, quite independent of my mother, my lover or my son. This is what books do, and one reason we write them.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

John: I don’t think I have a genre. I’ve published two memoirs and three novels, and the most recent of these, A Hundred Fires in Cuba, is historical fiction. “Literary fiction” might be my category—but are books in any genre non-literary? That sounds insulting, and I resist such labels. Like most authors, I write the story I want to tell, as well as I can. It’s true that I don’t toss off a book. Each one takes years, mainly because I keep rewriting until I can read every paragraph, every sentence without a hitch. Perhaps that’s my genre: Books Endlessly Revised.

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?

John: For my current book, the opening. But as often happens, that kept changing. The beginning was first set in the kitchen of the Waldorf Astoria, where Clare and Camilo meet. Though my first impulse with a manuscript is to follow a strict chronology, I don’t stay with that long. I want to come in at a moment when the tension rises, and I was drawn to the day that Clare—now married to someone else, because she believes that Camilo has died—sits alone in her husband’s car outside Havana, listening to a broadcast from Fidel Castro’s rebel station. That’s when she learns that Camilo, her first love and the father of her child, is not only still alive, he’s one of Fidel’s top comandantes. From that moment, her life must change.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

John: The division between these two seems thin to me. After all, isn’t our imagination founded on what we’ve experienced? Novels are a stew of things we’ve known and things we’ve made up. Memoirs are the same, because our memory is never exact. When I quote a conversation from thirty years ago I do my best, but I doubt that I’m recalling the words precisely. There are memoirs—I’m thinking of Mary Karr—seen from the eyes of a five-year-old, and surely that leads to a mix of fact and fiction. We try to evoke the essence of a scene, of a character, but the line between real life and imagination seems increasingly blurred to me.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

John: Justine, by Lawrence Durrell. My mother gave me a Faber & Faber paperback of the book—the first volume of Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet—when I was nineteen, complete with her penciled notes in the margin. It was a way of confiding in me, of letting me see something of her passionate nature—which in her life with my father was pretty much kept under a cloak. The heart of Justine is an affair, set in Egypt in the nineteen thirties and forties. I read the book, and the others in the quartet, eight or nine times. I read it again last year. I think my mother wanted to show me that there’s a world beneath the daily one we live in, a world of emotion and obsession, of strange dreamers, misfits and powerful women, of people for whom sex and love are more vital than anything else.

Do you ever experience writers block?

John: Not for long. On the other hand, I have to overcome a kind of block every time I sit down to write. How hard it can be to get started in the morning—or afternoon, or at night, whenever I begin. It helps if I write every day. If I take Sunday off, it’s harder on Monday. If I take a month or two off, it can take me days to get the flywheel turning again. Then I’m fine. Almost always, I begin by reading what I wrote the day before, or the week before. Or I turn back to the beginning. I’ll go over the start of a book fifty times before I’m done. If I’m stumped, if I don’t know what comes next, I go back to the first paragraph, and slowly the flywheel starts to move. Those first few revolutions are the most difficult, but then I start to cruise. Soon the words are pouring out as I shotgun whole paragraphs, coming up with material I’ll be correcting later, over and over. I no longer fight any of this, it’s just my way.

Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

John: Yes, but he died three years ago. James Salter’s Light Years is the book of books for me. I’ve kept a copy between my mattress and headboard for twenty years. That’s another way I get the flywheel turning: I pick up Salter’s book, sometimes at random, and read a page or a chapter. As Richard Ford says, “Sentence for sentence, Salter is the master.” Light Years is written with a nostalgia that steadily grips me. “Her life was like a single, well-spent hour…. The days were cut from a quarry that would never be emptied.” Of course they will be emptied, and people will die—but not as long as I reread the book. I did try to meet Salter. My editor wrote his wife, and a friend of my father’s was close to him, but no go. He lived part of the year on Long Island, and died in Sag Harbor at 90, in the gym, working out. My mother owned a house in Sag Harbor—bought in 1961 for $8,000!—and it’s there my next book will be set. Meanwhile, I read Light Years the way I eat and drink and breathe: endlessly.

Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?

John: The new one, A Hundred Fires in Cuba, is out now. Here’s the description from the back cover: “In the spring of 1956, a young American photographer falls in love with a Cuban line cook at New York’s Waldorf Astoria. They have a ten-week affair which ends when Immigration arrests and deports him, and by then Clare Miller is pregnant. Few Americans know the name Camilo Cienfuegos. All Cubans do. In real life he was the most charismatic of Fidel Castro’s commanders—until his small plane vanished only months after Fidel came to power. In A Hundred Fires in Cuba, Clare must choose between the stable Cuban businessman she has married and her first love, Camilo. Though a true revolutionary, Camilo likes to dance and drink. He likes women, and too many women like him. His courage is legendary, but when he comes to visit Clare he’s afraid of his own daughter and her moods. Clare worries that he’ll never make a good parent, but she cannot resist him.”

If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?

John: Hey, I got it published! People liked it, I started going to writers’ colonies, gave up most of my magazine articles, buckled down to the next one. No, that all worked out fine.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

John: Only, I’m afraid, the same clichés you’ve read many times. But here’s the one I try to follow myself: Write the book you want to, the one that’s closest to your heart. Follow your true focus. Shakespeare’s Polonius gave us the greatest clichéd advice of all, because it’s the most vital: to thine own self be true.

Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

John: Aren’t books great? Don’t we love to read? We have ebooks now, and audibles, but they’re still books. My father read endlessly, my mother as well, my brother, my son—and now my grandchildren, who both love to climb into a book. Sure, they play some video games, but they’re fully engaged with books. Everyone in my family has always had it: a simple taste for reading.

House of Echoes by Brendan Duffy

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

Don’t let the cover fool you, the story is slightly creepy but not as creepy as I had hoped.  I have read Brendan’s book “The Storm King“, which came out this year and liked it, so thought I would read this story.

House of Echoes is in fact a thriller, but not how I had hoped.  The story is about the Tierney’s and their two young sons that are hoping to start over.  Ben and his wife inherit land in a village called Swannhaven, which is in a remote part of upstate New York.  They leave everything behind and decide to restore a huge estate to turn into a hotel of sorts.  The house is creepy, the town is creepy and the people in the town are creepy.

Then Ben starts to uncover the secrets of the town and their home.  Strange things start to happen.  Their oldest son Charlie starts to venture into the woods near by and sees someone or something deep within them.  This ‘thing’ in the woods is what had me going along with the creepy town and home, but as I was nearing two-thirds of the book, I still was left in the dark.  The story seemed to go on and on about things I really didn’t feel mattered to the story or maybe they did, because the ‘thing in the woods’ wasn’t what I was expecting it to be and I was almost disappointed.  I felt that the story had troubles focusing on what it really wanted to be told, leaving you with the feeling of unsatisfaction.  The writing was good, I just think the author would have picked something to focus on in the book, it would of made it a lot better.

 

Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

”She approaches the button box with as much stealth as she can muster. When she’s within a few feet of it, the image of a wild animal asleep in its lair flashes in her head, and she thinks: The button box doesn’t just give power; it is power.

‘But I won’t,’ she mutters. Won’t what? ‘Won’t give in.’”

I enjoy reading books by Stephen King, this one caught my because of the the cover.  I decided to listen to it on audio and was surprised that it’s actually a really short story.

This is a strange short story…..but what do you expect….it’s Stephen King! There are only three ways up to get to Castle View, two roads and the Suicide Stairs.  Everyday in the summer, Gwendy Peterson takes the stairs.  One day as she reaches the top, a stranger calls her over to a bench he is sitting on.  He’s an odd looking fellow dressed all in black and on his head, a little black hat.

The strange man presents Gwendy with a box with many buttons, to which he explains to her what will happen when she pushes each one.  The buttons themselves have power beyond anything she can conceive, but with that power comes great responsibility. The man is cryptic in his explanations, which makes one wonder if even he knows the true power of all those buttons. The black button can not be pushed under any circumstances. The red button is a wild card. Each of the other buttons are tied to specific geographical regions. If the button that gave out chocolates weren’t so mouth watering amazing, a smart girl like Gwendy would have excused herself and broke into a fast trot back to the life that the fates had already strung for her……

I don’t know how Stephen King put so much tale into a short amount of time, but it was strange story that you’re just going to have to read/listen to!