Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Altarpiece by Lauren Fogle Boyd


Title: The Altarpiece
Author: Lauren Fogle Boyd
Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: Anke Junger and Erik Brossler both inherit a love of art from their respective fathers and grow up to become art historians. When the Nazi's begin to rise in Germany, the Brossler family move to the United States and become citizens. The Junger family's choice to stay in Germany spells disaster for Anke and her father. Erik and Anke are both working for their governments in order to preserve historic and irreplaceable pieces of art from being destroyed by the war. Little did they know what great effect this would have on their lives.



My Thoughts

This book was recommended to me by a colleague with similar literary interests. Having read the work of non-fiction, Monuments Men, I have heard of the great work that was done to preserve art from destruction in WWII. In this fictionalized account, Erik Brossler becomes one of those historic men. This novel fleshes out what it was like to be part of that team and the type of people who were interested in working to save art as part of the war effort in only the way that a work of fiction can. The author provides backstory, motivation, and the inner workings of the Monuments Men.  
The second protagonist, Anke Junger, works from inside Germany to save art. It is intriguing that while forced to help Hitler and the members of the Third Reich loot and catalog artwork, Anke uses her proximity to the art, to help preserve the pieces of art she considers most important. This includes the inspiration for the title of the book, The Ghent Altarpiece. 
While few of the main characters in this novel are real, most are based on figures from history.

If you are interested in art, WWII, the Monuments Men, or stories of survival and love, this book is for you! 

Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!

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To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Monday, March 11, 2019

Hindsight by Justin Timberlake



Title: Hindsight & All the Things I Can’t See in Front of Me
Author: Justin Timberlake
Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography

Synopsis: A first-person account of Justin Timberlake’s creative process; highlighting how he came to a career as a musician, actor, songwriter, and overall performer.  



My Thoughts
This book is a bit different than what I normally read/review so I am going to break this review down into sections to more clearly cover all of my points.

JT & Me: I love Justin Timberlake and I received this book as a gift for my 30th birthday in December.  My sister and I attended his Man of the Woods Tour concert this past October (2018) and it was there that I realized for just how long I have loved Justin Timberlake. Some songs were such throwbacks, and of course, I was a fan of N*Sync before he began his solo career. I also think his SNL skits are hilarious (CLAAAASSSIC Peg...) and appreciate his acting and dancing skills as well. So there was little chance that I was going to absolutely despise this book.
The text: The book is written in the first person from JT so it comes across as very conversational and sometimes feels a little stream of consciousness. Many times it felt rushed like I had to read it fast, so I had to go back and re-read some parts to make sure I caught it all. As he reminisces about his career he makes sidebar comments, many in parenthesis that are just really funny and made me reminisce about where I was at that part of his career and how I related to it. His songs played in my head as they were mentioned, and I knew them all. 
I loved reading about his childhood, his being discovered at a Star Search audition by the Mickey Mouse Club, his start with N*Sync, and his love for Al Green from an early age. In the last section, he gets super sentimental about his son, Silas, & wife, Jessica Biel. It is sweet but has been mentioned so frequently throughout the rest of the book that a whole section about it starts to get redundant.

The design: The book is filled with beautiful photographs both personal photos from his childhood and professional photos throughout his career. The book is extra large, so it allows for each page to be visually interesting without losing space for text. I have the Barnes and Noble exclusive edition with extra photos from the Man of the Woods tour. 
The use of graphics is really well done, choosing key phrases to highlight and hit messages home. For example, when he talks about how the spaces between the notes are more important than the notes themselves, the next 3 pages in the book are blank, then down at the bottom very small it says "you're listening now."  
My one criticism of the graphics choices would be that at the beginning of each section it begins with an intro in bold, light grey text with no paragraph indentations. The color makes it hard to read and the lack of separation makes it hard to follow. I was more focused on how weird it was than what I was actually reading.

Summary: This is a cool book to read for anyone who is a fan of Justin Timberlake. It reads very quickly, even for those who are not big readers this would go by very fast. This would also be a great gift for the JT superfan in your life. 

Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


To buy this book from Amazon now, click on the image at the top of the post.
To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

Title: Three Sisters, Three Queens
Author: Philippa Gregory
Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: Margaret Tudor, the second child and first daughter of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York, has always known she was meant to be a queen. After her brother, Arthur, and Katherine of Aragon marry, Margaret is betrothed to the King of Scotland. In time, Katherine and Margaret's younger sister, Mary, both also become queens by marriage. Their sisterhood becomes a struggle between rivalry and friendship, as the wheel of fortune turns for each of them. 

Other books I have read by this author: The Other Queen, The Boleyn Inheritance, The Constant Princess, The Last Tudor, The Taming of the Queen, The Queen's Fool, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Lady of the Rivers, The White Queen, The Red Queen, The Kingmaker's Daughter, The White Princess, The Red Princess, The King's Curse, The Virgin's Lover.


My Thoughts

I first expected that this novel would be written from three different points of view; Katherine of Aragon, Margaret Tudor, and Mary Tudor. In several of her other novels, Gregory uses this approach to tell the story from several vantage points. I was surprised and excited to find that it was, in fact, all first person present tense from Margaret. Gregory has told Katherine's story in the Constant Princess and The Last Tudor, and while I knew a bit about Mary, (like that she was Henry VII's favorite sister) I had never read anything about Margaret Tudor at all. Apparently, that is for good reason, because little has been written about her.
Margaret's relationship with her sister-in-law and sister is shown mostly through the writing of letters and the exchange of gifts, since she spends most of her life in Scotland, away from both of them. The author gives the reader a strong sense of the isolation that Margaret feels as she tries to keep peace between England and Scotland, and fights for the regency after a hasty second marriage.
As you can see, I am a faithful reader of Gregory's Cousin's War and Tudor series and with this novel, I have now read them all. Not only do I highly recommend this novel, but all of the novels in these series, as Gregory works to give voices to female figures in history who influenced events more strongly than they are given credit for. 

Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


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To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott


Title: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
Author: Karen Abbott
Genre: Nonfiction


Synopsis: The unique stories of Belle Boyd, Emma Edmundson, Rose Greenhow, and Elizbeth Van Lew and how each played important roles to support their causes during the American Civil War.


My Thoughts

When I received this book as a gift I thought it was historical fiction. In the note at the beginning of the book, however, Abbott makes it clear that this is a work of nonfiction, stating, "Anything that appears between quotation marks comes from a book, diary, letter, or transcript[...]" and when I read that I started to worry that this might be more technical than I had bargained for. What I found was a well researched and wonderfully written work of nonfiction highlighting the risks that these four women took to support their cause during the war. 
The book is written in 5 parts, one for each year of the war and an epilogue. Each chapter follows one of the women through the events that she participated in throughout that year, often leaving little cliffhangers at the end of the chapter. Both the Union and Confederate causes are represented, two of the women supporting one side, two on the other. Photographs of each woman and other prominent figures of the Civil War are scattered throughout as well. In addition, the 13-page bibliography gave some inspiration for other works I might like to read in the future! 
I have read a work of historical fiction about Elizabeth Van Lew, The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini (a seriously awesome book), but I had never heard of the other three women. Abbott uses her research to turn facts about little-known participants in the Civil War into an engrossing story of women who wanted to do more than knit and darn for their cause.


 Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


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To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Breaking the Foals by Maximilian Hawker

Title: Breaking the Foals
Author: Maximilian Hawker
Genre: Fiction


Synopsis: A retelling of the Troy myth as it might have happened before it was sensationalized in an epic poem. 
My Thoughts

 First, it was a nice touch to call each chapter a 'Tablet.' Those kinds of things add a bit of charm to the story. I also thought the cover of the book was perfectly simple and effective.
I was super interested to see how the author would take the much-told story of Troy and turn it into something more down to earth and believable.
I was impressed with how some of the more incredible portions of the story, like the Trojan horse and the stealing of a queen, became a simple part of Hektor's transformation from a dutiful son into a compassionate father. 
The highlighting of women's roles in the war and the disparity of wealth in the community gave more depth to the story than just a war fought by men over a beautiful woman. 
A few of the characters and their relationships with Hektor could have been a bit more fleshed out, like Ura and Washa, and the passing of time was sometimes difficult to follow but overall it was an intriguing novel to read.

 Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


To buy this book from Amazon now, click on the image at the top of the post.
To see more from the author, visit the website linked above
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a review.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Title: Crazy Rich Asians
Author: Kevin Kwan
Genre: Fiction


Synopsis: New Yorker, Rachel Chu, is invited by her boyfriend of two years, Nick Young, to be his date to his best friend's wedding in Singapore. What he doesn't tell her is how wealthy and judgy his family can be. Learning more about Nick's family causes Rachel to question if she really knows the man she has been living with at all.
My Thoughts

I decided to read this one because of its crazy popularity. I figured it was going to be a superficial Cinderella type love story, but set in Asia. I was so excited to be wrong. Not only is this novel funny, but it really dives into complex family dynamics showing that enormous wealth does not make life perfect. The author explores the mother-child relationship, relationships between in-laws, and also marriage in an extremely traditional and wealthy family. The reader gets the "money can't buy happiness" theme, but it is not at all preachy. I felt especially drawn to the storyline following the character Astrid. Everyone who knows her thinks her life is perfect; perfect clothes, son, husband, and she never has to worry about money. Instead, we find an incredibly complex woman dealing with her own issues.
While some of the storyline is predictable, there are plenty of surprises to keep the reader on their toes. I particularly enjoyed the footnotes which defined Mandarin and Cantonese colloquial phrases in literal terms, but also with added humor, related them to similar English colloquialisms. The footnotes also provided context for schools, businesses, and groups of people, again with delightfully funny asides added in. As you know by now, I love when I can enjoy a great story but also learn something about history or culture along the way. 

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in modern Asian culture, stories about family, or who is looking for a good laugh.
 Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


To buy this book from Amazon now, click on the image at the top of the post.
To see more from the author, visit the website linked above

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Winter Station by Jody Shields

Title: The Winter Station
Author: Jody Shields
Genre: Historical Fiction


Synopsis: It's 1910 in a Russian occupied town in the Manchuria region of China. An aristocratic Russian doctor who, unlike many other Russians in the town, has great respect for the Chinese culture, starts to notice mysterious unreported deaths of Chinese people. It starts with two bodies abandoned at the train station and slowly starts to grow. Government officials want to ignore these deaths, but the Baron will not let this go uninvestigated.

My Thoughts

From the back cover, I thought that this would be presented as a mystery with lots of suspense. Unfortunately, the first few chapters come across more like, "oh dead people, the government won't care because they aren't Russians. Oh, more dead people, let's send in more doctors to investigate. Oh, its a plague." And then the rest of the book documents the horrors of the plague and how the doctors can't agree on treatment or mode of transmission, the incredible number of deaths, and people trying to avoid quarantine. When it finally gets interesting and the reader is invested, it just ends with the Baron trying to help one of his colleagues to leave the town. Talk about anticlimactic. 
It is based on a diary kept by the Baron, who is the main character, so that is interesting. It is also a part of history that was buried because it was embarrassing to the Russian government how poorly it was handled. But, in the end, it seems like the author tried to take a diary and make it fiction, but didn't add enough meat to make it the truly enthralling mystery it could have been.

I have not gotten into the last couple of books that I have read. Let's hope my next read, Crazy Rich Asians, will live up to the hype! As always, I will keep you posted.

Comment below if you have read this book or have suggestions for others like it!


To buy this book from Amazon now, click on the image at the top of the post.
To see more from the author, visit the website linked above