In "Target Churchill" by Warren Adler, it's the end of World War II. The United States and Great Britain are victorious, but the Soviet Union still has it's own agendas involving world domination. Churchill is preparing his Iron Curtain speech, and it's going to be during this speech that an American Nazi, a mole for the Soviets, will complete his mission to assassinate Churchill.
This book was so good. I immensely enjoyed it. It had everything that I look for in a political thriller: quick pace, lots of action, and interesting characters. Plus there's the added bonus that this is a work of historical fiction taking place after World War II.
It's amusing to me that I just happened to read this book because during Memorial Day (of 2014 as this review is going up), the History Channel aired a three part mini-series called "The World Wars" which was about World War I and II and the leaders who influenced events---Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Hitler. I highly suggest watching this mini-series before going into this book, especially if you aren't familiar with a lot of the details that make up Churchill's life and his connections with Roosevelt and Stalin during those wars. I found the mini-series extremely helpful because Churchill (though I knew exactly who he was), is a figure that I oddly enough never really learned about. The mini-series helped me navigate this book and I didn't feel overwhelmed with the history I wasn't familiar with previously.
So on to the book itself. Wonderfully written. The writing is rather simplistic. It's very easy to follow, and the book isn't overloaded with countless paragraphs of description. Like I said, this book is a political thriller and I look for quick pace when I read these sorts of books---not books with tons of description that weigh down the action. And the historical detail is just enough to help set the mood and immerse you into that period. World War II is such a fascinating topic. There was so much going on. Adler does a great job of telling this one tiny story, but he's able to place it on this larger global scale by using Churchill's Iron Curtain speech as a sort of frame and how this speech influences all the various countries and their own agendas. I felt like Adler had great control of his plot, especially how he managed to interweave all these various characters and somehow make everyone's plots connect in interesting ways to one another.
As I concluded this novel I was quite surprised with how much character development there ended up being. With thrillers you don't typically get that level of development. I really felt like I got to know these characters, their quirks, and the things that make them tick. This book has quite a few narrators as they switch out each chapter. There's Churchill who is rather depressed that he was voted out of office and he needs his confidence back. There's W.H. Thompson, Churchill's loyal friend and bodyguard (totally loved the Churchill/Thompson bromance by the way). There's the intelligent Victoria Stewart who finds herself in the midst of events she didn't see coming. There's the conniving Donald Maclean, the First Secretary of the British embassy. As well as a host of various other characters that have a few chapters here and there. But my favorite chapters have got to be from Franz Mueller, the American turned Nazi turned Soviet spy. Anyone who knows me knows that I love villains, even the truly despicable ones that utterly disgust you. Mueller is that sort of villain. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of his mind and see him plan things out and discover why he is the way he is. He even goes through some inner crisis halfway through the book that begins to crumble his ideology. His chapters were easily my favorite, even though he's obviously the bad guy and you don't want him to succeed. But it was his psychology that was causing me to flip the pages to find out the rest of his story.
The only negative things I have to say with this book are just minor and may only be things that I personally didn't like. I generally liked the women in this book. I liked that they were all intelligent and independent. The one thing that bugged me was some of the female dialogue on occasion. The dialogue didn't seem realistic sometimes, and sometimes the women verged a bit on the whiny side when things would start to go wrong. I would say some of their dialogue out loud and it just wouldn't sound right for whatever reason. There was also the issue of the ending being a tad bit anticlimatic, especially for one specific character (view spoiler)[And that would be Franz Mueller. Remember, I said I liked his chapters. The fight sequence with Thompson got a little confusing and blurry and then all of a sudden, Mueller dies. I say his ending is anticlimatic mostly because of the fact that his chapters dominate a good portion of the book and we really get to learn about him as a vile human being and his death was just too quick for me personally. (hide spoiler)]. Some other issues, that didn't bother me, but might bother other readers, is that this book is quite gritty and graphic. There's lots of profanity, sex, and violence in general that might make some people uncomfortable.
Overall, I highly enjoyed this book. I was pleasantly surprised. I recommend this book for lovers of World War II historical fiction and lovers of political thrillers. The one thing that often came to mind while reading this was the TV series "The Americans." The show and this book take place a few decades apart, but there was still something familiar about the overall style and themes which I connected. I guess it's that element of spies and the Soviet Union that I'm connecting. I can definitely see myself re-reading this one in the future.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
"The Romanov Sisters" by Helen Rappaport is a nonfiction account of the four daughters of Tzar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. They were the most talked about royals in their day, but their lives were anything but a fairytale. Their father was the leader of all Russia, a country that was slowly starting to hate him. Their mother was sickly and unlikable by the people. Their brother, the heir to the throne, was a hemophiliac. And they had to go through the horrors of World War I. This account seeks to showcase the individual personalities, loves, hopes, and fears of these four young women who died so tragically.
A wonderfully researched book. I've read a lot on Tzar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, and Rasputin, but I've always been curious to learn more about the four Grand Duchesses who tend to linger in the background of the Russian Revolution against the more commanding presences of the period. It was refreshing to read this new perspective and really get to know these four young women and go beyond the basic facts that I had already known. This account isn't 100% about the four Grand Duchesses, though. The book actually starts off with a history of their mother, Alexandra, he family life, and how she came to be Empress of Russia. This may be a bit off putting at first to some readers, especially if you only want to read about the four girls, but I found the introduction incredibly enlightening and much needed. It served it's purpose to showcase Alexandra and her early years, and to explain why she became the way that she did. Alexandra was constantly sickly, a paranoid mess, always worried about her children. This introduction serves to start the seeds of the relationship the four Grand Duchesses had with their mother, and to explain the growing hate for the Romanov family. From here on the book goes in chronological order through each birth and every important event that effected the lives of the Romanov girls. This book may not be for everyone. Some reviewers have said that the title and description of this book are misleading, and that may be the case, but that never actually bothered me. We have to keep in mind that the Romanovs burned many of their letters and diaries, and what we know about them comes mostly from those around them. So I can see how it's difficult to do a straight up book based on the girls alone. A book like this needs the story of Alexandra, needs the story of Rasputin, needs the story of the war around them. Without those elements this book would only be, like, 100 pages long if it was just strictly about the girls. I think Rappaport did a fantastic job with what she was given. Her narrative is beautiful, and oftentimes I felt like I was reading something more along the lines of fiction rather than dry and boring nonfiction. I was never once bored and I felt like the pacing of this book was well done.
One very important thing to note about this book is that Helen Rappaport purposely stops right before the death of the family. A few years ago, Rappaport wrote "The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg," which told the final 14 days of the Romanovs, including their brutal murders and forensic evidence detailing the manner in which they died. So if you want to read the complete story, "The Romanov Sisters" is highly recommended to be read first, followed by "The Last Days of the Romanovs." Another thing to note is that Rappaport seeks to uncover the cloud of over idealized sentimentality that hangs over the Romanov girls. Because of this people have never sought out to discover who these young ladies really were deep down, instead seeing them as tragic, martyred figures. Rappaport does a fantastic job of getting to the core of each girl. Because of their mother's sickly, paranoid nature, the girls never got out much, never saw the real Russia, which led them to have insecurities and a naive view of the world. But against this, Rappaport showcases just how intelligent these girls were, their compassionate nature during World War I, and how perceptive they were to the growing turmoil of revolution.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys studying the Russia Revolution, and anyone who has ever been interested in discovering more about the Romanov sisters. I was surprised by my range of emotions while reading this. I thought for sure I would be depressed the whole time (the murders of these girls disgusts and disturbs me on so many levels), but I found myself smiling and laughing at some parts. That's just how great Rappaport's writing is in this book because for a minute you forget the fate that's coming for these girls and you get to witness their personalities and see them as regular young women who just want to crack jokes, mess with each other, and flirt with cute young men.(less)
"The Secret Daughter of the Tsar" by Jennifer Laam tells the story of three women who share a secret that relates to the last Tsar of Russia. In the present is Victoria. She meets a man who may be the heir to the Russian throne. In 1940s Nazi occupied France is Charlotte. She is on the run with her son and husband from a German soldier who seeks knowledge about the Russian family. In the 1902 Russian imperial court is Lena, a servant and confidant to Empress Alexandra. These three women and their stories collide in the most unexpected of ways and the future of Russia is in their hands.
This story suffered from three things: too quick a pace, predictability, and a certain lack of Romanovs. Other than those three things, this book had massive potential to be excellent. Before I get to those three points, I will say that I vastly enjoyed this book. There was constant action from start to finish, the characters were interesting, and the overall story was riveting. This story is about these three women who connect in the most insane of ways and it all has to do with a supposed fifth daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. That alone is why I wanted to read this book. I've read a lot of Romanov historical fiction, but I haven't read anything inserting a mysterious fifth daughter. I think Jennifer Laam's writing was beautiful and well done as far as descriptions and historical research went. Historically, in 1902, Empress Alexandra supposedly had a miscarriage, and that miscarriage is the centerpiece of this book. So on to my three points:
1. Too Fast Paced: Like I said, this book had action from start to finish, and the plot was constantly flowing, but I think the character development and some aspects of the plot suffered because of that. This book is almost 350 pages, plus the narrative of three women is weaved throughout. That doesn't leave much time to fully flesh out all these women and the individuals in their lives. The book probably needed an additional 100 pages, if not a bit more, to really bring these characters to life. Some of my issues as far as pacing goes, one deals with the relationship between Veronica and Michael, the man who might be the Russian heir. They are kind of just thrown together and they have an instant attraction, that has nothing more to do with other than the fact that they have a fascination for Russian history. I really liked the interaction between Charlotte and her husband, Luc, but we don't get much of their history, just simply that Luc didn't want children and that's the cause of their estrangement. And then Lena has a great story, but we are just told about her history more than anything. Plus her relationship with Pavel seems rushed, just like Veronica and Michael. A lot of rush, rush, rush through these stories.
2. Predictability: This novel is about a fifth daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra who was born between Anastasia and Alexei. You can probably already form the frame of this story from that alone and how that weaves into Veronica, Charlotte, and Lena's stories, especially once you see the time frames that each woman is existing in. I predicted what Lena's involvement was going to be. I knew immediately who Charlotte was. And then I made a wild, insane guess about Veronica. That fact that I got the end of the book correct still didn't really upset me, because it was the journey I needed to make and to make all the connections and see if I was right about my guesses. But if you are someone who doesn't like to guess correctly, you may hate this book and it may dampen your enjoyment of the story.
3. Where are the Romanovs?: For a novel based on the Romanov family, they aren't really in it. Empress Alexandra and the Dowager Duchess Marie are in here the most, which was actually refreshing. Nicolas makes a cameo and one of the grand duchesses makes a cameo. Other figures from this history have quite larger roles than the Romanovs themselves. Nicolas' mistress, the ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, plays a pivotal role in Charlotte's story. And the Romanovs did have an African American guardsman (who I think did go by Pavel), who features heavily in Lena's story. Lack of Romanovs is just a minor, silly complaint from me. I would have liked to have seen Nicholas play a more active role, and seen the Romanov sisters, but that's just me.
Overall, I did really enjoy this book, but it was just the three things above that drew me out of the story a bit. An additional 100 pages for more character and plot development would have been perfect. And I think some more creative twists to the story would have been nice to constantly keep the reader guessing. If you love Romanov historical fiction, I do highly recommend this one. It's fun and action packed, and the interweaving of three women is extremely well done.(less)
"Tsarina" by J. Nelle Patrick takes place in imperial Russia at the height of the Russian Revolution. In the middle of this is Natalya, a young girl in love with the heir to the Russian throne, Alexei Romanov. One day, Alexei tells Natalya a secret: hidden in the Winter Palace is a magical Faberge egg, enchanted by Rasputin, that will keep the Romanov family safe from its enemies. But revolution hits, the Romanovs are taken as prisoners, and the magical Faberge egg goes missing. Natalya, along with her best friend, is forced to team up with a young man, Leo, who is part of the Red army. Together they travel through war-torn Russia to retrieve the magical egg in order to restore order to Russia and the Romanov throne.
Wow! I can't believe how much I enjoyed this book. I went into it not expecting too much, expecting that some ridiculous love triangle would somehow emerge, and that the leading lady would turn out to be annoying. Totally wrong on both accounts. Though the summary of the book makes a point of saying that Natalya and Alexei Romanov are in love, this story is ultimately, not really a love story. There are elements of romance, but it's not the prime focus of this book. This book is more of a political story. I love reading historical fiction that takes place during the Russian Revolution, and I was worried there wouldn't be much history presented in this book. History floods this book, and J. Nelle Patrick clearly did her research. Everything to clothing, food, events, people, and architecture is presented in fine detail and never out of place in this book. Like I said, the politics of this time period are the main focus. In J. Nelle Patrick's acknowledgements at the end of the book, she says this rather perfectly, and I think this sums up the theme of this book: "Every line in 'Tsarina' leads to a single truth: that when you forget that those you disagree with are people, not just your faceless opposition, you don't end up proving who is right and who is wrong. You end up with a body count." That is the very basis of this novel. You have the White Army, those who are loyal to the monarchy. You have the Red Army, those who want revolution and for all Russians to be equal. Leo is Red and Natalya is White. They totally don't see eye to eye and they can't understand either sides opinions and feelings. It makes for a fascinating dynamic throughout the story and to see both Leo and Natalya begin to understand what's at stake on both sides in Russia.
As for characters, I really loved this set of characters. Natalya is a strong heroine. She's was born to a noble family, she's interacted with the Romanov family, and she's even been preparing herself to become the next tsarina of Russia. She can be a bit arrogant at times, but she's also compassionate and determined. She could have been a noble lady and simply stood back and did nothing, but she takes action into her own hands. Her friend Emilia is the very essence of the spoiled upper class of Russian society. But even Emilia proves her worthiness in the chase to find the magical Faberge egg. Natalya is the strong one and Emilia is the weaker one, but their differences are really perfect over the course of the novel, and each of them are capable of different things. Leo is a young man who is part of the Red army. He's very idealistic about what the Reds want to achieve and he despises the monarchy for his own reasons. Like I said, that contrast between his ideals and Natalya's ideals are stunning to read and provide some of the most emotional parts of this book.
This is a YA book, and I thoroughly went into this thinking that the characters and plot would turn out to be a disappointment and one dimensional. I am so very glad I was proven wrong. A stunning story from start to finish, very emotional, and the historical elements are placed flawlessly into the story. If you love Russian historical fiction that takes place during this time, I highly recommend it.(less)
**spoiler alert** Really really great read! Russia from 1900 until the end of WWII is some of my favorite reading material and this book did not disap...more**spoiler alert** Really really great read! Russia from 1900 until the end of WWII is some of my favorite reading material and this book did not disappoint. Paulina Simons showcased the deprivation and decay of Leningrad to perfection and there were times during the book that I literally felt like I was starving, haha! I felt like I was in the midst of all the drama between Russia and Germany as well as the conflicts between the people themselves within the city trying to help themselves and their families. And of course, the love story between Tatiana and Alexander is at the core of the novel. I'm actually a bit conflicted on how I feel about their love story. I absolutely loved their story during the Leningrad parts of the book and Tatiana's torment over "stealing" her sister Dasha's boyfriend. The whole book I was like, "I can't wait for Tatiana and Alexander to finally be together." Well, I was happy when they finally achieved happiness at Lazarevo, but then I didn't like Alexander's behavior towards her. Throughout the novel, starting with her own family and then on up to the old ladies in Lazarevo, Tatiana has always had the urge to help people before herself. A noble trait, except, as Alexander constantly points out, she needs to let others fend for themselves once in a while and don't let them rely so heavily on her. Well, it all gets to be a too much by this point in the novel---Alexander, though his intentions are well meant, does he really have to yell at Tatiana so much? There's a lot of verbal abuse between the two in the halfway point of the novel, and suddenly, my love for them as a couple begins to diminish a little bit. I was disappointed with the Lazarevo sections of the book as a whole---wasn't too happy with Simons storytelling for some reason and I just felt uncomfortable. And Alexander comes across as hypocritical to me. I think the love story gets back on track once Tatiana is back in Leningrad and Alexander at the front. Something I really liked about this book too, is all the side characters. From the vain and naive Dasha to the cowardly Dimitri, every character has a place and fits into the overall story in some meaningful way. I may have had a few issues with Tatiana and Alexander themselves, but they were fantastic, well thought out characters, and the novel itself a beautiful love story.(less)
**spoiler alert** I had some very high expectations for this book, especially because I loved "Child 44" so much. I think "The Secret Speech" started...more**spoiler alert** I had some very high expectations for this book, especially because I loved "Child 44" so much. I think "The Secret Speech" started off very highly. I loved the introduction of Leo and Raisa's family life and Zoya's absolute hatred of Leo since he was present at the deaths of her parents (as seen in "Child 44"). Then I loved the twists that Khrushchev's secret speech inclicted upon those who were part of the torture units (or any one basically involved with the law) and that many people put in the Gulags were in fact innocent of crimes. This in turn connected nicely to Leo since he was a former member of the MGB, but he has since changed his ways and has known he was wrong all along. Next was the plot with Leo and Timur to get on one of the prison ships to help a man ecsape one of the Gulags (another big plot involving this man's wife seeking revenge on Leo for destorying her life seven years prior). I was really enjoying the book up to the point when Leo and Raisa thought Zoya was dead. The rest of the book (perhaps a little less than half left) started to get a bit boring for me. The writing wasn't bad, just not as exciting as the first half of the book. The thing I loved so much about "Child 44" was the big murder mystery, so I think I went into this book expecting another murder mystery, when after all, the book had nothing to do with murder. Still a really great book, well-written, amazing characters, but not everything I was ultimately hoping.(less)