"The Crown's Game" by Evelyn Skye is a historical fantasy set in an alternate version of Imperial Russia following two enchanters who must play the Crown's Game---a duel of magical skill where the winner will become the tsar's most trusted adviser.
On the surface, I really loved the synopsis of this book. And it checks off a couple things that I enjoy: Imperial Russia. Check. Magic. Check. Perfect, right? Though I did like this book, I think it definitely had some problems. For a book with an awesome premise, I feel as if the narrative wasn't executed in a satisfactory manner.
So let's get this out of the way. This book is first and foremost historical fantasy set in an alternate version of Imperial Russia. The novel opens in 1825 during the reign of Tsar Alexander I who is married to Tsarina Elizabeth and they have a son, Pasha, and a daughter, Yuliana (in real life Tsar Alexander died with no surviving children to become his heir). Add on top of this, magic exists in this alternate reality which comes in the form of enchanters, where our next characters enter the picture: Vika and Nikolai. The Tsar has not had an Imperial Enchanter in quite some time, the last one dying during the Napoleonic Wars, so Tsar Alexander wishes to reinstate a new enchanter, calling forth the Crown's Game where Vika and Nikolai will have to battle to the death in order to prove their magical skill. The novel starts off incredibly captivating. I was on board immediately, curious to see how all this would play out. My disappointment with this novel comes when Evelyn Skye falls back on young adult tropes and we have a love cube dropped into the mix. The love cube wouldn't have been so bad had Evelyn Skye built up the individual relationships existing between these characters. And what's worse, Evelyn Skye commits the sin of insta-love, which wouldn't have been a problem if, once again, the relationships had been built up better. I knew going into this book that romance and teenage angst would be involved, but I also went into the book expecting that the angst would be covered up with a lot of magic, world building, and intriguing characters. In some ways, the whole magical side of this story is a bit lackluster. There are some pretty cool magic tricks in this book, but nothing that really pops out. After reading something like "Harry Potter," "The Night Circus," and "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell," you can probably sense my disappointment. And like I said, the love cube felt strange, random, not put together very well. The characters who had the most chemistry with one another were Nikolai and Pasha. I was far more interested in their friendship than I was with the two of them fighting over Vika. Evelyn Skye does a beautiful job with the friendship between Pasha and Nikolai. We learn early that they've been friends since childhood, and we see quickly the bonds of their friendship being tested and the things they hide from one another. And I haven't forgotten the last person in this love cube: Renata, a girl who is a servant in the household Nikolai inhabits. She has her own secret crush on Nikolai. The love cube was too much. I think Evelyn Skye should have done away with the Pasha/Vika/Nikolai love triangle and just gone with Pasha/Vika and Nikolai/Renata.
This review probably sounds like I hated this book, but I didn't. For the most part I enjoyed it. I just think it could have all been executed a bit better. The premise is seriously pretty awesome and there is a really terrific story deep down in there once you push aside all the lovey-dovey-ness. If Evelyn Skye really wanted to make this a tragic romance she should have strictly given Vika one guy to lust after (which one, if doesn't really matter, because either one would have provided excellent dramatic irony). And I also would have liked to have seen more focus on the magical nature of this world. I mean, come on, the Crown's Game sounds pretty badass, but I never got this great sense of urgency and danger.
Anyway, I do recommend this for young adult readers obviously. I like when YA historical fiction like this can open gateways for young readers to learn more about the time period. This isn't as remarkable as something like "The Night Circus" or "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell," but if you like either of those books, I think you might have a bit of a liking towards "The Crown's Game." There's apparently going to be a second book, and it's kind of killing me inside to know where the hell this is going. So I did enjoy this book enough that I'd love to read another book....more
"Anastasia and Her Sisters" by Carolyn Meyer follows Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov from ages 13 to 17 as she experiences the extravagant life of Russian nobility to the horrors of World War I and the unrest that happens in Russia leading to revolution.
I didn't know this when I picked up the book, but Carolyn Meyer also wrote the Anastasia book that was part of the "Royal Diaries" series for children. "Anastasia and Her Sisters" is Caroyln Meyer's young adult take. I kind of felt like this book and the "Royal Diary" book were kind of the same if I'm being honest. In some ways, I felt like I was still reading a book intended for children rather than for young adults. The only additions here in "Anastasia and Her Sisters" are more adult subject matter like love and romance, but that's kind of it. I hate to say it, but I felt like this book was a bit bland in places. I wish Meyer had taken more creative liberties with the history surrounding this family to spice it up a bit more. Because this book just reads like a textbook of events. We go from one event to the next, and there's never any time to really examine Anastasia and her family and create them as characters. I don't think Meyer should have focused on Anastasia from ages 13 to 17. She should have just picked some years near the end and, like I said, taken more creative historic liberties. I think the strongest parts of this book was the family in exile. I think the focus should have been entirely on that. Meyer does some interesting things by developing a relationship between Anastasia and Gleb Botkin, and I wanted to see more of that, but instead it's shoehorned literally at the end of the book in the frame of a few pages. So I guess what I'm saying is that Meyer had some good stuff going near the end where she took some creative liberties but it was all hastily gone through, but that should have been her focus for the entire novel, while inserting flashbacks to life before the Revolution.
And that's kind of all I have to say about this book unfortunately. I've read a lot of Romanov historical fiction in my life and this was definitely at the bottom of the pack. Just a little too bland with not much even going on. I think that's the problem when writing about the Romanovs, we know so much about them, a lot was documented about their life, and everything has been covered in regards to historical fiction. This book did nothing new, presented absolutely nothing unique. It was still an okay read. I didn't utterly hate this book (though this review sounds like I hated the book), but I was expecting more I guess. Perhaps if you're someone who has had no exposure to Romanov historical fiction, this might actually be a good place to start....more
"Above Us Only Sky" by Michele Young-Stone tells the story of Prudence Vilkas who was born with a pair of wings on her back. Thinking the wings a birth defect, her parents have them removed, but the scars of her missing wings haunts Prudence as she realizes her wings are a birthright, and that other women in her family have had wings as well. When Prudence receives a call from her Lithuanian grandfather, he begins to tell her stories about her ancestors, and the trials their family had to go through as they suffered under the reigns of Stalin and Hitler. "Above Us Only Sky" is a story about family, home, and war and it's time for Prudence to embrace her past and future.
First off, won this on Goodreads giveaways, so thank you Goodreads.
I haven't read "The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton yet, but if you have, "Above Us Only Sky" sounds fairly similar to the synopsis of "Ava Lavender." Both novels feature a woman born with wings as they have to discover their birthright. If you liked "Ava Lavender," you might want to give this a go.
Couldn't quite give the book 4-stars. Very close, though. Let's start off with the good stuff: this book is beautifully written. Gorgeous descriptions, wonderful themes of acceptance and family, and a very symbolic book. In general, I like the idea of the book: girl born with wings, they are removed, the missing wings often feel like a ghostly presence. The novel also has so many connecting pieces. Things that you didn't think were important, become important. Characters you didn't think were important become important. The narrative is weaved together quite beautifully as all the dots connect. I think my favorite parts of the book dealt with the historical aspect, as Young-Stone would go back to WWII and tell the story of Prudence's grandparents and her ancestors. It's Prudence's grandfather's stories that provide a means for Prudence to learn about her history and realize that her wings weren't some defect. Like I said, a lot of symbolism and themes taking place on Prudence's journey, the notion of Prudence learning to fly without her wings, also the fact that Prudence is an ornithologist. It's also the story of gaining back one's birtright, returning back to the land you were exiled from, which is the story of Old Man, Prudence's grandfather.
The reason for my 3-stars mostly has to do with the first half of the novel. Sometimes the narrative felt a bit chaotic, and I felt like I was introduced to too many characters at one time without having enough time to get to know them. The overall frame of the narrative takes place in 2005 as the Old Man is on his deathbed and Prudence is making her way to see him. In between all this we get narratives going back to the 1940s, and then 1989, and also a few other years scattered in between those on occasion. I didn't have a problem with the back and forth narrative. What I had a problem with was not having enough time to get to know Prudence, her parents, her best friend. But once you hit the middle of the novel, this is where you get the Old Man's history and his sister Daina's history. Daina's story provides for a pretty large chunk of the novel, where we don't even see Prudence, and I definitely liked Daina's story the best in the whole novel. The whole novel could have been just fine with her story alone and I would have been happy, that's how much I liked her chapters. So what I'm saying, I think the first half of the novel had a tad bit of a rocky start (though the writing is gorgeous, just had a problem with the character development), and the second half of the novel is the best.
Overall, a beautiful book (I can't repeat that enough). Something very different for me. The novel has this element of magical realism in regards to Prudence's wings. The novel never verges into 100% fantasy. It has a fine balance of mixing in the real world and the notion of what if we had wings? It never seems silly or lame, but very much real. Like I said, if you liked "Ava Lavender," I recommend checking this out....more
"The Last American Vampire" by Set Grahame-Smith is the sequel to "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," following Henry Sturges, the vampire who set Lincoln on his journey to fight the forces of evil. Told in a humorous but often enlightening tale, the story follows Henry through his creation in Roanoke, the early days of America, the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination, the mystery of Jack the Ripper, the dawn of the electric era, the turmoil of both World Wars, and on. And through it all Henry has to find and destroy an infamous vampire who will stop at nothing to bring America to ruin.
I had so much fun with this book. I was a fan of Set Grahame-Smith's "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," and Henry Sturges was one of my favorite characters in the book, so obviously I was ridiculously excited when I found out Seth Grahame-Smith wrote this sequel all about Henry and his involvement with various events and people throughout history. This concept has been done in numerous other books...the idea of taking an event or a person and turning them into a werewolf, or a vampire, or a slayer of some sort. It's basically a gimmick. The concept doesn't work all the time and can be rather hit or miss. Seth Grahame-Smith knows how to do it right, and still be able to tell a fantastic story with some fascinating characters.
Let's start with the cover: epic! Bravo to the cover designer.
A few things to note about this book, whether or not you've read "Abraham Lincoln" (which I'm going to abbreviate as "ALVH"):
1. Should you be sure to read "ALVH" before "Last American Vampire?" Yes and no. Not reading "ALVH" will leave you hanging about Henry and Abe's friendship, which is important. Henry makes comment about a few things that happened in "ALVH" on a few occasions. That being said, I still think you can enjoy this by itself. Henry always places things in context, so I don't think it's ever confusing.
2. "Last American Vampire" has much more gore, sex, violence, and language than "ALVH." "ALVH" was a pretty mild and tame book, considering that it had a lot to do with hunting and killing vampires. In that book, the gore would often be there, but not to the extent like it is in this book. So just be warned that, if I was going off of a rating scale, "ALVH" would be PG-13 and "Last American Vampire" would be R.
3. Just like "ALVH," this book does the whole footnotes and pictures insertions. The footnotes are always fascinating in my opinion. They're either hilarious, or actually enlightening to something in history I might not have known.
Why didn't a give this a 5-star rating, you may be asking? Despite loving this book, I did have a few problems with it that left me a tad bit unsatisfied. This book covers cover 500 years of history. Simply put, Henry has had some sort of involvement in every major historical event. Though the book does have an overall goal and point, the story is almost told in short story segments. There would be one or two chapters focused on Jack the Ripper. A few chapters about the Russia Revolution, a few chapters about World War II, and so on. This did help with reading speed, you're never bored, but it did often make me go, "wait, that was interesting and going somewhere, go back!" Often times I still had a few questions and then the plot would go forward a decade into another historical event. There are quiet a few important people and events in this book that I wanted fleshed out more because they were vital to Henry's character development.
My one other complaint with this novel is the villain (which is incredibly hard not to spoil because I'm dying to talk about it!). Don't get me wrong, the villain is freaking genius! The reveal left my mouth hanging open. Here's what my complaint is: what exactly were the villain's motives? I never fully grasped why this character was doing the things they were doing. Why, why, why??? That's all I found myself doing. The villain, at one point, does sort of explain their motives, but at the same time, as the reader, you feel like, deep down, there's something more going on that's not being said. It was just incredibly frustrating because there was so much potential there to flesh out the villain, as well as Henry. And I think some of my problems with the villain might come from my first point about this book moving along way too quickly through history.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, like I said, so much fun from start to finish. A brilliant concept. An intriguing protagonist with Henry. His personality is the best. He can be serious, funny, cynical, heartbreaking, uplifting. Not only is this book about Henry, it's the story of America. There's just a beautiful theme throughout the book about the mistakes and achievements made in American history, but the people of America still remain, that loyalty still remains. Henry has seen the good and the bad, he has seen what humanity does for itself and others. Despite being a rather humorous book on occasion, I also think "The Last American Vampire" has a lot of heart and emotion to it and the power of the American spirit....more
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....more
"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....more
"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....more
"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....more
"Enchantments" by Kathryn Harrison starts in St. Petersburg, 1917. Rasputin's body has been pulled from the Neva River, and his daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with the Tsar and his family. It's hoped that Masha shares her father's special gifts, and that she may be able to help the tsarevich, Alyosha, who suffers from hemophilia. Masha has no such gifts, but she and Alyosha share in their love of stories to distract them from the horrors that surround them.
I've said in numerous reviews in the past that I love all things Romanov related. So of course I had to pick up this book, which had an especially strong focus on Alexei (or Alyosha as Kathryn Harrison refers to him in this novel). If you have any concerns that this book might be similar to Robert Alexander's "Rasputin's Daughter," have no fear. Obviously they share some similarities: both display the relationship between father and daughter, and both seek to showcase Rasputin as a human, rather than a monster. But what's different with "Enchantments" is definitely the highlighted relationship between Masha and Alyosha, and the way it is done is through their love of stories---some real, some made up. Storytelling is their comfort and solace as revolution rages around them and the uncertainty of their futures lingers. It's through the storytelling that we learn about who they are as individuals, their interests, their sense of humor, their fears. And I think their relationship succeeds, which is important. You have to feel for them in order for this novel to work, you have to believe their relationship for this novel to work.
As for some minor issues I had with this novel (which just may be personal to me), I always felt like the novel was still at the beginning, if that makes sense. The novel is all about the storytelling, which is where we receive flashbacks to past events. So I never felt like the novel had a middle. It had a beginning but then felt like it jumped to the end rapidly when the Romanovs are executed. Other than that minor complaint, I enjoyed Harrison's writing style. Something very fantastical and dreamlike about it. And you could tell she did her historical research.
Overall, if you're like me and you love all things Romanovs, I definitely recommend checking this one out. There's something a bit refreshing about it, especially since you get to go through the points of view of Masha and Aloysha....more
"Agent 6" by Tom Rob Smith is the final book in the "Leo Demidov" trilogy. Taking place on multiple continents over a span of several decades, Leo Demidov struggles to unravel a conspiracy that tests the limits of everything he thought he knew. Not allowed to go on a Peace Tour to America, Leo says goodbye to his family as they head to New York. What unfolds is an intense political conspiracy that takes Leo to both Afghanistan and America as he seeks to uncover the identity of Agent 6.
So sad this trilogy has come to an end. Even though I had some rocky issues with "The Secret Speech," and even this final novel, I still enjoyed the experience and being on this ride with Leo Demidov. With "Agent 6," I had the same problems like I did "The Secret Speech." With both novels I loved the beginning, found the middle boring, and then liked the ending. Whereas with "Child 44" I enjoyed from start to finish. I find myself comparing this trilogy to that of the "Millennium" trilogy by Stieg Larsson. With that series I freaking loved "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," just as I freaking loved "Child 44." With both of those books what I particularly enjoyed was the murder mystery going on, with the political intrigue going on in the background. But with books 2 and 3 of both series, they turned entirely into political thrillers, which honestly, I found incredibly boring. So I guess what I'm saying is that, in a way, "Agent 6" wasn't my cup of tea. I preferred the element of murder going on in "Child 44." By no means is "Agent 6" a horribly written book. If anything, Tom Rob Smith is a fantastic author. I love his descriptions, I love that he's done his historical research, and by far, I love his characters. But I just don't like the direction of his novels and that they are more political thrillers than murder thrillers. And that's not his fault at all, it's my fault for not particularly enjoying the subject matter.
Just a few notes of spoilers for anyone who has read the novel:
1. (view spoiler)[I can't believe Raisa died at the beginning of this book! NOOOO!!! My favorite parts of the previous two books were the interactions between Raisa and Leo and how they fell back in love with each other after everything they'd been through. Seriously, I was devastated by the death of Raisa.
2. What the hell happened to Leo's parents? Remember those two? Remember the events of "Child 44?" I hated that Tom Rob Smith just totally forgot about them. I don't know if it was intentional or accidental, but their absence was very noticeable.
3. Speaking of "Child 44," a loose end I felt was never fully tied up was Leo's niece. His brother was the murderer in that book who also had a wife and daughter, and I always found it interesting that in the final two books in the series, there was no mention of Leo's past involving his brother. Before going into this book, I actually started theorizing that Leo's niece was going to turn out to be Agent 6. Guess not. That would have been a fantastic twist, and something to have the trilogy come full circle. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, I think "Agent 6" was probably more enjoyable that "The Secret Speech." There were some dull moments in this book around the middle, but I was never bored like I was during the middle section of "The Secret Speech." But "Child 44" remains above and beyond my favorite in the trilogy for sure. I did get emotional by the final pages. It's hard not to get emotional when you've been with a character for a number of books. I appreciated Smith's historic research and his commentary on Communism and how Leo was wrapped up into all of that. I think if you've read all three books, you'll appreciate how the book starts and how it ends, and really appreciate all the themes Smith set up over the course of the trilogy....more
"The Summer Garden" is the final book in the epic "Bronze Horseman" trilogy by Paullina Simons. Tatiana and Alexander have made it through the horrors of World War Two, and now they live in America with their young son, Anthony. The war separated them for many years so now they have to learn to reforge their relationship that has now grown distant.
I completely adored "The Bronze Horseman" and "Tatiana & Alexander." This third book, though there were many aspects I enjoyed, there were also many aspects that I was disappointed with. I don't think this third book was on the same level as the previous two books. You want to know what happens for the majority of this book? Tatiana and Alexander fight, they make up, they have sex, they fight again, they make up again, they have sex again. This repeats over and over and over....and over and over...and over...Seriously, it got repetitive and boring a good 200 pages in and this book is almost 750 pages long. What I loved about these two from the previous two books seemed to have fizzled out and I found myself getting frustrated and angry more than anything. But then again, maybe that's the point. When you sit and think about it, in "The Bronze Horseman," T&A barely even knew each other for two years, then they are separated for a long time in the second book, so of course their relationship is strained and put to the test. But did it have to be so boring and repetitive? I just didn't care about all their little domestic issues. I think my problems with this final book might also have to do with the fact that I was expecting something totally different. With the first two books, it's all about the war and the reader questioning if T&A would ever have their happily ever after. They were both constantly in peril, plus there was the war raging in the background of everything. The first two books read like epic historical fiction, which I guess is what I found lacking in this third book, because it was all about T&A reforging bonds. Nothing really historical with this book until the last 25% of the book (view spoiler)[when their son Anthony goes to war in Vietnam, then goes missing, and Alexander goes on a suicide attempt to rescue him. Seriously, that was the most exciting thing that happened in the book and it was only in the last hundred pages or so of the book (hide spoiler)]. I don't know how I thought this third book would go. I guess I was expecting T&A getting more involved with the government, the government perhaps wanting to use T&A as spies of sorts. Considering all the paranoia of the time with regards to the Soviet Union, I really felt like that was lacking and could have provided for some more tension, and maybe even involved T&A in some way, which would have been interesting.
But to bring some positivity to the book, I did enjoy seeing T&A try to rekindle what they had in Russia. In some ways, I liked seeing that family dynamic. I liked seeing their family try to find a place in America, make friends, find their passions. But they also had to deal with their past and the horrible things that have happened to them, Alexander especially since he was in a prison/torture camp for many years, and the fact that they quite often had to hide their past from their friends and those who would become enemies.
The other thing that happened in this book was some flashbacks to Tatiana in Russia when she was 14 years old. She's on a vacation with her family and she meets this mysterious girl named Saika. Events in the flashback lead to a huge climax and we discover more about Saika. Weirdly enough, I was in love with these flashbacks, but at the same time, ultimately, there was no point to them. The book could have been a couple hundred pages less without these flashbacks. I never quite understood the point of the flashbacks, and the book would have been fine without them.
Overall, even though this book turned out to be more of a disappointment, it was still a great read, a great conclusion to this story. I've grown to love this world, these characters, and I'm sad to see them go. And by the end of the book I was in tears, haha! I guess I was wanting something a bit more historical and dramatic, just like the previous two books. I think I would have been okay if the series was a two-parter....more
In "Tatiana and Alexander," the sequel to Paullina Simons "The Bronze Horseman," Tatiana is widowed and alone with her newborn son. She has barely escaped war-torn Russia, and she plans on creating a new life in America. But she becomes consumed with the belief that her husband is still alive. Back in the Soviet Union, Alexander is forced to lead a battalion of Russian soldiers in a suicidal attempt to continue fighting for Russia. He is determined to find his way back to Tatiana no matter what, even if that means losing himself along the way.
What a breathtaking sequel to "The Bronze Horseman." Paullina Simons' writing is beautiful and flawless, full of stunning descriptions of beauty and pain. This book is just as heartbreaking and as intense as "The Bronze Horseman." The incredible thing about this book is the fact that Tatiana and Alexander are separated from one another the whole book. But yet, their individual stories work well without the other, which I think is important. Though this is a love story and you are rooting for the leading protagonists to make their way back to each other, it's important that both characters work as individuals and that you care about them as such. Tatiana's life is just as fascinating as Alexander's life over in the Soviet Union. Tatiana has to care for her newborn son, also make new friends, and try to fit in to the American way of life. Alexander is interrogated on numerous occasions, the whole time having to lie about his true identity, and he ultimately ends up leading a penal battalion of convicted Russian soldiers. I found both of their stories intriguing, engaging, and terrifying all at the same time.
Besides the leading two characters I found myself really liking a lot of the new characters. With Tatiana is Edward Ludlow (the guy who found her at the very end of "The Bronze Horseman"), Vikki Sabatella (a fellow Red Cross nurse), and Sam Gulotta (an Office of Consular Affairs worker who helps Tania search for Alexander). And with Alexander are a number of soldiers in his battle, but of note is Nikolai Ouspensky who we saw briefly at the end of "The Bronze Horseman" who in this book travels with Alexander as they make their way around Europe. I found all these characters just as interesting and they all had their own individual backstories. At surprising enough, by means of flashbacks, a lot of characters from "The Bronze Horseman" make appearances, like Dasha, Dimitri, and Matthew Sayers.
I only had two major complaints with this novel:
1. The first half of the novel spends a lot of time summarizing what we already read in "The Bronze Horseman." I got a little frustrated on occasion because I kept thinking, "Paullina Simons, I already know all of this! Why are you repeating everything?" Even when there was new material by means of flashbacks, I still felt a bit frustrated because the additional flashback scenes often felt like deleted material from "The Bronze Horseman"---the parts that might have been cut to trim the book down, so she decided to toss them in this book.
2. This one is a spoiler so read at your own risk: (view spoiler)[I knew it! Pasha, Tatiana's twin brother, was alive! While reading "The Bronze Horseman" I had a sneaking suspicion that Pahsa wasn't dead, and sure enough he's leading his own battalion and happens to run into Alexander of all people. I thought to myself, "This is great! Pasha is alive. Tatiana hasn't lost her entire family." But during an escape attempt, Pasha is injured and he dies. Wait, what? Oh hell no! Why reintroduce Pasha only to kill him? That frustrated me beyond belief, and I was literally stunned when it happened. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Just some minor complaints here and there that didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book whatsoever. If you loved "The Bronze Horseman" what are you waiting for? This book is just so powerful and emotional and I couldn't stop myself from reading page after page. This book will tear you apart, I guarantee it.
**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**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....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**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....more