Write About it Wednesday: The Mystery Queen

“Grant a great age to Queen Nefertiti, long years may she keep the hand of the King.”

Have you ever made it to the last page of a book and wondered what you just read? It is no secret that my reading list is a mile long and therefore my reading time is precious to me. I am curious by nature and walk the nonfiction aisles of my library with a purpose. I have things that I want to know and my hope is the books that I choose will feed that curiosity. I make stacks and lists of topics and try to tackle them in a semi-organized fashion (let’s be honest though, the stacks and lists are so long I may never get to them all).

I decided to start on Egyptian history and found a short biography of Nefertiti. I own a copy of Michelle Moran’s Nefertiti but haven’t found the time to start it yet. It’s buried between A Guide to Serial Killers, a pictorial history of Hurricane Katrina and a biography of Andrew Jackson. (My reading knows few limits.) I thought the biography would be a great introduction but it was a major disappointment. Although the book is titled for the Queen, much of the time is spent reading about her husband. I should have thrown the red flag when I read the author’s note that the story would be told from Nefertiti’s point of view in current time. The short version:

Nefertiti came from a family who was close to the King and Queen, so she was destined to marry the prince. They marry at 15 and 16 and have children. The prince who is now King decides that there is only one god, the sun itself. He wants everyone to believe this and angers his people. Bad luck comes knocking and everyone dies.

Does that answer all your questions? Mine either. I know that I signed up for a short biography but I think there might be more to the story… How do you select your nonfiction titles? Do you read reviews prior to selecting? If you have any Egyptian books to recommend, please reach out so I can add them to my list!

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Book Review Saturday: Murder Games

“This is all a game to you, isn’t it? A sick, perverted, and twisted game that’s only getting started. Are you really going to play every card in the deck? It’s what you want us to think, right?”

This is my first Patterson. In my effort to add another author to my “have read” list I picked up this new release and a day and a half later here we are. I mean a girl has to work right? That was pretty much my only break from this book and I even managed to squeeze in some pages in between the summer rush there. This book is fast and furious with short chapters helping you dive quickly into the race against the clock to save the next victim.

Dr. Dylan Reinhart wrote a book on criminal behavior that happens to be found at a crime scene along with a threat on the cover next to his name. This starts his journey into the discovery of the man behind the murders of several “innocent” people. He is teamed up with NYPD detective Elizabeth Needham who sets an example for all women who want to be taken seriously. They are two very strong, likeable characters that go from crime scene to crime scene trying to prevent The Dealer from striking again. A playing card is left at each scene to hint at his next target. This isn’t a new idea, in fact I just read a Patricia Cornwell with the same context but it didn’t feel overdone or predictable. Reinhart takes a chance and discovers the truth after they get one step ahead. There are a few subplots of interest with the mayor of New York fighting for reelection, Reinhart’s background in the CIA, and the media playing a large role in events.

Patterson has the formula down for an enjoyable reading experience. Short chapters, constant action, and a mystery to be solved make for a good time. I had a bias against this author after being let down by many other popular bestsellers but he has renewed my faith. I understand why so many people are eager to get their hands on his new releases. I may be next in line to jump on the bandwagon. 

Book Review Saturday: The Address

“It’s a monstrosity in the middle of nowhere. No good families would dream of living here, I tell you. Can only imagine what sort will end up inside.”

I am fascinated by the history of New York City. I have never been to the city myself and daydream of the streets existing as they did many years ago. It will be a big shock once I realize the city doesn’t exist in black and white and the people do not walk around dressed in cocktail dresses drinking whiskey out of glasses and smoking long cigarettes. I have to admit that might be why I’m prolonging my visit. I can keep the dream of New York alive without accepting the reality that modern times have wreaked havoc on my perfect picture. Fiona Davis attempts to bring her readers back in time to the popular homes of New York by blending the past and the present in a mixture of fiction and reality. I recently read The Dollhouse which took place at the Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York, and then picked up the Address which occurs in The Dakota. I had never heard of either and found a great deal of research on the history and architecture of the buildings.

From the very beginning the parallels to The Dollhouse are evident. I think I read the two novels too close together for my taste. I crave originality and this fell flat. This book alternates between the 1880s and the 1980s following two characters whose lives intersect, which is also the story line for The Dollhouse. Sara is whisked off to New York City by an offer she can’t refuse. She is to take over the management of The Dakota as a result of saving the architect’s daughter at a hotel in London. She begins an affair with the architect (Mr. Camden), is charged with theft and sent to an asylum, is rescued by a reporter and then returns to him and an apartment at The Dakota. Bailey is the secondary main character who is fighting an alcohol addiction and seems to have no options remaining. Her cousin allows her to live in her apartment at The Dakota while she oversees renovations and gets back on her feet. Bailey uncovers trunks of family heirlooms and begins to piece together the history of Sara and Theodore Camden. She believes she is related and must deal with the possibility of becoming part of a family while sacrificing her relationship with her cousin. The story concludes by revealing the truth behind the murder of Mr. Camden and revealing the true identity of Bailey. There is a slight twist involved, but nothing to make you gasp or get excited about.

I wish I could rank this book higher. I will say that reading her books so close together definitely weighed in on my review. I was more interested in the side stories than Bailey and Sara. Sara’s time in the asylum sparked some new research for me and added a few new books to the “TBR pile.” I was hoping to finish this book before its release but it took me almost a month to power through because I wasn’t interested enough to keep turning the pages. If you like to read about the history of New York then you will enjoy this one, but make sure to read the Author’s Note at the end for the minor changes to the historical accuracy.

What are your favorite books about New York? I’d love to add to my reading list!

Book Review Saturday: Cinders & Sapphires

“Looking up into the depth of the night and the countless stars, she felt somehow as if she were standing on the brink of a precipice, and that if she had the courage to step forward, she might find that she could fly.”

This book is definitely marketed for the Downton Abbey fan club that needs something to console them for their loss. I wanted so badly to love it, but the story line has been done before. These upstairs, downstairs books are supposed to leave us daydreaming of tea time and fighting for women’s independence. I just felt that I’d been there, done that.

Ada is expected to marry someone that will ensure her family’s fortune and keep her in luxury. She has other plans that include attending Oxford University and learning to support herself. On a return trip from India due to her father’s disgrace of his position (there is much talk and gossip as to what actually occurred), Ada meets Ravi and their kiss seems to open up a world of new possibilities for her. Act One occurs in Somerton where the family is returning home. Her father is quickly married to secure the estate from financial ruin. Ada longs to see Ravi and rejects a marriage proposal from an acceptable suitor because of her mixed emotions. Act Two moves us to London where Ada’s stepmother is determined to get invitations from all the right people to secure marriages for her own daughter and Ada. Ada convinces her father to allow her to attend a political dinner party by faking interest in Lord Fintan, who she shares many meaningful conversations with, to see Ravi again. This ends in an argument as Ravi believes her flirting to be true feelings. They part ways only to be brought back together as Ada returns to Somerset. Ravi is offered a position to act as a go between for the British and Indian Congress and although he wants to marry Ada he knows it isn’t the best path for her. Act Three shares yet another marriage proposal for Ada from Lord Fintan who will allow her to attend Oxford once they are engaged. There are several side stories caring on alongside Ada, my favorite being her ladies maid Rose. Rose was promoted from a downstairs maid to waiting on Ada. She is a wonderful piano player and writes her own music. Her story follows alongside with her struggle to want more and see her compositions on stage. She ties in the elements of the downstairs while assisting Ada with passing letters between her and Ravi.

The whole thing reads as more of a fairy tale than real life. First off, three marriage proposals just doesn’t read well to me. I know they help tie the story together but it felt like something else should be happening. It was expected and therefore disappointing as a reader. Second, I feel that the relationship between Sebastian and Oliver is forced. If you want to throw in a relationship between two men then it shouldn’t feel like the exact relationship in every other story line. Man loves man, man is blackmailed by man, and new man stands up against blackmailer. It has been done too many times. Lastly, there is SO much love in this story. Everyone is in love with someone. Can someone just be content with themselves? I needed a love break once it ended. I will say that I was intrigued with the insight into the British occupation of India. This has always been one of my favorite research topics and this element alone kept me reading. Overall it wasn’t a waste of time, but I don’t have a desire to continue the series. 

Who shares my love for Downton Abbey? Do you have any books that have helped fill the void? I’d love to hear from you!

Write About it Wednesday: Winifred Bodkin and New York’s Most Unusual Address

“It’s a grand old building. In the old days, this building was New York.”

Life at the Dakota by Stephen Birmingham is a lovely guide to New York’s Most Unusual Address: The Dakota. I had never heard of this building until receiving a copy of The Address by Fiona Davis. Architecture and building design fascinate me. I think the buildings themselves embody history and allow us insight into life in a previous time. There have been so many celebrities, guests, and workers in and out of this building that if only the old saying were true, “if walls could talk…”

I chose to focus on Winifred Bodkin in my research. She came to the Dakota in 1930 not long after her arrival in America. She started as an elevator girl and promoted to the front desk where she remained for the rest of her working years. She was loyal to the Dakota far beyond a regular employee. During the strike of 1976, she chose not to participate (the only worker to do so) and continued her regular duties. She packed her bag the night before so she would not have to cross the picket line but would still be available to the occupants. I thought it was very interesting that during this strike, all of the occupants chipped in and compared the event to an adventure at summer camp. The women loved sorting the mail, the men volunteered to take out the garbage, and everyone learned how to run and staff the building. Winifred left memories of this event along with other tales of occupants working out of their apartments, announcing callers, and helping famous people avoid the paparazzi such as John Lennon. She noted the security changes through the decades and the renovations that pained her to watch. Some of the residents described Winifred as more than the building’s concierge, she was the heart and soul of the operation. Her scrapbook of the time she spent at the Dakota is one of the only remaining documents of the building’s history. Most of the building’s eighty year history was destroyed in one single day by a porter “throwing all this old stuff out.”

It is hard to imagine a person working decades in the same job. We bounce around and change careers more than any generation before us. I think that is what drew me to Winifred. Can you imagine what you could see and document if you spent your entire working career at one company? My parents both had this luxury (that might be a stretch) of working for the same company and watching it evolve, seeing the highs and the lows and all the in between. I think this is a new way to look at history. We all hear the stories of the John Lennons, Joe Namaths, and Judy Garlands of the world, but what about the workers that watch them pass through each day? How would the Dakota compare today from let’s say 1960, 1970, 1980? One woman can tell us that story. We just have to look in the right places. 

Special Sunday Edition: Guest Review!


“When you are standing there doing nothing remarkable, all you love can be yanked out of your open arms.” 

Welcome my guest reviewer: Ashlee Duff 

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

This historical fiction piece is full of love, loss, ambition, and sacrifice. Set in 1940’s England, Emmy Downtree is a teenage girl with talent and dreams looking for a better life for her and her sister, Julia. She is sent, along with all of London’s children, to the safety of the countryside to avoid the inevitable war that is looming. There she finds the attention and stability she was missing in the comfortable rooms at Thistle House and her foster mother, Charlotte. But it is her relentless ambition and the promise of an apprenticeship with a fashion designer that takes her back to London in secret with Julia by her side. On that day, the Nazi bombs will fall destroying most of London and the lives of those Emmy holds most dear. Julia goes missing and this sets up a new life that Emmy didn’t expect to live.

This novel was well researched and well written. I enjoyed the relationship between Emmy and Julia, as it reminded me of my sister and I. After the bombing, I could not put the book down. I had to know what happened to Julia and the other beloved characters after that fateful day. The guilt, longing and feelings of heavy loss are evident in those that survived. How they reshape and rebuild their lives is by one small step at a time. My only complaint is that even after all of the relationships and storylines are brought to a close, you still feel down. The uplift of closure and a semi-happy ending wasn’t given in near the detail that was used to develop these characters. I expected and wanted more for them. This was still a lovely story and I would recommend it to all historical fiction lovers.

If you would like to be a guest reviewer on my blog, please feel free to contact me! I would love to do a read-a-long or feature your individual review.

Write About it Wednesday: Valkyrie, the Plot to Kill Hitler

“’The Nazis are destroying the heart of the true Germany! When the war is over, it will be people like us who will have to act!”

It doesn’t happen very often that I pick up a book, read the entire thing, and still have little clue of what is happening. I will be the first to admit that I do not come from a military background. Battle plans, defense tactics and flanking locations are a bit over my head. I swear I read all 170 pages and still can’t tell you with any form of certainty that I understood even half of it. Sadly, I had to look up some terms using Google to make sure I was understanding the “lingo.” Embarrassing right?

The book is written from Philipp von Boeselager’s perspective with emphasis on his and his brother’s role in the conspiracy. The first 50 pages or so detail the casualties and concerns of war that led them to join against Hitler. They both grew up with military aspirations, and their father was a member of the Nazi party. The soldier’s perspective on what was occurring versus the reality lends a different view of events. They didn’t know all of the evil going on around them until later in the war when their top priority had to be keeping their men safe and returning home. Philipp was officially tipped over to the resistance movement after reading military documents stating that special treatment was being given to Jews and gypsies. After further research the treatment was cold blooded murder and the goal was complete liquidation. The group grew to upwards of 30 committed conspirators with Philipp occupying the role of chief explosive expert. There were several failed assassination attempts, and a gradual evolution of the mission. It was no longer just an isolated assassination but the beginning of complete overthrow of the regime. Unfortunately all attempts failed.

I did not like this book, but not because it was challenging. I wanted understanding instead of battle facts, dates, locations, and additional details that take up the majority of pages. In fact, this may be the one case where the movie is actually better than the book. (Yes, I said it) I have such a heart for research but this has turned me completely away from looking into the conspiracies further. Maybe I will get a second wind eventually, but for now: Goodbye Valkyrie!