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Review – Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf (Wolf by Wolf #1)

By Ryan Graudin

SummaryHer story begins on a train.

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo.

Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.

But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

From the author of The Walled City comes a fast-paced and innovative novel that will leave you breathless.

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Review:

Wolf by Wolf was such a great book! The premise is what hooked me at the bookstore. I don’t read a lot of alternate history, but the idea intrigues me, especially when it comes to WWII. I love stories about Hitler, the Holocaust, and the various assassination attempts. 

This book rolled all of those ideas into one. In Wolf by Wolf, the year was 1956 and the Nazis won World War II. The Axis powers were ruling most of the world. Each year, the motorcycle race celebrated their victory. The year before, Victor Adele Wolfe stole her brother’s racing papers and entered the race as him and won. Instead of being mad, the Third Reich celebrated her victory. This year, Adele would compete again, but not as herself. Yael, a death camp survivor and experiment, had the ability to change her appearance. She studied Adele, practiced everything she’d need to know and do, and took her place in the race. If she won, she would be close enough to Hitler to execute him. 

The book took history and fact and morphed it into a thrilling alternate history story involving a little bit of fantasy, since Yael had such a unique ability. I loved the mixture and I loved being thrown into the chaos of the race. Yael occasionally thought about her past and we learned a lot about her as a character, her mission, and the importance of it all. We also got to know Adele, despite her not actually being in the race, because of the interpersonal connections between her and her brother, her and Luka, and even some of the other racers. Yael was a little out of her element because no amount of studying prepared her for the possibility that there were unreported incidents between her and the other racers and she had to struggle to maintain her identity and be believable as Adele.

I thought Wolf by Wolf was the perfect blend of history and imagination. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I can’t wait to pick up the conclusion, Blood for Blood. I highly recommend Wolf by Wolf. It ends in a satisfying way so that I crave the sequel, but don’t feel like I got a cliff hanger ending or anything, which is always a plus. It was imaginative in a realistic way. Despite Yael’s ability, it felt like a believable story. I could tell the author was well researched based on the setting he weaved. And while it wasn’t the first book to pull off a What if the Nazi’s won the war train of thought, it was unique. The motorcycle race was fast paced and ruthless, giving a little grit to the story. It was well done and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Star 4

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Review – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

By John Berendt

SummaryVoodoo. Decadent socialites packing Lugars. Cotillions. With towns like Savannah, Georgia, who needs Fellini? Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil takes two narrative strands–each worthy of its own book–and weaves them together to make a single fascinating tale. The first is author John Berendt’s loving depiction of the characters and rascals that prowled Savannah in the eight years it was his home-away-from-home. “Eccentrics thrive in Savannah,” he writes, and proves the point by introducing Luther Diggers, a thwarted inventor who just might be plotting to poison the town’s water supply; Joe Odom, a jovial jackleg lawyer and squatter nonpareil; and, most memorably, the Lady Chablis, whom you really should meet for yourself. Then, on May 2, 1981, the book’s second story line commences, when Jim Williams, a wealthy antique dealer and Savannah’s host with the most, kills his “friend” Danny Hansford. (If those quotes make you suspect something, you should.) Was it self-defense, as Williams claimed–or murder? The book sketches four separate trials, during which the dark side of this genteel party town is well and truly plumbed.

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Review:

I am completely in the minority, but I did not enjoy this book at all. 

The book has been recommended to me on numerous occasions and the mix of true story and descriptive writing had my expectations rather high. The title seemed unique enough to lead me to believe it would be compelling true crime and travelogue at the same time. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I do enjoy the occasional true crime story or compelling and well written trip through an interesting setting.

I feel like part of my dislike of the book is personal because, having lived in Georgia twice and some surrounding southern states, I do not like Georgia very much. It is by far my least favorite southern state. More importantly, the reasons why are the same reasons other people find it charming and are a large part of the entire backdrop of the novel. I don’t think it’s cute to have segregated towns or attitudes. It’s super uncomfortable and I’ve only ever felt that way IN Georgia. It’s not just backwoods or small towns or out of the way places that you’d expect. It’s in sophisticated places in GA, like Atlanta and Savannah and I think that’s what makes it so much more uncomfortable . I also hate that polite southern drawl, since it’s usually even more pronounced when someone pretending to be more important than he or she really is. I’ve met way too many Georgians who do just that, and some of them are exactly like that in this book. It’s not charming to me whatsoever. And because all of these things are literally what happens in Savannah in the book, I think that’s a large part of why I didn’t enjoy it. Maybe other people felt like the were getting a glimpse into what seems like such an interesting place, but I just feel exhausted by everyone in that tiny awful little bubble. (I do love many Georgians, so I’m by no means saying I don’t like everyone from GA. I’m just saying these types of people are ones I cannot stand and that’s essentially everyone in the book.)

For the sake of transparency, I’ll admit that I do claim Charleston as my hometown (though it’s just where I grew up partially since I’m a military brat) and Charleston IS the sworn enemy/sister city of Savannah. Of course I prefer Charleston. 

Aside from my personal feelings about the setting, the writing was my next problem. The beginning drew me in because it was descriptive and I wanted to get to know everyone better, but then it slowly started to feel like I never ending magazine article that I was rapidly losing interest in. I started to feel like “I get it, I get that this interaction is happening, what on earth is the point?” Showing multiple examples of interactions doesn’t equal character development and I think that’s what the author was essentially lacking. 

Finally, after I almost gave up on the book, Part One ended and the murder occurred. Finally, we were getting to the good stuff. Unfortunately, all of that detail I was getting in Part One wasn’t nearly as present in Part Two. I felt like it was clear that the author was not privy to a lot of information and could only go off of speculation and what he was able to hear and witness in the courtroom, up to his own interpretation. And that’s probably true for most true crime authors, so I am only noting that it was glaringly obvious and I felt like the whole book should’ve been better organized so as not to appear so weak in that area. 

I felt like, despite the details, I didn’t really know anyone. None of them were compelling and three dimensional, which is funny to say because they were actual people and not fictional characters. It was a long book of “and then this happened” type of scenarios that I just don’t think we’re balanced and descriptive in a way that made it compelling. Perhaps the characters themselves truly were one dimensional or fake, especially in front of the author, and that’s why they are lacking dimension in the book, which is probably the case, but I feel like there could’ve been a better way to dramatize the novel in order to make it more hard hitting and interesting. 

I don’t understand why this book is so highly praised. 

 

Star 2

 

Review – The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

 

The Historian

By Elizabeth Kostova

SummaryTo you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history…

Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Review:

The Historian was a well researched and fascinating book that mixed history and legend together to weave a tale about Dracula. Part historical fiction, part horror, The Historian was very well done. The author did her research and was able to combine fact with the legends we know about Vlad the Impaler/Dracula and tie it together with a fictional tale about a daughter and her father. 

The story involved professors proficient in history and anthroplogy who happened upon a strange book that lead them to research more about the Dracula legends. For the characters involved, the research became highly dangerous. The main character, a sixteen year old girl, happened upon her fathers strange Dragon book and it prompted him to finally tell the story of his travels and his experiences with the book. 

The book shifted from present day, with the main character narrating in first person, to the father’s tale that he told verbally throughout many of their trips together. Then, a series of letters were introduced by her father’s mentor and colleague, another Profressor who disappeared many years ago. Other series of letters were introduced, so the reader was slowly introduced to the full picture and everything came together at the end.

The Historian was very long and slow. I’m glad I read the book during a time when I didn’t have much going on and didn’t have any reason to start the lofty 2017 reading goals I set for myself. In some ways, I feel like the length and the slowness were worth slogging through, as the story was well told. In some ways, I feel like the book was too long, too over the top, and the author could have told the same story and condensed in quite a bit, solving both the length and the issue of it being very slow and somewhat boring in some sections. But The Historian was a debut novel and one written by an author more geared towards the historical and academic aspect of everything. 

If you enjoy the idea of Vlad the Impaler, the Dracula legends, and the history surrounding all of it, The Historian is very enjoyable and worth the read. It’s sort of a combination of Dracula and perhaps The DaVinci Code, in that the main characters galavant all over the world in search of history and monuments, meeting just the right people at the just the right time in order to further their research, with a major threat hanging over them if they fail. I think the writing is likely a bit more intellectual than that of The DaVinci Code, but I still think it’s a fair comparison. For some, the coincidental convenience of the characters and their research will be too much and too unbelievable. I don’t know much about spending time in a dark and dusty archives and how plausible it is to happen upon people with similar research topics, but I was happy enough to let it slide by. After all, perhaps the history and location the characters were researching was one of those “small world” type of scenarios and they got lucky.

I recommend The Historian and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I do warn anyone that it is very very long. 

Star 4

January OwlCrate Unboxing – Magic

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January’s OwlCrate Theme was Magic.

 

Here is what I received:

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  • Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley along with a letter from the author and a paper doll kit.
  • A Harry Potter Funko Pop. They sent out 5 characters. I got Albus Dumbledore. I was hoping for someone other than Voldemort, Harry, Ron, or Hermione and I’m SO SO SO glad I got Dumbledore!
  • Patronus Lip Balm from Geek Fire Labs. Mint and White Chocolate flavored. It’s quite delicious.
  • 2 pieces of art from Evie Bookish: a bookmark inspired by The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater and a print inspired by Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas.

It’s ironic because I JUST ordered a phone case from Evie’s Society 6 store  with the same Throne of Glass quote! I love her store.

This box was so awesome.

 

“You could rattle the stars,” she whispered. “You could do anything, if only you dared. And deep down, you know it, too. That’s what scares you most.”

 

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“She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.”

 

A lot of people see my posts and they like what I get, but they are hesitant to do any sort of monthly subscription box. Here’s my two cents: for $30, you just can’t lose. A new release hardcover is already $20 most of the time.. so what’s another $10 for all of the awesome goodies you get? I haven’t even read the books I’ve gotten in any of my crates yet because I’m awful with my TBR list, but even if the books aren’t that great, it still seems worth it. Look at all of the awesome stuff you get! And the awesome stores you get introduced to!

I never thought I’d do a subscription box, but I have yet to be disappointed by the goodies I’ve received. I think it’s worth every penny. Also, it’s incredibly awesome to feel like a kid again and open up a present not knowing what’s inside.

Review–These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

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These Shallow Graves
by Jennifer Donnelly

Summary: Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.

Source: I received a digital copy from NetGalley

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Review:

These Shallow Graves has a beautiful cover and an intriguing synopsis, making it an obvious choice for my Creeptober ReadAThon. It also has about a 4 star average rating on Goodreads, which is always great. I was excited to read it.

I am definitely in the minority, but I did not care that much for the book.

The book often talked about the limited choices that women of that time period had and how stifling it was for Jo. She wanted to write, she was naturally curious, and she cared about the less fortunate. I love when books deal with that issue and feature protagonists worth rooting for who fight against their expectations.

However, Jo was awful. She did possess curiosity and took tons of risks, but she was incredibly naïve about everything and couldn’t seem to understand the difference between taking risks for the right reasons and just being idiotic and dangerous. For someone who was so curious, it seemed odd that she didn’t ask more questions before relying on her own limited knowledge of the world, especially if she realized how limited she was. She knew she wasn’t equipped to take on the mystery on her own, yet her reaction to every puzzle was to rely 100% on her own instincts. She noticed that her choices were limited and that adults frequently urged her away from her questions and from her interests because women weren’t supposed to be a certain way, but never once seemed skeptical of the people in her life, authority, newspapers, police, and other major figures in society despite this realization. She made no sense at all.

I wanted to root for Jo because she was certainly onto something when she overheard a reporter say that her father’s suicide was no suicide at all. I respected Eddie, the reporter, and I thought that Jo’s adventure would lead her to better understand the dangers and secrets of the world she lived in. I wanted her to realize that perhaps the privileged few were not ignorant of the struggle of others, but purposefully decided not to expose themselves to it to avoid scandal. I wanted her to question why she wasn’t allowed to be curious or go out alone. I wanted her to question her mother’s fear of scandal and use that line of logic to wonder what secrets her family would be willing to bury in order to avoid one.

Once she realized Eddie’s lifestyle and she met some of his peers, along with the girl who would soon be sold into prostitution, I thought she’d wise up. I couldn’t imagine someone could be so naive about the underworld. She didn’t pick up on anyone’s comments or assumptions that she was a working woman at night until Eddie had to literally explain it to her like she was 10. She refused to see that some of the wealthy people she knew could possibly be bad people, which irked me. She almost got a ride from a strange woman and did not think twice about it even though she could have been, and almost was, robbed and murdered.

I really liked Eddie’s character and admired his search for the truth. He seemed pretty smart about the world and knew what stories to sell to other papers because they’d be censored at his own. I didn’t like how quickly he and Jo fell into each other and I don’t understand how someone who was so smart and motivated could fall for such a naïve girl. I honestly thought he was using her to get to the bottom of what was a crazy and interesting mystery for the longest time.

The mystery itself was great. I loved Eddie’s friend, the mortician, who studied the new subject of forensic science and was able to find out a lot about a crime based on the body he was given. It was fascinating and it revealed that the police and newspapers were lying about nearly every death related to the issues Jo was trying to uncover.

I enjoyed These Shallow Graves, but it was disappointing at the same time. I would have preferred and slightly less naïve protagonist who could have made some better connections and realizations about the world she lived in. What is worse is that I could tell the author was trying to make points and throw in some comparisons, but she chose to make Jo as oblivious as possible to everything. It almost feels like she’s that way to keep things light and to keep this book as YA instead of just regular historical fiction. (Which is awful if that’s the case because teens are smart enough to get a respectable Jo instead of naïve Jo.)

I do recommend it if you frequently read YA and aren’t a big mystery, horror, or historical fiction reader. For the mainstream YA fiction fans, I think this book delivers a compelling plot, a romance you can root for, and likeable characters.

3%25252520star

Review–The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

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The Devil in the White City
by Erik Larson

Summary: Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book’s categorization to be sure that ‘The Devil in the White City’ is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair’s construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.
Burnham’s challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous “White City” around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair’s incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.
The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World’s Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims.


Source: I purchased a paperback from a used book store.

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Review:

I typically do not read much nonfiction unless it is about a subject I care deeply about. I typically avoid crime nonfiction because True Crime always reads like a lifetime movie to me, but I do make exceptions for some books, like Helter Skelter. I was intrigued by this book, especially after discovering that Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing the infamous H.H. Holmes in the upcoming movie. I had been eyeing it the past few times I’ve been book shopping, but I think that’s what led me to finally pick it up. I kept putting it down after realizing it wasn’t just based on a true story, it was completely nonfiction.

The Devil in the White City takes place in Chicago during the creation of the World’s Fair at the end of the 1800s. H.H. Holmes took up residence and even had a hotel during that time period and was thought to have killed a lot of people, but he also murdered other people in other cities he visited or stayed for any length of time.

The Devil in the White City is almost two separate stories. The first would be about Daniel Burnham, the World’s Fair, the architecture and history of how that fair came about what sort of conflicts stood in the way. It is about Chicago’s fight to be included and to stand out after the U.S. realized it needed to make it’s mark on the world and not be outdone by the building of the Eiffel tower. The world’s fair changed the course of history in ways I had not thought about, such as the type of the electricity chosen (mostly due to the fact that Telsa wasn’t charging near as much as Edison), that ended up being the type we continue to use in our homes to date.

The second story was about the serial killer, H.H. Holmes. From his beginnings to his time in Chicago, the book explored his character and the personality he had that charmed the pants off of just about everybody and led to him being able to get away with murder. Because of the pressure of the World’s Fair, Chicago was more distracted than ever, with tons of visitors coming in and out, during a time when the world didn’t keep track of it’s citizens the way it does today. Those things also made it easier for Holmes to get away with murdering dozens, if not hundreds of people.

Because of that connection, I can see why the author chose to lay out his book the way he did and to include both stories. However, they fail to really come together in a nice way. I felt like I was reading two books about two very different types of things. The disappointing part is that the good stuff, the stuff about Holmes, takes up the end of the book almost entirely, but it seems as if a lot of readers who were more interested in Holmes couldn’t make it that far. I feel like the author made us wait to really give us the dirt and the violence and kind of glossed over the small disappearances at the beginning and spent more time on things like steel, trees, and what the next big thing to be built would be.

If you can make it to the end, it’s worth it. I feel much more satisfied after finishing than I did through the entire first half of the book. The author does not forget about Holmes and does end up giving up real closure and spends time on his character, it just takes him quite some time. And even though some parts of the architecture battle bored me, I feel like it was pretty interesting now that it’s all over.

The Devil in the White City will make a really good movie because seeing the fair come together will be awesome. It was just a little tedious to read about. And I think Holmes will seem even more sinister if the movie does the same back and forth from him being charming and then killing someone and then going back to the building of the fair. I think the fast paced nature of the movie will turn out much better than it ended up being in the book.

I do recommend reading this. I knew nothing about Holmes or the World’s Fair, so I feel like I learned a lot about how that time period impacted our country and how easy it was for a charming person to get away with just about anything. He was certainly a psychopath in a society not used to dealing with one or knowing to be cautious. It was all pretty fascinating.

4%25252520star

Review–The Luxe (The Luxe #1) by Anna Godbersen

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The Luxe (The Luxe #1)

by Anna Godbersen

Summary: Pretty girls in pretty dresses, partying until dawn. Irresistible boys with mischievous smiles and dangerous intentions. White lies, dark secrets, and scandalous hookups. This is Manhattan, 1899.
Beautiful sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland rule Manhattan’s social scene. Or so it appears. When the girls discover their status among New York City’s elite is far from secure, suddenly everyone–from the backstabbing socialite Penelope Hayes, to the debonair bachelor Henry Schoonmaker, to the spiteful maid Lina Broud–threatens Elizabeth’s and Diana’s golden future. With the fate of the Hollands resting on her shoulders, Elizabeth must choose between family duty and true love. But when her carriage overturns near the East River, the girl whose glittering life lit up the city’s gossip pages is swallowed by the rough current. As all of New York grieves, some begin to wonder whether life at the top proved too much for this ethereal beauty, or if, perhaps, someone wanted to see Manhattan’s most celebrated daughter disappear… In a world of luxury and deception, where appearance matters above everything and breaking the social code means running the risk of being ostracized forever, five teenagers lead dangerously scandalous lives. This thrilling trip to the age of innocence is anything but innocent.

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Source: I purchased a paperback

Review:

The Luxe was a fun and shallow historical fiction. It involved a few prominent families and the gossip and scandals surrounding them. It was like reading Gossip Girl set in New York in 1899 where everyone has their own agenda, but no one is clear about it because they don’t want to cause a scandal and ruin their family name.

I enjoyed the mindless drama, but the overall plot was kind of predictable once the book laid out everyone’s interests. No one was really each other’s friend. They had their own goals in mind. I figured out what must have happened to Elizabeth and I was glad to see I was correct in my early assumption.

While there was plenty of drama and backstabbing and complications in relationships, it lacked the actual romance that I thought it would have. Even the few couples who seemed to be in love despite the odds never really seemed like it. It’s one of those things where I think if the people actually got what they wanted, it wouldn’t last very long because the appeal is in the taboo nature of the relationship in the first place.

Still, I devoured the book quickly, so I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. If you’re in the mood for a dramatic historical version of Gossip Girl, then it’s perfect. The story kind of ended abruptly, but I’m not really that engrossed enough to buy the sequels.

3%25252520star