It's hard to describe the events in Julia's book without wanting to close the shades and crawl under the covers into the fetal position. Julia finds humor and grace in even the most dire situation. She puts all her frustration and grief forward in such a way that makes you want to simultaneously laugh and cry. All the foibles of her family members pale compared to their strength in dealing with the illness and death of her beloved brother Mike. Her own stress reaction is her itching desire to get out of the house away from her relatives, smoke, and buy the Pope's new book. Even this little task goes awry in the most hilarious of ways. Her own health becomes an issue when she is diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer- so rare that even getting her slides away from the research lab is a chore. An enjoyable chore, when she meets the scientist working on her form of cancer. This is a great audiobook for anyone dealing with a difficult situation, but this is also full of enough heartwarming laughs for anyone at all.
I stumbled upon the Gabriel Allon series, and it quickly became one of my favorite series in a long while. The English Girl is one of the best in the series. It combines international intrigue with politics and scandal, steering clear of predictable outcomes. Without giving away plot points, it deals with the very believable difficulties in investigating a time sensitive crime with serious political implications and high level officials helping or hindering the investigation. How did these criminals find out about the political scandal when no one else knew? Nothing is as it seems. While each of Daniel Silva's books are self-contained enough to be read by anyone looking for a good book, there is a great advantage of reading them in order. Silva rarely discards ingenious or unique characters he introduces into his books. They become part of the Gabriel Allon universe and pop up in future books in unexpected ways (the Pope and a Corsican fortuneteller are some of the more notable reoccurring characters). Silva doesn't give away too much of the action of earlier books, but there are Allon related life events (good and bad) that are referenced that are big plot spoilers if you plan on reading the earlier books in the future. From his striking green eyes to his incredible memory to his insight on espionage and terrorism, Israeli intelligence operative Gabriel Allon is extraordinary in all ways almost to a fault. He is a reluctant assassin with the heart and skills of a painter, haunted by personal tragedy. His talent shines so bright in the series that almost all other reoccurring characters pale in comparison. Unfortunately, Silva nearly cut and pastes his descriptions of some of the characters from book to book, they are so similar. Having been so enamored with the series, I read the majority of them back to back. Some of the characters seem to have so much potential for expansion (notably analyst Dina Sarid) that a stock description is a disappointment. Silva writes that Gabriel's love Chiara has "riotous hair", a remarkable description that catches attention when you first read it, but Silva uses it in multiple books. I'd like to hear more about her. It's hard to balance character development and keep a good pace in a thriller. Therefore, most of the character focus goes deservedly to Gabriel.
The world of Divergent was fresh and exciting in the first two books. Tris hesitantly stepped into a new life and developed into a strong, confident member of Dauntless. So it was an utter surprise when the story went awry in the third book. I liked the short Divergent story "The Transfer", introducing Four's point of view. The third book moves between Tris's and Four's point of view. The two narrators both do an excellent job. The third book starts off fairly well, expanding on the surprises of the second book. Now that we have moved into a new situation, it puts you off balance. What do you believe is real? Who do you trust? The relationship between Tris and Four evolves. From meeting each other, developing feelings towards each other, and aligning together towards a common purpose, they start to disagree on the best way to achieve that goal. The concepts brought forward for the third book are very good. But they definitely went off the rails in the execution. In an effort to avoid a predictable ending, the author has created an unsatisfying ending.
This is an excellent detailed book on the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert and the long aftermath of his death. Victoria was rapturously in love with her beloved Albert throughout their marriage. She was devastated when he passed away and stayed in mourning the rest of her life. Instead of finding comfort in her children, she made their lives more difficult. She blamed her son Bertie's behavior for giving Albert stress which led to his death. Princess Alice's wedding seemed more like a funeral. While she shirked her own responsibilities as monarch, she refused to let the heir Bertie take over or help at all. Her grief had economic implications as well. Suddenly, there was a giant boom for mourning clothes and jewelry made of jet, as all of England joined their queen in mourning.
But while England felt the queen's loss, eventually they grew tired of her seclusion. She went out in public rarely, and usually only to dedications of monuments to Albert. She preferred Scotland to being at Winsor, where Albert passed. She was didn't host social occasions (leaving it to other family members) or entertain official dignitaries. The queen didn't seem to be performing her duties while new spouses of the royal children had to be added to the budget taken from taxpayer money.
This book illuminates the far reaching implications of Queen Victoria's mourning. It also shines a light on the steadfast Princess Alice. She was the nurse to her father during his final days, she disobeyed her mother and informed Bertie of the seriousness of Albert's condition, and she was with her mother during the hardest days afterwards. The last part of the book is a discussion of Prince Albert's medical condition and some speculation as to the cause of his death
This book gives away part of the plot twists of one of Forsyth's other books "The Avenger". I bought both and just by chance read the other first. Then when I started to read this book a few days later, I was a little shocked at how much was given away for no other reason than introducing the relationship between two characters. I think the characters themselves are both very interesting so I understand why Forsyth wanted to put them together in another book.
The reign of King Edward VII ("Bertie" to his family) was expected to be a disappointment by most. But he would have not have been shocked by this verdict, it was one he had been hearing for most of his life. A gambler and a philanderer, his bad behavior was not only whispered among the upper class, but also ended up as fodder for the unwashed masses when he ended up in court a few times. His most horrible crime was that he was not the carbon copy of his late father Prince Consort Albert, an offense that Queen Victoria could not forgive.
This is an excellent, thorough book on the life of future King Edward VII. It is also very even-handed on the good and bad aspects of the man himself.
In some ways, it's extraordinary that he did as well as he did. Prince Albert had high expectations for his children, especially Bertie, the heir. He devised a rigorous education for them. His oldest child, the Princess Royal Victoria, excelled while Bertie did not. Of course, this must have been the fault of poor strange Bertie, not the teachers and certainly not Prince Albert's program. In response to this failure, his education became more difficult, not less. and leaving him little free time, not that he would have been allowed to socialize with boys his own age if he did have free time.
As a young man away from home, his male friends introduced him to a "loose woman" who became his mistress. An aghast Prince Albert hurried to confront his son about his behavior. Prince Albert's health declined soon afterwards, leading to his death.
The fractious attitude of widowed Queen Victoria towards Bertie became a constant problem. Heartbroken by the loss of her beloved husband, Queen Victoria always blamed Bertie's dissolute behavior for Albert's death. Her punishment of him was of the most unproductive kind. For years, she forbade him any involvement in governmental affairs even after he expressed an interest, essentially making sure her heir was unprepared for his eventual responsibilities. It also gave him lots of free time to engage in the type of profligate lifestyle that his father had been determined to curtail. Bertie knew his mother was disappointed in his present behavior, but also knew that no penance he could do would have earned her forgiveness and healed the relationship. Queen Victoria even had Bertie and his new wife, beautiful, sweet Alexandra of Denmark spied on by the staff, to try to make sure both followed her directions. Not a perfect husband to Alexandra, he nonetheless backed her over the Queen during the war between her home country of Denmark and Germany (favored by the Queen) and the diplomatic problems that it caused.
Though not officially allowed in governmental affairs, Bertie stepped into the royal role that his reclusive mother refused to fill after Albert's death: the social role. Always impeccably dressed Bertie and Alexandra performed almost all of the public functions as representatives of the royal family. They were a glamorous pair, probably a big contrast to the stiff and stolid Victoria and Albert. Infidelity in an upper class man was still acceptable as long as there was discretion and a devoted wife at the side. Bertie's letters to mistresses are surprisingly mundane - no husband would read these lines and grab a pisol. His unwelcome court appearances were the result of getting dragged into the limelight by the indiscreet misdeeds of others in his circle. He was open-minded for his time: he welcomed successful Jewish financiers into his social circle and he did not discriminate among race (though he opposed women's rights).
His accession to the throne happened late in life. By then, he was aware of his own strengths and weaknesses. His interest in foreign relations, convivial manner and good relationships with the royalty of other contries (many of them relatives) were put to the good use on behalf of England. Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm's forceful, intrusive manner was annoying to the quiet Russian Tzar Nicholas II. King Edward VII told the Tzar that he had no wish to offer unsolicited advice like Wilhem. He had been a help to the young Tzar years earlier at the death of Tzar Alexander II (Alexandra's sister was the Tzarina). He and Alexandra comforted the grieving family, and performed all of the traditional Russian mourning rituals as members of the late Tzar's family (even kissing the lips of the rapidly decaying body), gaining the respect of the Russian public. King Edward VII's personality, his ability to put people at ease, and his shrewdness of the public impact of social behavior were his biggest assets and he made use of them in his reign.
The strength of this book is that it provides all the background facts that you didn't know you needed to know to get a better understanding of WWI. There is so much to cover in WWI that much of these items that don't directly contribute to the action are left out of other books. It's a great loss because these are the same facts that humanize the people and make some of their decisions understandable.
The book starts out with the trigger event- the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. But it humanizes the Archduke by talking about the class difference between him and his wife-to-be Sophie and how his marriage choice affected his relationship with his uncle Emperor Franz Joseph. It brings up the Archduke's different attitude (compared to the Emperor) on the Serbian people- they ended up killing someone who was more sympathetic to their ideas.
Background details are provided on the history of the Balkan states, the dual nature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and how it affected decision making, the Serbian government and its involvement (or noninvolvement) in the assassination. It goes into detail on the horrific conditions in trench warfare.
WWI was a tremendous tragedy that seems to have dropped out of the minds of the rest of the world. There are no easy answers about why a regional war turned in to a multiyear ordeal costing lives and causing governments to fall. The book won't give all the answers, but it will provide a better framework about topics that would be unknown to all but the historians.
Only a few hours after arriving into a small Georgia town, Jack Reacher is arrested for a murder that took place the night before. Suddenly, more strange events start happening. Reacher tries to demonstrate that he has no connection to the crime, so that he can head back out on the road, away from this idyllic town. Unfortunately, he does have a connection to the crime and now he's the one who wants answers.
I've read a few other Reacher novels before so I was looking forward to find out how Reacher was introduced in book 1. The book opens with the arrest, so it grabs you right from the beginning. Most of the book was good, although I felt one of the cliffhangers was more obvious than usual. Initially, I was a little disappointed with this characterization of Reacher. He came across as burned out ex-military, anxious to get out of town and away from this puzzling murder that messed up his weekend. He's an former investigator with experience in dealing with murder and violent crime. The local police department has only one detective, an experienced Boston transplant, but it was not equipped to handle the investigation. I'd think that even just to relieve a little boredom, Reacher would be a little curious about the crime. My frustration with the Reacher prototype dissipated when a plot shocker drew me back into the story.
Overall, I did like the story and while it had some rough spots, it also lacked an issue I found in other Reacher books ("Reacher said nothing" phrase repeated over and over).
Alex Dumas was a larger than life man, immortalized in Tom Reiss' brilliant book. It's not hard to see why he was both an asset and a threat to Napoleon. I am a fan of Alexandre Dumas' novels and this book gives me great insight on what drove him to write his stories, especially the Count of Monte Cristo. It's seems so hard to believe that even with the success of the son, the life of his impressive father remained in obscurity.
The lasting effect of his imprisonment is so difficult to take in. He was a vital, imposing man wasted down to a shell due to horrific treatment, all of his heroic actions on the battlefield forgotten and his family forced into poverty.
I was curious about the Anglo-Saxons so I decided to give these lectures a try. When it opened with, Dr Drout reciting a passage in Old English, I was a little startled and afraid I made a horrible mistake. Quite the opposite. The professor transcends the label of "Modern Scholar" into the realm of "Favorite teachers." He clearly loves the Anglo-Saxon writings and the period and all of his excitement about the subject is infectious. This is one of my favorite audiobooks (I never imagined it would be) and I've gotten more of his lectures as well. He doesn't approach the subject as a traditional historian, he is a literature professor. He doesn't skimp on the history, he just places most of his focus on the writings of the time. As a veteran teacher, he has his own bag of tricks to help clarify topics and improve memorization of important time periods.
An incomprehensible series of murders, engineered by Angel of Death Dr. Josef Mengele, are underway. Nothing about the victims would make them targets of the Nazis. Renowned Nazi hunter Yakov Liebermann- who is underfunded, understaffed, and possibly facing eviction from his office quarters due to the sheer weight of his files affecting the floor- doesn't believe this crazy story...at first. Then as the deaths start occurring, he struggles with not only putting the pieces together but with trying to get anyone else to believe.
I loved this book when I first read it years ago that I had to get it when I saw it was on Audible. Simon Vance is my favorite narrator, he always does a phenomenal job.
The only reason why I gave it four stars has nothing at all to do with the quality of the story. It's an excellent thriller. This book was written in the 1970s and some of the things in the story would be mindblowing to people reading it at that time. I don't think today's reading audience will have that type of visceral reaction.
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