Sunday, November 22, 2009

Monument's Men

Monument's Men reads like a mystery but it is fact. Learn about some forgotten heroes of WWII the men and women who helped protect, save, find and preserve art treasures that were either looted and/or "removed for safekeeping by the Nazis, during WWII."

Read firsthand accounts about the Ghent Altarpiece, Bruges Madonna, and other masterpieces.  Be amazed (and horrified at the treasures lost forever and those found in salt mines, storage sheds, castles, trains, etc) during the German occupation, retreat, and American landing and offensive.) Try to understand why the Nazi's would rather have destroyed every single piece of art they had to leave behind - pieces  from the Louvre and those stolen from private collections rather than let these treasure remain for the world to revere. Meet heroines like Rose Vallard a quiet, precise woman who fought for the Nazi in a unique way by documenting their looting of art.

A great read, a piece of history too long ignored and a lesson lost to the U.S. as documented by George W. Bush's mishandling of the Iraq Museum's looting during the "shock and awe mission, in 2003." Planning is better than hindsight!

Check out this link to the Monument's Men website and meet some unlikely heroes from the museum set - what a story!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Two to Read Now

These books are top of most reader's lists, but just in case you have not read them yet:Pick up Katherine Stockett's The Help and return to Jackson, MS circa 1960's when the  so called  "colored help"   had the task of childcare in homes of many white families. For many Southerners who as children experienced this special relationship (and others as well)  it is a book of truth and memories that will cause some discomfort in retrospect-  especially when viewed through adult eyes. This heart touching tome will give readers pause as it looks at life from the inside world of maids who were "family" but never equal to blood members of the household. A book you will not easily forget. Also a conversation starter for book clubs.

Sarah's Key has been called haunting but could just as easily be called horrifying. When a child's world becomes a nightmare during war's  inhumanity and her innocence is lost as formerly friendly faces become masks of indifference and cruelty; the reader feels the helplessness of the French Jewish family at the heart of this book, especially Sarah with her tragic keepsake. Tatiana De Rosnay's book takes place both during the WWII and also more than half a century later as an American journalist investigates what is called the "Vel' D'Hiver  roundup," of French Jews that took place in Paris in July 1942. What happened is the heart of this story and it will haunt your soul even as you find some passages  difficult to even comprehend. A book to share with friends and also great for book clubs.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ten Fall Books I Can't Wait To Read

Ten Fall/Winter Books I Can't Wait To Read... One At as Time

One of my top non-fiction choices is Nancy Goldstone's The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily ... It  takes place in the Middle Ages and it is true but it has all the elements of a modern soap opera - smart, talented and scheming characters, murder, mayhem and a female lead who is anything but the girl next door. Few women are brought before the Pope on charges of murdering their royal husbands and that is just  a tidbit about Joanna a female ruler ahead of her time. If this book is half as good as Goldstone's FOUR QUEENS: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe, it is non-fiction so well written and researched that it reads like a novel and immediately captivates the reader. Should be out in November according to the author's website. Here is a link to her website:

coming soon... another pick... and I'll give you a hint that it is another adventure thriller from one of my favorite genre writers

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Few Suggestions

A few more picks for the week:

If you like first person accounts and have an interest in the life of a wet nurse (if you read any historical novels you've seen these women mentioned but  probably never thought about  the actual life of a servant when she takes another woman's child to her breast. Where do families find such women? What of her own child?) The Wet Nurse's Tale, by Erica Eisdorfer introduces Susan Rose a spirited, buxom farm girl,  whose indiscretion with the son of the manor laves her with child. Soon she is able to follow the occupation of her mother - wet nurse. The main character with her sense of curiosity and penchant for seeing life a bit differently than most,  has several interesting experiences among the gentry as she breast feeds their offspring and manages to expand her world view on each new posting.  A fascinating book and a  look at a woman's role that is now almost forgotten.

Daniel Silva's The Defector is another thriller featuring Gabriel Allon (the art restorer whose first life is a spy/assassin for Israel). The book  picks up almost where Moscow Rules ended as Allon and his team take on old enemy Ivan Kharkov as they try to save the life of a Russian defector/former intelligence officer  (and friend of Allon). When Allon's wife is also taken by Kharkov, the Israeli team's work takes on added pressure. A top notch thriller from a master of the genre. 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pick for the Week

I've seen a few critics compare this Polish historical, family saga to "Gone With the Wind." I beg to differ because Countess  Anna Maria Berezowska while often naive and trusting is also compassionate, understanding, and kind in both temper and world view. 

Eighteenth century Poland saw war with Catherine the Great, discontent among the peasants, the rise of one of the first European Democracies, and a life of privilege and splendor for the wealthy and titled. The Countess Anna's story from childhood to adult spans not only her story but that of her country. We see her change as she becomes aware of the differences in her status and life as opposed to those of the lower classes. As Poland struggles for freedom so does the Countess. 

Taking control of her destiny may harken back to Scarlett O'Hara but Countess Anna is not a primping, prissy, southern belle. Like her nation, Anna  is  bold,  willing to meet the enemy and make her stand. The history is rich in this novel thanks to meticulous research by author James Conroyd Martin. You'll appreciate the struggle of both Anna and that of Poland as war rages and heroes emerge to fight for the little country that through the years has been the victim of so much treachery. 

Sounds like a sequel and perhaps even a movie are in the works! Yeah!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Read to Relax - Writers You May Have Missed

If you get overwhelmed in the library or your local bookstore you aren't alone. There are so many wonderful options that it's easy to just pick up books by the same authors instead of trying a new one.

Here are a few suggestions if you have not tried these yet: 

Tom Rob Smith  The Secret Speech and Child 44. Both of these books are set in Russia and will quickly catch your attention. The two books feature Leo 
Demidov a secret police member haunted by his job of torturing and killing for the state. In Child 44 he is tasked with looking for a serial slay
er of children in a country where crime does not officially exist.

 In Smith's second novel, Khrushchev is in power and he has criticized Stalin for going too far in his purges and treatment of the citizens - hence the "Secret Speech," title. Dimidov's past work continues to haunt him and the life he has made with a wife and adopted children. This book follows a wandering trail as it explores the harshness of the gulags,  life in Russia during the mid 1950's, Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution, and the strain of familial relationships when there is no trust.  Both of these books are worth reading.

    Eileen Favorite  The Heroines  is a debut novel about a young teen and her mother whose B&B is host to a cast of literature’s finest (and most tragic) heroines from Ophelia to Hester Prynne and Scarlett O’Hara. The narrator is ordered to play with Hester’s daughter Pearl (can we say “playing “pillory”) so the two unwed mother’s can share notes. The daughter is cautioned she must keep two secrets: don’t tell anyone you see heroines (albeit they are garbed in modern clothing) and the never to tell the heroines the rest of their or  they will not go back to meet their dreadful fates. No wonder the young narrator ends up accidentally (so to speak) in a psych ward. An interesting take on an odd situation…I hoped for a bit more…kind of an adult  “Inkheart” with a tad less drama, a lot less fantasy and slightly more heart.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Aunt Kathy's Books of the Week

Something new... five picks for the week... Here are the first three!!!

After discovering her husband plans to leave her, one woman goes to extreme lengths to change her spending habits and save money for her divorce. Written with wit and charm by Sarah Strohmeyer The Penny Pinchers Club,  is a suburban shopoholic tale that forces one woman to examine her life and recognize that value is not always the price of the things you own. 

If you haven't read Greg Isles before you are in for a treat with his latest
Natchez, Mississippi  based novel about riverboat gambling. The unsavory investors and gamblers it attracts are just the
beginning of  problems faced by the small town mayor (a continuing Isles character the multi-talented Penn Cage, also a writer and former prosecutor) in  The Devil's Punchbowl. Murder, riverboat gambling, dogfights are the core around which we see Penn's relationships with his family, girlfriend(s), childhood friends as well as law enforcement play out in this thriller. Penn matches wits with thugs who play nasty and cruel and  the tension builds along with the body count. Like any Isles book it is a page turner.

I admit to being a huge fan of Brad Thor and the character he has made famous Scot Harvath. So it is no wonder I enjoyed The Apostle.
Set in Afghanistan it focuses on a kidnapped American physician who happens to be the daughter of a high profile and monied contributer to the new US president.

The fictional change in administration's moves Harveth's character to the private sector and it also keeps the reader guessing how much is fact  in behind the scenes White Ho use staffing, policy changes and presidential authority. 
Can Harveth break an AlQueda prisoner out of prison to exchange for the American doctor? Can he let a terrorist go free?  Weaving Harveth's latest adventure through the underworld of the Taliban and AlQueda, presidential politics, plus assorted murder and  may
hem, Thor writes one of his best novels yet and my favorite  political thriller of the summer.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Thrills: Recommended New Books

Looking for just the right new book for that last minute summer reading?  Here are a few recommendations from the newest releases:

 If you like historical novels and have a particular interest in the 
Salem witchcraft trials  then  pick  up  The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane,**** by Katherine Howe.  Travel from 
present day New England  a Harvard grad student as she searches through her family history  for a mysterious manuscript  tied to the Salem witch trials of the 1690's. Will she reach academic nirvana and discover a new twist on history?

You can never go wrong with the "Sigma Force specialists" from the
 creative mind of David Rollins. His latest  "The Doomsday Key,***1/2" provides his usual dose  of adventure along with the oddest and most intriguing bits of history. I hesitate to give anything away, but suffice it to say that if you have read any of Rollins's previous books you will enjoy this one - it does start a wee bit slow, but hang on for a
 rewarding romp through bogs,  bees and prophecy.

BURNED**** was inspired by the  true life kidnapping of Australian Yvonne Bornstein by terrorists linked to Al Queda.  Like the real kidnapping the story takes place in Russia. The novel   begins with  a marriage on the rocks, a  business deal gone terribly wrong that results in  the kidnapping of an American businesswoman, murder, torture,  and a  planned nuclear attack on the US that the requested ransom will fund in addition to a  cast of desperate sociopathic kidnappers. In the mix add a grieving Russian policeman who splits his time between the bottle and  the investigation (but who manages to be a heroic figure nonetheless)  a CIA, Washington D.C. based desk jockey who  is looking for a promotion and a brave kidnapped,  woman who refuses to be a victim. 

David Hagberg's book is one of the best reads of the summer. He is also the author of   the popular thrillers featuring  action hero, former CIA director and all around good guy "Kirk McGarvey." Two of my personal " McGarvey" favorites are  THE EXPEDITOR**** and ALLAH'S SCORPION, **** both worth picking up at a bookstore or library. You can count on good writing and good reading with Hagberg.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sacred Hearts

Serafina, the new novice and unwilling bride of Christ has the voice of an angel and seems to be God’s gift to the Convent of Santa Caterina. But she is locked up behind the walls and separated from her one true love because her parents cannot afford to dower more than one daughter. Similar fates are shared by other young aristocratic Italian women of the mid-1500’s as costly marriage contracts leave few options for the bride’s female siblings. When the parental purse runs dry the phrase “get thee to a nunnery,” takes on a sinister meaning and Serafina becomes a sacrificial offering to the Catholic Church.

Sarah Dunant’s latest work of historical fiction provides a glimpse behind convent walls where women of God play political games as readily as they pray. Power figures in the cloister include a sister who may be a saint, the abbess leading her flock for  God’s glory, the fundamentalist novice mistress, and the vocally gifted Serafina. The most interesting character by far is Sister Zuana (her father was a famous physician - she has hidden his books to use for reference – some books that perhaps include heresy) the nun tasked with caring for the sick. 

When Serafina assists in the infirmary Sister Zuana learns more about the novice’s tragic but all too familiar story. The older nun has a crisis of conscious as she begins to understand and care for the younger sister.

Serafina, the heavenly songbird exposes tears and divisions within the walls of the religious community. While her voice brings acclaim beyond the walls of the convent it is outside these same walls that changes within the Catholic Church threaten the sisters of Santa Caterina and their established way of life. 

Rich in both historical context and plot SACRED HEARTS offers readers a glimpse behind convent walls and into women’s hearts as some walk their freely chosen path with God while others are sacrificial Brides of Christ. Birth into Italian aristocracy during the 1500’s mandated a marital dowry. If the price for more than one daughter became prohibitive, families merely sent the other daughter(s) to the Church.  Christ’s bride price was much less expensive to the familial purse. Dunant’s book is a thought provoking study in the choices families make about their children; the strength,  blindness, fragility and healing power of faith; and the complexity found in female relationships.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Increment

Iran. Mention that country to most Americans and the word that comes to their minds is “nuclear.” The new  international thriller by David Ignatius takes that fear and spins it into a fascinating novel – one that at times seems more probable than impossible.

At the heart of the book is CIA man extraordinaire Harry Pappas (Ignatius readers will remember him from BODY OF LIES). This time Harry is playing the spy game with a broken heart having lost his only son in the current Iraq War. It sets the stage in unique ways as he attempts to discern the validity of an encrypted message from an Iranian nuclear scientist who is willing to share the country’s bomb secrets in return for safe harbor.

With help from the British (and the “Increment” a special SAS team) Harry must decide if and how the young scientist can be retrieved from Iran.

The author takes  a sideswipe at American politicians eager to believe anything about Iran’s nuclear capability and thus use the country for target practice. Seems  trigger happy  politicos really exist in D.C. - shoot now and ask questions later mentality. Ignatius builds a novel about finding  truth in a maze and where the answers lead to more puzzles. He walks a fine line between the novel and the news. 

It is rare to find humanity in a spy thriller but Ignatius captures Harry’s heart, which gives the reader one more reason to keep turning the pages and reach the stunning conclusion.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg

A romance, a family saga, a murder mystery, and a political thriller - all of these descriptions aptly fit the story of the last Russian Tsar Nicolas Romanov and his family. Many novelists and historians have written about the family, the individual members, the time period, and even the tragic love story between Nicholas and Alexandra. Like many historical tales, the lives and deaths of the Romanovs are shrouded in myth, mystery and legend.

Helen Rappaport’s new book :

Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg tells the story of Russia’s royal family at Ipatiev House in July 1918 - the last residence they occupied and where they spent their final hours. It is different not only in tone from other books, but also in the specifics it addresses. She takes great effort to individualize the family members and to remind us that while royal they were people with hopes, fears and dreams. Sheltered and protected all of their lives, removed from the everyday world and hardships of ordinary Russians the family is caught in a frightening situation without the normal trappings of their wealth and privilege. While ruling Russia the Romanov’s preferred to live simply but by virtue of their rank were entitled to opulent surroundings of their own choosing. When held by the Bolsheviks the family had no choice in their lodgings nor did they have access to their prized personal belongings or usual complement of staff.

 Taken from their palatial homes and with hopes of being exiled the family instead are captives in five gloomy rooms. Alexy,  heir to the throne has a fatal, painful disease and his four sisters spend their teen (or naive 20's) years ( not in happy youthful exuberance but in fear and with no chance to explore relationships with the opposite sex (one exception is noted in this book). Born a royal, the Tsarina is ill and perhaps a bit of a hypochondriac she is completely devastated, fearful and unprepared by the turn of events. The Tsar, always a simple and kind man who prefers exercise to affairs of state is beginning to realize that his family will not be rescued.

 Eyewitness accounts and a new look at the hierarchy for implementing the death penalty for the Tsar and also for the entire family is exposed by Rappaport. She also delineates why the family was included in the death sentence. Anyone who has read or seen anything about the Romanov family knows that the basement killings in July 1918 were brutal, but nothing compares to the vivid writing in this book. Nothing.

 But, as horrible as the deaths may have been, it is the daily life of the Romanov’s during their time in Ekaterinburg that brings heartbreak to the reader. All the windows in their rooms were sealed so there was no light from windows – nor any chance of a cool breeze. Royal dignity was displayed when even small joys were taken such as the Tsar’s daily newspaper.

 Nicholas believed he was chosen by God to rule Russia. His flaw is perhaps thinking he knew what his people wanted and needed when in reality he did not nor could he understand the suffering in his country. The deaths of the Romanov family are a Russian tragedy as well. A tragedy, however, that now seems to have closure with the identification of the remains of the bodies. Rappaport’s book does an excellent job of tracing the culpability of their deaths something that has long been in question.

 The research efforts that went into writing this book are very apparent. The way the research is used, however, is where the author distinguishes herself as a writer. Rappaport tells the story of the Romanovs last days as a reporter but with an historian’s eye and heart. Facts are meshed with personalities to provide a full complement of the actual events at Ekaterinburg. This story has been told before in bits and pieces but never the ending and never so fully and perhaps never so well. 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thrillers anyone?

If you like thrillers and missed these  older ones  most if not all of these are now in paperback. The notes on each book are short  - I decided if you want more 
information you can head to Amazon or Barnes and Noble websites!

1. Jill Gregory & Karen Tintori The Book of Names***  
 Interesting and well written mystery/thriller about an ancient text containing the  names of 36 righteous people in each generation
 who must live to keep world “safe." (And you thought you were having a bad day?)

2. David Ignatius, Body of Lies*** It is a complex snare to attract Al Queda operatives – you'll wonder if it is non-fiction  because it sounds like it could be true…
It's well written, interesting and very readable! (and yes Hollywood based a 2008 movie of the same name on Ignatius' novel -  Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio starred). 
I'm excited that his new book 
The Increment will be out in May. Lucky me - I get to read an advance copy! So watch a review. 

3. Brian McGrory Strangled ***What if the real Boston Strangler was still alive and started killing again?
This novel explores that very scenario and proceeds with  the premise  that because of his false confession the wrong man was sent to prison.  As you read this book you'll want to leave on the light. And lock the door. And the windows. And get a big dog with very big teeth. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

A little Lincoln anyone?

The Obama presidency along with the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth have again brought the 16th president to the forefront of the American mind.  The tall, often sad looking, care-worn lawyer from Illinois was perhaps America's greatest President. 
Lincoln's Gettysburg address held in such reverence today for it's simple eloquence and memorized by school children across the US was not the keynote address for the dedication of the cemetary at the Pennsylvania battlefield. The President was given two minutes following the main speaker who gave a two hour oration. Lincoln's brief words, less than two minutes,  have echoed through the years thanks to newspapers printing the remarks following 
the dedication. While his actual speech may not have been stirring or memorable, the words themselves in printed form became a part of America's historical memory and social conscience. Few school children have not learned a portion of the piece that begins..."Four score and seven years ago..". 

It seems appropriate that during this bicentennial year so many new Lincoln related books should make their debut (and be added to the hundreds already in print).  There seems to be one for every type of reader from the youngest of children to the most esoteric non-fiction fan. 
Here are a few  recommendations:
for children if you've ever seen a book illustrated by Kadir Nelson you'll understand why this one is a top choice :
Abe's Honest Words: The Life Of Abraham Lincoln
Written by Doreen Rappaport (remember her wonderful MLK  book  Martin's Big Words?) Well this one captures Lincoln's thirst for knowledge, his conscience, his struggle to gain an education and his will to succeed through many hardships. 

If youngsters around your house ask if a president ever reads letters they  
 write to the occupant of the Oval Office, then an older book called Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers, based on a true story will reassure them that indeed someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is paying attention to America's children.   Eleven year old Grace Bedell wrote to the president and suggested that he grow a beard - the beard that is now part of his historic image. The original letter is included with the book by Karen Winnick that so beautifully tells the story of Grace and her Mr. Lincoln. A must read for kids and parents alike.

If you enjoy poetry and would like to discover some of Lincoln's own poems as well as ones written about him such as Walt Whitman's O' Captain My Captain," or Vachel Lindsays' "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight," check out this link.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

If you like:

Ready to find a new author? Looking for a great read but want to stick with the same genre? Here are a few ideas that may get you started.
If you like: Brad Thor  or Vince Flynn  try Brian Haig 
  While you don't need to start with his first book SECRET SANCTION, you should because 
all his books are well worth the time. 

If you like:   Jeff Shaara,
 Steven Pressfield, Robin Maxwell try: Conn Iggulden
His Genghis Khan series is great reading not 
just entertaining but also fasci
nating for its historical content.

and if you like James Rollins try : Steve Berry 
 And if you are
 fascinated by Templar lore don't miss Berry's book...

Other Templar related series 
or books I recommend are: Jack Whyte, Robyn Young
 and Raymond Khoury

Sunday, March 8, 2009

2009 Recommendations: Two to Buy

If you need a chick lit fix try THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS... it's about finding your way when tragedy has so profoundly shaped your life that ghosts from your past travel with you to the future. This book uses great cooking, a delightful chef, a Hollywood movie writer/producer/restaurant owning romantic interest, a lovable dog, Aspen settings and some universal truths that make it readable and bring the characters into your heart.

While I am a true Red Sox Nation supporter, I had to read Joe Torre's book 
THE YANKEE YEARS. Baseball fans will enjoy his stories from the club house and even some of us who dislike Jeter will respect the shortstop after reading about his leadership and professionalism as outlined by Torre. Too bad the same couldn't be said about Torre's treatment at the hands of Yankee management. The Torre years in NYC included many great ones and it is all here, the players, the pennants, the good, the bad, the suspicions, the steroids, the hype and the forgotten players. A fascinating look at major league baseball by one of the all time greats.

Scaling Mt. Everest

I picked up this Jeffrey Archer book having no idea of the content but because I like his writing. I could not put it down and spent the afternoon reading the story of Englishman and mountaineer George Mallory, who dreamed of being the first to scale Mt. Everest. In the early to mid 1920's he along with other climbers funded by the Royal Geographical Society attempted and perhaps reached the summit (the real mystery is if he did or not.)

The story, however, is not so much if he reached the peak but about his love of climbing, his zest for life, his enthusiasm and courage for trying not once but several times in the face of daunting odds, the tug of family ties and his code of honor. It's not about Mallory the climber so much as Mallory the man. Archer does such a wonderful job of making Mallory live in these pages that the reader feels the Englishman’s passion for admission to Cambridge, his need to stand for Britain in the Great War, and even the cold harsh wind he encounters on Mt. Everest. It is the closest most of us will ever come to scaling a mountain and Archer makes sure we understand the commitment, dedication and sheer joy of the trek. What a way to spend the afternoon. I have absolutely no interest in rock climbing or mountaineering but this book is about finding your talent and doing what you love. Romantics will appreciate the letters he writes to his wife and anyone who appreciates good writing will be pleased with this book.