Citizens of London by Lynne Olson

First and foremost, this is not a biography like I thought it was going to be. This is a history book about World War II. Which was kind of a surprise since the description of the book makes it out to be more biographical about the three most important American men in London at the time of the war. Now, this did not make me like the book any less. I thought it would honestly, but it was so well-written that I didn’t really care in the end that the book was more about Roosevelt and Churchill than the American liaisons in London.

From the description of the book, it was supposed to be about Averell Harriman, John Gilbert Winant, and Edward Murrow, the three most influential Americans in London at the time of World War II. Winant was the American envoy to the United Kingdom and every Londoner’s favorite person. He was all about the people at the height of the war sometimes avoiding other officials in favor of speaking to soldiers. Harriman was the U.S. representative sent to London in order to oversee the distribution of Lend-Lease funds for England. He managed to get more attention that Winant by befriending Churchill and getting in on many private meetings. Murrow, the most famous voice from World War II, was the U.S. CBS news correspondent who brought the sounds and descriptions of the war into American and British homes.

The first half of the book read like I thought it would. We got backgrounds on all three men and their experience in London during the Blitz. We learned how each man was received by the London population and how their experiences helped them influence President Roosevelt into entering the war to aid England. The second half of the book read more like a history book. We were mostly told about military men and military strategy. We did get to meet more influential Americans such as Dwight Eisenhower and Tommy Hitchcock and we were told about their experiences in the war as well. Near the end, however, the book kept alluding to the three main men and how they adjusted to the end of the war. I just thought that it was kind of a weird mix reading about Roosevelt and Churchill’s own strategies while also learning about the personal lives of these men after the fighting ended.

Overall the book was extremely well-written. Olson was able to capture the passion of the London citizens as well as the passion of the American men that they welcomed into their lives during their darkest period in modern history. IMG_1084

Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

I think it’s safe to say that Julian Fellowes has become one of my favorite authors. Not only because he writes about my favorite subject: British nobility; but because he writes about them so well and in a way that I have not read from other authors. I read his book Snobs and thought that it was a good read. Very detailed and telling about the gentry families of England. Past Imperfect is very different. He still writes about the high families and their posh lifestyle, but this book gets psychological about the nobility.

The story follows the narrator on a quest for a former enemy to find his illegitimate child by a woman from their youth. Of course, the narrator is reluctant at first to relive the Debutante Season of 1968, but when he learns that Damian Baxter is a dying man, he gives in to his whims to track down the child. Our narrator must travel back in time and he takes us readers on quite a journey.

The description on the back of the book tells me all of this and I expected a well-told life history of debutante balls, fancy dinners, and teenage shenanigans. I got what I was expecting, but with a little twist in which the narrator also describes the current lives of the women he revisits which are less than happy ones. We visit a woman with a husband who cannot be trusted with money; a woman with a bully banker for a husband; one who’s been the love of the narrator’s life for forty years; a Californian, plastic-surguried woman who has had more than her fair share of husbands; and a husband of one of the women who died a tragic death. Our narrator goes on an emotional roller coaster trying to find the child in question to satisfy a dying man’s request.

I already knew I would like the book because Fellowes writes really well. Every manor house we visit is described in perfect detail. Every instance of well-born routine is perfectly executed. His writing is part of the reason I want to be a part of that world so badly. I appreciated, though, that he wrote about less-than-perfect situations. It opened my eyes to a world I want to be a part of so badly, and made me realize that it’s not all fancy parties and exquisite balls. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that these people don’t have their own problems, but I rarely get to read about them.

I hope Julian Fellowes keeps writing. There are still other books of his I need to get my hands on. Other noble families that need their stories told. Even if they are fictional.

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A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

How could you do that to me Schwab? Leaving me (and other readers of the series) on a cliff-hanger like that. It’s just cruel.

Kell and Lila are four months past their defeat of the Dane twins in White London. Kell struggles with his new life as the prince Rhy’s personal vessel. Lila sails the Arnesian Sea with Captain Alucard Emery aboard the Night Spire. They will all come together in the Arnesian capital for the Essen Tesch. The Element Games. Meanwhile, something foreboding is brewing in White London, preparing to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting Red and Grey Londons.

Schwab’s writing is riveting. I can feel my own pulse quickening with all of the action that goes down in this book. I can feel anger when characters get mad. I feel anxiety when characters get nervous. Luckily Schwab ‘s books aren’t ultra-vivid, otherwise I would be in an immense amount of pain throughout reading them. The story in this second of the series is great. The idea of games for those that can wield elements with magic is intriguing (and very like the Tri-Wizard Tournament, so I approve).

That cliff-hanger ending though. In a moment when people are dying, but not saying they’re actually dead yet. A moment where someone is about to discover what they really are, but not telling readers the result. It’s maddening. Now I have to wait until I purchase the third book. I feel like a caged lion. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!?!?!

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Daughter of York by Anne Easter Smith

Here we are again diving into the world of British nobility/royalty. Only this time, it’s better because it’s The War of the Roses. My favorite time period in English history. Brothers betrayed brothers. Uncles betrayed nephews. Husbands betrayed wives. It was a mess that spanned 30 years, four kings and ended one of the largest dynasties in royal history.

This particular book is about Margaret York, sister of Edward IV and takes place just as Edward seizes the throne in place of the mad king Henry VI and his wife Margaret Anjou. Most of this book actually takes place during a relatively peaceful lull in the War of the Roses. Margaret grows up in her big brother’s court learning from her mother, the great Cecily Neville, about how to be a gracious host and fierce diplomat. She falls in love with Anthony Woodville, brother to King Edward’s wife Elizabeth. Then, Margaret is married to Charles Duke of Burgundy and must hide her love for Anthony. She watches the events in England from afar as she cares for her stepdaughter Mary. She watches as her brother Edward loses the throne and gets it back again. She watches her two other brothers George and Richard betray and stand by Edward respectively. All of this while serving England to the best of her ability.

It’s a large book. It took a while to get through. Anne Easter Smith is so detailed in describing the surroundings of the characters. She beautifully describes the palaces Margaret visits, the cities she frequents, and the people around her. I feel like I know royal court personally.

Obviously Anne Easter Smith did not live during the time period so she had to invent some things. The one thing she invents that I though I was going to have a problem with was the dwarf Margaret comes to own. Fortunata was a strange choice of confidante to give Margaret. At first I didn’t like it because I thought Smith made her far too important for an invented character. But as the story wore on, she grew on me. Finally, at Fortunata’s death scene, I found myself bawling like a baby at the loss of the character.

Books like this are hard to criticize because a lot of it actually happened and no one alive today was there to see it. I can’t really be critical of the author without being critical of the events. It was a good story and Anne Easter Smith told it very well.

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Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

She’s done it again. Aveyard has drug me further down the rabbit hole that is this series. She did it with action, politics, and emotion and I can’t get enough.

Mare Barrow is back with the Scarlet Guard. She’s got the brother she thought she lost, the exiled prince, and a heap of guilt on her conscience. She and her team sweep the country finding more people like her and her brother: red-blooded with silver-like abilities. They need to find them before the newly-crowned, deranged King Maven can get to them and kill them, or worse, hand them over to his mother to use as puppets.

In all honesty, you can easily tell that this series is meant for teens. The writing is good, but super angsty. There is also a lot of emphasis on blood. I get it, the classes are separated by blood color, but just tone it down a little. Despite that, I love this series. The story is great and the twists are better.

Bring on the third book!

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Another series, another fandom.

There are four Londons. Grey London as we know it. Red London, a world of magic and element control. White London, where death and power reign supreme. And Black London, which has been sealed off to the rest for fear of a dangerous magic within,

Out main character Kell is from Red London. He is Antari, a race of magicians that is nearly extinct. He can travel through the different Londons ans uses the ability to smuggle items between the three. But when he ends up with a mysterious stone (a product of Black London) and a curious girl Lilah (a product of Grey London) he is thrown into a journey to Black London in which, along the way, he must battle the powers of White London.

I’m a sucker for authors that create their own countries, languages, religions, cultures, etc. This book offers it all. I was submersed into a world of magic and danger and I loved every minute of it. Schwab did a wonderful job of creating characters and histories of the worlds she thought up. I love the parallels of the different Londons. How they all sort of have the same layout, but are so so different. I also like how some of the magic in this book only works with blood. It’s definitely not what I’m used to.

I cannot wait to continue the series.

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The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

Nicholas Flamel. When I read the description on the back of the book, it was this name that caught my attention. My Potterhead senses tingled. Unfortunately the book has nothing to do with J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece. Nonetheless I was intrigued.

Nick Flamel and his wife Perry have been alive many millennia thanks to The Book of Abraham the Mage or The Codex. They can make The Elixir of Life, they can turn any metal into gold, and they also have extraordinary powers. They’re also being hunted by Doctor John Dee who wants The Codex for evil reasons. Josh and Sophie Newman wind up helping Flamel and learning that there is a prophecy in the Codex that refers to twins such as themselves. Thus, a book series is born.

The writing is juvenile, but I can’t really be mad at that since I found the book in Teen Fantasy. It managed to keep me reading and that’s what counts. The only real issue I had (along with other critics of the book) was the inconsistencies of Josh and Sophie. One moment they are terrified of the events that they’ve been through and can think of nothing but going home. Next, they tell Flamel that they are ready to fight and are willing to do anything to help him. But again, I can’t really be too critical of the see-saw feelings because Josh and Sophie are supposed to be fifteen years old and, let’s face it, teenagers are inconsistent and unstable beings.

The aspect of the book that I really enjoyed was the prospect of mythical characters and creatures popping up and being real. At one point in the book, Dr. John Dee wields a Sword of Ice, once called Excalibur, and Flamel muses that he thought Artorius (King Arthur) destroyed the sword. Historical objects and people are my thing and we might get to meet more.

So, will I continue the series? Most likely. Will I buy up and read the books with a cult-like fervor? Probably not.  Am I secretly hoping that during the series we meet a friend of Flamel’s named Albus? You best believe.

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Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Never have I ever read a book that was so in depth about any one subject. If you’ve ever thought about going into the business of wine, you need to read this book (and also be willing to drop everything going on in your life). Bosker took me on a journey that I was not ready for and that I didn’t realize I was craving. She trains for the Certified Sommelier Test like a person whose life depends on passing. Of course, according to the people we meet throughout the book, everyone trains that way.

These people… theses “Somms” are some of the most passionate people on the planet. They talk about this alcoholic beverage as if it has life-changing qualities. And I bought into every single word of it. I fell in love with wine while reading this book, and I still don’t even know that much about it. It made me want to meet Bosker in person and spend a week with her just so she can teach me about wine.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the book though is the scientific outlooks. Bosker met a bunch of doctors whose sole purpose in life was to figure out how our noses work. They helped her better understand the wine she was drinking and train her senses to guess the wine before she tasted it. But Bosker also read studies that put her in doubt about wine having certain characteristics. Studies that proved sometimes we humans can’t tell the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $1000 bottle. There were also studies that showed that those of us who can tell the difference between the bottles, think that the $1000 wine is better just because of its price.

Bosker went on to pass the test and become a certified Sommelier. I applaud her dedication and the dedication of everyone and anyone who finds something that they can throw themselves into wholeheartedly. I wish I could find a career that allowed me to read with as much passion as these people drink wine.

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Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Most “coming-of-age” stories are the same. Or at least, fairly similar. Small-town girl moves to a big city. Girl gets a job in which she struggles at first. Girl falls for a boy that is bad for her while conveniently ignoring the boy that is good for her. In the end, the girl’s dreams come true and she ends up with the good guy. Sweetbitter follows that format for the first few steps, but it has the furthest this from a happy ending that I’ve ever read.

The story of Tess is a common one told in a very uncommon way. It felt like reading philosophy. The way the characters spoke to each other felt like it should have been performed on a stage. The really fucked-up relationships between characters made the story very raw. The rampant sex and illicit drug use made it feel like a teen drama. All of this combined into a great story.

My only issue was with the ending (Spoilers). I’m glad Tess leaves the restaurant. I’m glad that nothing is resolved between her and the bad boy. Stuff like that made the ending intriguing. What I didn’t like was that Tess got fucked (literally) by her boss after asking for a promotion. I lost all respect for Tess that I had gained throughout her story. And then she basically gets fired anyway. Maybe that’s what Danler wanted though. Kind of a broken ending for a very broken character.

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Confessions of a Young Nero by Margaret George

When your mom is willing to murder for you, one would think that their reign as the Roman Emperor was fairly secure. Unfortunately for Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, or just Nero, HIS mother was willing to kill her one-and-only son to ensure she was given equal power. How does one survive such a fatal family member? Stay one step ahead and murder mom before she can murder you. It’s super fucked up I know, but that’s how Nero had to live life.

Margaret George perfectly sums up what life was like for a Roman Emperor. Big-ass houses. Raunchy-ass friends. And the constant threat of murder from you family. She portrayed Nero unlike anyone I’ve read before. Mostly I’ve heard that Nero was an incestuous asshole. Stories say he was vindictive, he lusted after his mom, and, at the end, didn’t seem to care that Rome was burning around him. But George finally makes Nero the victim. And after reading this version of Nero, I would have to agree.

First, he was nearly drowned by his lunatic uncle Caligula. Then, he learned that his mother poisoned the only father figure he had ever known. Finally, the cherry on top, that same mother drugged and seduced her son into a seriously gross night. Nero was screwed from the start. There was no hope.

If you think you have some family drama, I urge you to read about Nero. It will make you feel a lot better about your messed up family. IMG_0895