Sunday, February 26, 2017

REVIEW: Bury the Living by Jodi McIsaac

Bury the Living
by Jodi McIsaac

Publisher: 47North
Page Count: 302
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Kindle

First attention getter: genre and synopsis


From GoodReads:

Rebellion has always been in the O’Reilly family’s blood. So when faced with the tragic death of her brother during Northern Ireland’s infamous Troubles, a teenage Nora joined the IRA to fight for her country’s freedom. Now, more than a decade later, Nora is haunted by both her past and vivid dreams of a man she has never met.

When she is given a relic belonging to Brigid of Kildare, patron saint of Ireland, the mystical artifact transports her back eighty years—to the height of Ireland’s brutal civil war. There she meets the alluring stranger from her dreams, who has his own secrets—and agenda. Taken out of her own time, Nora has the chance to alter the fortunes of Ireland and maybe even save the ones she loves. In this captivating and adventurous novel from Jodi McIsaac, history belongs to those with the courage to change it.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

A tale filled with Irish folklore, history, and time travel, this book was tailor-made to please my palate. In the beginning, things started a bit slow. A lot of time was spent on building up Nora as a character and the background that developed her. Yet, as the story progresses, things picked up quickly, and the story railroaded to a suspenseful finale that left me on the edge of my seat.

I felt the time spent on Nora’s development was ultimately time well spent. The audience gets to see where her motivations come from and see her personality grow from a teen on the rocks to a mature, courageous woman. I felt like I got to know Nora from the inside out, which made the sometimes tragic events that happened feel all the more real.

I've been on an Irish history kick lately so this book was right up my alley. Traveling back to the height of the Irish civil war, Nora started her journey with an explosive situation as she experiences the horror of Ballyseedy. From that seminal event, the story takes the audience and Nora on a suspenseful tale of war, tragedy, family, and magic.

I love how the author explored the pain the Civil War generated, pitting friend against friend, family against each other. Seeing how women prisoners had it in Kilmainham Goal also made for fascinating reading. Exploring their struggle through disrespect, hunger strikes, and creating what they can of a life in prison resonated with me as I've been to Kilmainham Goal, seen the cells, and can't imagine their life. It gives you respect for these women and their struggle.

The hints of Irish folklore and magic added a nice, ethereal spice to the tale. The goddess Brighid is the vehicle for Nora's journey into the past, both as her motivation and the actual medium. Yet, the biggest presence is that of Fionn mac Cumhaill. His legend and struggles drive the story. Nora vows to help him with his curse; in the process, she finds herself growing closer to him on an emotional level. Who he is and his background make for unique challenges to a relationship.

As the start of a trilogy, this book stands solid. It gives a strong background in character development and mythology and Irish history. As the book ends, Nora and Fionn are headed even further into the past, embarking on a journey that proves to be interesting to say the least. I love how the author build up every element of the story and feel comfortable in saying that the rest of the trilogy will be as intriguing as well. I look forward to exploring them all.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

REVIEW : Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

Becoming Josephine
by Heather Webb

Publisher: Plume
Page Count: 310
Release Date: December 31, 2013
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: reviews by other bloggers


From GoodReads:

Rose Tascher sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris to trade her Creole black magic culture for love and adventure. She arrives exultant to follow her dreams of attending Court with Alexandre, her elegant aristocrat and soldier husband. But Alexandre dashes her hopes and abandons her amid the tumult of the French Revolution.

Through her savoir faire, Rose secures her footing in high society, reveling in handsome men and glitzy balls—until the heads of her friends begin to roll.

After narrowly escaping death in the blood-drenched cells of Les Carmes prison, she reinvents herself as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. Yet her youth is fading, and Josephine must choose between a precarious independence and the love of an awkward suitor. Little does she know, he would become the most powerful man of his century- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Becoming Josephine is a novel of one woman's journey to find eternal love and stability, and ultimately to find herself.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

I chose to indulge in another look at Josephine after reading an account that left a bad taste in my mouth. In the previous take, she is portrayed as a shallow and vain woman, only interested in her own survival and self-indulgence. I found few redeeming qualities in her. I didn't want that to be my last take on her so I cracked open this novel, knowing it had some great reviews. I'm glad I did as Heather Webb has woven an intricate tale of a woman caught in the maelstrom of change and revolution yet who is able to keep her personality intact, navigating cruel politics and personal relationships.

Josephine’s characterization in this book has saved her as a woman for me. She still has some of the hallmarks from the previous take on her I read; she still uses sex for survival of times and there still a hint of the self-serving there. Yet, in this portrayal, there’s so much more. She's a loving mother, a caring friend, compassionate to those less fortunate, and a sharp intelligence when it comes to politics and diplomatic maneuvering. As she navigates the agony of the French Revolution, a marriage on the rocks, and the turbulence of Napoleon’s Empire, one can't help but root for her, despite her flaws. I grew to appreciate her for all her aspects.

Besides Josephine, the item that really shines in this novel is the secondary characters. Where in the previous book secondaries are flat and stereotypical, they shine here. For example, Josephine's first husband Alexander is still a douche in the beginning in the way he treats her. Yet, he's also a passionate believer in change for the masses. He's a loving father and towards the end of his life, a friend to Josephine. They come to an understanding and part on good terms as the tragedy of the revolution enveloped them personally.

I also enjoyed the portrayal of Barras and Napoleon. Both are depicted as human with both virtues and vices. Barras isn't a sexual deviant; he's a caring friend who just enjoys the physical aspects of friendship and loving. Napoleon is still the intense autocratic leader of the French people. Yet, he's also a man who loves passionately, to the point of obsession. Even after his relationship with Josephine is altered irrevocably from betrayals, he still relies on her for diplomatic advice and cares for her deeply.

The whirlwind scene of revolution and bloodshed makes for a terrifying back drop to Josephine’s story. On both sides of the Atlantic, she faces death, destruction, and change. The author holds no punches back as she describes a world on the brink of upheaval. I felt like I was right there in the action along with Josephine, facing each scene of blood and tragedy. Webb also brings to life the glitter of balls and salons, the intellect and emotion of both things coming across sharp and clear.

This book breathed fresh air into Josephine, her fellow characters, and the bloody world of revolution. I found everything vivid in their portrayals, and the characters vibrant with life. I succeeded in my objective when I originally started this book; my understanding of Josephine and her life were revolutionized (pun intended LOL). This book was engrossing where previous was not. If you're looking for a look at Josephine and her life, look no further than this novel. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

REVIEW: The Fire By Night by Teresa Messineo

The Fire By Night
by Teresa Messineo

Publisher: William Morrow
Page Count: 320
Release Date: January 17, 2017
Format: ARC Trade Paperback

How got: LibraryThing giveaway ARC

First attention getter:synopsis


From GoodReads:

A powerful and evocative debut novel about two American military nurses during World War II that illuminates the unsung heroism of women who risked their lives in the fight—a riveting saga of friendship, valor, sacrifice, and survival combining the grit and selflessness of Band of Brothers with the emotional resonance of The Nightingale.

In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.

Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.

When the conflict at last comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship, and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Not holding back when it comes to the hard descriptions of war, this debut author has created a book worthy of losing a few hours in. Be prepared to ignore daily life and the need for sleep while reading this. There are a few issues holding this book back from true perfection, yet overall the book is in engrossing read.

I love how the author wasn't afraid to explore the truth about war, especially the harshness entailed with World War II. From the blood and pus of army medical tents to the starvation of Japanese internment camps in the Philippines, the author explores the true grit needed to survive such events. I also love how the author didn't let her characters escape such circumstances without some effect. Life decisions and goals grow and change as the girls experience pain and tragedy.

Of the two girl’s storyline, I enjoyed Jo the most. This might have been, in part, because more time is spent on her story; she is the more developed of the two. The lengths she goes to protect the men under her care and provide for them while stuck behind enemy lines shows true grit and survival instinct. She demonstrates the true heroism of the Army nurse during World War II. I found myself captivated by her story and by Jo herself. I loved how the author explored Jo’s PTSD as well; it’s refreshing to see an author explore how it affected the women in war as well as the men.

Kay's story wasn't as engrossing for me, which is odd given the circumstances of her story. She doesn't face less horrors then Jo; yet, I found myself more intrigued by the other girl. What we got, though, of Kay’s story did make for a fascinating tale. She faces the invasion of the Philippines and the tragedy of Japanese internment camps with the other Allies stuck behind Japanese lines. The few chapters we got of her (so short!) were packed with emotional turbulence and pain. Again, I love that the author showed the impact the events had on Kay's personality and outlook on life. She is forever changed by her experiences in World War II’s South Pacific theater.

Beyond the unevenness of story balance between our two women, the only other issue I have is the unexpected scene shifts the author makes. Sometimes happening even mid paragraph, the author will jump locations and even timelines with no warning to the reader. I feel the author was trying to go for flashbacks. But the absolute no warning that we're going to shift tales threw me from the narrative more than once. A subtle break, more space between paragraphs or a small paragraph break bar or something would've been appreciated. Maybe this is a personal thing. All the reviews I've read of this book don't mention this aspect at all; maybe it's just me.

Despite those few small issues, I found the story a worthy addition to the body of World War II historical fiction out there. The reader is drawn into the story of army nurses who face the same dangers and pain as the soldiers yet were rarely given the respect of the same. Our two girls grow incredibly, maturing and changing as they face tragedy after tragedy. The high emotional tone of the book draws you into their story and makes you root for them, chapter by chapter. Even though I was thrown from the narrative now and then by those ambushing breaks, I still devoured this book and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys World War II historical fiction.

Note: Book received for free from the publisher via a LibraryThing giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, February 6, 2017

REVIEW: Two Empresses by Brandy Purdy

Two Empresses
by Brandy Purdy

Publisher: Kensington
Page Count: 384
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Format: Kindle ARC

How got: ARC from NetGalley

First attention getter: synopsis


From GoodReads:

1779, France. On the island paradise of Martinique, two beautiful, well-bred cousins have reached marriageable age. Sixteen-year-old Rose must sail to France to marry Alexander, the dashing Vicomte de Beauharnais. Golden-haired Aimee will finish her education at a French convent in hopes of making a worthy match.

Once in Paris, Rose’s illusions are shattered by her new husband, who casts her off when his mistress bears him a son. Yet revolution is tearing through the land, changing fortunes—and fates—in an instant, leaving Rose free to reinvent herself. Soon she is pursued by a young general, Napoleon Bonaparte, who prefers to call her by another name: Josephine.

Presumed dead after her ship is attacked by pirates, Aimee survives and is taken to the Sultan of Turkey’s harem. Among hundreds at his beck and call, Aimee’s loveliness and intelligence make her a favorite not only of the Sultan, but of his gentle, reserved nephew. Like Josephine, the newly crowned Empress of France, Aimee will ascend to a position of unimagined power. But for both cousins, passion and ambition carry their own burden.

From the war-torn streets of Paris to the bejeweled golden bars of a Turkish palace, Brandy Purdy weaves some of history’s most compelling figures into a vivid, captivating account of two remarkable women and their extraordinary destinies.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 2

My introduction to this author, this book stood out as hard to finish and left a bad taste in my mouth. The only thing the author got right, for the most part, was the scene setting and a bit on one characterization. Beyond that, I hope this book isn't an example of what I can expect from other works by this writer. If so, I think I'll skip those.

One area the author excelled, again for the most part, was the scene setting and historical details. Tropical Martinique, revolutionary Paris, and exotic Istanbul all stand out as unique settings. Lush with details and vivid descriptions, I could easily see the scenes portrayed and enjoy the background at least.

However, even here the author has an issue. There were times where her settings came off as almost comical and caricatures of the real thing. Maybe she was trying too hard at description, but it backfired on her. Revolutionary Paris, at times, seemed way too sexualized. Some of the descriptions of Josephine's experiences between marrying Napoleon and losing her first husband are comical to say the least, though I don't think the author meant it to be. Maybe her portrayals have some basis in historical fact; I’m not a historian for the time. However, her portrayals didn't come over as fact.

The author also has a problem with the Sultans court and his harem in Istanbul. Again, the scenes come off as caricatures and stereotypes of the real thing. I mean, Aimee's story comes right out of Arabian nights! The way the harem women dressed/acted, the details of daily life, and just the overall atmosphere seemed unreal. Again, I am not a scholar for this time or locale, so maybe the author had some basis for her portrayals. But if so, that didn't come across on the page.

And then there are the characterizations. I'm sorry to say that Josephine is shallow, vapid, has no common sense, and is a slut, not a descriptor that I like to use but fits the bill here. Every action Josephine takes is motivated for her own self-preservation or to make her life easier. Her portrayal makes her unsympathetic in the extreme. While maybe realistic to a degree, Josephine made me hate her more than empathize with her.

Aimee is kinda the opposite. Showing at least some intelligence, her character is far more sympathetic than Josephine’s. However, there's only a slight improvement. Aimee, unfortunately, goes to the other extreme of the character spectrum. She's too perfect! And until the very end, she's a freaking doormat. She doesn't actually do anything, the events of the story happened to her. She just sits there and either observes or just reacts. However, at least at the end, she did something proactive. That saved her storyline for me.

And then, to add one more stick to this fire pile of horror, the author completely screwed up her story balance. One of the things that first drew me to this title was the tale of two women caught up in the flow of history and how they made their way to places of power in different societies.

Well, this book isn’t about that. This book is about Josephine with a few side chapters about Aimee. A shame as, of the two, Aimee is easily the more enjoyable of a character. So much time is spent on Josephine’s story that Aimee is left on the wayside. I feel that if more time had been spent on Aimee’s tale, she might not have been as much of a doormat as she was; she might've had more time to actually do something. We would have gotten a fascinating tale of survival and harem politics rather than the sexcapades of Josephine. Missed opportunity there, author.

As you can see, my ultimate emotion with this title was disappointment. I had high hopes of a tale rife with excitement and exploring two women, one of whom have been lost to history. What I got was a messy soup of over-the-top historical scenes, extreme and unenjoyable characterizations, and a story balance that was a disservice to both women. If this is an example of the author’s usual writing, I don't think I'll be hunting out her other books immediately. There are better offers out there. Maybe this is just a low point; I'll let you be the judge. Yet, I wouldn't recommend this author off this book alone.

Note: Book was received for free from the publisher via Netgallery in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

REVIEW: Venus in Winter by Gillian Bagwell

Venus in Winter
by Gillian Bagwell

Publisher: Berkley
Page Count: 448
Release Date: July 2, 2013
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: obscure female historical figure


From GoodReads

On her twelfth birthday, Bess of Hardwick receives the news that she is to be a waiting gentlewoman in the household of Lady Zouche. Armed with nothing but her razor-sharp wit and fetching looks, Bess is terrified of leaving home. But as her family has neither the money nor the connections to find her a good husband, she must go to facilitate her rise in society.

When Bess arrives at the glamorous court of King Henry VIII, she is thrust into a treacherous world of politics and intrigue, a world she must quickly learn to navigate. The gruesome fates of Henry’s wives convince Bess that marrying is a dangerous business. Even so, she finds the courage to wed not once, but four times. Bess outlives one husband, then another, securing her status as a woman of property. But it is when she is widowed a third time that she is left with a large fortune and even larger decisions—discovering that, for a woman of substance, the power and the possibilities are endless . . .

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 2.5

A book purported to be about Bess of Hardwick, I looked forward to exploring the life of such an important figure in female history during the Elizabethan age. From what I've gleaned from Wikipedia and other research sources, I knew her to come from rough beginning to rise as one of the wealthiest women of her era, ancestress of throne claimants. However, what I got from this book was the history of the Tudors through the eyes of an onlooker. NOT what I wanted from this title…

I will say the author does a great job with historical details and scene setting. I got a clear mental picture of the glamour inherent to Tudor courts. The sumptuous fabrics of court costumes and the splendor of palaces and castles were easily visualized. This part of the book was experienced rather than just read.

The bits actually about Bess were intriguing. The author started out well, giving us a family situation hovering on the brink of poverty and debtors prison. Bess is lucky enough to find connections that launch her into court life where she finds opportunities to better herself and help her family. Throughout the book, Bess shows some intelligence and ability in being able to balance the dangers of intrigue and power-shifts as Henry the Eighth's family and courtiers vie for the throne. She protects and provides for her family, husband, and children as best she can in an ever shifting world.

However, I felt the author spent so little time on Beth herself that this book shouldn't be touted as a work on her. More time was spent talking about the history of the Tudor family, the various events in the different reigns of that dynasty. Little was shown on how those events impacted Beth and her family; it seemed like I was presented with a timeline of the various Tudor reigns rather than a book on Bess of Hardwick.

Despite having shown some intelligence, Beth’s characterization overall is of a doormat. She's too perfect. She's the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect friend, and perfect subject. She's ever loyal and ever true. At least seeing her beginning with some aspects of her intelligence showcased saved her character in this book.

And then the author makes the added insult in neglecting to include the most dramatic and interesting part of Bess' life, that of her last marriage and her involvement with the jailing of Mary Queen of Scots. Of all her marriages, this one probably was the rockiest and most problematic. I think the including of this part of the story of her life would have helped elevate my doormat image of her. I think the author missed a golden opportunity by excluding this part of her life. It would have lifted the book from mediocrity into a truly enjoyable historical fiction, on a woman that stood out in history.

From the author notes, the author makes it clear that she wanted to concentrate on Beth early life. So the exclusion of that last part of her life, I suppose I can understand. However, this book still stands out only for how bland it is. Concentrating more on individuals that have had volumes and volumes written about them, I think the author missed the boat when it came to the opportunity on portraying a historical woman that could stand to have more exploration done on her herself. What little I got only made me thirst for more, but what I got to round out those wonderful glimpses was a doormat of a woman who is too perfect to be real. If you're looking for a light read and not expecting much, maybe give this book a look. However, I wouldn't go out of my way to look for a copy.

Friday, February 3, 2017

REVIEW: Witch Hunt: Of The Blood by various

Witch Hunt: Of The Blood
by Devin O'Branagan, Suzanne Hayes Campbell, Keri Lake, Krista Walsh, K. L. Schwengel

: self
Page Count: 364
Release Date: December 8, 2012
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: enjoyed book 1


From GoodReads:

Five novellas based on Devin O'Branagan's bestselling novel, Witch Hunt.

The anthology begins with O'Branagan's own novella about the Hawthorne matriarch, Vivian. She and her fellow British witches work together to prevent a Nazi invasion during World War II. Then there is Colonial maiden, Bridget, who struggles with the guilt of failing her family in Salem, 1692. Her younger sister, Prissy, mysteriously disappears and finds another magical world. Julia, torn by family loyalties, love, and her spiritual quest, pays a huge price to continue the bloodline. And Miranda uses her powers against the great influenza outbreak of 1918 - but finds the ultimate foe is prejudice against her kind.

Discover what was left out of Witch Hunt and revisit your favorite characters with these exciting novellas.The story isn't done until the battle's lost and won.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

I was already a fan of the first book in the series that I read back in October on my family road trip. That book was one of my best reads of 2016; so needless to say, this collection of short stories that explore some of the secondary characters from that book was a must read for me. For the most part, it held true to its promise, but it lacks the magic (sorry for the pun LOL) of the original work.

I enjoyed exploring the background and personality quirks of some of the lesser characters from the original. I think Vivian especially benefited from a second look. In the original, she comes off as a bit of a bitch with little to recommend her. Yet, her tale in the collection gave us more of a look at why her personality developed as it did and why her distrust of non-witches is so strong. The actions that she takes in book one are more understandable after watching her core personality develop.

My favorite tale though, hands-down, is Madeline. The idea of exploring the Spanish flu and how witchcraft, or the illusion there of, might influence the actions of those in that time period was fascinating to explore. Madeline herself also made the story. I loved her dedication to her craft and her vulnerability when love finally found her. It was the end of that tale, though, that cemented my love. The author showed incredible bravery to go where she did, and this reader, at least, appreciated the journey. Definitely have a hanky handy for this story.

I also liked that the tales in this book, for the most part, followed in the footsteps of the original in their tone. The first book stood out in that it wasn't afraid to explore harsh and tragic themes in all their blaring light. The tales in this anthology follow suit. Not every story has a happy ending, and the one that does, isn't smooth sailing. We get to see an early modern version of a witchhunt, character death, and horrific pain. These tales will break your heart just as much as the original book does, so be forewarned on that point.

My one disappointment for this book, though, was that for some of the characters, I didn't feel as invested with their stories as others. Priscilla I actually found a bit boring. I guess compared to all the drama and tragedy of her other family members, her tale was fairly tame. I also had a hard time connecting to Julia's tale, even though it was loaded with as much drama and despair as Vivian’s.

Though not all the characters grabbed me as strongly as others, this collection of character pieces still stand as a worthy follow up to book one. Secondary characters are more fleshed out and the overall mythology of the witch world Devin's created is added to. If you liked book one, definitely check out this one!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

REVIEW: Marlene by C. W. Gortner

by C. W. Gortner

Publisher: William Morrow
Page Count: 432
Release Date: May 24, 2016
Format: Hardcover

How got: local library

First attention getter: subject matter


From GoodReads:

A lush, dramatic biographical novel of one of the most glamorous and alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age, Marlene Dietrich, from the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the lush film studios of Hollywood—a sweeping story of passion, glamour, ambition, art, and war from the author of Mademoiselle Chanel.

Raised in genteel poverty after the first World War, Maria Magdalena Dietrich dreams of a life on the stage. When a budding career as a violinist is cut short, the willful teenager vows to become a singer, trading her family’s proper, middle class society for the free-spirited, louche world of Weimar Berlin’s cabarets and drag balls. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, seductive silk cocktail dresses, and androgynous tailored suits, Marlene performs to packed houses, and becomes entangled in a series of stormy love affairs that push the boundaries of social convention.

For the beautiful, desirous Lili Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler and the Nazis rise to power, she sets sail for America. Rivaling the success of another European import, Greta Garbo, Marlene quickly becomes one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, starring with legends such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Cary Grant. Desperate for her return, Hitler tries to lure her with dazzling promises. Marlene instead chooses to become an American citizen, and after her new nation is forced into World War II, tours with the USO, performing for thousands of Allied troops in Europe and Africa.

But one day she will return to Germany. Escorted by General George Patton himself, Marlene is heartbroken by the war’s devastation and the evil legacy of the Third Reich that has transformed her homeland and the family she loved.

An enthralling and insightful account of this extraordinary legend, Marlene reveals the inner life of a woman of grit, glamour, and ambition who defied convention, seduced the world, and forged her own path on her own terms.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Ah Gortner... He's one of those authors that you know is going to be good when reading his works. He knows how to create dramatic characters in an equally dramatic setting to create a story that stands out. This book is no different!

Before starting this work, the most I knew about Marlene Dietrich was that she was a famous black and white movie actress from the World War II era and that she was an ardent anti-Nazi. What the author has done has flesh her out so completely that I felt I was meeting someone completely new. He gives her such a rich background and shows us as she develops into the personality history comes to know, that the reader can't help but be held fixated by.

I love how the author showed us so many aspects of her background. World War I, acting school, her many affairs, and her nightlife in decadent 1920s Berlin all show us the complex character that can't be fit in any one character mold. She's one of those personalities that defies convention and compartmentalization.

Her best admirable aspect, though, that the author showed was Marlene’s brash disregard for how the world saw her. She didn't let society, family, lovers, or the movie industry dictate who she was or how she thought. Any woman who has the balls to show even a small part of her true self to the world is to be admired.

Then of course, there is the author’s usual talent at historical detail. Not only is history explored and used to develop Marlene; equal measure is given to history itself. The author gives us an intimate and intricate look at a society on the brink. The interwar years in Germany were a time of great change, with political organizations popping into and out of office with disturbing regularity. Berlin provides an incredible backdrop for the story of both Marlene and of the development of Germany into the fascist state we knew it became. It was fascinating to see how Berlin developed from decadent night clubs where porn shows were the norm to a city full of jack boots and censorship. Seeing Germany's descent into madness through Marlene’s eyes contributed to the overall historical tone of the story as well as to her own growth and journey.

Needless to say, even though the year is yet young, I think I'm safe to say this book is among my best of 2017. The author has created a glorious story of a country in flux, torn between so many mirrors of itself that no one knows the true Germany. Along with that tale, we get a hell of a woman who is full of grit, courage, and enough ambition to topple Hollywood. Marlene is one of those personalities that you can't help but love and admire. It's safe to say that I will be looking for more of this author’s work, if this book is any indicator of his level as a writer.