Book review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Jim recommended this book to me a while back, and he never recommends fiction. His recommendation was well-merited. This is a simply amazing book. The plot involves a Russian aristocrat who is sentenced to house arrest at a Moscow hotel. But the book is so much more than that. It chronicles the massive societal change from the Russian monarchy to post-Stalin Soviet Union. It is a commentary on life and the twists it can take. It deals with love and loyalty and sacrifice. It addresses the complexity of friendship. And it is an intricately plotted and lyrically written book. All of these sentences accurately describe the book, and yet none of them do. All I can say is I rarely give five stars to a book, and I didn’t even hesitate after reading this one. If you haven’t read this book yet, you are missing out (and at 500 pages, it’s an excellent quarantine read!).



View all my reviews

Book review: The British Are Coming by Rick Atkinson

The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A friend gave this book to my husband, but I borrowed it (temporarily, of course) because it looked so interesting. There are generally two types of history books–a narrative history or an agenda-driven history. This is a narrative history.
The second thing I will say about this book is that it is dense. (Which should go without saying since it is 800 pages (including index and bibliography) and covers only 3 years of the Revolutionary War.) It is the first in a planned trilogy.
Finally, I will say if this is a period in history that interests you, this book is a must read. The author uses a plethora of primary sources, and he is skilled at describing both battles–in detail including the location of trees and the weather–and the overall strategy. People get short shrift in this tome, but if you want to know more about the major players of either the American or British side, there are plenty of biographies available. But if what you want is a timeline of the events of the Revolutionary War, how they unfolded, and why they unfolded the way they did, this is definitely the book for you.
Now I’m off to read something light and frothy…but I highly recommend this book!




View all my reviews

Book review: The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh

The Attenbury Emeralds (Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane, #3)

The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I love the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries written by Dorothy Sayers. Jill Paton Walsh has continued the series ably although without as much of the quirky spark as the original series. This particular book is fascinating in that it starts with a case that Lord Peter solved many years ago that is connected to a case brought to Lord Peter and Harriet over thirty years later. The original story was an interesting mystery whose clues are worth paying attention to if you want to solve the current mystery.
And while these books do not have quite the same originality or flavor of the originals, they are a more than adequate substitute, and I have enjoyed them very much. One more in the series to go!



View all my reviews

Book review: Deadly Engagement by Lucinda Brant

Deadly Engagement (Alec Halsey Mystery, #1)

Deadly Engagement by Lucinda Brant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


In this current period of “social distancing,” it’s best to have large amounts of reading material on hand. (Not that my to-be-read pile has done anything but grow over the years.) Enter a Georgian historical mystery series!
This is the first in a series featuring Alec Halsey, the younger son of an Earl and a career diplomat. I really liked Alec as a character and the secondary characters around him were well-portrayed and interesting. The plot also dealt with some issues you don’t typically read about in historical mysteries (no spoilers!) and dealt with them well, in historical context and with nuance. My only complaint is that the climax and ending of the book felt a little rushed. But that is a minor detail in a book that was well-researched with historical detail smoothly incorporated into the writing, an interesting plot, and lovely characters.
I have already bought the second book in the series. 🙂



View all my reviews

Book review: How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is a wake-up call for all parents who are prone to worry, stress, and over-protect their children, which is to say, the majority of us. The author is a former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and draws on her considerable experience dealing with young adults as well as referencing many studies and conversations with other experts to tell us all (with data to prove her points) that we are creating a generation of adults who aren’t able to perform basic life tasks, let alone think for themselves.
The appeal of this book is that the author is optimistic about the future of young adults and provides examples and concrete tips (and lots of reassurances) about how to better parent children to produce independent, productive, and responsible members of society.
While the book is most helpful to parents of younger children, even parents of college students and young adults can benefit.
For those of you who have read my review of “The Coddling of the American Mind,” this book calls out similar themes but provides more practical child-rearing tips.
I highly recommend it!



View all my reviews

Book review: Fire in the Blood by W.R. Gingell

Fire in the Blood (Shards of a Broken Sword #2)

Fire in the Blood by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is the second of a trilogy (the first book being “Twelve Days a Faery.” Both books are standalone in the sense of despite the fact that there is an overarching narrative arc for the trilogy, the stories stand on their own (at least so far).
Rafiq is a dragon who is being held in Thrall by Prince Akish. He’s not a fan of this state of affairs but has resigned himself to his fate. They are off to rescue a princess in an enchanted keep and encounter the princess’s servant, Kako, who offers to help with their quest. Despite the suspicions of both men, they accept her offer, and she accompanies them as they go through the Seven Circles (seven quests) to rescue the princess.
The story is fairly straightforward as is the puzzle. But the author’s strengths are building a world of consistent magic, surprising you just when you think you have everything all figured out, and the depth of her characters. She’s not much on romance, but I forgive her this minor flaw because the characters are so interesting and compelling.
The book is more a novella than a full-length book. It is a fast-paced and easy read. I highly recommend it!



View all my reviews

Book review: Call Sign Chaos by Jim Mattis and Bing West

Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’m not typically a fan of military books on leadership as I often find that the traits that make for strong and capable leaders in the military don’t always translate to the private sector. This book is an exception to that assumption. While Jim Mattis (and his skillful co-author Bing West) draw upon Mattis’s experiences with the Marine Corps to convey their ideas of successful leadership, a surprising amount of their wisdom can be applied to the private sector. Specifically, Mattis’s leadership fundamentals of competence, caring, and conviction ring true as necessary for leaders in all organizations. In addition, his emphasis on recruiting for attitude (rather than skill), transparent communication, and tolerance of mistakes (on the theory that if risk-takers are punished, then only the risk-averse remain) are all values that companies would do well to follow.
And his final point that leaders should shelter non-conformists and mavericks who make institutions uncomfortable is almost comical coming out of an institution better known for conformity, and I appreciated the point even more because of that.
The writing is easy to follow, and the book is a quick read. (Never mind that it took me a couple of months–I was busy!) 🙂
There are interesting examples from his own career that are compelling from a historical perspective, but there’s no doubt that the conclusions he draws about successful leadership are principles that can be used anywhere today. I highly recommend!



View all my reviews

Book review: Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell

Twelve Days of Faery (Shards of a Broken Sword #1)

Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is an original take on a traditional fairy tale plot where unfortunate accidents happen to a prince’s girlfriends/fiancees, and the king has offered a reward to whomever breaks the curse. I enjoyed the first person narrative of the king, who is simultaneously shrewd about ruling his kingdom and oblivious about personal relationships. There is the obligatory mystery of who or what is causing the accidents and delightful world building of the faery world. Interesting backstories are hinted at although not fleshed out.
In fact, my biggest criticism of the book is its novella length. There was so much more in the story that could have been elaborated on, but the short length of the book prevented that from happening. While this book is in no way equal to the author’s Two Monarchies series, it is a pleasant, fun, and unusual story. And the author’s writing is, as always, a pleasure to read.
3.5 stars.



View all my reviews

Book review: The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

The Hanover Square Affair (Captain Lacey, #1)

The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is the first in a historical mystery series. The protagonist is a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and has returned to England with no money, no prospects, and PTSD. This is no light-hearted and frothy mystery but, rather, a gritty story that exposes the underside of London life, some of the horrors of the war and the after-effects for the returning soldiers. (Think more in the style of C.S. Harris and less in the style of Georgette Heyer.)
Captain Lacey isn’t a particular likeable character in the first book, although he has some excellent qualities to him. There is a complicated back story for him, which makes him an interesting and somewhat mysterious character. Sometimes the hints thrown off about his back story come across as a bit manipulative, but you do want to learn more about him. Captain Lacey’s unpredictability and depression weave through the story like a train wreck–you know what’s coming but you can’t look away.
I actually would give this book 3.5 stars, but I also tend to give debut novels of a series the benefit of the doubt. I will definitely read the second in this series to see how the character grows and (maybe) flourishes.
Fans of the Sebastian St. Cyr novels should definitely check this series out!




View all my reviews

Book review: Blackfoot by W.R. Gingell

Blackfoot (Two Monarchies Sequence, #2)

Blackfoot by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the second book of the Two Monarchies Sequence. (“Masque,” which I reviewed earlier, was the first book written but is the last book in the series.) “Blackfoot” starts essentially right where “Spindle” left off, although the actual story starts several years later. The book starts Annabel’s story and continues Melchior’s story. And while there is no actual fairy tale inspiration for this book, it has all the requisite fantasy elements: an interesting heroine who is smarter than she gives herself credit for; a sarcastic and mysterious hero who is wise but not too wise; and an annoying but lovable best friend. The magic remains complex but internally consistent, and the villain is quite scary.
My only disappointment after I finished this book is that there is only one more unread book in the series for me. (I may just have to re-read “Masque” to get all of the inside baseball references.) I can’t wait to see what the author writes next and the rest of her books are on my list to explore.




View all my reviews