Month: September 2011

My Thoughts on Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

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I have never read a book that focused on life in Stalin’s Russia. The main character of this book, Nina, is a famous ballet dancer. But even her talent and fame does not protect her from the deprevity of life under ‘Uncle Stalin’s’ reign. She sees neighbors taken away for no apparent reason, she sees friends being forced to spy on good friends, she sees the Jews start to get rounded up and put into prison. . .all this while achieving a good deal of personal success.

This book was interesting, and there was a ‘mystery’ to keep reading until the end. Well, actually, there were a few of them.

Daphne Kalotay is an expert story-teller. Her characters are so vivid that I wanted to Google them when I was done to find more information. And then I remembered that they were not real. Woops!

My main complaint is that this book is about 100 pages too long. I started skimming toward the end. I just wanted the story to resolve already. A little editing could have gone a long way.

What I’m Reading Now: Russian Winter

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A mysterious jewel holds the key to a life-changing secret, in this breathtaking tale of love and art, betrayal and redemption.

When she decides to auction her remarkable jewelry collection, Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead, the former ballerina finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed the course of her life half a century ago.

It was in Russia that she discovered the magic of the theater; that she fell in love with the poet Viktor Elsin; that she and her dearest companions—Gersh, a brilliant composer, and the exquisite Vera, Nina’s closest friend—became victims of Stalinist aggression.

And it was in Russia that a terrible discovery incited a deadly act of betrayal—and an ingenious escape that led Nina to the West and eventually to Boston.

Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But two people will not let the past rest: Drew Brooks, an inquisitive young associate at a Boston auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian who believes that a unique set of jewels may hold the key to his own ambiguous past.

Together these unlikely partners begin to unravel a mystery surrounding a love letter, a poem, and a necklace of unknown provenance, setting in motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.

My Thoughts on The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise

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I’ve said it before, but I will say it again, I am a sucker for a cute cover.

This book was fine, it’s cover was probably better. It’s the story of a guard at the Tower of London who owns a Tortoise that is over 100 years old. Word gets around that he is good with animals and therefore the Queen of England puts him in charge of the Royal Menagerie which they are bring back to the Tower of London in order to increase the number of tourists coming through.

The guard and his wife had a fabulous love story but then things started slowly falling apart when their son died. Throughout the book, you know that their young son died but you do not know how or why, and it keeps you reading because you want to know what happened.

It takes 262 pages to find out, and it’s a little anticlimatic.

The ‘supporting cast’ in this book is fabulous. I love all of the storylines and all of their flaws.

Parts of this book were fabulous. Parts were a little anticlimatic and disappointing. Pick it up if you see it — you might really enjoy it! Just do not read too much into the son’s storyline. If you are expecting something scandalous or at least shocking, you’ll be disappointed on Page 262.

What I’m Reading Now: The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise

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A Beefeater, his wife, and their nearly 180-year-old tortoise live in the Tower of London, and if Stuart’s deadly charming sophomore novel (after The Matchmaker of Perigord) is any indication, the fortress is as full of intrigue as ever.

Balthazar and Hebe Jones lost their son, Milo, to illness three years ago, and while Beefeater Balthazar grieves silently and obsessively collects rainwater in perfume bottles, Hebe wants to talk about their loss openly.

Hebe works in the thematically convenient London Underground Lost Property Office, and the abandoned items that reside there (an ash-filled urn, a gigolo’s diary, Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar) are almost as peculiar as the unruly animals (lovebirds not in love, a smelly zorilla, monkeys with a peculiar nervous tic) in the Tower’s new menagerie, given to the queen and overseen by Balthazar.

Passion, desperation, and romantic shenanigans abound among the other Tower-dwellers: the Reverend, an erotic fiction writer, has eyes for a bartender, and the Ravenmaster is cheating on his wife with the cook.

Though the cuteness sometimes comes across a little thick, the love story is adorable.