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Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Kitchen Boy


Review of The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander

Overview from Drawing from decades of work, travel, and research in Russia, Robert Alexander re-creates the tragic, perennially fascinating story of the final days of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov as seen through the eyes of their young kitchen boy, Leonka. Now an ancient Russian immigrant, Leonka claims to be the last living witness to the Romanovs’ brutal murders and sets down the dark secrets of his past with the imperial family. Does he hold the key to the many questions surrounding the family’s murder? Historically vivid and compelling, The Kitchen Boy is also a touching portrait of a loving family that was in many ways similar, yet so different, from any other.

My Review:

Today we have the story of the boy who witnessed the demise and execution of the entire Romanov family. This is the fictional account of the author through his main character, a boy named Leonka.

The boy named Leonka grew up to become a man named Misha and Misha immigrated, along with his wife, to the United States. He was/is fabulously wealthy thanks to a stash of Romanov jewels that he managed to bring away from the scene of the crime.

And now, when he is old and dying, he decides to come clean about his involvement in the crime as well as his failure to protect the family.

Before committing suicide, he sits down with a tape recorder and details his confession of what happened during those last days of the Romanov’s and their heirs. His role in the House of Special Purpose and in their death is detailed for her to hear, after he has gone.

But when she returns to Russia, his granddaughter, Katya, has more questions than answers. This is her real purpose in visiting Russia and not simply to carry out her grandfather’s last wishes.

The main story however is almost entirely in Misha’s voice. His version of events is what we read even as Katya will later hear it on tape.

And how we want to believe it, that every word on the tape is true though throughout the story we are told that Dear Misha is holding something back, but what?

We obviously have an unreliable main character here, yet even as he tells his story he feels some sense of relief and absolution somehow in this altered version of what actually happened. We don’t really understand though how this is possible. More importantly, like Katya, we want to know what the real version of these events is.

The characters here seem very real though I don’t know much about the assassination of the Romanov family except that they were gunned down like dogs to make way for Lenin’s rise to power and that has always bugged me. Even if the Czar himself is partly to blame for his own downfall.

Still it is tragic in a Romeo and Juliet kind of way. So the story is a good one. It makes you think. It makes you wonder.

The only downside to this story is some of the language and the violence. If you can look past this though, it is worth a read.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Under a War-Torn Sky


Review of Under a War-Torn Sky by L.M. Elliott

Overview from When Henry Forester is shot down during a bombing run over France,the World War II pilot finds himself trapped behind enemy lines. In constant danger of discovery by German soldiers, Henry begins a remarkable journey to freedom. Relying on the kindness of strangers, Henry moves from town to town—traveling by moonlight, never asking questions, or even the names of the people who help him along the way. Each day brings him closer to home, yet every step in enemy territory invites new dangers.

Even as Henry fights for his own life, he quickly grows to realize the peril that surrounds all of the French people, and to admire the courage of the freedom fighters who risk death to protect him. Suspenseful and achingly true, this critically-acclaimed and deeply beloved novel explores the heartbreak of war, the strength of human spirit, and one young man's struggle to protect the things he loves.

My Review:

File this one under a recommendation from a fellow writer who was critiquing my own work. My story comes from the same era (World War II) and involves speakers of a foreign language but that is where the similarities end. Still I was intrigued.

This story is also in the YA or Young Adult genre which includes pretty much any genre that you can find for adults, just written for a younger audience. So in this case we have a YA Historical Fiction story.

Our main character is a young American pilot named Henry. He comes from a farm somewhere in Virginia. The war of course is a change of pace for him but what changes his life most dramatically when his plane is hit and he parachutes out in the middle of Switzerland.

After being treated in the hospital he is given the choice between spending the rest of the war in Switzerland or trying to escape through France. He chooses the latter and that is when his new adventures begin.

Dependent on the kindness of strangers, he must play an unwitting game of hide and seek with the SS who would love nothing better than torture and intimidate him into giving up those who helped him.
I enjoyed this story quite a bit. It was well-fleshed out as were the characters in it which surprised me somewhat as those characters were constantly changing as Henry tries to make his way North and hopefully to England or the Allies.

Henry was my favorite and he carried the story well. I can honestly say that reading this one was one of the few times where I could remember a story that could not be filed under the heading of Christian fiction and yet had such a positive and consistent character main character who claimed himself as a Christian. I found it refreshing.

The only downside for me was the crazy amount of dialogue that was mostly in French. The author did translate things that were important but some pieces of dialogue were left untranslated. I was able to figure out some of it based on my limited knowledge of French as well as my Italian but sometimes trying to figure it out slowed me down.

On the other hand, it did give the dialogue a bit of authenticity. I am just thinking that maybe it was a bit overdone.

As you might have guessed, it didn’t stop me from reading it to completion. Ms. Elliot’s story is an exciting one that I would have no hesitation in recommending to younger readers as well.

Contains: some war violence

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Tuscan Rose


Review of Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra

Overview from FLORENCE, 1914. A mysterious stranger known as The Wolf leaves an infant with the sisters of Santo Spirito. A tiny silver key hidden in her wrappings is the one clue to the child’s identity. . . . FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, young Rosa must leave the nuns, her only family, and become governess to the daughter of an aristocrat and his strange, frightening wife. Their house is elegant but cursed, and Rosa—blessed with gifts beyond her considerable musical talents—is torn between her desire to know the truth and her fear of its repercussions. All the while, the hand of Fascism curls around beautiful Italy, and no citizen is safe. Rosa faces unimaginable hardship: her only weapons her intelligence, intuition, and determination . . . and her extraordinary capacity for love.

My Review:

First off, I must apologize for not putting out a review last week. The book I am reviewing was long and it took me a while to finish it. Which by the way is no reflection on the book itself, although there were some points where I was tempted to stop (more on that later), as much as it was on my schedule for that week. I am currently registering for school as I am returning to university for some graduate work in Technical Writing. Applying to be considered a resident student was more difficult than a thought it would be.

But without any further ado, let’s get to this week’s story. As you can imagine, this week’s story takes place in Tuscany and our main character is a girl/woman named Rose. As an infant, a man appears at the convent of Spirito Santo to leave her to be raised by the nuns.

The story starts and the very beginning and goes at least half way through her life I think but all the elements of a good story are there. We have first the mystery of Rose’s origins. The man who has left her at the convent left his charge with only a key as a hint to her birthright.

She grows up there surprisingly happy until she is told by one of the nuns that she must leave. And that is when most of her troubles begin.

The Marchese of the Villa Scarfiotti has hired her as a governess for his daughter Clementina and from the get-go it is clear that his wife, the Marchesa, intensely dislikes her along with almost everyone else. And there seems to be a very evil force at work. A force that eventually gets her labeled as enemy of the new Fascists state and compels her to leave her beloved Clementina.

As World War II progresses things get gradually worse for both Rosa and the majority of the Italian population who live and sometimes die at the whim of Mussolini and his black shirts. It seems that she goes from one problem to the next but manages to keep her style and dignity while trying to discover the history of her past.

I liked most of the story as I said earlier because it was in Italy and I appreciated that it covered a part of Italy’s history that I previously knew little about. I did not realized exactly how much the citizens of Florence suffered under the Mussolini government as well as under German occupation.

I liked Rosa for the most part but there were times when the things that she did bothered me. I mean I know people aren’t perfect but sometimes it was hard to like her. It probably had a lot to do with the love triangle part of the story since I have never been a fan of love triangles.

The other characters had their intended feel I am guessing. The Marchesa and Osvaldo creeped me out while I couldn’t help but also like Clementina.

This story also relied on the supernatural quite a bit as we discover early on that Rosa has the ability to sense the origin of items, especially those that once were alive such as the fur coats. That was an interesting twist to the story as well and it fooled me a bit as to which direction the story was going.

There is some language in the story but most of the words are in Italian so I don’t know if that will offend anyone. There are also two sex scenes which account for the two times that I almost stopped reading. One in particular bothered me a bit but I kept reading in an effort to find out the end of both the story of Rosa and the city of Florence.

So in the end, I am recommending it but with the above caveats. It is a unique and interesting story. Give it a try.