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review 2017-02-20 23:13
Book Review: The Secret Daughter of the Tsar
The Secret Daughter of the Tsar - Jennifer Laam

Book: The Secret Daughter of the Tsar

 

Author: Jennifer Laam

 

Genre: Historical Fiction/Russian History

 

Summary: In her riveting debut, Jennifer Laam seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Veronica, an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles, meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her. Lena, a servant in the imperial court of 1902, is approached by the desperate Empress Alexandria. After conceiving four daughters, the empress is determined to sire a son and believes Lena can help her. Once elevated to the Romanovs' treacherous inner circle, Lena finds herself under the watchful eye of the meddling Dowager Empress Marie. Charlotte, a former ballerina living in World War II-era occupied Paris, receives a surprise visit from a German officer. Determined to protect her son from the Nazis, Charlotte escapes the city, but not before learning that the officer's interest in her stems from his long-standing obsession with the fate of the Russian monarchy. As Veronica's passion intensifies, and her search for the true heir to the throne takes a dangerous turn, readers learn just how these three vastly different women are connected. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is thrilling from its first intense moments until its final, unexpected conclusion. -St. Martin's Griffin, 2013

 

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review 2016-10-12 22:05
Vozhd
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar - Simon Sebag Montefiore

Montefiore's history of Jerusalem happened to be the first book I reviewed on Booklikes and I was happy to revisit the author with another one of his works. It seems that every time I pick up a history book in a book shop it is endorsed by Montefiore, he's clearly very passionate in his pursuit of historical knowledge. 

 

This book centres around Stalin and his changing inner circle. It's an odd blend of details of dinner functions, Stalin's character in calm times and the chronicles of the terror and his political brutality. It's a fascinating glimpse into the sycophantic fervour he fostered amongst his magnates and the cunning, horrific nature of his paranoid mind. I've given it five stars, because probably fittingly, after Kershaw's Hitler this is simply the best biography of a historical leader that I have read. 

 

Anyone who harbours any romanticism or flirts with the hard left I advise to read this and recognise the dangers of unswerving idealism, the dangers of being an illiberal bent on realising a utopia for humanity in the future at any cost to the people of this life. I had always thought that Stalin wasn't overly ideologically motivated, yet this book seeks to dispel that notion comparing the avidity of Stalin's belief in Marxism to that displayed in radical Islamists. 

 

Something touched upon in the book and spoken about in debates by Christopher Hitchens is the idea that the Tsar in Romanov times was the voice of God himself, understand that and you may be able to understand the cult of personality that Stalin was able to engineer and take advantage of. The idea of a strong, powerful leader was ingrained into Russian society and it is an interesting feature of the revolution, that despite its attempts to turn society on its head with the ultimate goal of Communism, the aura of leadership remained steadfast. 

 

It fascinated me that the sons and daughters of some of those murdered and tortured beyond repair on Stalin's orders still regarded him as a great leader. It is unfathomable to me that it is possible to inspire such unswerving loyalty amongst people. This is ultimately what draws me to these immensely flawed and yet ridiculously charismatic characters. There seems to be men and women who pop up from time to time under varying banners of ideology, be it religious/political who manage to cultivate vast followings and impact the course of human history through their actions.

 

And so I came to the end of the book having lived within the court of the red tsar through the eyes of his vicious inner circle and I was struck again by the surreal nature of it all. How terrifying is it? If you place enough power into the hands of the wrong person you can end up with a society in which an innocuous comment could result in years of torture and imprisonment or a painful death. How is it that a man so well read and intelligent as Stalin, uses that intelligence to create a cut throat, savage society in which even those closest to him are not safe from assassination? 

 

I guess my curiosity will never be sated.

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review 2016-10-08 00:00
The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin
The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin - Steven Lee Myers One of the best books I have read in the last year. Steven Lee Myers is a master of researching, and the story flew by smoothly. He touched the main points of of Vladimir Putin's life and political career and at the same time his writing seemed objective.
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text 2016-10-04 19:35
Reading progress update: I've read 465 out of 672 pages.
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar - Simon Sebag Montefiore

Despite studying modern history for years, in particular, the Soviet Union, it still amazes me that the Red Army took such heavy losses to the Wehrmacht and they still couldn't finish the job.

 

Millions of dead soldiers, thousands of tanks and aircraft destroyed, underpinned by amateur generals in Stalin's inner circle, some who as late as 1940 were still expounding the strengths of the horse over the tank, seen as a flash in the pan. 

 

It makes me wonder if the Wehrmacht would have gotten as far as they did if Stalin hadn't ignored the overwhelming intelligence that Hitler was planning to invade and mobilised his army sooner. If he hadn't purged his upper echelon of the more forward thinking, sensible generals and replaced them with amateurs. 

 

When i read this stuff I always struggle to come to terms with the savagery of the Nazis & Soviets. It seems surreal to think that this was only 80 or so years ago. The scale of the destruction of WW2 and the disregard for human life. It's a struggle to put into words, but at times I feel like the world of the 1930s/40s is like a society on a distant planet rather than our own. 

 

The age of extremes as Hobsbawm put it.

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text 2016-09-24 18:05
Reading progress update: I've read 234 out of 672 pages.
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar - Simon Sebag Montefiore

Believe it or not 234 pages in a week for me is good going for a history book.

 

Enough in it so far to keep me interested, not at all what I expected. 

 

Also my podcast equipment has arrived so I may just be able to get my podcast up and running today. Not that I've mentioned it before on here, that's a bit of a curveball. :D

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