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April Book Reviews

So many books, so little time! I am an avid reader and love to share recommendations with fellow readers. My choice in books tend to vary by my mood but some of my favorites are mystery, suspense, thriller, and humor. Get my reviews direct to your inbox every Wednesday and check back here for monthly features.


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Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey

By: Countess Fiona Carnarvon

If you’re a fan of the PBS series, Downton Abbey then you’re likely familiar with the show’s setting, Highclere Castle. This book, one of two written by the current Countess of Carnarvon, gives the reader a look into the real history of Highclere Castle. This book focuses mainly on the 1920s and 30s, and Lady Catherine, formerly Catherine Wendell. Lady Catherine was an American socialite who married the 6th Earl.

The research for this book comes from the Highclere’s extensive archives, including photos, diaries, and scrapbooks. The book includes a large number of images, including photos and letters, scattered throughout.

The real life story of Highclere Castle, and its occupants, is every bit as dramatic as the story depicted in the Downton Abbey series. The book is well-organized and eloquently written. At times, I found myself wondering if I was reading a biography of Lady Catherine or a biography of Highclere Castle. The story is largely focused around the house to the point where the people felt like they were playing a supporting role. I would have liked a little more focus on the individuals. That being said, the writing in this book is so beautiful, I found myself getting lost in the prose and really forgetting I was reading non-fiction.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

By: Deborah Feldman

Deborah Feldman grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the Samtar sect of Hasidic Judaism, a highly secretive ultra-orthodox community. Deborah was raised by her grandparents after her parents’ marriage failed and her mother left the community. In her memoir, Ms Feldman tells her story of her upbringing in this very restrictive, conservative world and her eventual marriage, as a young teen, to a man she hardly knew. Her curiosity at the outside world leads to her eventual departure from the community.

Ms Feldman’s story was compelling from the first to the last and provided fascinating insight into a world outsiders rarely get to see. This book is a beautiful telling of an emotional story. Ms Feldman’s description of the matchmaking process, of this particular sect, that led up to her marriage to a man she was only alone with once or twice was really interesting. It’s unfortunate this book was met with so much controversy. I would encourage the reader to look past many of their reviews and formulate their own opinions.

Since reading this book, I’ve also had the opportunity to watch the Netflix original series by the same title. The series was inspired by the book but does not follow the same story line. Still, it is very well done and a recommended watch.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Hannah’s War

By Jan Eliasberg

Dr. Hannah Weiss is a Jewish scientist, working in Berlin, in 1938, working on one of the most important scientific discoveries of the time. Splitting the atom. Already fighting an uphill battle of being a woman in a man’s world, she faces even greater challenges as a Jewish scientist living under the Third Reich. She finds her work often ignored, discredited and even stolen by her male, Aryan colleagues. She eventually escapes and finds herself working at Los Alamos, in New Mexico, where she meets Major Jack Delaney.

Major Delaney has returned from to the States after fighting to liberate Paris with an important mission. Information about experiments being carried out at Los Alamos is being leaked back to the Germans and Major Delaney has been tasked with finding the spy. Her German background makes Dr. Weiss a prime suspect in his investigation.

Hannah’s War is a compelling work of fiction based on the Manhattan Project and the work of Jewish physicist, Dr. Lise Meitner, who with a team of scientists, was responsible for discovering nuclear fission. The story flashes between Dr. Weiss’s time working in Germany, in the late 30s and her time in New Mexico, in the mid 40s, near the end of WWII. This is a well-crafted spy thriller with a beautifully emotional side.

Hannah is a deeply developed, mysterious character. Major Delaney’s interrogation of her peels back the layers in a compelling way that drives the reader. The romantic interest between the two weaves an added layer of tension to the story in a compelling way. The story takes an interesting twist when Hannah discovers that Major Delaney is harboring a few secrets of his own. This story is fast paced and will grip you from beginning to end.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Scottish Alliance

By: Jennifer Sheppard

Lara McLeish is a New York based vampire hunter, in a werewolf clan when her boss sends her off to Scotland to assist with forming a new alliance.

In this offering, Jennifer Sheppard presents the first three chapters of what is shaping up to be a captivating read for anyone who enjoys supernatural action stories. The character development is off to a strong start. I anticipate this will be an action-packed, fast paced story, in its full version. This is a good tease for a larger work to come.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Cells

By: Julia Cowan

Jim is a troubled teen from a difficult background having grown up without a proper role model. He finds himself on the wrong side of the law after breaking into a house one night. But his attempted petty crime is going to change his life in ways he couldn’t possibly imagine.

David and Joe are two friends, doling out their own brand of vigilante justice after tragedy strikes David’s family twice. The book’s title alludes to the undercover prison the two men construct when David’s daughter’s murder walks free.

Cowen’s debut novel is a well-constructed, fast paced psychological thriller. I found it easy to empathize with Jim and appreciated the complex interplay between the characters. This story will grip you from the first line and you will not be able to put it down.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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