Letters From Berlin: A Story of War, Survival and the Redeeming Power of Love and Friendship

After years of asking her mother, Margarete, to talk about her war experiences, and being refused, Kerstin Leiff, at last receives a phone call from her mother who says she will talk about it once and only once and then never speak of it again. With blank notebooks, pens, and a tape recorder, Kerstin listens to her mother’s story over the next three years, in awe of her mother’s strength of will and survival  during this dark time in history. After her father’s death and her mother’s remarriage, Margarete’s family moves to a well-to-do suburb of Berlin. Margarete immediately falls in love with what would become “her” city, but Hitler is already in power and their lives become slowly restricted under Nazi rule.

Margarete is candid in her description of her experiences as war breaks out. She relives the bombing of Berlin, her life as a university student, and a Red Cross nurse. She explains to her daughter about being duped by the Russians and sent to a Siberian Gulag for almost five years before being allowed to return to Berlin. Back in Berlin, she learns of the death of her younger brother, Dieter, at the Eastern Front during the last days of the war, and she relates her struggles to begin a new life for herself in a city that was all but dead.

Kerstin Lieff writes a powerful memoir of her mother relying on hundreds of hours of tapes, journals, letters, and family archives as well as historical research. Margarete died at the age of eighty-one before she was able to see her life story published. For Kerstin, telling her mother’s story as candidly and honestly as possible was a labor of love.



The Girls

Loosely based on the Manson Family and the girls who committed the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969,  The Girls follows the coming of age story of Evie Boyd, who by chance falls into the hands of Suzanne, who in turn introduces her to Russell, a charismatic man, the “spiritual” leader of what would soon be an infamous cult. Fresh from a broken home, desperate to be accepted, Evie escapes the confines of her mother’s restrictive rules and spends more and more time on the “Ranch.” Enamored of Russell, in thrall with Suzanne, Evie doesn’t see the squalid, run-down living conditions of the ranch. The food is sporadic, drugs prominent, and personal hygiene nearly non-existent, but all of this pales in comparison to a life of living without rules and regulations. Evie wants to be like the girls surrounding Russell, abandoning the real world for the “freedom” Russell offers.

But as her obsession increases, Evie is unaware of the unthinkable violence that waits just around the corner.


Indexing by Seanan McGuire

I love this book!  I cannot wait to get into the car and listen to it!  Agent Henrietta Marchen leads her agents (from a shadowy government agency) in the struggle against narratives taking over reality.  Here if a fairy tale takes over reality it can have deadly consequences.  Fairy tales pick people to be their vehicles, so their story can be told.

I love the humor and the snark, the second lead character fights against her archetype of the Treacherous Sister, but is bitchy in a funny way.  I love the cleverness the author exhibits playing around within this universe she has created, coming up with clever riffs.  You try to fight against falling into your archetype, so behaving in a stereotypical manner of your character is problematic. Henrietta Marchen is a Snow White archetype.  Agent Sloan hurls various invectives at  Henry, such as melanin-challenged, or Snowy B.  When Henry comes upon a crime scene and smells the scent of apples – she comes to learn that means a death has occurred.

cruel prince

The Cruel Prince Book 1 in The Folk of the Air by Holly Black.

Jude’s parents were murdered by her mothers first husband, a fairy lord.  He brings her and her sisters back and raises them as his own.   Her older sister is part fey, and spends much of her time rebelling.  In contrast Jude and her twin Taryn would like to belong to fairy.  Taryn is hoping to marry a fairy lord, despite the fact that many of her classmates including the youngest of the princes despise humans.  Jude wants to become a knight, she also is tormented by the youngest prince and his friends.   Her “father” has plans.

I love Holly Black’s books!  I cannot wait till 2019 when the sequel comes out.




Bennie Rosato the founder of the Rosato & DiNunzio law firm hides her big heart beneath her tough-as-nails exterior and she doesn’t like to fail. Now, a case from her past shows her how differently things might have turned out. Thirteen years ago, Bennie Rosato took on Jason Leftavick, a twelve-year-old boy who was sent to a juvenile detention center after fighting a class bully. Bennie couldn’t free Jason, and to this day it’s the case that haunts her. Jason has grown up in and out of juvenile prison, and his adulthood hasn’t been any easier. Bennie no longer represents those accused of murder, but when Jason is indicted for killing the same bully he fought with as a kid, she sees no choice but to represent him. She doesn’t know whether or not to believe his claims of innocence, but she knows she owes him for past failures–of the law, of the juvenile justice system, and of herself. Forced to relive the darkest period of her life, Bennie will do everything in her power to get the truth, and justice.


The Rose Legacy

The Rose Legacy

Anthea is a proper lady who only wants to be a Rose Maiden. But she is also an orphan who has been shuffled among her relatives since her father died. When her current guardian decides it is time for her to go she suddenly learns that she has an uncle beyond the wall.  The wall was put in place to protect the people from the mysterious horse disease that killed thousands of people and led to the elimination of horses. What she finds at her uncle’s estate is unbelievable. He runs The Last Farm where he breeds and preserves horses! Even more shocking is that Anthea actually grew up there even though she has no memory of it. She also has something called The Way, which means she can communicate with horses. She has a special bond with one stallion named Florian. When Anthea inadvertently gives away the horse secret to the world below The Wall, she and her new friends devise a dangerous plan to fix things.

This is a very different book than Jessica Day George’s other books. It is historical fantasy with intelligent horses. I wasn’t sure I really liked it at first, but it did grow on me. I loved the relationship between Anthea and Florian and the fact that we got passages from Florian’s point of view. I don’t see anywhere that this is going to be a series, but it kind of felt like it could be and that might have made it a bit stronger of a story. I did feel like there was a lot going on and some of the conclusion felt a bit rushed. I don’t often say a book could have been longer, but this one could have included more backstory/history of the world to fill in some gaps. Still it is a Jessica Day George book and it was beautifully written.

The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit

The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit

Randi Rhodes has just moved to Deer Creek from New York and is not happy about it. Her dad is a mystery writer who hasn’t been writing since the death of his wife. Randi likes to solve small mysteries around her neighborhood and has gotten quite the reputation in New York. She is positive nothing like that will happen in Deer Creek.

When they get there Deer Creek is celebrating its 200th Founder’s Day with the opening of a time capsule. The president himself is supposed to come to town to open it. But then while the Secret Service are digging up the time capsule, Old Mr. McCarthy lets a skunk loose and the time capsule disappears. Randi decides it is time to investigate with the help of her new friend DC. They uncover much more than a missing time capsule.

This was a fun middle grade mystery. The audiobook is narrated by Octavia Spencer herself and she does a fantastic job. There is a lot going on in Deer Creek besides the time capsule. Spencer manages to weave a pretty complex story about the town’s founding, its impending demise and its future development all into a story about ninja detectives! It was a great read.


The Long, Long Trail

World War I is into its third year now for the Hunter family in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ “War at Home” series. The eldest son, David, has returned home a wounded soldier and broken in spirit. The second eldest Hunter son, Bobby, has died tragically when his plane was shot down. The rest of the Hunter family and the servants who work below stairs cope with the tragedies as best they can as England faces starvation and increased bombing by the Germans. For the Hunter family these are the darkest days of the war.


The Phoenix Unchained by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory.

Harrier and Tiercel have grown up as best friends, Harrier always saving Tiercel from trouble.  Tiercel finds a spellbook and attempts to cast an easy spell.  Thereafter he has horrible nightmares.  Tiercel and Harrier travel to a city to try and find help.

Towards the end of this book, I realized this was book 1 in a second trilogy, of which I had started book 1 in trilogy 1.  Though I finished this book, I couldn’t finish Book 1 of Series 1, so I doubt I’ll try this series again.


Wake by Amanda Hocking

Despite losing her mother to a sanitarium, Gemma seems to have a great life, superb swimmer, new boyfriend, good prospects.  Then some hot daredevil girls arrive in town with hypnotizing command, then some boys disappear from town.  The new girls seem interested in Gemma, but what for?

An Ok read, the start of a trilogy, but I will pass on the next 2 books.

Princess X

I am Princess X by Cherie Priest

May still grieves the death of her best friend Libby with whom she invented a heroine character named Princess X.  May would write the stories and Libby would draw the pictures.  When May moves back to Seattle, she stumbles upon Princess X stickers, posters, patches, even a website, drawn just like Libby had drawn Princess X.  Could Libby still be alive?  Are the stories written about Princess X, really about what happened to Libby?


I chose this title because I loved the narrator Mary Robinette Kowal.  Not a bad tale.

Mary's Monsterj

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and how Mary Shelley created Frankenstein by Lita Judge.

This is a delightful if somber story of Mary Shelley’s (Mary Wollstonecrafts daughter) life and how she came to write her novel Frankenstein.   Mary grew up in literate and intellectual household that encouraged girls to reach their full potential.  Later however, her father remarried a neighbor who drastically changed the tenor of the household.  Mary was sent to an unrelated family in Scotland as a teenager.  It goes on to chronicle her falling in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley who was married at the time.  Previously her father had supported free love and had been proud that his first wife had chosen to love who she wanted without the ties of marriage.  Alas his new wife changed his free thinking, and Mary was spurned when she returned from Europe pregnant with Shelley’s child.  A rainy summer at a villa near Lake Geneva with Lord Byron led to a challenge for everyone to write a ghost story.  Discussions of galvanism and reanimating corpses provided the starting impetus for Mary’s book Frankenstein.

I enjoyed this and recommend it.

Eleanor and Hick

Eleanor and Hick

A warm, intimate account of the love between Eleanor Roosevelt and reporter Lorena Hickok—a relationship that, over more than three decades, transformed both women’s lives and empowered them to play significant roles in one of the most tumultuous periods in American history

In 1932, as her husband assumed the presidency, Eleanor Roosevelt entered the claustrophobic, duty-bound existence of the First Lady with dread. By that time, she had put her deep disappointment in her marriage behind her and developed an independent life—now threatened by the public role she would be forced to play. A lifeline came to her in the form of a feisty campaign reporter for the Associated Press: Lorena Hickok. Over the next thirty years, until Eleanor’s death, the two women carried on an extraordinary relationship: They were, at different points, lovers, confidantes, professional advisors, and caring friends.

They couldn’t have been more different. Eleanor had been raised in one of the nation’s most powerful political families and was introduced to society as a debutante before marrying her distant cousin, Franklin. Hick, as she was known, had grown up poor in rural South Dakota and worked as a servant girl after she escaped an abusive home, eventually becoming one of the most respected reporters at the AP. Her admiration drew the buttoned-up Eleanor out of her shell, and the two quickly fell in love. For the next thirteen years, Hick had her own room at the White House, next door to the First Lady.

These fiercely compassionate women inspired each other to right the wrongs of the turbulent era in which they lived. During the Depression, Hick reported from the nation’s poorest areas for the WPA, and Eleanor used these reports to lobby her husband for New Deal programs. Hick encouraged Eleanor to turn their frequent letters into her popular and long-lasting syndicated column “My Day,” and to befriend the female journalists who became her champions. When Eleanor’s tenure as First Lady ended with FDR’s death, Hick pushed her to continue to use her popularity for good—advice Eleanor took by leading the UN’s postwar Human Rights Commission. At every turn, the bond these women shared was grounded in their determination to better their troubled world.

Deeply researched and told with great warmth, Eleanor and Hickis a vivid portrait of love and a revealing look at how an unlikely romance influenced some of the most consequential years in American history.


Mary's Monster

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

A young adult biography of Frankenstein’s profound young author, Mary Shelley, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of its publication, told through free verse and 300+ full-bleed illustrations.

Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.

Dark, intense, and beautiful, this free-verse novel with over 300 pages of gorgeous black-and-white watercolor illustrations is a unique and unforgettable depiction of one of the greatest authors of all time.


An American Marriage

An American Marriage

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.



Bad Luck and Trouble

For most people, finding a mistake in your bank account balance is an annoyance. For Jack Reacher, it is a call for help.

This installment in the Lee Child series opens with a terrifying — and unexplained — murder, one that relates very closely to Reacher’s past. However, he must first figure out the source of the message, who turns  out to be Frances Neagley, one of a hand-picked group of investigators that he once led.  The murdered man is another.

Frances has been unable to contact the other members of the team and fears someone is targeting them for no known reason. They lived by the mantra you don’t mess with the special investigators, and Frances and Reacher are determined to not only track down their enemy, but to exact revenge.

This novel — the 11th in the series — proved to be one of my favorites. The process of finding out what happened to their team, and why, is a series of puzzles, discoveries, teamwork, and a final all-out assault that uncovers a secret project and a plot that could threaten the country and world.  It can serve as a standalone novel, or provide the reader with new information about Reacher’s past and discovers his uncertainties about the path he has taken. It is the kind of book that keeps you saying, “Okay, one more chapter…”, as you stay up far too late to finish.  The suspense is constant, the twists are unexpected and the conclusion is very satisfying.