Review: I WAS ANASTASIA by Ariel Lawhon

Review:  I WAS ANASTASIA by Ariel LawhonI Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon
four-stars
Published by Doubleday Books on March 27th 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the subject matter of Ariel Lawhon’s I Was Anastasia.  One half of the novel chronicles the imprisonment and subsequent assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire royal family following the Bolshevik Revolution.  Even if you don’t know all of the details, you’ve probably at least heard the name Anastasia Romanov, who was one of Tsar Nicholas’s daughters and who was rumored to have survived the assassination attempt.  Whether or not Anastasia survived is the focus of the other half of I Was Anastasia, as we follow a woman named Anna Anderson who claimed to be Anastasia for 50 years until her death in 1970.

Is it possible that Anastasia survived?  If Anna isn’t really Anastasia, what would lead her to so desperately claim that she is for so many years?

Even though those of us who are familiar with the Anna/Anastasia story know how it ends, it’s still quite compelling to see how it all unfolds in this incredibly well researched retelling.

 

What fascinated me most about this novel is the way Lawhon captured both Anna and Anastasia.  Whether they are one in the same or two different people, I was completely invested in both journeys I was reading about.  Anastasia’s story of course immediately had me sympathetic, just knowing the history of how her family suffered at the hands of first, Alexander Kerensky after he forced her father to abdicate, then later the Bolsheviks after they overthrew Kerenksy’s provisional government.   Lawhon chronicles these painful events in great detail, making the reader want, all the more, for someone from the Romanov family to have survived the brutal massacre.

Anna’s story, however, was equally compelling as Lawhon shows how she spent much of those 50 years trying to prove her identity — being shuffled from place to place, having no real home or financial security of her own.  Some are sympathetic to her cause and believe she truly is Anastasia and want to help her prove her case in a court of law, while others don’t care who she is but just want a piece of the spotlight that is bound to come from being associated with possible royalty.  And still others pursue her relentlessly, trying to do everything they can to prove that there’s no way she can be Anastasia.

Even though I was already familiar enough with the story to know how it all ends, what I loved about I Was Anastasia is that the author focuses more on showing us how the story began and she does this using a unique dual timeline structure where she alternates the chapters between Anna’s story and Anastasia’s, presenting Anastasia’s timeline in chronological order, while presenting Anna’s timeline in reverse chronological order.  It was fascinating to watch these two timelines on a collision course and I couldn’t wait to see how the author would have them crash into one another to give us the truth about whether Anna Anderson and Anastasia Romanov are one in the same.

 

Even though it was fascinating watching each of the timelines unfold and waiting to see how the author would merge them in the end, I have to admit that I found Anna’s timeline much more difficult to follow than Anastasia’s.  Where Anastasia’s is a straight forward chronological rendering of events in the months leading up to the Romanov family facing a firing squad in 1918, Anna’s journey is actually presented in reverse chronological order, working backwards from 1970 to 1918.  That wouldn’t have been an issue in itself, but the way her story unfolded it meant that sometimes she would be referring to someone in earlier chapters but who that person is and how they came to be connected to Anna and her cause isn’t really revealed until later chapters as we continue to travel back in time.  It took me a few chapters to get used to this structure and slowed me down a few times throughout my reading as I tried to remember what I had read about a certain character in later years now that I was meeting him for the first time as I continued to journey back in time.

 

 

If you’re not at all familiar with Anastasia Romanov and Anna Anderson, I’d definitely recommend reading I Was Anastasia.  Lawhon has crafted together a suspenseful mystery that will keep you guessing as to whether or not Anna is Anastasia, and at the same time, will have you hoping against hope that she really is.  And even if you do know the story, as I did, I’d still recommend it because it is a powerful and emotional retelling and because the journey to 1918 and the “birth” of Anna Anderson makes for an engaging read.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn.

Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920 A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson.

As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened.

four-stars

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the critically acclaimed author of THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, FLIGHT OF DREAMS, and I WAS ANASTASIA. Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, four sons, and black Lab—who is, thankfully, a girl.

Book Review: Origin

Book Review:  OriginOrigin by Dan Brown
four-stars
Series: Robert Langdon, #5
Published by Doubleday Books on October 3rd 2017
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 461
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I know Dan Brown has a lot of critics who say that his books have become too formulaic, that they follow a predictable pattern.  While I won’t deny that may be true, especially with respect to his Robert Langdon series, I will also be the first to stand up and say “So what?”  I personally LOVE the formula and get ridiculously excited every time I hear that a new Dan Brown book is coming out.  I’m not sure what it is about Brown’s books that consistently draw me in – in some ways, I think they bring out my inner conspiracy theorist – but whatever the draw is, he always sucks me in from the first page and keeps me turning the pages well into the night.  And Origin was no exception.  I devoured its nearly 500 pages in less than two days!

For those unfamiliar with Robert Langdon, he is a professor of symbology and religious iconography at Harvard University.  He has become somewhat of a household name in academic circles as his expertise in those subject areas have helped to uncover and stop some pretty major conspiracies over the years.  In Origin, Langdon has been invited to an event at the prestigious Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain by one of his former students, Edmond Kirsch.  Kirsch, who is now a 40 year-old billionaire and futurist, plans to make an announcement at this event.  He claims to have made a discovery which he believes will change the face of science and will turn all of the world’s religions upside down. Kirsch says that his discovery answers two of the most fundamental questions of human existence:  1) Where do we come from?  and 2) Where are we going?  Because his announcement involves Langdon’s specialty, Religion, Kirsch wanted to have his former professor present at the announcement.

As soon as the presentation begins, Langdon senses that Kirsch’s announcement will be controversial and that it will have the potential to send shockwaves through the religious community.  Prior to the big reveal, however, tragedy strikes and Kirsch is assassinated before he can unveil his discovery.  In the midst of the ensuing chaos, Langdon makes a split second decision that could put his own life in danger –  if someone was willing to kill Kirsch rather than let his discovery see the light of day, then Langdon owes it to Kirsch to not let his secret die with him.  Langdon teams up with Ambra Vidal, the museum director who was most closely working with Kirsch on the details of his presentation and announcement. Vidal knows that Kirsch’s presentation was protected by a cryptic password and that without that password, they have no way of unlocking the truth.  So begins a quest to discover Kirsch’s password that takes Langdon and Vidal on a path marked by modern art, enigmatic symbols, and of course danger once those who killed Kirsch realize what Langdon and Vidal are trying to do.

Will Langdon be able to unlock the mystery of Kirsch’s discovery? And if so, what ramifications will Kirsch’s discovery have on the rest of the world?  Where do we come from?  Where are we going?

 

Okay, so I’m going to start simple here and say that I just love Robert Langdon. There’s not a lot to Langdon in terms of character development because Brown’s novels are primarily plot-driven, but I just really enjoy watching Langdon get his geek on when it comes to following and deciphering religious-based clues. He can find meaning in the most seemingly insignificant symbol and even five books into the series, it never ceases to fascinate me.  I also love that he’s kind of a famous nerd, and that as brilliant as he is when it comes to symbology and religious iconography, he still has this sense of fun and quirkiness about him. I mean, seriously, the guy wears an antique Mickey Mouse watch!  And I know Tom Hanks was cast to play Langdon in the movies, but in my mind, Langdon doesn’t look like Tom Hanks. Instead, he looks like Harrison Ford. So yeah, Langdon is a handsome, nerdy guy with a Mickey Mouse watch. What’s not to love?

Another aspect of the Langdon series I’ve always enjoyed involves the setting.  Dan Brown always places the trail of clues Langdon must find and unravel in such exciting cities.  In Angels & Demons, he took us through the streets of Rome, and in the DaVinci Code, we traveled through Paris and London. The Lost Symbol then took us through Washington, D.C., while Inferno transported us to Florence, Venice, and even Istanbul.  Origin doesn’t slack in the setting department either as it transports us to the glorious cities of Bilbao, Madrid, and Barcelona.  If you want to travel without ever leaving your reading chair, pick up a Dan Brown book and off you’ll go!

I also think that, formulaic or not, Brown does a masterful job of building up the suspense in his novels.  He structures the narrative so that we get alternating chapters between different characters in the story – some of whom are, like Langdon, clearly protagonists, while others are clearly antagonists who are trying to stop Langdon.  I liked not only seeing the story unfold from both sides of the equation at the same time, but also feeling the suspense build as each side inched forward toward their ultimate goal. The question of “Who’s going to get there first?” coupled with the desire to know the truth about Kirsch’s discovery really drives the story forward at a rapid clip.  I just couldn’t put the book down until I knew everything.

Origin also doesn’t disappoint in the action department.  The story is infused with danger and action-packed scenes as Langdon and Vidal try to stay one step ahead of those who are desperate to stop them!

 

The one issue I have consistently had with the Robert Langdon series is that Langdon always seems to end up paired with a beautiful woman on his quest for the truth.  These pairings are never really romantic — the pair is usually just sifting through clues and bouncing ideas off of one another while trying to keep from getting killed by whoever doesn’t want the truth to come out — so that’s not my issue.  But when it happened again in Origin, I found myself wondering why it’s always a woman.  I think it’s time for Langdon to team up and geek out over symbols and religious iconography with another guy.  Langdon needs a bro-mance!

 

I adore Dan Brown’s novels and Origin is no exception to that.  Do I think his works are destined to be considered great works of literature?  No, probably not.  But that said, they are consistently entertaining and intense, and now that I’ve finished the fifth book in the series, I’m already hoping that there will be a sixth.  So, if you’re looking for an action-packed thrill ride that will also make you think about potentially life-changing questions like “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?” then I’d definitely say to give Origin a read. And if you’ve never read any of the Langdon series, I’d most highly recommend Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code. Those were both 5 star reads for me.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself… and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery… and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

 

four-stars

About Dan Brown

Dan Brown is the author of numerous #1 bestselling novels, including The Da Vinci Code, which has become one of the best selling novels of all time as well as the subject of heated debate among readers and scholars. Brown’s novels are published in 52 languages around the world with 200 million copies in print.

In 2005, Brown was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine, whose editors credited him with “keeping the publishing industry afloat; renewed interest in Leonardo da Vinci and early Christian history; spiking tourism to Paris and Rome; a growing membership in secret societies; the ire of Cardinals in Rome; eight books denying the claims of the novel and seven guides to read along with it; a flood of historical thrillers; and a major motion picture franchise.”

The son of a mathematics teacher and a church organist, Brown was raised on a prep school campus where he developed a fascination with the paradoxical interplay between science and religion. These themes eventually formed the backdrop for his books. He is a graduate of Amherst College and Phillips Exeter Academy, where he later returned to teach English before focusing his attention full time to writing. He lives in New England with his wife.

Brown’s latest novel, Origin, explores two of the fundamental questions of humankind: Where do we come from? Where are we going?