THE LOST LETTER by Jillian Cantor


Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Source: Penguin’s First to Read Program
Rating: ★★★★½


A historical novel of love and survival inspired by real resistance workers during World War II Austria, and the mysterious love letter that connects generations of Jewish families. A heart-breaking, heart-warming read for fans of The Women in the Castle, Lilac Girls, and Sarah’s Key.

Austria, 1938. Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. When his teacher disappears during Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, and simultaneously works alongside Elena, his beloved teacher’s fiery daughter, and with the Austrian resistance to send underground messages and forge papers. As he falls for Elena amidst the brutal chaos of war, Kristoff must find a way to save her, and himself.

Los Angeles, 1989. Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and while cleaning out her house and life in the aftermath, she comes across the stamp collection of her father, who recently went into a nursing home. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter as he goes through her dad’s collection, Katie and Benjamin are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall.

A romantic, poignant and addictive novel, The Lost Letter shows the lasting power of love.


Three words: beautiful, moving, and bittersweet. This book is a unique tale of the Austrian Resistance during World War II, centering around the love story between the daughter of a Jewish stamp maker and his apprentice. THE LOST LETTER is really historical fiction within historical fiction; the story alternates between the fall of the Berlin Wall (late 80s/early 90s) and the German invasion of Austria (late 1930s).

In 1989, Katie Nelson, whose life has been upended by her divorce and caring for an ailing father, finds a curious stamp on a letter from the World War II era in her father’s extensive stamp collection. With the help of an appraiser named Benjamin, Katie is able to uncover the story behind the mysterious letter.

I enjoyed this book very much, and was intrigued by both Katie and Benjamin in 1989, and Elena and Kristoff in 1939. What secrets did the stamp and letter hold? This book was a lovely blend of mystery, romance, and history. I do love vintage stamps, and this book gave readers a look at the intricacies of stamp engraving, and how they were miniature works of art. Highly recommended!

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book through Penguin’s First to Read Program in exchange for an honest review.

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THE VICTORIAN CITY: EVERYDAY LIFE IN DICKENS’ LONDON by Judith Flanders (Audiobook)


Publisher: Tantor Audio
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★


The 19th century was a time of unprecedented change, and nowhere was this more apparent than London. In only a few decades, the capital grew from a compact Regency town into a sprawling metropolis of six-and-a-half million inhabitants, the largest city the world had ever seen. Technology – railways, street-lighting, and sewers – transformed both the city and the experience of city living, as London expanded in every direction.

Now, Judith Flanders, one of Britain’s foremost social historians, explores the world portrayed so vividly in Dickens’ novels, showing life on the streets of London in colorful, fascinating detail. From the moment Charles Dickens, the century’s best-loved English novelist and London’s greatest observer, arrived in the city in 1822, he obsessively walked its streets, recording its pleasures, curiosities, and cruelties.

Now, with him, Flanders leads us through the markets, transport systems, sewers, rivers, slums, alleys, cemeteries, gin palaces, chop-houses, and entertainment emporia of Dickens’ London, to reveal the Victorian capital in all its variety, vibrancy, and squalor.


THE VICTORIAN CITY is a meticulously researched and very detailed book about London life during the time Charles Dickens walked its streets. The focus is mainly on the mechanics of daily life, and it gives an in depth look at everything, from how the streets were paved to the little amount of water each family had to take care of all their needs. This book puts you there, surrounded by the constant movement and bothersome noise.

The author blends in snippets from Dickens’ work to show where his inspirations came from. In truth I haven’t read much Dickens, maybe just A Christmas Carol years ago, but I love historical fiction set in the Victorian times, so I was interested in learning more. The book could be a bit dry at times, but also eye-opening. Made me appreciate living in modern times even more.


Audiobook • 16 hrs, 5 mins • Corrie James, Narrator

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Corrie James, and I thought that she was a good fit for this book. Even though this is nonfiction, she was able to add inflection and flair in the reading, especially with the voices of the different Londoners.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Checked Out: THE PLANTAGENETS {The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England} by Dan Jones

Plantagenets
Publisher: Viking Adult
Released: April 18, 2013
Source: Borrowed from the library


The first Plantagenet king inherited a blood-soaked kingdom from the Normans and transformed it into an empire stretched at its peak from Scotland to Jerusalem. In this epic history, Dan Jones vividly resurrects this fierce and seductive royal dynasty and its mythic world.

We meet the captivating Eleanor of Aquitaine, twice queen and the most famous woman in Christendom; her son, Richard the Lionheart, who fought Saladin in the Third Crusade; and King John, a tyrant who was forced to sign Magna Carta, which formed the basis of our own Bill of Rights.

This is the era of chivalry, of Robin Hood and the Knights Templar, the Black Death, the founding of Parliament, the Black Prince, and the Hundred Year’s War. It will appeal as much to readers of Tudor history as to fans of Game of Thrones.


I grabbed this book from the library because I wanted a crash course in Plantagenet history. The Plantagenets ruled England for over 300 years, beginning with Henry II in 1154, and this book covers most of that time. Henry II’s mother was Empress Matilda, the granddaughter of William the Conqueror. I thought it was interesting that the family name came from Henry II’s father Geoffrey, who liked to wear the yellow Planta Genista blossoms in his hair, leading to the nickname Geoffrey Plantagenet.

This book was well-researched and went into great detail on the major players of the Plantagenet dynasty. Some parts I skimmed over, while others sections I spent a lot of time on. I enjoyed Empress Matilda’s story of how she battled her cousin Stephen of Blois for control of England. While she was never officially crowned queen, she succeeded in getting her son on the throne as the first Plantagenet king. Eleanor of Aquitaine was another fascinating woman who made a huge impact on Europe during her long life. And I can’t forget the Edward II/Isabella of France/Piers Gaveston/Hugh Despenser drama! It was drama to rival the Tudors.

This book paints a vivid portrait of English royals between the Norman invasion and the Tudor takeover. (Though, it did not go as far as Richard III; he needs his own book!) Recommended for anyone interested in an easy to read history of this time period.