Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review | Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace

BOOK REVIEW

TITLE: Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

AUTHOR: Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

PUBLISHER: Random House

RELEASE DATE: April 8, 2014

GENRE: Business, Nonfiction, Leadership

BUY LINKS: Amazon | B&N 

From Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, comes an incisive book about creativity in business—sure to appeal to readers of Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and Chip and Dan Heath. Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”

For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Storytrilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.

As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged a partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his founding Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Nine years later, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed—was the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention, such as:

• Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.
• If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
• It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
• The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
• A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
• Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change—it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board. (Description from Goodreads)

MY THOUGHTS

(***Please note that this review may contain spoilers***)

I wanted to read this book for two reasons, 1) I really love Pixar and their films and 2) I’m reading lots of books to gain more knowledge on leadership.

I’ve always been fascinated with the success of Pixar, especially after the merge with Disney. So picking up a book written by one of the founders of Pixar was a no brainer. I wanted to know how Pixar got started, what its challenges were, and how they became successful. Ed Catmull’s stories of Pixar didn’t disappoint and I loved reading about the how they overcame challenges and successfully created some of my favorite films like Cars, Ratatouille, and Brave.

Obviously, the other goal of this book was to provide some insight into what it takes to lead a creative company, but I think many of the lessons Catmull discusses can be used in a company that isn’t necessarily a “creative” company. I think it can resonate with all companies in different ways.

There are common themes throughout the book that really resonated with me; change, challenges, and culture. As someone who’s been in a leadership role myself, I know that these three things are really important in a company. Then trying to create a culture that embraces change and challenges is even more difficult and I think it’s admirable that the Pixar leadership team was able to achieve that. They even made sure that when it seemed people weren’t speaking up and challenging the status quo they pressed the reset button and had, what they called, “Notes Day”.

Notes Day came about when the leadership team needed to decrease the budget by 10% without impacting creativity and quality. So they decided to ask everyone in the company, but would also achieve the issues they were facing where people might have been having a hard time expressing their concerns or ideas. Notes Day was a full day of all Pixar employees attending seminars on topics that could help decrease the budget, but also improve the company overall. Pixar’s employees were so engaged and got to meet so many different people from other departments. It was a huge success to the company.

I really liked that Pixar is so much about the people and culture that they would get all their employees involved to solve a problem that you usually see decided at the top of a company only. I can’t think of another company that got every single person, no matter their job title or level, to help solve a company wide problem. It’s impressive in my opinion and a testament to the culture Pixar’s founders created.

The idea of change and overcoming challenges was also something that was throughout the book. These two things are ALWAYS present in any company. I feel that I am like Catmull in the sense that I embrace change and challenges. Both are inevitable and I’d rather embrace it. I want to be a part of something that takes a company to the next level.

So reading this book just made me happy overall. I was happy to know more about Pixar, but also happy that a successful leader was talking about things I already believed in. It made me feel I was on the right track with my career and the way I see the world.

Favorite quotes:

  • “Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”
  • “No one-not Walt, not Steve, not the people of Pixar-even achieved creative success by simply clinging to what used to work.”
  • “Since change is inevitable, the question is: Do you act to stop it and try to protect yourself from it, or do you become the master of change by accepting it and being open to it? My view, of course, is that working with change is what creativity is about.”

I highly recommend this book if you want to know more about the inner workings Pixar and you want to be in a leadership position one day. It’s also a good read even if you don’t have a leadership role, but want to act more like a leader within the company you work for.

OVERALL RATING

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

WEBSITE

Edwin Earl “Ed” Catmull, PhD is a computer scientist and current president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, DisneyToon Studios, and Pixar Animation Studios. As a computer scientist, Catmull has contributed to many important developments in computer graphics. (Bio from Goodreads)

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Book Review | Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray

BOOK REVIEW

TITLE: Master & Apprentice

AUTHOR: Claudia Gray

PUBLISHER: Del Rey Publishing

RELEASE DATE: April 16, 2019

GENRE: Science Fiction

BUY LINKS: Amazon | B&N 

An unexpected offer threatens the bond between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi as the two Jedi navigate a dangerous new planet and an uncertain future.

A Jedi must be a fearless warrior, a guardian of justice, and a scholar in the ways of the Force. But perhaps a Jedi’s most essential duty is to pass on what they have learned. Master Yoda trained Dooku; Dooku trained Qui-Gon Jinn; and now Qui-Gon has a Padawan of his own. But while Qui-Gon has faced all manner of threats and danger as a Jedi, nothing has ever scared him like the thought of failing his apprentice.

Obi-Wan Kenobi has deep respect for his Master, but struggles to understand him. Why must Qui-Gon so often disregard the laws that bind the Jedi? Why is Qui-Gon drawn to ancient Jedi prophecies instead of more practical concerns? And why wasn’t Obi-Wan told that Qui-Gon is considering an invitation to join the Jedi Council—knowing it would mean the end of their partnership? The simple answer scares him: Obi-Wan has failed his Master.

When Jedi Rael Averross, another former student of Dooku, requests their assistance with a political dispute, Jinn and Kenobi travel to the royal court of Pijal for what may be their final mission together. What should be a simple assignment quickly becomes clouded by deceit, and by visions of violent disaster that take hold in Qui-Gon’s mind. As Qui-Gon’s faith in prophecy grows, Obi-Wan’s faith in him is tested—just as a threat surfaces that will demand that Master and apprentice come together as never before, or be divided forever. (Description from Goodreads)

MY THOUGHTS

(***Please note that this review may contain spoilers***)

To continue my journey to reading all the Star Wars Canon books I read Master & Apprentice that takes place before The Phantom Menace. I wanted to see what Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s relationship and adventures were like before they encountered Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine.

While on a mission to help discover the truth behind terrorist attacks on the planet of Pijal, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan must also navigate their strained relationship. Prior to the mission, it was revealed to Obi-Wan that Qui-Gon was asked to consider joining the Jedi Council which, if accepted, would mean that Obi-Wan would be assigned to a new Master. Qui-Gon had intended to tell Obi-Wan himself, but was having trouble doing so. This was added to what was already proving to be a difficult relationship to begin with. Qui-Gon at times needed to follow his path and heart, while Obi-Wan was set on following the Jedi rules to the T.

But they had a mission they needed to achieve. Uncover the terrorist group and protect the process of a treaty being signed with Pijal that would ultimately help the completion of a hyperspace corridor. The treaty would also abolish the monarch on the planet and open to an assembly process. However, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan soon discover that the treaty is severely flawed and would give permanent power to the private company, the Czerka Corporation, which was very corrupt. The treaty would essentially keep Pijal from being able to cancel any Czerka contracts in the future and give them power to determine punishments, which they regularly came with enslavement. All if this would be signed during the coronation ceremony of young Princess Fanry.

Qui-Gon had voiced his concerns about the coronation taking place after he had a vision of the future where the princess would be attacked during the ceremony. He pleaded with the Jedi Council and the people in the palace to delay it. Not just to protect the princess, but also do rectify the flaws within the treaty itself. To Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s surprise, they found the the terrorist group was actually being led by Princess Fanry herself, but turns out she wanted to keep her absolute monarch power and wasn’t really fighting for the people.

What I like most about this book is that you got to see where Obi-Wan began and why he was such a great Jedi Knight in the movies. I also liked that I didn’t see the Princess Fanry twist coming. I actually thought Rael Averross was behind it all along with the head of military Captain Deren.

Overall, I really liked this book, not as much as others, but its a great read for my Star Wars Reading Challenge. I would recommend this book if you really enjoy the characters Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. That way you can understand the characters more and what they’ve been through together that made them stronger as a Master and Padawan.

OVERALL RATING

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS | TWITTER

Claudia Gray is not my real name. I didn’t choose a pseudonym because my real name is unpleasant (it isn’t), because I’d always dreamed of calling myself this (I haven’t) or even because I’m hiding from the remnants of that international diamond-smuggling cartel I smashed in 2003 (Interpol has taken care of them). In short, I took a pseudonym for no real reason whatsoever. Sometimes this is actually the best reason to do things.

I live in New Orleans. So far, in life, I’ve been a disc jockey, a lawyer, a journalist and an extremely bad waitress, just to name a few. I especially like to spend time traveling, hiking, reading and listening to music. More than anything else, I enjoy writing. (Bio from Goodreads)

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Book Review | Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston

BOOK REVIEW

TITLE: Ahsoka

AUTHOR: E.K. Johnston

PUBLISHER: Disney Lucasfilm Press

RELEASE DATE: October 11, 2016

GENRE: Science Fiction; Young Adult

BUY LINKS: Amazon | B&N 

Fans have long wondered what happened to Ahsoka after she left the Jedi Order near the end of the Clone Wars, and before she re-appeared as the mysterious Rebel operative Fulcrum in Rebels. Finally, her story will begin to be told. Following her experiences with the Jedi and the devastation of Order 66, Ahsoka is unsure she can be part of a larger whole ever again. But her desire to fight the evils of the Empire and protect those who need it will lead her right to Bail Organa, and the Rebel Alliance. (Description from Goodreads)

MY THOUGHTS

(***Please note that this review may contain spoilers***)

I started reading Ahsoka because she has become one of my favorite Star Wars characters. I watched The Clone Wars series with my husband (during quarantine) and was hooked. Ahsoka is a strong female character and I truly enjoyed watching her story unfold and was devastated when she left the Jedi Order.

To start my Star Wars Canon Reading Challenge I wanted to find out more about her story after Order 66. I wanted to know where she ended up, what she was doing, and was she still using the force. This book didn’t disappoint and I saw much of the Ahsoka I came to know watching The Clone Wars, but she had new struggles to deal with and unfortunately, was dealing with it on her own. There were no other Jedi she could lean on anymore.

Ahsoka was looking for a planet with a small population; somewhere where she wouldn’t be recognized and can lay low. Raada was exactly what she was looking for at first. Most of the book is centered around what happens on Raada, but also focuses on Ahsoka’s struggle with keeping her Jedi powers a secret. She wants to protect those around her, but she also wants to protect herself and any fellow Jedi that may have survived after Order 66. So she blocked herself from the force. 

At some point the Empire decides to take over the agricultural moon to use their soil and their labor for their own agriculture project. They forced the town to plant and harvest something that the Imperials could consume in low gravity environments. I think the food source was intended to be used for those working on the Death Star project, but that’s just my theory and what it made me think of.

Ahsoka teams up with several of the locals and comes up with a plan to sabotage the Imperial walkers, but they were doing it in a way that would make it seem like they got destroyed due to the elements of Raada. Their plan would have worked if it hadn’t been for a few other locals having their own plan to attack the Imperial base. Their plan went wrong and Ahsoka had to try and save those that were a part of this secret plan. Some ended up dying and Ahsoka finally had to reveal her powers to save as many others as she could.

She eventually had to leave Raada to protect everyone else because now that she revealed she was a Jedi the Empire would be looking for her again. She was right. This is when the inquisitors are introduced that we end up seeing in the Star Wars Rebels series. The inquisitor is tasked with finding this Jedi and destroying them.

Once Ahsoka is off Raada she goes back to the planet where the book started and she had to flee from. She gets her old job back with the Fardi family and continues fixing things for them. She ends up gaining their trust to make deliveries in their ships. While making these deliveries she takes on some of her own missions to help others. The missions aren’t planned, she just helps those when she comes across them so that she doesn’t get the attention of the Empire.

Her good deeds don’t go unnoticed by Bail Organa of Alderaan. He could tell these are the acts of a Jedi and he tasks a few of his pilots to find them. He doesn’t know who it is yet, but needs to see if this Jedi can be persuaded to join the rebellion he’s building in secret.

Eventually Ahsoka and Bail meet again and she’ll help his rebellion with one favor. She needs help saving the people of Raada. So Ahsoka ends up going back to Raada and fighting this inquisitor. She wins of course, but ends up getting her new kyber crystals for her lightsabers in the most unlikely place (I don’t want to give this away). She saves the people of Raada with Bail Organa’s assistance.

I tried not to get too deep into details when writing this review, but I needed to get across that no matter where or what Ahsoka does she’s going to be pulled back into the war and fighting the Empire. She’s a good person and doesn’t want to see anyone suffer, so she risks her own life (revealing her Jedi powers) to save others. She is heroic and strong. I feel that even though she closed herself from the force for so long she became even stronger than before after deciding not to hide it anymore. Stronger than when she was in the Clone Wars.

I really enjoyed reading this book because I had just finished watching Star Wars Rebels so it was nice to put a a few other pieces together on how Ahsoka and Bail Organa teamed up again and how Fulcrum started.

I highly recommend the book Ahsoka if you’re a Star Wars fan and want to know more about this character or the storyline leading up to the Star Wars Rebels series.

OVERALL RATING

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS | TWITTER

E.K. Johnston had several jobs and one vocation before she became a published writer. If she’s learned anything, it’s that things turn out weird sometimes, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, that and how to muscle through awkward fanfic because it’s about a pairing she likes. (Bio from Goodreads)

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Book Review | The Return by Nicholas Sparks

BOOK REVIEW

TITLE: The Return

AUTHOR: Nicholas Sparks

PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing

RELEASE DATE: September 29, 2020

GENRE: Romance, Fiction, Women’s Fiction

BUY LINKS: AMAZON | B&N

In the romantic tradition of Dear John and The Lucky One, #1 New York Times bestselling author Nicholas Sparks returns with the story of an injured Navy doctor — and two women whose secrets will change the course of his life.

Trevor Benson never intended to move back to New Bern, NC. But when a mortar blast outside the hospital where he worked as an orthopedic surgeon sent him home from Afghanistan with devastating injuries, the dilapidated cabin he inherited from his grandfather seemed as good a place to regroup as any.
Tending to his grandfather’s beloved bee hives while gearing up for a second stint in medical school, Trevor isn’t prepared to fall in love with a local . . . and yet, from their very first encounter, his connection with Natalie Masterson can’t be ignored. But even as she seems to reciprocate his feelings, she remains frustratingly distant, making Trevor wonder what she’s hiding.

Further complicating his stay in New Bern is the presence of a sullen teenage girl, Callie, who lives in the trailer park down the road from his grandfather’s cabin. Claiming to be 19, she works at the local sundries store and keeps to herself. When he discovers she was once befriended by his grandfather, Trevor hopes Callie can shed light on the mysterious circumstances of his grandfather’s death, but she offers few clues — until a crisis triggers a race that will uncover the true nature of Callie’s past, one more intertwined with the elderly man’s passing than Trevor could ever have anticipated.

In his quest to unravel Natalie and Callie’s secrets, Trevor will learn the true meaning of love and forgiveness . . . and that in life, to move forward, we must often return to the place where it all began. (Description from Goodreads.com)

MY THOUGHTS

I can always count on Nicholas Sparks to write a novel I can’t put down. While I couldn’t completely connect with these characters, like I’ve been able to with other books he’s written, the book was still enjoyable and he created some interesting and complex characters.

Trevor is a veteran working through his PTSD while also going through the pain that came with his grandfather’s passing. The mystery behind where his grandfather was when he died also gnaws at him. While going through his grandfather’s belongings and fixing up his house he meets many people in the town that he becomes interested in and curious about. One of them is a police officer named Natalie and a young girl named Callie.

Trevor really likes Natalie and wants to get to know her, but she’s very guarded and Trevor has no idea why. He makes several attempts to take down her wall, but once he thinks he’s gotten through there’s another wall. Trevor has his theories about why she keeps closing him out, but what he discovers is nothing he ever expected, but it gives him what he needs to let her go…at least until the end.

He also meets a young girl named Callie who lives in a trailer park near his grandfather’s. The fact that she seems so young intrigues him, but also that it seems she knew his grandfather. Trevor tries to talk to Callie about his grandfather to see if she could shed some light on the mystery of where is grandfather was when he died. But Callie wants nothing to do with him. Callie’s story and finishing his grandfather’s journey to help this young girl is what gives Trevor a new purpose and helps him keep his mind off Natalie.

In the end, they all end up where they should which is exactly what I’ve come to expect from a Nicholas Sparks book. If I look at his work as a whole The Return is not my favorite, but its still good. I would recommend it if you’re a Nicholas Sparks fan or you can connect with a character who is a veteran with PTSD.

OVERALL RATING

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Book Review | The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger

BOOK REVIEW | THE RIDE OF A LIFETIME

TITLE: The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

AUTHOR: Robert Iger, Jim Frangione (Narrator), Joel Lovell

PUBLISHER: Random House

RELEASE DATE: September 23, 2019

GENRE: Business, Biography, Nonfiction, Leadership

BUY LINKS: AMAZON | B&N | BETTER WORLD | INDIEBOUND

A grand vision defined: The CEO of Disney, one of Time’s most influential people of 2019, shares the ideas and values he embraced to reinvent one of the most beloved companies in the world and inspire the people who bring the magic to life.

Robert Iger became CEO of The Walt Disney Company in 2005, during a difficult time. Competition was more intense than ever and technology was changing faster than at any time in the company’s history. His vision came down to three clear ideas: Recommit to the concept that quality matters, embrace technology instead of fighting it, and think bigger—think global—and turn Disney into a stronger brand in international markets.

Twelve years later, Disney is the largest, most respected media company in the world, counting Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox among its properties. Its value is nearly five times what it was when Iger took over, and he is recognized as one of the most innovative and successful CEOs of our era.

In The Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger shares the lessons he’s learned while running Disney and leading its 200,000 employees, and he explores the principles that are necessary for true leadership, including:

• Optimism. Even in the face of difficulty, an optimistic leader will find the path toward the best possible outcome and focus on that, rather than give in to pessimism and blaming.
• Courage. Leaders have to be willing to take risks and place big bets. Fear of failure destroys creativity.
• Decisiveness. All decisions, no matter how difficult, can be made on a timely basis. Indecisiveness is both wasteful and destructive to morale.
• Fairness. Treat people decently, with empathy, and be accessible to them.

This book is about the relentless curiosity that has driven Iger for forty-five years, since the day he started as the lowliest studio grunt at ABC. It’s also about thoughtfulness and respect, and a decency-over-dollars approach that has become the bedrock of every project and partnership Iger pursues, from a deep friendship with Steve Jobs in his final years to an abiding love of the Star Wars mythology.

“The ideas in this book strike me as universal” Iger writes. “Not just to the aspiring CEOs of the world, but to anyone wanting to feel less fearful, more confidently themselves, as they navigate their professional and even personal lives.” (Description from Goodreads)

MY THOUGHTS

Everyone who knows me, knows I want to be CEO of an insurance company one day. I’m very careful and thoughtful about my path to achieving this goal one day. I’m invested in learning as much as I can from the leaders I know and those that inspire me. I work extremely hard to make an impact in the company I work for and I’m very passionate about us succeeding. I also know that I need to take professional risks and feel a little out of my element. This will and has helped me grow in so many ways.

With that being said, I have a big career decision coming up that would have a significant impact on my future and my goals. So I started thinking about the CEOs that inspire me and Robert Iger immediately came to mind. I thought this was the perfect time for me to read his book, The Ride of a Lifetime.

This book is part professional leadership lessons, but also part autobiography. He tells the story of his time leading up to becoming CEO and then some of the biggest changes in Disney’s history while he was CEO. He tells us what was happening, what he was feeling, and how he approached each person he needed to work with. Then he sprinkles in his perspective and lessons on leadership during each of these moments.

Here are some of my favorite lessons from Iger. These resonated with me the most while I’ve been working through my thoughts on this potential role.

  • “Innovate or die, and there’s no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new or untested.”
  • “There are moments in our careers, in our lives, that are inflection points, but they’re often not the most obvious or dramatic ones.” 
  • “My instinct throughout my career has always been to say yes to every opportunity. I wanted to move up and learn and do more, and I wasn’t going to forgo any chance to do that, but I also wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing things that I was unfamiliar with.”

Overall, I would highly recommend this book if you want to be in a leadership role or even if you want to better yourself professionally. Iger has a lot of valuable advice and I feel confident using it because of the success the Walt Disney Company has seen while he’s been CEO. You’d also enjoy this book as a Disney fan to get an inside look at how decisions are made from the very top and what it takes to keep this enormous entertainment company relevant and growing.

OVERALL RATING

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

WEBSITE | GOODREADS | TWITTER

Robert A. Iger is Executive Chairman of The Walt Disney Company and Chairman of the Board of Directors. He assumed the role of Executive Chairman on February 25, 2020, in conjunction with the announcement of Bob Chapek being named as Chief Executive Officer. As Executive Chairman, Mr. Iger will direct the Company’s creative endeavors, while leading the Board and providing the full benefit of his experience, leadership and guidance to ensure a smooth transition through the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2021. Mr. Chapek will report to Mr. Iger in his capacity as Executive Chairman, and to the Board. (Description from Walt Disney Company website)

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Book Review | The Traitor by V.S. Alexander

BOOK REVIEW | THE TRAITOR

TITLE: The Traitor

AUTHOR: V.S. Alexander

PUBLISHER: Kensington Publishing Corp

RELEASE DATE: February 25, 2020

GENRE: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance

BUY LINKS: AMAZON | B&N | INDIEBOUND

Drawing on the true story of the White Rose—the resistance movement of young Germans against the Nazi regime—The Traitor tells of one woman who offers her life in the ultimate battle against tyranny, during one of history’s darkest hours.

In the summer of 1942, as war rages across Europe, a series of anonymous leaflets appears around the University of Munich, speaking out against escalating Nazi atrocities. The leaflets are hidden in public places, or mailed to addresses selected at random from the phone book. Natalya Petrovich, a student, knows who is behind the leaflets—a secret group called the White Rose, led by siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends.

As a volunteer nurse on the Russian front, Natalya witnessed the horrors of war first-hand. She willingly enters the White Rose’s circle, where every hushed conversation, every small act of dissent could mean imprisonment or death at the hands of an infuriated Gestapo. Natalya risks everything alongside her friends, hoping the power of words will encourage others to resist. But even among those she trusts most, there is no guarantee of safety—and when danger strikes, she must take an extraordinary gamble in her own personal struggle to survive. (Description from Goodreads

MY THOUGHTS

(***Please note that this review may contain spoilers***)

Before I jump into my thoughts about The Traitor, I wanted to start with a quote from the author’s notes. “I can safely say that fewer Europeans outside of Germany, and most Americans, particularly young people, know little of the resistance movements like the White Rose and the Red Orchestra. Their only exposure may be a mention in passing during a history class on World War II. This is another reason I wanted to write The Traitor. We should never forget”. (The Traitor, V.S. Alexander)

For almost a year, I’ve been reading various historical fiction books surrounding WWII because I wanted to continue learning about this time in history. Like the author said, “we should never forget” and books like The Traitor and all the others I’ve read are making sure we know about the people that resisted Hitler’s evil and the horrors of that terrible time in history. We should never forget so that we never see this again in our future.

The Traitor is based on a real group called the White Rose who “composed four leaflets, which exposed and denounced Nazi and SS atrocities, including the extermination of Jews and Polish nobility, and called for resistance to the regime” (History).

Rather than focus on the real life founders and participants of this group, V.S. Alexander created fictional characters that could have been really part of the group. I thought this was a great path for the author to go because there’s more that he could do with the characters and there’s less pressure to be historically accurate with real individuals. However, he still included the founders, Hans and Sophie Scholl as well as other prominent members of the group, but made sure to be true to who they were.

This book was different from the books I’ve read recently, as it focused solely on the perspective of one person, Natalya Petrovich. Other books usually include perspectives from several different people. I liked that I was able to follow just one person’s thoughts and experiences throughout the entire war. We follow Natalya through seeing her town (Munich) destroy jewish establishments all the way to the American liberation of the POW prison she was working at.

V.S. Alexander really captured the horrific circumstances, torture, manipulation, blackmail, and deceitfulness that Natalya faced after she was arrested for being a member of the White Rose. She was consider a traitor to the Reich and every day could have been her last. She spent years in prison, was sent to an asylum, and escaped with the help of others who resisted Hitler’s rule. There was a lot of death along the way and Natalya lost a lot of people, but she didn’t lose hope and kept on going despite everything she’d been through. She was a very brave woman and I suspect there were many women like her that actually existed during WWII.

Overall, this book was amazing. I couldn’t put it down and would highly recommend reading it regardless of the genres you do or don’t read. It’s a great story about resilience in the face of death and uncertainty. It’s a look into another piece of history that you may not know enough about. Most importantly, it highlights the evil that plagued its time and how people overcame it and fought against it. I look forward to reading more from this author and happy I discovered him on NetGalley.

OVERALL RATING

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM

V.S. Alexander is an ardent student of history with a strong interest in music and the visual arts. Some of V.S.’s writing influences include Shirley Jackson, Oscar Wilde, Daphne du Maurier, or any work by the exquisite Brontë sisters. V.S. lives in Florida and is at work on a second historical novel for Kensington. (Bio found on Kensington Publishing Corp website)

Thank you to Kensington Books and NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review | The Orphan Thief by Glynis Peters

BOOK REVIEW | THE ORPHAN THIEF

AUTHOR: Glynis Peters

PUBLISHER: One More Chapter/Harper Collins

RELEASE DATE: November 28, 2019

GENRE: Fiction, Historical Fiction

BUY LINKS: AMAZON | B&N | INDIEBOUND

From the international bestselling author of The Secret Orphan

When all seems lost…

As Hitler’s bombs rain down on a battered and beleaguered Britain, Ruby Shadwell is dealt the most devastating blow – her entire family lost during the Coventry Blitz.

Hope still survives…

Alone and with the city in chaos, Ruby is determined to survive this war and rebuild her life.  And a chance encounter with street urchin Tommy gives Ruby just the chance she needs…

And love will overcome.

Because Tommy brings with him Canadian Sergeant Jean-Paul Clayton.  Jean-Paul is drawn to Ruby and wants to help her, but Ruby cannot bear another loss.  Can love bloom amidst the ruins?  Or will the war take Ruby’s last chance at happiness too? (Description from Goodreads.com)

MY THOUGHTS

(***Please note that this review may contain spoilers***) 

When I first saw the cover and title of The Orphan Thief I thought it would be more about a girl helping orphan’s during the war. But it’s actually centered around a teenage girl named Ruby Shadwell going through her daily life after her city was bombed in the Blitz.

The very beginning of the book was very good. I could feel the intense loss that Ruby was feeling when her entire family was killed by a bomb that hit their home. I could feel the shock she felt as she looked into the crater where her home once stood.

Then the book went into the daily life of Ruby and how she was rebuilding her life literally from the rumble of her home town. She started rebuilding her life by finding, fixing, and selling lost items found throughout the city, but would also try and find its original owners. Ruby was helping the town get on its feet again with her business. I thought this was a very admirable quality for a teenager during a horrific war.

I did feel that the life re-building part of the book was way too long and, in all honesty, I was getting bored until about 50% in when a character named Earl was introduced. Earl was an evil character who was harassing Ruby and was keeping small orphaned children locked away. He forced these children to steal for him. When he was introduced then the title made sense but he wasn’t in the book for very long, only a few chapters.

There was a love interest of Ruby as well. Jean-Paul Clayton, who was a military photographer for the Canadian army. He was occasionally in the book and I felt like he needed to be more prominent based on how “in love” Ruby was with him and the fact that they ended up engaged and had children. I just couldn’t see why they fell in love in the first place.

There were other characters in the book, but it was really just about Ruby and her daily life. Overall, there were parts of the book I really enjoyed, but I felt it needed a lot more about Earl and an orphan named Tommy for the title to make sense. I think it also needed more of Ruby and Jean-Paul if the end goal was for them to be together after the war.

OVERALL RATING

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM

Glynis Peters, lives in Dovercourt, Essex, England. She married her school sweetheart in 1979, and they have three children. They also have three grandchildren, with another due in the spring of 2019, the year of their ruby wedding Anniversary.

In 2014, Glynis was short-listed for the Festival of Romantic Fiction New Talent Award.

In 2018, HarperCollins/HarperImpulse published her novel, The Secret Orphan. The novel rose to several bestseller positions within a few months of release.

When Glynis is not writing she enjoys fishing with her husband, making greetings cards, cross stitch and the company of her granddaughters.

Her grandson lives in Canada, and it is for that reason she  introduced a Canadian pilot into The Secret Orphan. (Description from her website)

Thank you to One More Chapter/Harper Collins and NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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Book Review | The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

BOOK REVIEW | THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON

TITLE: The Last Train to London

AUTHOR: Meg Waite Clayton

PUBLISHER: Harper Collins

RELEASE DATE: September 10, 2019

GENRE: Historical Fiction

BUY LINKS: INDIEBOUND | B&N

The New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Exilesconjures her best novel yet, a pre-World War II-era story with the emotional resonance of Orphan Train and All the Light We Cannot See, centering on the Kindertransportsthat carried thousands of children out of Nazi-occupied Europe—and one brave woman who helped them escape to safety.

In 1936, the Nazi are little more than loud, brutish bores to fifteen-year old Stephan Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family and budding playwright whose playground extends from Vienna’s streets to its intricate underground tunnels. Stephan’s best friend and companion is the brilliant Žofie-Helene, a Christian girl whose mother edits a progressive, anti-Nazi newspaper. But the two adolescents’ carefree innocence is shattered when the Nazis’ take control.

There is hope in the darkness, though. Truus Wijsmuller, a member of the Dutch resistance, risks her life smuggling Jewish children out of Nazi Germany to the nations that will take them. It is a mission that becomes even more dangerous after the Anschluss—Hitler’s annexation of Austria—as, across Europe, countries close their borders to the growing number of refugees desperate to escape.

Tante Truus, as she is known, is determined to save as many children as she can. After Britain passes a measure to take in at-risk child refugees from the German Reich, she dares to approach Adolf Eichmann, the man who would later help devise the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” in a race against time to bring children like Stephan, his young brother Walter, and Žofie-Helene on a perilous journey to an uncertain future abroad. (Description from NetGalley.com)

MY THOUGHTS

There are so many stories to tell of WWII. Those of silent heroes, lives lost, and survivors.  The Last Train to London is part of my WWII historical fiction journey and I’m always astounded by how much I continue to learn about this terrible time in history. But then I’m grateful that there are these stories to tell and that there were brave people trying to do what was right when so much was against them.

Meg Waite Clayton tells a somewhat fictional story about the Kindertransport that saved so many children from the Nazi between 1938-1940. I say somewhat fictional because the book is based on a real effort and woman, Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer, who helped bring many children to safety transporting them by train to London. Without her, and the countless others that helped, who knows what would have happened to those children. More than likely they would not have survived.

The author told this story from several perspectives, Geetrudia (aka Tante Truus), Stephan Neuman, Zofie-Helene, and occasionally relatives of Stephan or Zofie. I believe it was a good mixture of perspectives. It enabled details of how it was for Jewish children, non-Jewish families, and those outside of Nazi invasion trying to help save as many lives as they could.

Vienna: Stephen is a teenage boy of a wealthy jewish family whose made their fortunate with their chocolate business. He lives with his family in an affluent home with his younger brother (Walter), father, and very ill mother. Zofie-Helene is a teenage girl whose a brilliant aspiring mathematician. She lives with her grandfather, younger sister, and mother who writes for an anti-Nazi newspaper.

Amsterdam: Truus is unable to have children of her own, but feels that because of this, it is her duty to save as many children she can. So she risks her life countless times for children she doesn’t know. To do this she must face and somewhat manipulate Nazi soldiers along the way.

Truus’s story is new to me and, by reading this book, I feel that I’ve kept her memory alive somehow. I would have liked more of the book to be about her journey and what she had to do to save the amount of children she did. But of what there was, I can tell that she was an extremely brave woman. Someone to be admired.

Stephen and Zofie’s journeys were very tough and I think Meg was able to capture what it would have been like for them. For Stephen to lose everything and Zofie risking her life for those she loved. I do feel that it needed more detail to give it that one last emotional punch it needed. I really only cried at the very end when Walter (Stephan’s younger brother) was being taken away by his adopted family.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and thought the characters were wonderfully written. I believe Meg did justice to Truus’s story even though I wanted more of it. I would highly recommend this book to those that read historical fiction.

OVERALL RATING

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS | TWITTER

Meg studied history and psychology at the University of Michigan, and is a graduate of its law school. She was  born in Washington D.C., and has since lived in or around Kansas City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Baltimore, Nashville, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco. She sets her novels in places she finds fascinating: The Last Train to London is set in Vienna, Amsterdam, and England; The Race for Paris in France; The Wednesday Daughtersin the English Lakes; The Four Ms. Bradwells in Ann Arbor and the Chesapeake; The Wednesday Sisters in her current hometown in the Silicon Valley; and The Language of Light in the Maryland horse country. For Beautiful Exiles the list is long but includes in Key West, Sun Valley, New York, and St. Louis, Cuba, Spain, China, France, England, Czechoslovakia, and Sweden.  She is at work on a new novel, also to be published by HarperCollins. (Bio found on Meg’s website)

Thank you to Harper Collins and NetGalley for a copy to this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review | The Occupation Secret by Mario Reading

BOOK REVIEW | THE OCCUPATION SECRET

TITLE: The Occupation Secret

AUTHOR: Mario Reading

PUBLISHER: Canelo

RELEASE DATE: August 12, 2019

GENRE: Fiction, Historical Fiction

BUY LINKS: AMAZON

Relegated to an isolated provincial town in France after years spent fighting on the Eastern Front, German commander Maximilian von Aschau finds unexpected distraction in the form of beautiful and reserved Lucie Léré.

He’s seen every horror of the human experience. She’s never left her village. Opposites in every way, Max and Lucie manage to find common ground. But love is the most dangerous element of war. It makes you vulnerable… and careless.

With the Allied invasion imminent and tensions high, Max and Lucie will have to turn their backs on everything they’ve known and anyone they once trusted in order to protect their secret – and their lives.(Description from NetGalley.com) 

MY THOUGHTS

Unfortunately, I was several chapters in and couldn’t really get into the book. I thought it was going to have more romance based on the description and the cover. I was also waiting for the female character to be introduced and stopped reading because she never emerged. Of what I did read it seemed more about the politics and intensity of war than anything else.

Overall, this book may be more for those who want more about the gore and politics of war. Personally, I like to have more emotion and female perspective in historical fictions.

OVERALL RATING

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Book Review | See Me by Nicholas Sparks

BOOK REVIEW | SEE ME

201510-see-meTITLE: See Me

AUTHOR: Nicholas Sparks

PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing

RELEASE DATE: October 12, 2015

GENRE: Romance, Fiction, Women’s Fiction

BUY LINKS: AMAZON | B&N | BAM! | INDIEBOUND | WALMART |  iBOOKS

Colin Hancock is giving his second chance his best shot. With a history of violence and bad decisions behind him and the threat of prison dogging his every step, he’s determined to walk a straight line. To Colin, that means applying himself single-mindedly toward his teaching degree and avoiding everything that proved destructive in his earlier life. Reminding himself daily of his hard-earned lessons, the last thing he is looking for is a serious relationship.

Maria Sanchez, the hardworking daughter of Mexican immigrants, is the picture of conventional success: with a degree from Duke Law School and a job at a prestigious firm in Wilmington, she is a dark-haired beauty with a seemingly flawless professional track record. And yet Maria has a traumatic history of her own, one that compelled her to return to her home town and left her questioning so much of what she once believed.

A chance encounter on a rainswept road will alter the course of both Colin and Maria’s lives, challenging deeply held assumptions about each other and ultimately, themselves. As love unexpectedly takes hold between them, they dare to envision what a future together could possibly look like . . . until menacing reminders of events in Maria’s past begin to surface.

As a series of threatening incidents wreaks chaos in Maria’s life, Maria and Colin will be tested in increasingly terrifying ways. Will demons from their past destroy the tenuous relationship they’ve begun to build, or will their love protect them, even in the darkest hour?

Rich in emotion and fueled with suspense, See Me reminds us that love is sometimes forged in the crises that threaten to shatter us . . . and that those who see us for who we truly are may not always be the ones easiest to recognize. (Description from Nicholas Sparks website)

MY THOUGHTS

14055173_10154457944313624_2126584136223489598_nA while back, I was “hanging” out in the Denver International Airport with a couple of hours to kill when I decided to walk around and check out the shops. That’s when I finally came across the paperback edition of See Me by Nicholas Sparks (Yes…I’m that person that waits for the paperback edition of a book). I had been waiting a while (almost a full year) to read his new book and it literally took me less than a second to decide that I was going to buy it and start reading it in the airport. Then I decided what better way to enjoy a Nicholas Sparks book then with a wine flight. As soon as I started reading the book, with a glass of wine in my hand, I could not put it down.

As always, Nicholas Sparks knows how to create a story that sucks you in until you’re left wanting more. See Me is the story about two people who grow to love each other regardless of the pasts that haunt them and, in a way, their pasts have brought them closer. It also portrays the concept that timing is everything in a relationship.

I would say that there’s a lot about Maria Sanchez that I relate to. She’s a hard worker, smart, career focused, and family oriented. You can tell that she wants to let loose, but the goals she has set for herself and a traumatic experience at her previous firm have tamed her adventurous side.

Colin Hancock is a man with quite the colorful (violent) past. If Maria had known Colin during his violent days there’s no way she would have even gone on a date with him. There’s a lot to Colin and his violent tendencies stemmed from difficulties during his childhood. Unfortunately, his difficulties continued to adulthood until he was given an ultimatum…he had to straighten up or he can spend years of his life in prison.

Overall, I enjoyed the suspense aspect that isn’t typical of Nicholas Sparks books, but it still had that love story that I want out of his books too. I shed some tears and was at the edge of my seat throughout the book, so I’d say it was an emotional roller coaster. I may be biased because he’s my all time favorite author, but I would highly recommend this book and add it your Nicholas Sparks collection.

OVERALL RATING

ABOUT NICHOLAS SPARKS

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM

nicholas-sparksNicholas Sparks is one of the world’s most beloved storytellers. All of his books have been New York Times bestsellers, with over 105 million copies sold worldwide, in more than 50 languages, including over 75 million copies in the United States alone.

Sparks wrote one of his best-known stories, The Notebook, over a period of six months at age 28. It was published in 1996 and he followed with the novels Message in a Bottle (1998), A Walk to Remember (1999), The Rescue (2000), A Bend in the Road (2001), Nights in Rodanthe (2002), The Guardian (2003), The Wedding (2003), True Believer (2005) and its sequel, At First Sight (2005), Dear John (2006), The Choice (2007), The Lucky One (2008), The Last Song (2009), Safe Haven (2010), The Best of Me (2011), and The Longest Ride (2013) as well as the 2004 non-fiction memoir Three Weeks With My Brother, co-written with his brother Micah. His eighteenth novel, See Me, published on October 12, 2015. His newest book, Two by Two, will be published on October 4, 2016.

Film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels, including The Choice, The Longest Ride, The Best of Me, Safe Haven (on all of which he served as a producer), The Lucky One, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Last Song, have had a cumulative worldwide gross of over three-quarters of a billion dollars.

In 2012, Sparks and his publishing agent and creative partner Theresa Park, launched Nicholas Sparks Productions, with Park as President of Production. A film version of The Guardian is currently in development, as is a film based on Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers’s friendship with Chicago Bears teammate Brian Piccolo.

Sparks lives in North Carolina. He contributes to a variety of local and national charities, and is a major contributor to the Creative Writing Program (MFA) at the University of Notre Dame, where he provides scholarships, internships, and a fellowship annually. He co-founded The Epiphany School in New Bern, North Carolina in 2006. As a former full scholarship athlete (he still holds a track and field record at the University of Notre Dame) he also spent four years coaching track and field athletes at the local public high school. In 2009, the team he coached at New Bern High School set a World Junior Indoor Record in the 4 x400 meter, in New York. The record still stands.

The Nicholas Sparks Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to improving cultural and international understanding through global education experiences for students of all ages was launched in 2011. Between the foundation, and the personal gifts of the Sparks family, more than $15 million dollars have been distributed to deserving charities, scholarship programs, and projects. Because the Sparks family covers all operational expenses of the foundation, 100% of donations are devoted to programs. (Bio found on NicholasSparks.com)

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