Killing Rasputin The Murder That Ended The Russian Empire by Margarita Nelipa

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“Aristocrats viewed Rasputin as engaging and modest, traits that allowed him to mix amongst them. Despite his clothing and unusual appearance, it was his sincerity that appealed to them. His pragmatic thoughts became wisdom, which contrasted with the esoteric mysticism that pervaded high society. The problems stemmed from rumors that spoke of Rasputin’s divine gift of healing and prophesizing.   Those supposed qualities made him immensely popular.”

Those very qualities later became questionable and it wasn’t long before he was seen as vulgar, beneath the very people who first were enthralled by Rasputin. That he was a character is partially due to myths, rumors and the mysteries surrounding his life, as well as his death. I’ve always had an interest in the doomed Romanov family and the man that they welcomed into their bosom. A wandering msytic, self-proclaimed holy man, healer, or was he a dirty, ignorant peasant not fit to lick the boots of high society? It depends on which books you read, whose stories you believe. Here, Margarita Nelipa skips speculation and studies sold evidence. From his humble beginnings to befriending  Emperor Nicholas II and his family, the murder of Rasputin and the ever changing tumult history and revolution that followed, this book explores it all. Who wanted Rasputin dead? Who didn’t?

How fast his fall, media campaigns against him, exposing him as a charlatan, questioning his belief in natural remedies. Of course Rasputin was a part of a political storm, simply being a part of high society during a hot time in Russia’s history. With lies circling about Rasputin’s sexual ‘exploits’ as noted in this book, the Empress too was smeared. Gossip, however whispered, can be the downfall of many. The truth was that the young Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was better when Rasputin was near, and what mother, desperate to keep her child healthy and of this earth wouldn’t have faith in his presence?

Taking fabrications and using common sense and logic to find truth, much of what was said to damage Rasputin were impossibilities, simply for his station in life. Unfortunately Rasputin wasn’t one to challenge the falsities written about him, being a holy man. Maybe he wasn’t all the amazing, colorful, wild things he has been accused or praised (depending who you ask) of being, but he has held our fascination for over a century.

Which version is to be believed of his murder? Who masterminded the crime? What brought these conspirators together? Was Rasputin lured to his death, believing he was meeting with Nikolai II’s niece? With accounts, eye witnesses, Nelipa finds the holes and shares them with the reader. What did the British have to do with anything? Did they really believe Rasputin was an ‘evil influence’ on Russia and it’s people? As stated in the book, “Once the Russians eliminated Rasputin, they allegedly steered back onto the correct (British) course and continued fighting the war.” Who murdered him is known, but what were the triggers?

The people were turning on the emperor, as were the aristocrats, feeling the rupture between the dynasty and the Russian people could be laid at Rasputin’s peasant feet. They believed it was Rasputin that was guiding them, and he had to go. All of this is well known, but not everyone is aware of why Alexandra Fyodorovna was vastly different from other aristocrats. Already there were criticisms aimed at her, for enjoying her motherly duties, more consumed by love for her children than the social scene, surely her bond with Rasputin fed the fire. The sad diary entries shared throughout this book are nothing short of heartbreaking.

Rasputin was an outsider, many felt he weaseled his way in, bending the ear of the family in ways others of higher station never could. That in itself is enough to feed hate. It’s a fantastic gathering of material that sheds light on the life and death of Rasputin, and the influence he had on history. Sorting through the murky depths of lies and truth, it is an eye opening read. Certainly the fiction of Rasputin was far more interesting than the reality, but you cannot dispute facts. I always believed him to be a monk, a mystic, a psychic- I have heard everything, but this book lays much of it to rest. He wasn’t the depraved sex craved monster some have painted him, he was despised by the wealthy, the prominent and who can fight the powers that be when they so chose to turn on you? No one then and likely no one now. Time is a funny thing, truth has a way of crawling out of the dark tunnels of the past but not without the attention, blood, sweat and tears of writers like Margarita Nelipa. I am not an expert on Russian history but this book has changed the things I thought I knew about Rasputin.

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WildBlue Press

 

 

 

 

The Secret Life of the Mind How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides by Mariano Sigman

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“So different social experiences result in completely distinct brains. A caress, a word, an image- every life experience leaves a trace in the brain. “

Interesting to think that our social lives do leave traces on our brains, changing how we react, think, feel. It all matters, even the things our brains leave out, discard. This book is full of fascinating information about our minds, that glorious brain. From earlier studies about babies and the changing science behind new studies that greatly change what we thought was true, to the beauty of bilingual upbringings and how it alters the brain, everything within this book is of importance to every human being. The studies into what is good, bad, fair and unfair really express that some things could be innate. How do newborns recognize intentions so soon? How is morality formed?

Bias is a funny beast, and none of us are without it. As we are told in this book, just look at history. What about love? How much is scientific, it is pheromones alone? Not so fast. What about our decisions? How often are our choices based on instinct, and what exactly is instinct? Is it supernatural, is it our brain working faster, always a step ahead of our body? What about our beliefs in opposition with the reality we exist in? Why do we remain steadfast in our beliefs, be they positive or negative, regardless of evidence contrary to said belief? Is it our brain?

Why do we forgot horrible pain, ‘selective forgetting’, as mothers do after childbirth? Was Freud really Working in the Dark, just what is consciousness? And while I can tickle you, why can’t I tickle myself? How does our brain take in visual stimulus? I find this sentence very loaded. “In some sense, then, dreams and schizophrenia have similarities, since they both revolve around not recognizing the authorship of our own creations.” It’s an interesting comparison. We need to understand our brain, it’s as vast and mysterious as outer space. A study on a woman after a car crash, thought to be an in vegetative state brings forth provocative questions about the bigger choices to be made. How do we know someone isn’t still ‘in there’ and just can’t communicate in the usual way? What if readings show the brain is active? What does any of it mean? How much more do we have to learn? How will this effect those thought to be in vegetative states and the future decisions to be made on their behalf?

Why is sleep necessary? Is it possible to learn while sleeping? Is sleep’s only purpose to cleanse, and repair? Interesting to think our brain is still highly active when we sleep, and that during the day, “our brain frequently unmoors from reality and creates its own thoughts. We often spend a large part of the day talking to ourselves.”  All of this much like night dreaming but we are awake! Personally, I have always wondered about lucid dreaming, often doing so myself, usually when I am about to do something wonderful and realize I am dreaming, my dream tends to fall apart from there and up, and out of sleep- I awake. Comes in handy for bad dreams though!

How do substances affect us? Are the more ‘harmless’ substances really safe for the young? Read on about the experiments into cannabis. This book is one of the most informative works I have read, and I have some questions now about this gelatinous computer I carry in my noggin. Do I have the questions? Wait, is it my BRAIN with all the questions, and can the brain respond truthfully about itself? I am talking in circles. It’s crucial to understand our bodies, and the brain appears to still be the control center so why wouldn’t you be curious?

Fascinating journey into the mind/brain… the self.

Publication Date: June 27, 2017

Little, Brown and Company

 

The Almost Sisters: A Novel by Joshilyn Jackson

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“Up until now she’d been so protected; she hadn’t known that no one grew up without collecting dings ad broken edges. I hated standing witness to this first hard blow, hated hearing the shiver and crack of her faith.”

Much like what her niece Lavender is now facing, Leia Birch Briggs has been subjected to life’s many dings and fractures, of family, of friendship and now of her grandma Birchie’s mind. Channeling her life experiences through her successfully popular comic book character (because certainly her family life offers much food for comic book creations) she should be on top of the world. So it is with a smitten fan dressed as Batman that she has a wild night, one that has left her ‘knocked up’. Just how will she tell her ‘Southern’ family that she is having a biracial baby? Rachel’s (her step-sister) marriage is crumbling, their relationship is strained at best so she can’t quite come sweeping in to save the day. JJ has betrayed Rachel, but years ago he betrayed Leia first, by changing, by forgetting how much he meant to her. He isn’t the only obstacle that has stood between the sisters for years. The competition to be loved by their mother and Keith (Rachel’s father) is a crack in the family home. This very family structure, feeling like the less stable sister, not as beautiful nor as popular, her comic book character has been a way to create a different self. A purging of the emotional chaos through art, Leia has been borrowing from her life, bleeding wounds become colorful saturated characters that live far better lives than she. Embracing her inner nerd as Rachel already  nailed glamour and stability she is stunned by the collapse of perfect Rachel’s marriage.  Despite the resentment, Rachel is still family and her niece Lavender needs her. Leia will be the one stable adult in the stinking mess JJ and Rachel have made, even if it means reluctantly dragging her niece along toward the madness that awaits them in Alabama.

Off she and Lavender go, back to Leia’s family home. Leia’s grandma Birchie is losing her mind, living with her beloved best friend Wattie whose family had been their servants. But Wattie is family, hiding how bad things have gotten, trying to keep both she and Birchie’s head above water. Leia thinks she is coming to put things in order, just as her own life is chaos. Nothing could prepare her for the real monsters in the attic! In the grand family home, even well to do, prominent families have skeletons. Just how long can darkness hide from the light of exposure? Just how much truth can Leia handle? How is she to tell her family about her own secrets, track down her baby’s daddy (does she even want to) when Birchie’s secrets threaten to swallow the entire town? Could be in trouble with the law? Just how does her teenage niece become the sole person she is opening herself up to, sorting through her very adult problems?

This south is still split between it’s racist past and it’s changing future. In the deep, sisterly bond Wattie (black) and Birchie (white) share their skin color shouldn’t matter but it always has been a divide in their lives. Black and white, meant to be separate yet living parallel lives, shamed by the things fathers do, born on the side of ‘superiority’ or not, some people chose for themselves to see a different world, and to love as they will, rules be damned. That to this day, Leia has to think about what having a biracial baby means, more an issue for others, is a shame that shadows the beauty of the south. The novel reaches into race issues of the past, and the present but it’s also a dissection of families that are thrown together. It’s about the strong bonds of sisterhood that aren’t always created through blood, as with Wattie and Birchie. Rachel and Leia’s relationship needs just as much love and care but insecurities and needs somehow became a vast distance neither could cross, until now. Sometimes it takes ruptures in one’s world to see how much you mean to each other.

Will Leia be reunited with Batman? Will Lavender be able to glue her parents back together? Will Birchie just become another mad old southern woman, or worse be forced into an old folks home? Will Birchie and Wattie tell their decades old secret once and for all? Well you have to read. Dark and heavy at times, silly and fun, it’s everything,

Publication Date: July 11, 2017

Harper Collins

William Morrow

 

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

 

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“We were Worthy, a town and a team. The town was small, just 4,162 souls calling it home. And we knew just about all of them in one way or another. “

How much can you really know about your neighbors? How can all the adults possibly know what secrets are lurking behind those beatific cheerleader smiles or the monstrous meaning behind the handsome football players winks? A winning touchdown won’t shield the residents of Worthy, Georgia from the tragic deaths of three town darlings. That a sweet young man may be to blame, one of their own who lies injured in the hospital bed suspended in time, trapped by a fog of pain, not yet fully aware of what he has done. Can a mother protect him, will him to forget to keep him safe? The town is hungry for answers, to see someone punished! Everyone will turn on each other, some will remain silent, guarding their shameful secrets. Leah feels like a shadow, marked for death though she wasn’t in the car that night, even if she should have been. She carries survivor’s shame, can’t bear the stares that bore into her seeming to ask “why not you?” Just why wasn’t she in that car, something her own mother wonders too. There are secrets the cheerleaders took with them to their graves, ones she is a part of, one she needs to purge but cannot.

What of the mothers? The last time that Marglyn was with her daughter, there was a fight, how could she have possibly known what fate had in store for her? Shamed that her mind was on another child while Mary Claire needed her, she is weighted with regret and pain… so much pain. Darcy’s son was at the wheel of the other car, her sweet young son who would never harm a soul, now she must protect him fiercely from a town bent on revenge, a town that needs someone to pin their pain and shock on. Who better than the cause! Ava, substitute teacher, a local man’s wife, has a seedy secret, one she hopes died with the popular cheerleaders, those girls with eyes everywhere. Disgusted with herself, that she can find a small relief, safety for herself in such a tragic loss, one that took secrets that would be ruinous to her career, and worse, her marriage. Leah, sweet confused Leah whose best friends weren’t always the greatest, the girls she was supposed to be with and the dirty plan that had her left behind, oblivious that her friends were about to die… all these secrets will converge, splitting some people apart and drawing unlikely friendships and loves together. Is truth salvation, or will it lead to more destruction?

What of the men, what of the men in the lives of the women? They too will face the truth about their lives, strengths, weaknesses and everything in between. Some may see the things they’ve taken for granted, others will need to decide whether to let go or start something new. Some sniffing around women that belong to others, turning toward or away from their wives, stepping up for the children or having a hand in their downfall… no one is without blame. The town of Worthy is about to find out just what they are really made of.

I really enjoyed this more than I expected. Leah had my heart, I think there is a little Leah in every teenage girl, that hunger to be accepted. I think most mothers of teenage girls can relate to the distance and anger that Mary Alice has for her mother. As much as they love us, when girls begin to become young women they get embarrassed by us, even while needing us they carry such an emotional storm within that they lash out as much as they are tender. There is something feral in teenagers, but who can blame them with all those hormones running amok, we remember… we remember being the same. Not easy for mothers at all to see your sweet baby girl blossoming with the push and pull of need. Such a confusing time! Luckily for the majority of us, our bickering will be smoothed over later, not so here. The marriages are a wreck, women make huge mistakes being attention hungry. As the town judges and spouses too, the reader is privy to the internal strife of each character, with such knowledge, just who is to blame for the tragedy? No one or everyone? Sometimes it’s easier to turn on your loved ones rather than to realize how much responsibility you carry.

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

Lake Union Publishing

The Wildling Sisters: A Novel by Eve Chase

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“You have a splinter of ice in your heart, Pam.”

“And you, my strange little sister…” she holds the paperweight up to the light and turns it so slowly that the cobalt swirl of colored glass in its center seems to move, like a girl twisting, dancing in a blue dress. “You have a ghost in yours.” 

In 1959, while their unconventional mother takes the opportunity to work in Morocco, a much welcomed break from single parenting, the Wildling Girls ( Isla, Violet, Maggie and Dot) are sent for the summer to Applecote Manor in the Cotwalds. Their cousin Audrey’s disappearance has left their aunt and uncle changed in different ways, and there are secrets, ‘omissions’ that plunge the family into darkness. Margot’s presence, her secret explorations in her beloved missing cousin’s rooms sets off strange behavior in her aunt Sybil. The emotional state of her aunt is the most sorrowful weight of the entire novel, the terrifying confusion of loss, the denial of cold reality and the hungry need to transfer the longing for her missing daughter unto Margot. Hope will not die in Sybil’s heart, she can’t leave Applecote, not when her every living breath is electric with the possibility that Audrey could return at any moment. Margot loved Audrey in a way the other sisters didn’t, sharing a private world that left the other sister’s out, someone all for herself until Audrey began to blossom, she adored her daring cousin.  Their last summer together Audrey was changing, and how could she have guessed it would be her final goodbye. “Audrey’s home life seemed to me like a never-ending birthday party, albeit without any other guests- until we arrived.” Needing truth, not the evasiveness of the adults, Margot wants to pick of the remains of Audrey’s life. What better place than her room, untouched by the years of her absence?

The sisters are thick as thieves, even in their sisterly pestering of one another, there is love but with the arrival of young men, loyalties will be tested. As their mother always said, ‘Your face must be your fortune, girls, ” Ma will say with a shrug. “I won’t pretend otherwise.”  But what does that mean for Margot, the less memorable of the daughters? What happens when she gets a taste of attention, just how dangerous can passion be? The sister’s yearning may lead them astray, risk their very lives or fray their ties to each other. One thing is certain, they will  be haunted by this summer for years to come.

Current day, Jess has come to said home to escape life in London and her husband’s deceased wife Mandy, whose presence is still alive everywhere she looks in their home. Mandy, much more glamorous and put together than messy, earthy, girl next door Jess,who can’t help but feel inferior to his former wife. Her step-daughter Bella isn’t about to let Jess usurp her mother’s memory, nor is she willing to let Jess love her. All she wants is things back to the way they once were, when it was just Bella and her father Will. Forced together at Applecote, Jess starts to fear for her daughter Romy and sees troubling behavior in young Bella. Could she really want to harm her half sister? Jess has been spiraling out of control, and the countryside doesn’t seem to be helping her one bit. Nothing does, not therapy and she certainly doesn’t want to take the hand Jess has been reaching out to her. What is Jess to do, isolated with a teenager she doesn’t trust, and often fears? Will is never home, he doesn’t see the things in Bella that Jess does. And what of the home’s past, that seems to be haunted by reminders, pictures, pieces to a puzzle that have been left unsolved for decades. Bella won’t let the things she hears die, she intends to find out the truth about their new home, disrupting the past- the hopeful escape and new beginning Jess was hoping for, which may well be eclipsed by darkness.

This is an engaging tale from past to present, a summer of passion and longing, fear and mystery and the ghosts that tail us through time. Everyone is haunted by something. I enjoyed the present day story but really wanted to spend my time in the past with the Wildling Sisters.

Publication Date: July 25, 2017

Penguin

 

 

 

 

 

The Mountain: Stories by Paul Yoon

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“The passage connecting the wings of the hospital had long ago collapsed, so we signaled each other with candles, this brief joy at catching the blurred, lit shapes of other people’s faces over the rubble.”

This collection of stories is like sorrowful stones you will carry in your gut. It is beautiful and tragic and every rotten and fresh emotion lurking between. Different countries, after World War II, in a sanatorium high up in the mountains, at inns or train stations, each of the characters are stooped with grief.  A woman working factories with nothing, with only coins and a tight small space to sleep, remembering the care she gave her dying father. Thankful for that small solitary space, when used to sharing cramped quarters with strangers. Too many hands on her, comfort in her father’s knife tight in her grip. Remembering the river she swam in, a lurking danger, a chemical plant, finding it again long after her youth. Violence, empty hands, wounds- these are not lives of privilege.

In Milner Field an immigrant father shares a sad, terrible story from his past that drives his son to try and find the missing friend from long ago. In Still A Fire, Mikel sifts through rubble that was once city blocks and wonders “What wouldn’t he do?” There is so much hunger in the tales, emotional and physical. The characters are all from many walks of life, similar in not just their suffering but their longing. I walked away thinking about how each of our lives are like solitary planets, some violent, some cold and empty, others bursting with life, filled with love. People wake each morning, some with everything arranged as it’s always been others with everything that anchored them obliterated. In this wide world of ours, so many lives a spinning fury, alien realities we will never know. How the heart breaks with all the suffering and yet how it clings to hope.

Riveting.

Publication Date: August 15, 2017

Simon & Schuster

We Are All Shipwrecks: A Memoir by Kelly Grey Carlisle

 

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“Who killed her? No one really knew. My grandfather had explained this to me. How had she been killed? I knew that too. She’d been strangled. Why she’d been killed didn’t seem as important, and who could answer that question anyway? Why did people die? They just did. People died all the time. Other questions seemed excessive, nosy- like the people that slowed down to stare at crashes on the 405.”

This memoir is not just simply about the tragic murder of Kelly’s mother Michele Ann Grey, when Kelly was a baby, left behind in a drawer. It is the background noise of a complicated, unique upbringing. Today, it’s not that unusual to encounter children being raised by their grandparents, but decades ago it wasn’t so much the norm. When her grandmother passes away, Kelly ends up under the roof of her grandfather Richard and his much younger wife Marilyn. “Sir Richard, that is.”  Much of the survival funded through a porn store the couple owns, that mustn’t ever be mentioned to others, Kelly was surrounded by content she wasn’t ready for. If early exposure to sexual images aren’t enough to confuse a young girl, moving into a houseboat surrounded by misfits, prostitutes and drug addicts certainly is. With a grandfather that loves his ‘Little Toad’, there is more hidden about her family history than she feels free to uncover. Told for years her mother died in a car crash, she discovers that just isn’t so. Who was her father? Nobody worth mentioning, if you ask her grandfather, just some jailhouse trash, if he even was her father. Her grandfather was a character, some people just are, but those who live with them aren’t always delighted and charmed- sometimes swallowed up in shadow instead.

Her family history is scattered to the winds, half truths- half lies. Why does her grandpa have few pictures of her mother? Why is he so bitter and hateful about her deceased grandmother, Spence? The things he tells are brutal to little ears, from sexual stories and jokes to hateful comments. Bitter with disgust for his ex-wife and her ‘friend’, trying to stain the fond memories she has of both, Kelly is thrown into confusion about love. Seesawing between giving her the best, such as making sure she attends top schools, to exposing her to the worst. Forcing his way of life on his wife and child, his nature wasn’t one to ask for approval before making life changing decisions for everyone. Some call it willfulness, others controlling. Did Spence’s secrets drive her mother to her brutal ending? Could her life choices really have caused her mother Michele to run, or was it Richard’s absence? Is Richard to blame for the way her mother turned out? Just where can Kelly point her finger? Just who did murder her mother, could she have been an early victim of the Hillside Stranglers? Or was she a victim of terrible parents?

Her family is abnormal compared to fellow students. Where they have calm adoring homes, beautiful clothes, popular perky friends, Kelly is stuck feeling frumpy, alien to the youth she should understand. She doesn’t listen to the right music, she is a throwback more invested in old shows and movies than in what’s the hot current trends. Other girls don’t have to care for elderly fathers, nor carry the dark mystery of death deep in their hungry hearts. They are sheltered from the filthy things men do to women, at least for now. They don’t yet have to navigate the world full of deviant acts.

Growing up with missing pieces makes for much struggle. As her grandfather ages, he becomes less the adoring, fun-loving grandpa he once was. Marilyn is the only mother Kelly has ever known, and the pain of watching the once beautiful younger woman become a worn out, faded shadow of her former self because of her grandpa’s demanding, often cruel nature is a difficult reality to stomach. Through the years, becoming more of a caretaker for her grandfather she finds solace in swimming, but must fight the jealousy he feels when anything takes attention away from his needs. Much of Kelly’s existence is wrought with conflicting emotions. Sir Richard is the only father she has known, and he has done the best he could. There was love, there are fond memories that peek out much like the sun in a storm.

Will she make it out of this seedy place, living along the water with unfortunate people, on a boat that is falling into disrepair? Could she rise above the bleak existence her mother knew in her final years? Will she ever know the truth about anything in her life? How can she become a strong woman with her grandfather and Marilyn as the sole examples of love? Can she see beauty with a grandfather that immediately colors the world ugly, suspect of every situation, always thinking with his mind in a gutter? Will she sail off into the unknown and finally find a life for herself? Will the thickness of blood keep her moored where she doesn’t want to be?

This memoir is a painful peeling of many layers. None of us are ‘normal’, we all carry the  weight of unmentionable tragedies. Kelly’s just happens float inside a fog of mystery. A heart-breaking, sometimes funny, fascinating memoir.

Publication Date: September 5, 2017

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