August Online Reading Challenge – Wrap Up

Hello!

August has come to an end! How did your Reading Challenge reading work out this month? There are a lot of great books about art and artists, so I hope you were able to find something you enjoyed.

I had a good reading month. I read Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese. It focuses on women from two different time periods, Adele Bloch-Bauer from the 1900s through the 1920s and her niece, Maria Altmann in the 1940s. Both women live through turbulent times and their stories are heavily influenced by one of Gustav Klimt’s most iconic paintings.

Adele Bloch-Bauer comes from a wealthy family and marries a wealthy, influential man. Despite her many privileges, she longs for more – more freedom, more intellectual stimulation, more passion. Vienna before World War I was second only to Paris for artists and intellectuals and the avant garde movement. Adele became a part of their social circle and, with her husband, became a patron of the arts. Through these circles she met Gustav Klimt who was already creating a stir with his modern paintings. Gustav asked Adele to pose for him and she sat for what became “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”, a painting rich with symbolism and painstakingly embellished with gold leaf.

Maria was a newlywed when the Nazi’s invaded Austria in 1938. Almost immediately restrictions were imposed on the Jews. Maria and her family debate whether to stay or leave. They were non-practicing Jews and had served Austria loyally for generations, but it didn’t matter; their homes were confiscated, their possessions seized and their rights denied. Bit by bit Maria and her extended family flee, some to England, some to America, some to Canada, leaving everything behind. Not everyone survives – Maria’s parents refuse to leave Vienna – but those that do build new lives far from what they knew before.

One day, decades later, Maria learns that Austria is offering reparations for the art and valuables that were seized during the war to anyone who can prove that they are the rightful owner. Maria realizes she has a claim to the famous portrait of her aunt and begins the uphill battle to have it returned to her family.

You may have seen the movie The Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren that came out a few years ago and is adapted from this book. The focus of the movie was on Maria’s political battle over the painting, but Stolen Beauty focuses more on Adele’s story and her relationship with Klimt, about Klimt and his various projects plus there is a lot more information about the modern movement in art and architecture which was shaking up the establishment at that time. Maria’s chapters are tense and vivid as the mounting pressure on the Jews becomes unbearable but Adele is the real star of the book. As usual, the book was better than the movie except for one thing – the movie allows you to actually see the painting, it’s size and its remarkable intricacy and detail. And the gold – breathtaking!

Stolen Beauty makes me want to visit Vienna and New York City (where Adele’s portrait now hangs) to see Klimt’s work in person! Highly recommended.

How did you do this month? What did you read for August?

The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer

Military suspense thrillers have been popular for years, yet I have seldom read any. I decided to change this by stepping lightly into this genre. The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer may not be considered a strict military suspense thriller, but there is a definite military feel since the majority of this book takes place on or near Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Add in a compelling story line, missing people, and high levels of secrecy and I was hooked.

The Escape Artist tells the story of Jim ‘Zig’ Zigarowski and his quest to find out what really happened to Nola Brown. Nola Brown was on a flight from Alaska when the plane mysteriously fell from the sky. All on the plane perished and Nola’s body was found not far from the crash site. Mysteries surround this crash as one of the President’s very close friends was on board: the Librarian of Congress. Tasked with finding out what happened, Zig soon finds all of the bodies from the crash delivered to him at the morgue at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. With identities already confirmed by their supervisors, Zig and his colleagues are expected to perform the autopsies as quick as possible and get the bodies back to the families.

When looking at Nola’s body, Zig discovers that there is no way that the body in front of him could be that of Nola Brown. Nola was a childhood friend of Zig’s daughter. A long time ago, Nola saved Zig’s daughter’s life. As a result of that, Nola has a tell-tale scar that Zig knows to look for on Nola. Discovering that it isn’t there and knowing that there wouldn’t be a cosmetic way to make that disappear, Zig realizes that Nola is still alive. The question of why someone would go through such steps to say that this body is Nola’s nags at Zig. He decides that he has to find Nola, if for no other reason than to pay her back for the time that she saved his daughter’s life.

Nola is supposed to be dead. With some investigating, Zig digs into Nola’s past and tries to learn what in her life caused people to want to kill her. He discovers that Nola is a mystery, her previous supervisors believe that she is a curse and trouble follows her everywhere. Looking into these incidents, it becomes clear why the Army chooses to sequester Nola as their artist-in-residence. This keeps her out of the line of fire and hopefully decreases her tendency to bring trouble to any situation.

Nola’s current job allows her to travel the world to any location and any catastrophe in order to make art and observe. Each artist-in-residence has a theme to their artwork throughout their residency. As Zig looks around, he discovers that Nola’s missions may have triggered the notice of an enemy who will do whatever it takes to silence her. Zig and Nola find themselves thrown together on a journey to discover the truth behind a centuries-old conspiracy that reaches all the way up to the highest levels of government and involves an unlikely partner: Harry Houdini.

Here’s to hoping that Brad Metzler turns this book into a series! I’d love to find out what happens with Zig and Nola next.


This book is also available in the following formats:

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber was a delightfully powerful read. Beth Prudhomme has been living under her mother’s thumb in Chicago for the last 25 years. Her mother has decided what she wears, who she dates, where she works, and frankly, Beth is beyond tired of this. After squirreling away money to run away, she finally talks to her father (the more level-headed parent in her family) and he agrees to talk to her mother. Beth’s mother is broken-hearted to find out her daughter wants to move away and to Portland, no less! Portland is where Beth’s aunt Sunshine lives. Sunshine and Beth’s mother don’t get along, the result of a massive fight over thirty years ago. Beth doesn’t know the reason for their fallout as neither sister will discuss it. Nevertheless, Beth decides to move to Portland to restart her life after securing a promise from her mother that she will not contact or visit her for six months after her move. It sounds perfect!

In Portland away from her mother, Beth finally lives the life she wants. She lives close to her aunt in a one bedroom apartment that she is paying for herself by working as a music teacher at a local high school. Through her job, she meets Nichole Nyquist, a teacher who quickly becomes Beth’s friend. The two begin hanging out and Beth quickly finds herself absorbed into Nichole’s family. Nichole decides to set Beth up on a blind date and invites Beth over to dinner where she meets Sam, one of her husband Rocco’s friends. Sam is a tattooed mechanic who is guaranteed to send her severely conservative mother over the edge. He curses, has long hair, and a big bushy beard. Sam and Beth could not be more opposite. Beth has no desire to anger her parents more after her big move away, so she decides to steer clear of Sam. Sam is completely fine with that because the minute he sees Beth, he decides he wants no part of that prissy music teacher. (Kinda obvious where this is going to go, right? I thought so too.)

After their blind date, Beth gets into a horrible car accident and Sam visits her in the hospital at first because Nichole can’t come and because he doesn’t want her to be stuck there alone with no family or friends to visit. Sam soon finds himself unable to stay away, but there are barriers to the two getting together. Sam has massive skeletons in his closet that have proven to be huge trust barriers, Beth’s mom is largely against their relationship, yet the two of them are drawn together. In the end, Sam will have to figure out if he really fits into Beth’s life, whether or not he feels worthy/is wortty of her love. and if he is willing to fight for the two of them to be together.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It wasn’t as fluffy and formulaic as I was expecting, which I really appreciated. Each character had their own separate backstory and concurrent running story that fit in perfectly with Sam and Beth: Sunshine and her art, Beth and her volunteer work, Sam and his past, Sunshine and her sister’s messy separation, Nichole and Rocco’s relationship, and so so much more. I highly recommend this.

(Side note: This book is actually part of Debbie Macomber’s ‘New Beginnings’ series, a fact I didn’t realize until after I read If Not for You. All of these books read perfectly as standalones. I wasn’t left wondering about any plot point in If Not for You, so go ahead and read it by itself.)


This book is also available in the following formats: