Profile for Cynthia K. Robertson > Reviews

Browse

Cynthia K. Rober...'s Profile

Customer Reviews: 807
Top Reviewer Ranking: 489
Helpful Votes: 9194




Community Features
Review Discussion Boards
Top Reviewers

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Cynthia K. Robertson RSS Feed (beverly, new jersey USA)
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
pixel
The Levy Family and Monticello, 1834-1923: Saving Thomas Jefferson's House
The Levy Family and Monticello, 1834-1923: Saving Thomas Jefferson's House
by Melvin I. Urofsky
Edition: Paperback
46 used & new from $1.50

4.0 out of 5 stars The Levy family finally getting their due..., August 27, 2014
I was 14 the first time I toured Monticello, and I was enchanted by Thomas Jefferson’s Little Mountain. It wasn’t until many years later that I was surprised to learn that another family owned Monticello much longer than the Jefferson family did. Also, we owe the Levy family a great debt in helping to save Jefferson’s home from ruin. Melvin I. Urofsky tells of this fascinating saga in The Levy Family and Monticello, 1834-1923: Saving Thomas Jefferson’s House.

When Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, he was deeply in debt. Visitors reported on the dilapidated state of the house and grounds. Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, had to auction Monticello as she didn’t have the finances for its upkeep. It was first purchased by James Turner Barclay, who tried to raise silkworms (and destroyed much of the landscaping in this unsuccessful venture). Then in 1834, Monticello was purchased by a career naval officer from New York City, Uriah Levy. Levy revered our third president and gave him credit for advocating for religious freedom. Uriah Levy was a character in his own right—surviving six court martials, fighting to outlaw flogging on naval vessels, and making a fortune in real estate speculation. Upon his death, he willed Monticello to the federal government to create an agricultural school for the orphans of sailors. But problems with the will and the Civil War kept anything from happening until Levy’s nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy purchased the house at auction in 1879. By this time, the estate truly was in a ruinous state and Jefferson claims that he pumped over $1 million to restore the former president’s home.

The story of the Levy’s and Monticello is a fascinating one. It “is a story of the blending of cultures and personalities, of Yankees and Virginians, of Jews and Christians, of city folk and rural people. It is the story of the power of a symbol, and how in America such symbols cut across the lines of religion and class and ethnicity.” It is also a story about historic preservation, which was rather new at this time. Unfortunately, it is also a tale of anti-Semitism, much of it perpetuated by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. The very organization that purchased Monticello from Jefferson Levy tried to erase the almost 9-decades of Levy ownership. Things are now much better, but I think there is still room for improvement.

The Levy Family and Monticello is a lovely book with fascinating information, interesting photographs and drawings and is printed on very heavy paper stock. Published by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, I actually found another book on the same topic, Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built by Marc Leepson, to be a little more informative. Still, this book is a must for any Jefferson-fan and it’s good that Uriah and Jefferson Monroe Levy are finally getting their due.


The Heist: A Novel (Fox and O'Hare)
The Heist: A Novel (Fox and O'Hare)
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $7.69

2.0 out of 5 stars Lame..., August 12, 2014
I am a big fan of Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum-series. Unfortunately, I have found her novels getting stale. I picked up The Heist, thinking that a new character and a co-writer, Lee Goldberg, would help spice things up a bit. What I discovered instead was that The Heist is just plain lame.

Kate O’Hare is an FBI agent and former Navy Seal. She has been chasing a major con-man and thief for a number of years, Nick Fox. But after being adversaries for so long, they find themselves on the same team. Together, they orchestrate a major op (con) to find a man who swindled millions of dollars from his customers and then fled the country. O’Hare and Fox are tasked with finding the location of Derek Griffin, bringing him back to the US, and recovering the money. They recruit a cast of misfits to help them with the con. The entire plot is just too much of a stretch and O’Hare behaves more like a kid in junior high than an FBI agent. Some of the flirting was nauseating.

Lee Goldberg is an author and screen writer for many shows including Monk and Spenser: For Hire. It was almost as if The Heist was written with the big (or little) screen in mind. With Stephanie Plum, even the worst books are at least good for a few belly-laughs. There are a few chuckles to be had in The Heist, but overall, the characters and the plot were just way too over the top.

Evanovich and Goldberg have one other O’Hare/Fox novel, plus a short e-story, but I think that I’ll take a pass.


Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia
Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Good for a neophyte, not much new if not..., August 6, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I have had a long obsession with the Romanovs, and I always make a point of purchasing any new book that comes out about the Russian royal family. Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia by Michael Farquhar is a good book if you know little about this dynasty that ruled Russia for over 300 years. Unfortunately, if you’re well-versed in the history of the Romanovs, you won’t find any secrets or much of anything new here.

The Romanov Dynasty began in 1613 with the selection of 16-year old Tsar Michael I to the throne. Farquhar tries to dedicate a chapter to each ruler, spending the most time with the big three: Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Nicholas II. The hapless Nicholas II actually rates three chapters. Yes, this was a gruesome bunch, and many were known for their brutality, their bloodlust, their dalliances, their betrayals, and their eccentricities. Tsars killed sons, and sons supported the murder of their ruling fathers. Two rulers were actually spouses of tsars, Catherine I and Catherine II. Petty jealousies were present in almost every court. Empress Elizabeth never allowed the women who came to her affairs to wear the same gown twice. “To ensure this, gowns were marked or tagged during a ball to ensure they would not be seen again.” When Peter the Great found out that his wife’s secretary might also be her lover, he had the man charged with corruption, executed, and “he ordered his head preserved in a jar and sent to Catherine [his wife]—apparently as some kind of perverse keepsake.” One of the saddest of stories is that fate of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family. The Romanov Dynasty came to an end in 1917 when Nicholas was forced to abdicate, a situation that was brought about by his inability to lead, his strong-willed but misguided wife, his son’s hemophilia, Rasputin, and World War I. This is definitely a case of the truth being more bizarre than fiction.

I found it most interesting reading about the more little-known tsars, such as Alexander I and Nicholas I. Otherwise, most of the book is a rehash of other, more extensive works. Farquhar liberally quotes Robert K. Massie, who wrote Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. If you’ve already read these books, which I have, you will already know most of this information. So my recommendation is to skip this book if know quite a bit about Romanov history. Otherwise, this might be a good place to start.


The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era
The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era
by Michael A. Ross
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.48

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating for lovers of history, true crime, and New Orleans..., August 1, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Rage, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era by Michael A. Ross is fascinating on many levels. The kidnapping itself was certainly one of the first to create such a media frenzy after the Civil War. But the window of time in which it took place, as well as the locale of New Orleans is what drives this engrossing tale.

On June 9, 1870, Mollie Digby was abducted as she and her brother played in front of their home in New Orleans. Not yet 2 years old, Mollie’s kidnapping became a major focus of the Metropolitan Police force in New Orleans as well as the national press. But what makes this case so interesting is the time during which the crime occurred. Still in Reconstruction, local and state leaders were trying to guarantee rights for black men, including the right to vote and the right to sit on juries. The Metropolitan Police force was one of the first integrated forces in the nation, and a black Creole, Jean Baptiste Jourdain, was the lead investigator. You will have to read the book to discover the fate of Mollie Digby, as well as those accused of making off with her. But you can be assured that if this case played out ten years later, there would have been much different results.

New Orleans has always operated by her own set of rules. Founded on the Napoleonic Code, Louisiana was populated by both black and white Creoles who regularly interacted, intermarried, and generally got along well together. Even before the Civil War, black Creoles had rights not granted to free blacks in other southern states. After the Civil War, “Slavery was gone, but a new caste system emerged. Across the South, ex-Confederates serving in state legislatures, and in parish, county, and city governments, passed laws known as the Black Codes designed to maintain white control of land, labor, and politics.” These Black Codes actually took away rights that black Creoles “had enjoyed before the war.” The influx of Irish immigrants would chip away at the influence of black Creoles even more. This rich but sad history in itself is a reason to read The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case.

I thoroughly enjoy reading books about historical events, and especially, those events that were major for the time, but now mostly forgotten. The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case is a book that will appeal to those who love history, are intrigued by true crime, and fascinated with New Orleans. I can’t recommend it enough.


W is for Wasted (Kinsey Millhone Mystery Book 23)
W is for Wasted (Kinsey Millhone Mystery Book 23)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Four and a half stars..., July 29, 2014
I have read Sue Grafton from the beginning, and her Kinsey Millhone series is one of my favorites. But I have been disenchanted with some of her later books. In fact, I’ve given a few nicknames such as S is for Sucks and T is for Terrible. When she came out with W is for Wasted, it was one of the few that I didn’t go right out and read. Well, I am happy to report that W is for Wasted, her 23rd in this series, is very enjoyable. Yes, there are still some spots where she gets bogged down on descriptions, but not nearly as bad as before. Also, it took some time for this novel to develop but if you want a quick mystery, go out a buy something by James Patterson.

Kinsey Millhone is a private investigator who lives in fictional Santa Teresa. Her life will never be the same after the death of two men. One was a fellow, sleazy PI with whom she worked on occasion. The second was a homeless man who was found dead in his sleeping bag on the beach. The only thing he carried was Millhone’s name and phone number on a piece of paper in his pocket. With the cops overburdened, Millhone sets out to discover the identity of the homeless man. What she finds is truly shocking. Then she also gets sucked into the investigation of the private investigator. Without giving away major plot twists, Millhone suspects that there might be some connections between these seemingly unrelated deaths. Grafton is very deliberate in how this novel plays out and it is worth the wait.

Grafton is a decent writer when she’s not getting carried away with tedious descriptions. She still falls back into her old patterns from time to time. One example is when she spends an entire paragraph describing the potting bench and garden tools for Millhone’s landlord, Henry. Does the reader really need to know that Henry has gardening gloves, galvanized watering cans, a bag of sphagnum moss, and a large assortment of gardening tools mentioned one by one? But Grafton makes up for these lapses by paragraphs that made me chuckle and made me think. Millhone’s parents died in a car crash when she was very young and she describes the anger she harbored at her extended family who never reached out to her: “my rage had begun to bore me, and my long whiny tale of woe had become tedious even to my own ears. As much fun as I’d had being irate, the drama had become repetitive. I could probably still wring sympathy from a stranger, but the recital had taken on a certain role quality that lacked energy and conviction.” This can be a lesson to all those who hang on to anger and resentment a little too long.

I’m so happy to see that Sue Grafton is back in the game and I’m just sorry that I waited so long to read W is for Wasted. I won’t make that mistake when X is published. Although the title hasn’t been announced yet, I heard the publication date should be sometime in 2015.


The Heist: A Novel (Gabriel Allon Book 14)
The Heist: A Novel (Gabriel Allon Book 14)
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars More mystery than thriller..., July 26, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I am a big fan of Daniel Silva and especially, his Gabriel Allon-series. His novels are well-written with intricate plots, memorable characters, and subject matter that is always timely. But The Heist, his 14th Gabriel Allon novel is more mystery than thriller. While I still enjoyed it thoroughly, I feel that Silva played it safe with The Heist and it was missing the edge and suspense of his other novels.

Gabriel Allon is a restorer of fine art and a part-time Mossad assassin. He and wife Chiara are living in Venice while he restores an important work of art. He has a year before he takes over the reins of Israeli intelligence. Allon is approached by General Cesare Ferrari, chief of the Art Squad—an Italian office that seeks to recover stolen works of art. A former English spy and businessman, Jack Bradshaw, has been living in Italy and was found brutally murdered. It appears that he was involved in the stealing, concealing and selling of stolen art, and Ferrari “blackmails” Allon into taking the case. Eventually, Allon is able to trace the stolen art to men high-up in the barbaric and inhumane Syrian government, and specifically, with a boutique bank in Linz, Austria. This connection gives him the excuse to involve his team of Israeli agents and soon the “regulars” are hard at work, setting up this op.

Daniel Silva always provides an education in his novels, and in The Heist, we learn about the stealing of precious art and the reasons for the thefts, as well as art reproduction. We also learn about the history of Linz, Austria and the Austrian banking system. And especially, we get an education about Syria and the brutality of the Syrian rulers. The information about spy tradecraft is always interesting. And the work of a spy isn’t all fun and excitement. While sitting in a fake economic conference, “Gabriel was glad he had been born into a family of artists and not businessmen. Because for the next four hours he was made to endure a mind-numbing discussion of European consumer confidence, before-tax profit margins, standardized value, debt-to-income ratio, Eurobonds, Eurodollar bonds, and Euroequity issues.” It’s enough to make your eyes glaze over. But through The Heist, I never felt that Allon was in danger and for that reason, the suspense-level was missing.

Daniel Silva continues to be one of my favorite authors and I always look forward to purchasing his new release each July. It is one of my summer pleasures.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 27, 2014 6:38 PM PDT


The Hurricane Sisters: A Novel
The Hurricane Sisters: A Novel
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $9.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but not great literature..., July 17, 2014
I’ve had some issues with some of Dorothea Benton Frank’s later novels, and almost decided to give up on her. But I was sucked back into the fold with The Hurricane Sisters. Ok—so it’s not great literature. But it is an entertaining read, especially for a summer vacation on the beach. I enjoyed it much more than Folly Beach and Porch Lights, which both bordered on stupid.

The Hurricane Sisters weaves a tale around three generations of a Charleston family. Grandmother Maisie just turned 80 and is a bit eccentric. Her lover is a 65-year old llama farmer whom the family hired as her driver. Daughter Liz Waters helps run a home for abused women, although her work is not appreciated by her husband. Clayton Waters is a big time Wall Street banker who splits his time between Charleston and New York City. Son Ivy (Clayton Waters, IV) is gay and has opened a clothing store in California with his partner. And daughter Ashley wants to be an artist and is barely making ends meet while working in an art gallery. She has dreams of being the next Jackie Kennedy. The chapters alternate between the points of view of the different characters and they’re each going through their own personal dramas. Although they all feel that family is important, there are too many hurts and secrets and regrets that keep this family from functioning as it should. It will take a crisis (or two or three) to bring the Waters back together on the same team.

Frank loves the low country of South Carolina and it shows in her writing. But she also isn’t opposed to showing the Charleston area, warts and all. When Ashley shows up at Maisie’s birthday party dressed in a provocative dress, her parents are aghast. But Maisie observes “let’s be honest, Charleston, which at one point in her history had more whorehouses than churches, was not some ultraconservative Middle Eastern country where they shroud their women from head to toe.” There are some amusing things that happen in The Hurricane Sisters, but there is also an underlying theme of abusive relationships. I didn’t realize that South Carolina leads the nation in women being killed by men. But if I had to pick a flaw or two, I’d saw the The Hurricane Sisters is totally predictable and some of the characters were cartoonish at times. But as I mentioned at the beginning, I didn’t buy this book expecting War and Peace.


The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs
The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs
by Greil Marcus
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.16
39 used & new from $13.80

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Peaks and Valleys..., July 11, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I thought that The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs by Greil Marcus would be the perfect book for me. I love rock. I love the many different connections between artists, groups, songwriters, producers, etc. And I tend to love minutiae—little facts that others might find boring. Unfortunately, what I found was that The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs scaled peaks of brilliance but also plunged into valleys of tedium. It was a very uneven read.

I won’t divulge the ten songs that Marcus uses as the basis for his book, but I will say that nary a one would have been in my top ten list. But he uses these songs because they tell a story, they speak to him, and many of them have been resurrected over the years. They take on a new life when being performed by someone new. Marcus declares that “Rock ‘n’ Roll may be most of all a language, that, it declares, can say anything: divine all truths, reveal all mysteries, and escape all restrictions.” The way that Marcus writes about the music and the musicians is akin to worshipping at the altar of rock and roll. He writes about “A Day in the Life” and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:” “an album that, at least in its moment, made almost every other performer in rock ’n’ roll feel incomplete, inarticulate, fraudulent, and small: left behind.” Yet this isn’t one of his ten songs.

Marcus includes a lot of background in this book and things that contributed to rock. I was fascinated by the story of Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson. Killed by a jealous husband in 1938, Johnson was only 27. His music almost died with him. But then Marcus ruins that story by a long speculation on what might have happened had Johnson lived to the present. It was just one of the things in this book that just didn’t work for me.

Overall, there was some good stuff here and I enjoyed listening to the songs that Marcus writes about on Youtube (his suggestion). But in addition to the complaints listed above, perhaps the author should have titled this book A History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs, rather than The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs. After all, it is just the opinion of one man.


Bones Never Lie: A Novel (Temperance Brennan)
Bones Never Lie: A Novel (Temperance Brennan)
by Kathy Reichs
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.87

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reichs and Brennan are in fine form..., July 5, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I jumped at the chance to order Kathy Reichs’ new novel, Bones Never Lie through Amazon Vine. I’m a big fan of her Temperance Brennan-series, although I’ve been a little disappointed in some of her later efforts. Well, in Bones Never Lie, Reichs and Brennan are in fine form! This book, the 17th in her series, is actually a continuation of a previous novel.

Dr. Tempe Brennan is a forensic anthropologist who splits her time between Montreal and Charlotte, NC. In a previous case, Anique Pomerleau kidnapped and tortured her victims, most of who died after years of abuse. Brennan and Montreal Detective Andrew Ryan were on her trail, and it almost cost Brennan her life. Pomerleau eluded capture, and now seems back at work. Bodies of young girls are found in Vermont and North Carolina and it appears that Brennan is the common denominator. Brennan also needs the assistance of her old friend and former lover, Andrew Ryan. But Ryan is AWOL after a family tragedy. It’s questionable if he can be lured back into the hunt—that is if Brennan can even track him down. Besides a great plot and lots of suspenseful twists and turns, the subplot involving Brennan’s mother was a good addition and added much to Bones Never Lie. We have slowly learned about Brennan’s past, but very little about her mother.

Kathy Reichs is a forensic anthropologist by career, and it shows in her writing. I always learn something from her books. She describes the horror of an autopsy. “An autopsy assaults not just the nose but all senses. The sight of the fast-slash Y-incision. The sound of pruning shears crunching through ribs. The schlop of organs hitting the scale. The acid scorch of the saw buzzing through bone. The pop of the skullcap snapping free. The frrpp of the scalp and face stripping off. Pathologists aren’t surgeons. They’re not concerned with vital signs, bleeding, or pain. They don’t repair or overhaul. They search for clues. They need to be objective and observant. They don’t need to be gentle.” But in addition to an autopsy room, Reichs also knows her way through an investigation. Ryan teaches Brennan that every case has a “big bang break.” It’s “the one clue or insight that suddenly sets an investigation barreling in the right direction. That one synapsey moment when realization explodes and the search hurtles forward on the right trajectory. Ryan believed at least one big bang lurked in every case.”

Bones Never Lie was one of those novels that kept me up late into the night as I raced to find out how it ended. The ending came as a total surprise and will please long-time Tempe Brennan-fans. But no spoilers here—you’ll have to read it for yourselves.


TransAtlantic: A Novel
TransAtlantic: A Novel
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed..., June 21, 2014
Transatlantic by Colum McCann came highly recommended. Unfortunately, I just didn’t see what so many others like about this novel. Yes—McCann is a talented writer, but I was looking for more of a story. Maybe it doesn’t help that I have only a small percentage of Irish DNA.

Transatlantic is a collection of short stories that don’t always tie together, except for the Irish-theme. One of the most interesting was the story of Frederick Douglass coming to Ireland just as the Potato Famine was beginning. The English can’t see that the treatment of their Irish-brethern is not much better than the treatment of slaves by American owners, and sometimes worse. Douglass asks about the hunger he sees and is told Ireland “was a country that liked to be hurt. The Irish heaped coals of fire upon their own heads. They were unable to extinguish the fire. They were dependent, as always, on others. They had no notions of self-reliance.”

One thing that became very tiring was McCann’s steady stream-of-consciousness style. One example: “There is a swerve to Blair. The neat suit, the tie. A dishevelment to Ahern. A busy grief. Both of them sweeping in, taking over their offices. Second floor. Third floor. Meeting after meeting. Phone call after phone call. Blair says to him that he feels as if he is entering a caisson. The pressure slowing building. Beginning to swell. A common feeling, that, but what is the word for it? There is, surely, a word for it, a phrase. The Senator cannot recall. So tired now. The ache in his shoulders. Searching for the word, but he cannot find it.” And yet, there were times that McCann was eloquent in his simplicity of words and ideas. “The Irish are great for their tunes but all their lovesongs are sad and their warsongs happy.” How perfect.

I was disappointed in Transatlantic, but maybe I should have started my introduction to McCann with Let the Great World Spin.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20