Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeleine K. Albright

In this engaging autobiography, Secretary Albright gives the reader an excellent history lesson with an added personal touch of her family's story. Marie Jana Korbelova (or Madlenka as she was called) was born in Prague in 1937. Her father was Josef Korbel, a senior Czechoslovak diplomat. Madlenka spent most of her childhood in Belgrade and London where her foreign service parents had fled in 1939. After the war, the family returned to Prague. When in 1948, the Communist Party took over Czechoslovakia, the Korbels were able to leave and find asylum in the United States.

The book starts with Secretary Albright's discovery of her Jewish the age of 59. She discovered this while traveling to the country of her birth in her role of top American diplomat. Albright reflects on her discovery of her family's Jewish heritage, on her Czech homeland's tangled history, totalitarianism in Central and Eastern Europe and on the stark moral choices faced by her parents and their generation. It is a well written history book, compelling and moving. Rating 5/5

1968: The Year That Rocked the World by Mark Kurlansky

The author gives the cultural and political history of the pivotal year of 1968, a year of rock'n'roll and rebellions, and a year when television's influence on global events first became apparent. 1968 was the year of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy assassinations; the riots at the Democratic National Convention; Prague Spring; the antiwar movement; Black Power; the generation gap; avant-garde theater; and the upsurge of the women's movement. Spontaneous uprisings occurred simultaneously around the globe and everything was disrupted.

This book is a well done presentation of the state of the whole world in that year. It is dense, engaging, comprehensive, and at times cumbersome to read. Rating 5/4

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

The novel gives a fascinating insight into Boston’s art world, high and mostly low. The story is based on a real-life theft from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 when thirteen works of art, worth over $500 million today, were cut from their frames and stolen. This theft remains the largest unsolved art heist in history and still fascinates the art world.

The narrator of the book is Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, who has let her personal life sabotage her career. She is earning her living reproducing famous paintings for a popular online retailer.  Desperate to improve her situation, Claire is lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting, a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Gardner Museum, in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when painting is delivered to her studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery. Claire’s expertise leads her into research that uncovers not only fraud, but also personal secrets and astounding cover-ups.

There is art history and a little bit of mystery— I loved it. Rating 5/5

The Black Widow by Daniel Silva

Gabriel, a legendary operative and a skilled art restorer, is poised to become the chief of Israel’s secret intelligence service. But on the eve of his promotion, he is pulled into the field for one final operation. ISIS has detonated a massive bomb in the Marais district of Paris, and the French government wants Gabriel to find the man responsible before he can strike again.

Among those killed was a woman whom Gabriel knew and she happened to be in possession of a very rare and famous painting valued at more than twenty million dollars. In the event of her death, she had arranged for the painting to go to Gabriel. The French have confiscated it from her flat and are holding it until Gabriel finishes helping them with their investigation.

Gabriel quickly learns that the man behind the attack is a terrorist mastermind who calls himself Saladin. Gabriel recruits Natalie Mizrahi, is a French-born Israeli working as a doctor in Jerusalem, as a recruit to infiltrate the terrorist network. With no field experience, Gabriel must train  her to pose as an ISIS recruit in waiting, a black widow out for blood.

It's a nonstop suspense with a few twists and almost feels real, not fiction. A perfect spy thriller, rating 5/5

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

June lost her husband in a car accident from which her daughter Elizabeth escaped unhurt. She then fell in love and married the police officer, Kurt, who brought her the news of her first husband’s death. Kurt and Elizabeth are then murdered in their own home by Shay Bourne while June is pregnant with her second daughter, Claire. At the age of 11, Claire is in desperate need of a heart transplant. Shay, who is on death row, wants to donate his heart to Claire, the half-sister of the girl he was convicted of killing.

The author covers so many topics—tolerance, religion, justice, love, murder, sexual abuse, death penalty, miracles. Like most Jodi Picoult novels, the story is narrated through different voices with different views: June, the mother; Father Michael, the spiritual mentor; Lucius, Shay's gay prison mate, and Maggie Bloom, the atheist lawyer. Unfortunately I never developed a real strong affinity for any of these characters.

This one was a bit of a disappointment after "My Sister's Keeper." And for that, I give this one 5/3.5 stars.