Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris

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Cilka’s Journey is the long awaited sequel after Heather Morris’ The Tattooist of Auschwitz. If you haven’t read that one yet, just do and thank me later… my review of that one is here. It’s a story of love that started in an improbable situation, and against all odds survived. I was reluctant to pick this one up for a couple reasons, but mostly for the saturation of WWII, and Holocaust fiction in the last couple years. Eventually, I caved and decided to read it when I reflected on who Cilka was in The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Cilka was a background character in The Tattooist, and based on a real person. Cilka Klein was 18 years old when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Soviet soldiers, but because of her “job” she was sentenced to a labour camp on being a collaborator. The labour camp, Vorkuta gulag, was in Siberia. She was sentenced for 15 years, and had multiple jobs while there. Beyond making a large impact for the betterment of the prisoners there, she also met the man who later becomes her husband.

This is a story is told in a very similar fashion to The Tattooist, which I think readers will really enjoy. The story jumps back and forth between her time in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and now her time in Vorkuta. If you haven’t read the first book in the series, Cilka was forced to choose either to become a prostitute for a head officer in the camp, or her own death. She chose to live, and unfortunately for her, choosing to live meant she had to be raped, and become an overseer to the women who were ultimately going to be sent to the gas chambers. Throughout this novel, Cilka is constantly haunted by the guilt and shame of her past. During her sentence at Vorkuta it seems she is trying to redeem herself for this haunted past. She becomes a nurse, and saves many people. She also tries to change the protocols within the hospital, and succeeds multiple times.

Then when Cilka least expects to find love, she does. This is the clencher to the story, and it sets her up for almost an “happily ever after” of sorts. Unfortunately, this is the part of the story that I lost interest in. I found Cilka’s experience as a nurse much more fascinating. The love story I think is really interesting, because it is based on her real life, but I just found that the writing kind of lagged here.

Heather Morris has been receiving criticism on the fact that it may not be the most historically accurate. Morris has spoken out defending this by saying that she has actually interviewed Lale for the first novel, and then for the sequel interviewing the people who surrounded Cilka. Because Cilka had already passed away before Morris started to write this, she had to rely on the sources that surround her. Not only had Morris done interviews, but she also did her research on the records that were kept at the camps, and also at Vorkuta gulag. Obviously Morris had to take liberties to write a fictional novel. I wish people would remember that the reason so many people read it, is because she has written a beautifully told novel…  that is fiction based on some facts. It is a great story, and I think so different from the WWII/Holocaust novels that we have been reading lately.

Anywho, that’s all for today. Until next time, happy reading!

The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood

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I finally got the chance to dig into the newest, highly anticipated, The Testaments. Margaret Atwood’s antecedent novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, become a cultural phenomenom for the second time when the show came out in timely fashion with the political changes of 2016. And although Atwood has said she had no desire to write a second part, she said she was finally inspired to write the follow up because of all the reader’s questions, and the political changes that have happened and continue to change the landscape of our countries.

The Handmaid’s Tale ends with a falling of the regime in Gilead. It also ends with Offred getting into a van, and the reader having no clue as to what happened to her. The Testaments is based 16 years after Offred has escaped, and is told between two storylines detailing the events after her escape. The three female voices that The Testaments is told through are the powerful Aunt Lydia in Gilead, a teenage girl who grows up in Gilead and is being thrusted into the roles of women there, and lastly, another teenage girl who lives in Canada and discover’s that her family is part of the resistance group trying to bring down Gilead.

This literary fiction novel has recently won The Booker Prize, and reads like a thriller with a fast moving plot. The writing style is extremely different from The Handmaid’s Tale, and where it was blunt and forceful, The Testaments is fluid and fast paced. I’ve listened to several interviews with Atwood, and if you want to be entertained I encourage you to listen to them too. She is funny at times, snarky, and also very adamant that The Testaments. is in no way overlapping with the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale. She was very clear in that it stands separate to the show.

Atwood’s did this incredible job of weaving these women’s stories together to give the reader the perspective of just how oppressed women are from all angles in the time of Gilead. It’s a scary time in history, and fighting back against the forces of the totalitarian government seems oddly parallel to the events in today’s political climate.

Lastly, Atwood does this cheeky thing that I really love, and one of her characters addresses the “reader” as if they are involved in the story. This is a clever little tactic that makes you feel so immersed the story, classically like Jane Eyre, and more recently, Fleabag.

This is a must read. Just do it. Even if you didn’t like The Handmaid’s Tale, this book is SO different from it that I think you will enjoy it.

Until next time, happy reading!

A Share in Death, by Deborah Crombie

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The cooler fall weather has me craving two things… red wine, and cozy mysteries. I stumbled upon this series when I was listening to the Currently Reading Podcast with Anne Bogel as a guest. She had said that Deborah Crombie’s series will give you all the Louise Penny vibes, so I immediately put the first book on hold. But unfortunately, it was only available in the e-reader format… so I did like any curious reader would do, I broke out my rarely used Kobo and dug in.

Scotland Yard’s Superintendent, Duncan Kincaid, has been gifted a week’s holiday at a time-share in Yorkshire, England. After investigating an intense string of murders, he is looking forward to some rest. Even though he’s on vacation, he has a hard time leaving work at home… especially when a body is discovered floating in the whirlpool! As Kincaid gets to know each guest he starts to try to put the pieces of this mysterious murder together, even though he is trying to let the local authorities handle it. He eventually calls his assistant, Sergeant Gemma James, to help him when a second murder happens.

A Share in Death is just a delight, and yes, I’m aware of the irony here! It’s one of seventeen in the series, so if you like it there is a lot of reading to be done here. It gave me all the cozy, British mystery vibes that I was needing. The other thing that I really loved about this novel is that Superintendent Kincaid is a total bookworm. There are numerous hints at some literature based in the Yorkshire moors, like James Herriot, and Jane Eyre. Kincaid is a witty, dark, brooding character, who I am looking forward to getting to know better. There was also a hint of a romance that may be starting between Kincaid and one of the characters in the novel… I think the key to a great series is the combination of a couple of genres, and I have a feeling that’s where this one will take it’s readers.

This novel read like an Agatha Christie, Louise Penny, or Shari Lapena. It was such a smart, but easy read. It’s the type of book that you could easily pick up, or put down, but also had left you wondering what the characters were up to next. I already have the second book, All Shall Be Well, picked up from the library!

Until next time, happy reading!

The Last Romantics, by Tara Conklin

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I have been seeing The Last Romantics all over, and people raving about it… but you know that feeling of everyone is loving something, so you think I’m not going to be the person who jumps on the bandwagon. That’s how I felt… until my cousin mentioned that she was reading The Last Romantics, and I got a mad case of book envy. I’m so glad that I got a little green, and decided to dig into this book. This is a 5 star book all around!

Fiona Skinner, renowned poet, is speaking to an audience when a woman named Luna, stands up and asks her some questions that delve into her family life. This starts Fiona into telling her families story, one that begins with a death, and sets off the four siblings lives into their own directions. You slowly get to know Renee, Caroline, Joe, and Fiona, and their deep sibling connection. Their connection helps them all battle through all sorts of tough times sometimes together, sometimes forcing a divide between them.

This novel was a beautifully told story, and the minute I finished it, I felt the need to pick up the phone and check in with my brothers! The thing that is so beautiful about this story is it reminds a reader of their childhood, and the small moments that you will forever remember, and one day cherish. The Last Romantics is a multi-generational tale that explores what binds a family together, and the obligatory duty of being a family member. I think what is so special about this novel is the way it’s told. It flashes back and forth from where Fiona, at 102, is speaking to an audience of fans, and to the past.

The quote below is from the last page, and it was just too beautiful not share. Conklin just captured exactly what love really is, and the fact that there are all different kinds of love, but none of them are always easy.

I was wrong to tell you that this is a story about the failures of love. No, it is about real love, true love. Imperfect, wretched, weak love. No fairy tales, no poetry. It is about the negotiations we undertake with ourselves in the name of love. Every day we struggle to decide what to give away and what to keep, but every day we make that calculation and we live with the results. This then is the true lesson: there is nothing romantic about love. Only the most naive believe it will save them. Only the hardiest of us will survive it.

One last thing to share… Jenna Bush Hager did this novel as a book club pick, and had the opportunity to interview Tara Conklin. If you have read this book, check it out. It even tells you what who Tara Conklin believes that “Luna” is. Anywho, if you are looking for a big that will give you some big feelings, The Last Romantics did this to me!

Until next time, happy reading!

 

Baby News & What I’ve Been Reading!

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Hey Friends!

First off, I feel the need to apologize to you… I’ve been a bit absent. Still reading, but some life changes have stalled my blog writing. We welcomed a beautiful baby girl to our family about a week and a half ago, and oh goodness, I am so in love, busy, and tired!! We named our little babe Alice, and if you know Canadian Literature, you will know that Alice Munro is practically a Queen. I’ve always loved her work, and her ability to embed a story into your soul. Luckily, my husband loved the name as well!

Anywho, enough baby spam. Quickly I also wanted to chat about reading seasons. Do you ever feel like you sometimes you just go through a season in which you need some great fiction? Well, right before I had Alice, there was literally no way I could get into something deep, and introspective. So this summer has been the season of some fun fiction. Some were deeper, some were lighter, but I hope that you have found something in my posts that made you want to run out and grab one of these books!

What I’ve Been Reading Lately:

A Stranger in the HouseA Stranger in the House, by Shari Lapena. (3.5 stars). Tom comes home from work, to find Karen, his wife, gone. She’s left in a hurry, with no phone, no purse, and dinner ready to cook on the counter. Tom eventually finds out that Karen’s been in a car accident, and ended up with a concussion… conveniently forgetting everything from that evening… even though the police suspect she was up to no good. As her memory slowly returns, the secrets of that night unwind, and she finds herself as a suspect in a murder. I enjoyed this thriller, and Shari Lapena can really write a suspenseful novel that will leave you on turning the pages so quickly. I did find that it didn’t really have a ton of depth to it, but it’s the perfect beach book. Easy, peasy thriller.

The Stationery ShopThe Stationary Shop, by Marjan Kamali. (4 stars). Based in 1950’s Tehran, in the middle of a tumultuous political time, Roya and Bahman meet in the magical, literary shop that Mr. Fahkri owns. Their budding romance blossoms alongside their love for Rumi’s poetry, and their passionate views on politics. As the tension in Tehran increases, fate pulls their relationship apart and they are separated for nearly 60 years. Then, fate once again pushes them back into each other’s lives. I really loved this literary fiction novel, and with the descriptions of delicious food, and also the history of the country’s political tensions, I learned a lot!

The Chelsea Girls: A Novel

The Chelsea Girls, by Fiona Davis. (3 stars). I’ve read every book Fiona Davis has published! She has the undeniable talent to write an amazing story, with an entertaining history lesson. This one, was unfortunately, not my favourite of hers. She novels have always been about a famous New York landmark, and this story features two women… Hazel and Maxine, who met during WWII when they were acting on the stage for soldiers. Hazel goes on to write a play, and Maxine an actress, but when Maxine’s past starts to come out it’s clear that their greatest obstacle isn’t getting an award winning play… it’s politics. Set in the McCarthy era in which artists were blacklisted, and sentenced for possible involvement in communism, this book had moments that were interesting. But it didn’t really pick up until 200 pages! Two cool things that I really made this book interesting were the subtle references that Janis Joplin also lived at the Chelsea Hotel, and also that Fiona was inspired by Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids… which I need to read.

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman. (4 stars). Nina Hill is a bookseller, in a failing bookshop, who struggles with anxiety and luck in love. She’s an only child, growing up with not knowing who her father was… until one day she finds out her father has died. And Nina suddenly is thrusted into a very large family, with siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. As if this isn’t enough stress for Nina, she has met a man. Tom, who is perfect, and Nina is completely terrified of the possibility of pursuing a relationship with him. This book is so cute, it’s every booklover’s delight. After reading this book, I developed an even longer To Be Read List, that now includes The Prophet, Pride and Prejudice, and The Thorn Birds.

The Stranger Inside: A Novel

The Stranger Inside, by Lisa Unger. (5 stars). I received this book from Harper Collins Canada as an advanced copy in exchange for a review… Oh goodness, am I ever glad I did!!! I’ve never read a book by Lisa Unger before, but I will be reading her back catalogue now for sure. Rain is living the perfect suburban dream. A new baby, a dreamy husband, and a secretive past! Rain was a news journalist before having a baby, and when an old story resurfaces it brings back all the feelings of chasing a story, and her secretive past starts to slowly bubble up. This book is SOOOOOO good, it’s a thriller that’s so creative, and almost has tones of the HBO tv series, Dexter. I loved it and will be putting it into the hands of all my mystery/thriller fan book friends! It’s publication date is September 17th, so put it down on your list!!

A Quote to Ponder:

This is a quote from The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman and I re-read it, and thought I need to copy this one down. Nina quotes a line from The Prophet;

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.”

The Lost Man, by Jane Harper

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Jane Harper is one of those writers who SO many people are talking about right now. I have had so many positive recommendations about her first novel, The Dry… and although I never read it, when I saw that she came out with a new one this January, I put it on hold at the library. Knowing what I had heard about her first couple novels, I thought, I’m going to take a chance and read The Lost Man.

Set in the Outback of Australia, the Bright family lives hundreds of miles away from their neighbours. To get supplies, to town, or help, it’s a long drive. The three boys that grew up on the family farm, are now grown, and have spread out a bit in space, but also in their relationships. When Bub and Nathan find their brother, Cameron, face down dead at the infamous stockman’s grace, they are shocked. It seems as if Cameron, who grew up knowing the dangers of the Outback, had forgotten how to survive and succumbed to it. But when little tiny signs start pointing to the fact that he may have been murdered, the secrets of the town, and the family start spilling out.

Even though this novel is getting some high praise, I liked it… but didn’t love it. But, just because it wasn’t my favourite, does not mean a thing. The average Goodreads rating on The Lost Man is a 4.3/5, so this could very well be the next great book you pick up! What I can appreciate about this novel is the mysterious, family drama element. Jane Harper has written an atmospheric, suspenseful novel. I will say that the twist at the end, I was not expecting. My only wish would be that the novel had a little more drive behind the plot throughout.

Jane Harper has expertly planted a reader right in the middle of the Outback. You can see the dirt, and feel the heat penetrating through the pages of her novel. And the fact that the family is learning these secrets about Cameron after he has died, is kind of disturbing, but super thrilling. I’m just glad this isn’t my family!!

That’s all for today, happy reading!

The History of Bees, by Maja Lunde

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The History of Bees was our latest book club pick. And I have to say, it’s was a great pick for book club. There was a lot to talk about, plus we had dinner at a new restaurant, the Hunter Street Tavern… and it was a hit!! The evening was a win all around.

The novel is told through three different characters, who are all beekeepers from the past, present, and future. In 1852 England, William is a seed merchant/biologist who decides to make himself a name by developing a new design of a beehive. In 2007, The United States, George is the owner of a bee farm, which has been in the family for generations. He battles internally with the idea of whether he should be adopting modern bee farming techniques, and trying to guide his son to become the next generation on the farm. Lastly, 2098, China, Tao works as a pollinator on a fruit farm, as there are no bees anymore. When Tao’s young son is taken away after an accident, she is determined to find out what the cause of his accident was. These three storylines are intertwined with the backdrop of the potential loss of the bees, and their bonds with their children.

Our book club had some great discussions about The History of Bees. Although this wasn’t my favourite book we’ve read, I can definitely appreciate it’s importance. In a world where we are starting to see the affects that our modern technology has had on our earth, it’s great for people to read reminders of how we need to make a more conscious effort to help our world be here longer. The things I didn’t like about this book was the writing was a bit rough for me, and it lacked a flow. But at book club it was mentioned that this is a translation, so this could be a reason why the writing just felt a little choppy. The other part of this book that I didn’t love, was that it felt SO close to home. It made me scared for the world’s, and my children’s future. So although it made me feel uncomfortable, maybe this book accomplished exactly what Maja Lunde was hoping it would.

I found the relationships between these characters and their children fascinating. There was so much internal dialogue, that you as the reader you knew what they were thinking, but their children were left in the dark to their thoughts. This made me think just how much of an issue comes from the things that we don’t actually say to each other. The assumptions that are made on the things that are unsaid, can drastically change outcomes, and relationships.

That’s all for today, happy reading until next time!