The Beekeeper of Aleppo – Book Review

By: Christy Lefteri

“Where there are bees there are flowers, and wherever there are flowers there is new life and hope.”

My synopsis of the book:

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is centred around a Syrian family affected by the civil war that is spreading around them.  The first few chapters show the reader how ordinary life was in Syria before the war. Nuri and his cousin Mustafa owned and ran a bee farm where they made honey.  Nuri is the novel’s main character; he is married to a woman named Afra and has a son, Sami. There are many other important characters, like Mustafa, that play a role in shaping this story.  The reader travels with Nuri as he escapes Aleppo with his family and tries to reach England, where his cousin Mustafa lives.  Nuri travels across the Syrian border into Turkey, where he then begins his trek to the Mediterranean Sea to get to Greece. Once in Greece, his troubles only worsen as he tries to find ways to leave and continue to his final destination, England.  Christy Lefteri shows the reader the difficulties refugees face in their journey to safety and the personal struggles refugees carry as they leave their homes, friends and families.  Nuri and his family’s story of freedom are filled with heartache and sadness that will follow them for the rest of their lives. 

“Money gets you everywhere. This is what I always say. Without it, you live your entire life travelling trying to get to where you think you need to go.”

My review:

I’m finding it very difficult to write a review on this book because I don’t want to take away from the importance of the Syrian refugee crisis.  The Beekeeper of Aleppo gives a voice to the Syrian people who lost their homes to the civil war.  Unfortunately, I must admit, the book itself struggled to captivate me. 

In the beginning, it was difficult to follow along with the different periods presented in the chapters. I usually have no problem with books not written in chronological order, but this story did not flow from one period to another well. It eventually became much clearer but, the first impression of the book wasn’t great.

Also, I never found myself connecting with the main characters. There needed to be a bit more character development in the beginning to draw me into their story.  I found myself hoping I would become more attached to the characters as the chapters continued but, it never really happened. I was heartbroken when each horrible event happened to them but, mainly because I knew somewhere in this world, these events happened to real people. 

Although I found this book to be pretty average, I would still recommend it because of the importance of understanding the Syrian refugee crisis.

The most important message to get from this story is that Syria was a developed, established nation that was struck by a civil war that tore the entire country apart.  Unfortunately, because of the multiple middle eastern conflicts that we are accustomed to now, we assume that all of the middle east is continuously at war, this was not the case for Syria.  Syria had been living peacefully for many years.  This is what made the civil war even more difficult for Syrians.  Lefteri does a good job at making this message clear.

About the author:

Christy Lefteri has a close connection to the story.  She spent two summers volunteering at the refugee camps in Athens, getting to meet many Syrian families.  Writing this story was also important to her because she is also the daughter of Cypriot refugees. 


Hidden Valley Road – Book Review

By: Robert Kolker

“…for almost as long, Donald has consistently and unwaveringly maintained that he is, in fact, the offspring of an octopus.”

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker is a true story of a post-world war II family, the Galvin’s, living in Colorado, USA. Through the Galvin family, the reader sees the advancement of mental health research in America’s medical community, beginning in the 1950s and progressing to the modern-day. Six of the twelve children in the Galvin family get diagnosed with varying levels of schizophrenia. This number of diagnoses within one family is extremely rare, and therefore they become the primary test family for mental health research in America. 

“As she walked through the door of the house at Hidden Valley Road, she couldn’t help but recognize a perfect sample. This could be the most mentally ill family in America.”

Kolker dives into the story of the Galvin family, hearing first-hand accounts of what life was like growing up as a Galvin, watching members of your family “lose their minds.” Diary entries, first-hand interviews, medical records and community research are used to piece together who the Galvin’s were. He explores the children’s childhood, Mimi and Don’s marriage, and even the paternal and maternal family history. By the end of the book, you have a clear understanding of who the Galvin family were and how they live their lives today. Kolker writes this book with such vivid detail that it is sometimes hard to believe that this isn’t a work of fiction.  

“At the heart of Jung’s objection was the question of the nature of delusional mental illness: Is schizophrenia something you’re born with, a physical affliction of the brain? Or is it acquired in life, after one has become scarred somehow by the world?”

I was a bit worried about how difficult it would be to read and comprehend the scientific medical information that Kolker would inevitably include in his book about mental health. This is where I believe Kolker deserves the most praise. He includes detailed and complex information about mental health research written in such a simplistic way to allow everyone to understand the information regardless of scientific background. In each of those chapters, I learned something new about mental health and understood the medical advancements he discusses. These sections are very well done, leaving the reader feeling enthusiastic with the scientific progression and, at times, disappointed with the research results. I hope that there will be a follow-up book after twenty years showing more advancements in mental health.

“One of the consequences of surviving schizophrenia for fifty years is that sooner or later, the cure becomes as damaging as the disease.”

There were a few topics that Kolker explores that really affected me. At the beginning of the book, it was clear that when the Galvin’s first son was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the late 1960s, the medical community had few answers for them. Additionally, it seemed that the doctors were blaming mental illness solely on mothers. As a mother myself, I know what it feels like to continuously wonder if I am making the right decisions for my child. This is a feeling I think most mothers feel. I believe mothers from the 1960s would have also had these same thoughts. Now, after doing the best they can, these mothers are being told by a room full of mostly men (if not all men) that they have concluded that there is a correlation between mothers and children who develop a mental illness. Mimi, the mother in the Galvin family, was devastated by this accusation and challenged it relentlessly whenever doctors would discuss it with her. As far as she was concerned, she did everything in her power to raise her children right, committing no different acts than other mothers. My heart broke for Mimi thinking about how she felt during this time. This type of “mom blaming” continues later on when a woman in the medical community chooses to continue her studies after having children; Lynn DeLisi is told by her medical peers that this choice could cause her children to develop mental health problems. DeLisi challenges those conclusions, asking for proof. However, the researchers could give no evidence; these conclusions were, in fact, unresearched and anecdotal. The doctors were merely stating opinions, not researched facts. What mothers like Mimi and DeLisi would have experienced during this time is unimaginable but women like DeLisi challenged the medical community and eventually debunked these theories. I think mothers everywhere owe her a debt of gratitude.  

“And so I was crushed,” Mimi said. “Because I thought I was such a good mother. I baked a cake and a pie every night. Or at least had Jell-O with whipped cream.”

Unfortunately, this was not the only time I felt disappointed by the medical community. There were many examples in the book where companies were more interested in the monetary benefits of the medical research than the possitive results. Time and time again, we see funding for mental health diminishing; we see private for-profit organizations choosing to shelf necessary research because the monetary benefits were not high enough. There were some medical advancements made that needed to be halted because of these reasons, and that is truly devastating for families who are in desperate need of support for their mentally ill family members. 

“The National Institute of Mental Health spends only $4.3 million on fetal prevention research, all of it for studies in mice, from its yearly $1.4 billion budget,” Freedman noted recently. “Yet half of young school shooters have symptoms of developing schizophrenia.”

Lastly, the repercussions of the stigma on mental health are shown clearly in the “well” children’s accounts. Since Mimi and Don tried to hide what their family was experiencing in fear of what people would say, the children who were not affected by mental illness underwent many challenging times. Often these children did not understand or could not comprehend what was happening to their siblings. These same children couldn’t separate appropriate behaviours from inappropriate ones, and unfortunately, their parents were providing little insight into what was happening. Although I initially wanted to blame Mimi and Don for these experiences, I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose everyone around you, even your closest family members, at your most vulnerable time. This reaffirms the importance of breaking the stigma towards mental illness.

“When you don’t find a sense of love and belonging where you are, you go searching for it somewhere else.”

I believe this book is one of the most essential reads of our generation. Hidden Valley Road teaches the reader about mental health, early detection methods, the effects on families and how to treat and care for the mentally ill. For years people with mental health were stigmatized and ostracized, which isolated the most vulnerable people in our society. Kolker shows his reader the importance of supporting families who experience these illnesses. This book has impacted me in many ways, and I recommend that others read it. 

“Our relationships can destroy us, but they can change us, too, and restore us, and without us ever seeing it happen, they define us. We are human because the people around us make us human.”


The Happy Ever After Playlist- Book Review

Author: Abby Jimenez

“You can’t control the bad things that happen to you. All you can do is decide how much of you you’re going to let them take.”

I want to start by saying that The Happy Ever After Playlist, by Abby Jimenez, is actually the second book of a series.  However, I didn’t know this when I started reading it; I only realized it after I had finished the book.  The Friend Zone is the first book in the series but, The Happy Ever After Playlist can definitely stand alone.  Zero knowledge of The Friend Zone is needed to read this story.

I picked this book up from the bookstore because I felt it was time to read a lighthearted, fun, romantic book that would make me smile.  This book did just that.  My last few books had been pretty dramatic, serious and emotional, so this was a welcomed break. 

What is this book about?

The main character, Sloan Monroe, is trying to pick up the pieces of her life after her fiance suddenly died in a motorcycle accident two years ago.  The first book gives the excruciating details of the accident and the hospital scene; in this book, you are left to imagine how terrible this experience would have been for Sloan.  I, for one, am very glad I didn’t have to read about those details.  This story is focused more on how Sloan will help herself move on from this loss and bring happiness back into her life.

One day as Sloan was driving and stopped at a stoplight, a dog (which we later find out is named Tucker) ran into her car, causing quite a big scene.  Once Sloan pulled off the road with this dog, she tried to look for the owner but could not find anyone that knew the dog.  She decided to bring the dog home and care for it until she could locate the owner.  Little did she know this encounter would change her life.  Tucker brought so much energy into Sloan’s life, and you begin to see Sloan coming out of her depressed shell while trying to care for this dog.  Eventually, we find out the dog owner is a man named Jason, who is currently in Australia for work.  Sloan and Jason begin speaking over the phone, at first only concerning Tucker, but gradually, they find themselves more interested in learning about one another.  Jason is the first man that Sloan finds herself crushing on since she lost her fiancé.  This is how their romance begins.   The beginning of their relationship is exciting and playful, everything a new relationship should be.  Eventually, as they start to fall more into one another, their relationship becomes a serious love affair filled with dramatic ups and downs, especially once Sloan realizes that Jason is an up and coming musician.

My thoughts on the book…

This is an enjoyable, lighthearted romance novel.  You know the characters will fall for one another right from the beginning, but the turns and twists it takes along the way are pretty surprising.  I also really loved Sloan’s character; I was always rooting for her.  I truly wanted her to find happiness, whether it was with Jason or in her own life.  I think the character development of Sloan was the best part of this story.  You watch her struggle in the beginning to find a way to move on with her life after her sudden heartbreak, then slowly see her trying to put happiness back into her life.  I liked that even though Jason had a big part in helping her move on from her loss, Sloan individually worked on how she could better herself and move on from her tragic story.  When she finally gets back into the hobbies she loves, it is genuinely heartwarming. She began as a fractured love hurt young women and grew into an independent artist who woke up every day prioritizing her happiness. 

Jason’s character I fell in love with right from the beginning, I think most women would.  He was incredibly charming, flirtatious, kind and caring.  He knew what Sloan had gone through and approached it perfectly.  He always put her happiness at the forefront of his life, which is something every woman deserves.  His character definitely hit many women’s fantasies of falling in love with a beautiful famous singer.

This book was a very enjoyable read; I especially loved the ending.  This is a perfect book to lift your spirits and make you feel so warm inside. The songs Jimenez included before each chapter really represented the feelings you experience when reading that chapter, and I thought that was a unique twist to this romance novel.   Whenever I would read this book throughout my day, I was instantly in a better mood and really, what more could you want from a book?

A little bit about the author…

Abby Jimenez is the author of The Friend Zone and The Happy Ever After Playlist. Jimenez is also a famous baker who has won many Food Network Competitions. She first showed off her literary skills through comments on her baking page: Nadia Cakes. She has a new book coming out in spring 2021 called Life’s Too Short.


Before We Were Yours- Book Review

This book is written by Lisa Wingate.

“A woman’s past need not predict her future.  She can dance to new music if she chooses.  Her own music.  To hear the tune, she must only stop talking. To herself, I mean.  We’re always trying to persuade ourselves of things.”

Lisa Wingate, the author of Before We Were Yours, tries to expose the true story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society (TCHS) through a fictional account of a family who lived in a shanty boat that floated along the Mississippi River.  This family becomes one of the many victims of the TCHS. The TCHS portrayed themselves as a home for lost or left children, a home that focused on finding suitable homes for the children.  In fact, they stole children and babies from families that society looked down upon.  Although Wingate’s story is fictional, the story rings true for many families who became victims of the TCHS. 

Wingate chooses to keep the real name of the director of TCHS in her story, Georgia Tann.  Tann ran this orphanage for about 30 years in Memphis.  Some children died under her supervision, and many were tortured.  This story also highlights the involvement of many other people within the community, such as police officers, doctors and government officials.  They allowed Tann to commit these atrocities to so many families.  At the end of the book, Wingate includes the many sources she turned to for knowledge on the TCHS when writing this story (I will include these sources at the bottom of this post).

While reading this story, the one thing I kept asking myself was, who was going to stick up for these families and these children?  Unfortunately, no one ever does.  No adult comes to the rescue of these children.  The reality is many children within this orphanage had to fend for themselves and try to take care of themselves until the horror was over. 

A little bit about the book…

Unlike my other posts, I will not focus too much on describing the details of this story as the description is told perfectly at the back of her book.  But I will mention some important details.

This story is told through the eyes of the character Rill Foss.  Rill Foss is the oldest of 5 children. She was born to a loving mother and father who lived in a shanty boat on the Mississippi River.  Periodically, the family anchored in different towns so the children could go to school, and it seemed like the Foss parents loved and cherished their children.  The love Rill Foss experienced from her parents gives her the drive to fight to protect herself and her siblings and the determination to bring them back safely to their home on board the Arcadia.   

The other main character in this book is Avery Stafford.  She is a very different character than Rill.  She is born into a very wealthy, upper-class family in South Carolina.  Avery is a successful lawyer from New York City who has returned home to support her sick father, the Senator of South Carolina.  Avery knows she is being groomed to one day become Senator and walk in the footsteps of her father.  She shadows her father to many different events trying to understand more of this world she may be thrown into.  Throughout this journey, she continuously feels like something is missing and wonders if this is really the life she wants for herself.  She is also engaged to a man who she slowly realizes she may not love anymore.  It is at one of her fathers’ events that she runs into a woman named May Crandall. Avery’s life from this moment on changes as she tries to decipher what May is telling her and how Avery’s family is involved.

My review of the book…

“But the love of sisters needs no words.  It does not depend on memories, or mementos, or proof.  It runs as deep as a heartbeat. It is as ever-present as a pulse.”

I found the story to be absolutely captivating from the first chapter.  I was very interested in the Foss family and how they lived their life on board the Arcadia.  This story gives readers a brief look into the life of how some impoverished Americans lived.  I knew little about these “shanty boat” people; therefore, I was fascinated to hear about how they survived the depression.  Wingate also includes a small information section at the back of the book giving more details about Mississippi’s shanty boat people.

Additionally, she described the kidnapping of the Foss children very well.  This shows how involved law enforcement was in taking these children to the TCHS.  She also showed how the adults manipulated these children into coming with them, lying to them to gain their trust.  The way the Foss children were taken from their parents was shocking and unimaginable.

Wingate described life at TCHS with incredible detail while also sparring you the sickening reality of some aspects of the torture some children experienced within the facility.  However, when it came to the more horrific events at TCHS I was glad that Wingate provided only the detail necessary.

Rill Foss’s character development is also very well done.  You get a real sense of how this 12-year-old little girl becomes the caregiver to her siblings.  You see her develop into a strong young woman fighting for her family. 

Wingate does a great job at intertwining the two stories of Rill and Avery, always making you wonder what their connection will be.  Is Avery related to any of Rill’s lost siblings?  Is Avery’s grandmother a friend who helped expose TCHS?  Wingate always keeps you on your toes, wondering how they are connected while never tiring the reader with each of their stories’ details.

I really enjoyed this book, but some parts are pretty disturbing, which could make it difficult for some people to get through.

About the Author:
Lisa Wingate has written many best selling books, receiving many rewards for her work.  Prior to writing she was a journalist.  

Other Wingate books: 
Before and After
The Book of Lost Friends
Carolina Chronicles 

Books she used to help write about the Tennessee Children’s Home Society:
Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children by Viviana A. Zelizer
Babies for Sale: The Tennessee Children’s Home Adoption Scandal by Linda Tollett Austin
Alone in the World: Orphans and Orphanages in America by Catherine Reef
The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption by Barbara Bisantz Raymond

Short stories at the end of the book:
The River Gypsies By Lisa Wingate 
The Shanty-Boat People (excerpt) By: Charles Buxton Going


The Age of Light – Book Review

This book is an interesting work of fiction because its main characters are based on real people. Parts of their lives have been put together by the author, Whitney Scharer’s, imagination. I didn’t know this until I had completed the book and began to do some research into the author. I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of reimagining peoples lives but, many of Scharer’s readers seemed to like it.

A little bit about the book…

The book begins in 1966 in England with the main character, Lee Miller and her husband Roland, living in the countryside. At the time, Miller is writing cooking pieces for Vogue. She writes about her cooking methods and photographs each step of her cooking process. This is where it becomes evident that Lee Miller is a skilled photographer. Miller is very unhappy in her current life, and you even begin to wonder, because of her attitude and drinking, if she has always been unhappy?

As the first part of the book continues, we are introduced to many new characters, including her editor at Vogue, Audrey Withers. Withers asks Miller to write a new piece focusing on her time in Paris working with the famous photographer, Man Ray. Immediately Miller refuses but quickly realizes that she doesn’t have much choice if she wants to continue working for Vogue. Miller lists some stipulations for the piece and then accepts.

It is at this point that Miller began her story, beginning in Paris 1929. She moves to Paris to begin her photography career and eventually meets and falls in love with Man Ray. This romance is a whirlwind from the very beginning. Man Ray was much older than Lee Miller, which isn’t surprising once you understand the relationship Miller has with her father. She begins her career as Man Ray’s assistant, learning from his photography skills to help her own future career. However, as their romance begins and while she continues to be Man Ray’s assistant, she begins to fear her own photography career is becoming secondary to Man Ray. It also becomes clear that their relationship was turning destructive. As the relationship grew, Ray became much more controlling, and his obsession with Miller becomes very concerning. For these reasons and many others, the love story in the book didn’t captivate me.

Scharer also includes short stories about Miller’s childhood. Miller experienced a very traumatic sexual assault when she was very young, by a trusted family member. This event, plus her parents’ reactions to the event, I believe, impacts the way Miller views most of her sexual encounters. I also felt like this experience influenced her relationship with Man Ray. Showing how these traumatic events hurt the victims for almost their entire lives.

Would I recommend the book?

Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy this book. I didn’t find myself connecting with the main character Lee Miller. I also felt there was no closure with this book’s ending, and I found myself wondering what the book was really about? Scharer also included information about Miller’s life during World War II and those events were never really connected to her current life or to her life in Paris. In the end, I wasn’t sure why they were even included. The ending provided no closure to Miller’s current life and her obvious unhappiness.

Overall I don’t think I would recommend this book to my peers but, if you disagree or have additional comments to my review comment below!


Where the Crawdads Sing- My Book Review

By: Delia Owens

“Autumn leaves don’t fall; they fly.  They take their time and wander on this, their only chance to soar.”

Let me begin by saying I absolutely loved this book.  I was incredibly attached to this story from the very beginning.  The writing was incredible, detailed and moving. 

What was this story about…

Where the Crowdads Sing revolves around a young girl named Kya, who lived in the marshes of North Carolina. These marshes are close to a small town called Barkley Cove.  We are introduced to Kya as a young girl, and we follow her through her life.  Her family moved to the marshes during the 1940s; there were 5 children and their parents.  Kya is the youngest in the family.  Quite early on, we learn about how abusive her father is to her mother and the children.  One by one, each family member decides to leave home.  Kya is too young to remember much about the oldest three siblings; they go when she is very young.  Eventually, Kya’s mother leaves; we understand that this is not the first time her mother has left, which gives Kya the hope that her mother will return.  However, there is something different this time that brings Kya this horrible feeling that her mother won’t be coming back.  The closest relationship Kya seems to have is with her brother, Jodie.  He tries to bring some normalness into her life.  Eventually, though, Jodie also cannot stay and live with their father anymore.  He apologizes to Kya and then also leaves her.

It’s at this point where Kya begins to live alone with her dad in the marsh.  However, Kya spends most of her days alone since her dad usually leaves for multiple days at a time.  Kya’s father hasn’t abused her like he did the other children, and for a short time, after everyone has left, he starts to be quite nice to Kya.  Eventually, this friendliness ends, and then he too leaves her for good.  During this time, Kya is also being sought after by the local school.  She legally must attend school; therefore, the principal is coming to find her.  Kya decides to go with the principal and spends one day at the school.  This day does not go well; she is starred at by her peers; she doesn’t have proper clothes or shoes and already feels very behind from the other kids.  After that day, every time the principal came to find her, she would hide.  Kya knows the marsh better than anyone; therefore, finding her was impossible.  Eventually, the school stopped trying.

Near the beginning of the book, we are introduced to a black man named Jumpin.  He is a friend of Kya’s father, but once Kya’s father leaves the marsh, Jumpin becomes a father figure to Kya. Jumpin’s wife, Mabel, also cares for Kya and tries to help her by providing her with donated clothes and food.  This book is set in the 50s and 60s, and therefore, segregation is widespread, including in Barkley Cove.  The black community cares for Kya much more than any of the white people in the town.  The white community treat her like a leper who is to be avoided at all costs.  No one thinks about caring for this little girl; instead, they isolate her even more. 

As Kya gets older, she begins to wonder about the other teenagers in the town; she specifically notices her interest in the boys.  There are two love interests that Kya gets involved with.  Both are offering her very different versions of love and care.  It is from one of these experiences that the community turns on her, accusing her of murder with very little evidence. 

My thoughts…

I really enjoyed reading this story.  It was a very different story about a small part of American history that I know almost nothing about.  The story made me curious to learn more about the marshes of North Carolina.  I learned that these marshes have a deep history of providing isolation and safety to different groups of people throughout American history, beginning with freed or escaped slaves.  They built homes and communities in the marshes.  The marshes grew in popularity again during the Great Depression and after the War by white families who had lost everything, which is where Kya’s family fits.  It was enjoyable learning about this time in history; I always like it when a book brings me into another part of the past. 

The characters in this book represented so many different types of interesting people.  Each one playing a crucial role in Kya’s story.  Kya’s two love interests were extraordinarily different, and understanding how Kya’s relationship with each man forms and grows reminds us of how complicated love can be, especially when you feel alone in the world.   The people who live in town talk negatively about Kya, further isolating her from her love interests.   It is unfortunate to see how this community treats Kya from such a young girl and onwards, for no other reason than she was different than everyone else. The horrible manner of this community comes to fruition during the murder trial Kya is dragged into.  

I enjoyed learning about the black community, specifically Jumpin and Mable, and seeing their love for Kya.  It is clear they have a good understanding of how Kya may feel, and they know they don’t want to cause the same hurt to Kya that the people of Barkley Cove cause them.   This is more clearly seen during Kya’s trial, where Jumpin and Mabel attend in support of Kya. This was a very powerful moment in the story when Jumpin and Mabel come and sit in the assumed “white” sections of the courtroom.

It is clear the writer has a biology background in how she describes the nature surrounding Kya.  It is incredibly descriptive and clear; you can picture everything she is saying and imagine how Kya fits into that world.  I must admit, at times, it did become tiring reading about all the specifics of the marshlands.  However, I understand its importance to the story.   It was fascinating to see Kya’s resiliency living in the marsh and how she becomes one with nature.

The second half of the book was difficult to read and heartbreaking to imagine.  Although this was not a true story, we know this prejudice occurred for many innocent people in the past.  People are always fearful of the unknown and Delia Owens does a great job in showing this in Where the Crawdads Sing

The Author:

“Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa—Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and Secrets of the Savanna. She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and International Wildlife, among many others. She currently lives in Idaho, where she continues her support for the people and wildlife of Zambia. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.” – Good Reads Delia Owens Description


The Love that Split the World – Book Review

By: Emily Henry

What is the story about…

This story follows a teenage girl named Natalie Cleary, who has just finished high school and is preparing to attend college in the fall.  Natalie was born into an Aboriginal community; however, she was adopted at a very young age by a non-Aboriginal family.  Therefore, she knows very little about her background.  From the beginning of the book, Natalie is going through an identity crisis.  Some of this crisis is due to her guilt of not trying to learn more about her community.  Natalie begins to have conflicting feelings about her life that confuse her, and she’s skeptical about what she wants to do in college or if she even wants to go. 

Natalie also carries a lot of baggage around with her from her childhood. These traumas are exposed to the reader slowly throughout the book.  Through the discussions of her childhood, we are introduced to an important character that Natalie calls ‘Grandmother’.   Grandmother visits her at night (we’re unsure if she is a dream or a real person) and gives her life lessons.  When this first began, Natalie was very young, and she would casually bring up Grandmother in conversations with her family.  They were apprehensive about this woman who “appeared” to Natalie at night.  Her parents eventually decided to send her to a child psychologist to help her understand these visions.  After seeing the psychologist, Natalie stopped seeing Grandmother for a while.  It wasn’t until Natalie’s last year of high school that Grandmother reappeared to her.  However, this time Grandmother reappeared to her with a very cryptic message.  She decided not to speak of these new encounters with her parents.  She knew they wouldn’t understand.

The message from Grandmother sends Natalie into a panic.  She begins a quest to understand what Grandmother is talking about, why she sees visions and why she sees alternative realities all around her.   At this time, Natalie meets two other characters who try to help her understand what she is experiencing. 

My thoughts on the book…

This is a very different book than I have read in the past.  This book fits into multiple genres: fantasy, romance, young adult, to name a few. 

The love story didn’t really work for me; it seemed a bit immature and predictable.  There was minimal build-up to the romance; they just seemed to meet one day and fall for one another almost instantly.  Also, there is something about 18-year-olds talking about marriage that makes my eyes roll.  The two characters were also complete opposites, so their love didn’t seem to work, in my opinion. For that reason, I wasn’t attached to the romantic connection in this book.

The fantasy portion included time travel and different versions of reality, and to be honest, it kind of lost me.  I was pretty confused during most of the book, and the hope of understanding it all, in the end, extinguished pretty quickly.  The ending was a bit of a let down because the result seemed even more eye-rolling than the romance that took place.  Most of the reason I kept reading this book was to see what all these visions meant, and then when I found out, I felt pretty disappointed. 

As well, the ending was just too open-ended.  I didn’t get closure from this ending and very few answers about what was going on with Natalie.  However, the book did intrigue me to keep reading to find out what Grandmother’s message meant.  For this reason, I can’t say I love this book, but I didn’t hate it either.

About the Author…

Emily Henry wrote Beach Read, which is another book I have reviewed on this blog. I absolutely loved Beach Read and highly recommend it.


Cilka’s Journey- A Book Review

By: Heather Morris

Cilka’s Journey is a sequel to the bestseller, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.  I have not read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and I was a bit concerned that I would be confused reading Cilka’s Journey, but that was not the case at all.  This book stands on its own very well.  Heather Morris includes a bit of information about the characters from The Tattooist of Auschwitz.  These small details made me curious and interested in reading it.

I must admit, though, I won’t be jumping right into The Tattooist of Auschwitz anytime soon.  After reading such an emotional story, like Cilka’s Journey, I need to give myself some time to recoup before I dive into a similar story.  I usually like to follow that genre of book with a fun, light hearted and easy to read book.

What is the book about:

The book follows the life of a young Jewish Czechoslovakian woman named Cilka Klien, who is actually a real person.  Heather Morris, the author, explains that she uses the true story of Cilka Klein to inspire some aspects of the book. Therefore, this a historical fiction novel, not a biography.  However, that should not dismiss the events in the story because what she experienced did happen to many women during this terrible time in history.

We are first introduced to Cilka near the end of World War II when Auschwitz is liberated by the Red Army (the Soviet Union).  The Red Army soldiers liberate this camp on their march to Germany.  During this time, the Soviet Union, now under Joseph Stalin, had created “labour camps” all over Russia, mostly in the northern regions.  These camps were for political prisoners, people Stalin believed were betraying the communist state, and prisoners who had actually committed crimes.  When the Red Army arrived in Auschwitz, they began questioning the prisoners to find out more information about each of them.  The Red Army learn that Cilka had been a prisoner of the camp for many years and that she had sexual relations with some of the Nazi guards.  However, these sexual encounters were not consensual; the camp guards were raping Cilka.  This allowed for Cilka to survive all her years at Auschwitz.  For these reasons, astonishingly, Cilka is considered a Nazi collaborator by the Red Army and, therefore, an enemy to the Soviet Union. The Soviets are suspicious of prisoners who managed to stay alive in the camps, sadly suspecting many of them to be collaborators (to the Red Army, this is the only answer as to why they survived these camps). Therefore, she is sent directly from Auschwitz to the Soviet Union to complete a 15-year sentence of hard labour in the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia.  She is pushed onto another train for her long journey from Auschwitz to northern Russia.  This train ride reminds her of the train ride she took many years prior to Auschwitz.

Once she arrives at the Gulag, she experiences many of the same events that she endured when she arrived in Auschwitz for the first time.  Cilka has become numb to humankind’s brutality and follows along with what is told and asked of her. Cilka’s only focus is to survive the Gulag camps just as she survived Auschwitz.

Most of the book is focused on Cilka’s time in the Vorkuta Gulag camp, but Morris also includes short memories Cilka has of Auschwitz to paint a picture of Cilka’s past.  These memories also show us how her experiences at Auschwitz influences her life at the Vorkuta Gulag camp.  It brings so much sadness knowing that this poor young woman endured such brutality at Auschwitz, and then to be forced to undergo more brutality at a new camp seems unimaginable.

Cilka’s time at Vorkuta is extremely difficult.  However, she meets many new people that end up playing a significant role in her life.  She learns a lot about herself and the courage and determination she has.  Every day she fights to survive and live, hoping to return to her home in Czechoslovakia one day.  

My thoughts on the book:

Heather Morris creates a captivating story about suffering, loss and love.  She writes with such detail that every scene seems to come to life; I felt that I could picture every part of the camp and how Cilka fits into it.  What is so incredibly moving about this story is how Morris shows you the courage of these characters, and although these are fictional characters, the reader knows that the real prisoners of the camp had to have the same resiliency if they had any hope of surviving.   Although there is so much evil and sadness throughout this story, Morris also includes incredible stories of heroism, compassion and tenderness.  I also like that it is focused on a topic that many people probably don’t know much about; it sheds light on another dark part of history.

Additionally, this book’s main events, the Gulag Camps, are a very familiar topic for me.  As a history major in university, I chose to write my mock thesis on the Soviet Union’s Gulags.  Therefore, I had an added interest in this book.  


The Bad Mothers Book Club- My Book Review

By Keris Stainton

This is another great mom read; I highly recommend it!

What is the story about?

The Bad Mothers’ Book Club by Keris Stainton is a fictional story about a group of mothers with the primary focus being on the character, Emma Chance.  Emma and her husband, Paul, have two young children.   They have decided to move their family out of the city and into a smaller town.  The story begins in Emma’s kitchen the morning before the first day of school.  Emma and the children are nervous for the first day at their new school. They haven’t met any new people in this town and they are hoping to make some friends. The first day of drop off does not go well for Emma, but this gives the reader a glimpse into Emma’s personality.  As days progress and drop-offs continue, she begins talking and meeting new moms.  She quickly finds out there is one woman named Jools, who seems to run the town.  Jools also holds an exclusive book club for only some moms from the neighbourhood.  From the outside, Jools seems like a very mean and egotistical woman, but, as the story continues, you see the struggles Jools is experiencing.  A few chapters of the book are dedicated to some of the other moms Emma meets.  These women and their stories slowly intertwine with Emma’s. 

One thing I should also note, the book barely includes any book club meetings.  The title is a bit misleading.  The Bad Mothers Book Club doesn’t even come up until the last few chapters.

My thoughts on the book…

This book will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it will remind you that you are not alone in your motherhood journey. Emma’s’ story shows the struggles she is experiencing as a stay at home mom, her absolute love for her children, the highs and lows of her marriage, and so much more. It was interesting reading about her insecurities as a mother, or the insecurities she began to feel as a wife.  I am sure these feelings have been experienced by mothers everywhere. 

As mentioned above, the book also focuses a few of its chapters on the other moms Emma meets.  I think Stainton does this for multiple reasons, one, to show the readers different motherly perspectives and two, to show how much people go through behind closed doors.  One of the most important lessons in this book is to remember that how people appear on the outside is often very different from how they feel on the inside. 

I enjoyed this book, and if you are looking for an easy, quick, and fun read, this book is for you!

About the Author:

Keris Stainton is a best selling author who has written over 14 books. She is Canadian born but now lives in England with her two boys.

Some other books by Keris Stainton:

The One That Got Away 

The One who’s NOT the One

All I want for Christmas


City of Girls – Book Review

Book by: Elizabeth Gilbert

My Rating: 3/5 Stars — Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction — N. of Pages: 496

What was this story about:

City of Girls is written as one long letter.  A woman named Angela asks Vivian Morris, the main character, to explain Vivian’s relationship with Angela’s father. Vivian responds to this letter with the story of her life beginning at age 19.

Vivian Morris is from a wealthy family who lived in the suburbs a couple of hours away from New York City.  Vivian is a lost teenager when we meet her; she specifically calls herself “an idiot” at the beginning of chapter one. She fails out of college and needs to return home to her disappointed parents.  Her parents are at a loss as to what to do with their teenage daughter, who doesn’t seem to fit in in the high society surrounding her and is not academically successful.  They decide to send Vivian to live with her Aunt Peg in New York City. Therefore, in 1940 Vivian Morris gets onto the train and heads to New York City. 

Aunt Peg lives and owns a theatre in a poor neighbourhood in New York City.  The theatre is not in good shape and is not really in the centre of the ritz and glamour of theatre in New York City, but Vivian loves it! Vivian is in amazement of The Lily Playhouse, Aunt Peg’s theatre.  She is impressed and fascinated by the showgirls, the dancers, the actors, the play writers and everyone else involved in this theatre. Aunt Peg discovers Vivian’s sewing skills and asks Vivian to be the seamstress for the theatre.  She then becomes consumed with making, fixing and purchasing fabrics for the costumes in the plays.  This is when she begins to create friendships with the showgirls, specifically Celia.  Celia is a beautiful showgirl who seems to take a liking to Vivian.  Celia teaches Vivian how to showcase her beauty, go out in New York City, and have sex with lots of men.   Vivian adapts this new way of life and thrives in it, until one horrible night where she makes a mistake that will derail the life she built and loved in New York City at the Lily Playhouse. 

After a brief return to her parents’ house and a pivotal interaction with her brother, Walter, who is about to go to war, she eventually returns to New York City with Aunt Peg.   She returns to New York City to help her Aunt Peg with a new theatre job supporting the war effort.  This is where we begin to see Vivian’s character mature a bit and better understand who she is. 

My thoughts on the book

What I liked:

I loved the description of New York City in the 1940s.  The glamour, the parties, the social scene all were described perfectly.  I have only been to New York City once, during Christmas time, and I loved it, but it seemed even more amazing how Gilbert told it.

I also loved the fun and excitement that was described in theatre life at the Lily Playhouse.  It seemed like such a fun place to work and live.  Most importantly, the characters who lived and worked at the Lily Playhouse were all interesting in their own way.

The relationships that Vivian made with the other characters were the best part of this book.  There was something Vivian learned from every person that came into her life.  Sometimes people came into her life for a brief moment, and sometimes she created lasting friendships with people she grew to love.  However, it was clear that every relationship, whether long or short, played a role in creating who Vivian Morris was.  I have always believed that everyone who comes into your life plays a role.  It could be a brief one, someone you enjoy at that time, or a life long friendship. I feel this was one of the most critical messages from City of Girls.

What I didn’t like:

Unfortunately, there was quite a bit that I didn’t like about this book. Vivian’s character was just not that interesting.  I feel she lacked depth, excitement and maturity.  I was more interested in the characters around her; then I was in her story.  About halfway through the book, I realized I didn’t care what happened to Vivian’s character, and I found her kind of annoying.  Her character growth was so focused on her sex life that it became redundant to keep reading about. Vivian’s central character trait seemed to only be about her love for sex, and it is tough to keep the book interesting when you’re solely focused on that.  At the beginning of the book, I found Vivian to be extraordinarily naive, but that never seemed to go away, even as she grew older.  She got herself into dangerous situations with men but, for some reason, never really learned from these experiences; what’s worse, she never seemed to care.  I knew pretty early on that I wouldn’t love this book, but I was able to keep reading based on the character development of the people around Vivian.  The book is also very long, and it seems it could have been summed up in far fewer pages. It was also challenging to keep reading when the main character seemed to lack depth.   

If you have read this book, what are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with my comments?