The Tattooist of Aschwitz – Book Review

By: Heather Morris

“Something off the tracks catches his eye, a flash of color. A flower, a single flower, waving in the breeze. Bloodred petals around a jet black middle. He looks for others but there are none.”

The same author writes the Tattooist of Auschwitz as Cilka’s Journey, Heather Morris. She wrote The Tattooist of Auschwitz first. Since I had already read Cilka’s Journey, I was vaguely familiar with the main characters of The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Cilka’s Journey didn’t fully give away the story but, I knew how it would end for the two main characters.

This book is inspired by the story of Lale Sokolov, a survivor of Auschwitz. However, this is a work of fiction. Heather Morris brings together Lale’s accounts and her creative storytelling skills for this book.

“How can a race spread out among multiple countries be considered a threat?”

My summary of the book:

Lale Eisenberg (Sokolov) is the main character, the tattooer of Auschwitz. We follow his journey from Slovakia to Auschwitz. In Slovakia, the Germans told all Jewish families to send one child over eighteen to work for the German government. Lale volunteers for his family, says his goodbyes and heads to Prague for deportation. It is still unclear what the Germans are doing with these Jewish workers, and there is still hope that if they work hard, they can return to their families. Therefore, Lale believes that he is saving his family by volunteering for the Germans; he believes he has spared his family from the atrocities that await him. He shows up for duty dressed in fine clothes to be presented respectably to the Germans. What he encounters is nothing he could have prepared for. Lale is forced onto a train with many other men, unaware of what awaits them on this journey. Many men hope and pray this train ride will be the worst part of their work assignment; when they arrive at Auschwitz, they cannot believe what they are witnessing or what they are being forced into.

After some lucky turn of events, Lale finds himself being taken out of hard labour and asked to train to become the camp tattooer. At first, he is horrified by the idea; he cannot imagine tattooing other people the way he was. However, he quickly understands that by becoming the tattooer of Auschwitz, he can get out of hard labour, his new value could also save his life, and he knows with his new status at the camp, he can help his fellow prisoners. Therefore, he accepts the position. Almost immediately, he receives extra food, which he hides for his old block mates, and is given a new single bedroom. He feels very guilty receiving these perks and promises himself to help other prisoners with his new status in the camp.

One day while Lale is keeping his head down and tattooing the new prisoners, he catches a glimpse of a woman. This woman catches his attention immediately. He is struck by her beauty, a beauty that is somehow radiating in this horrific place. After she leaves, he makes it his goal to find out who she is and which block she lives in. Lale eventually finds this woman and learns her name is Gita. This is the beginning of a beautiful romance that somehow manages to grow under horrifying conditions. This love also gives them another reason to survive the camps and gain their freedom.

“…you will honour them by staying alive, surviving this place and telling the world what happened here.”

My review of the book:

Although this story is not an exact re-telling of Lale’s life, the reader is very aware that everything happening at these camps did occur to someone. Thankfully some prisoners did survive this camp and were able to tell the story of their experiences. I don’t know what parts Morris creates and what parts are true, but the fact that Lale could survive the camp seems unimaginable. How anyone manages to go on each day under those types of circumstances shows the type of courage and strength humans can have.

“But how do you say goodbye to your mother? The person who gave you breath, who taught you how to live?

This is an incredible story of survival, love and courage. No matter what awful event occurs in the camp, Lale still chooses to go on, to fight to live, to fight for freedom. Morris does a great job at connecting her readers to the characters, making them feel emotionally attached to what happens.

Many Holocaust books, fiction and non-fiction, have been written over the years. Each one adding a different perspective to these horrible events. This was definitely a unique perspective, following the life of the man that is responsible for the lifelong tattoos that Holocaust survivors are now known for. I also really liked that Morris continued the story after the evacuation of Auschwitz. The reader could learn how these prisoners were eventually freed and understand the lack of help they were given in finding their way home. Most Holocaust books don’t go into the details of how these Jewish people, now freed, found their way home. For some, home was a long way away, and it wouldn’t have been an easy journey to complete. Overall I think this is a good book that shows a new perspective on how prisoners lived in Auschwitz.

“To save one is to save the world.”

What historical fiction books have you read recently?


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 weren’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. 


My COVID Lockdown Booklist

As a new year begins, the hopes of a new beginning away from COVID are slowly diminishing. In Switzerland, where I live, we enter into our 3rd week of lockdown, with three more weeks to go. One way I plan on passing the time is by reading some of the unopened books I still have on my shelf. I decided to make a list of all the books I want to read during this time. I’m hoping it will give me something to look forward to each week and help get me through this lockdown!

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by: Christy Lefteri

This book caught my attention because of its connection to current events, specifically the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. Over the last couple of years, we have been watching heartbreaking scenes of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria for Europe. This book tries to put a face to this crisis by writing about a fictional Syrian family and their refugee story. The family decides to leave Syria after the war has already begun; they embark on a dangerous journey to freedom, trekking through many of the same escape routes Syrian families are all too familiar with. I’m sure this will be a very captivating story and shed light on the struggles refugees worldwide experience.

What Alice Forgot by: Liane Moriarty

Many friends and family have continuously recommended this book, so I have finally decided to add it to my list. This story is about the effects of memory loss and piecing together a life that is unrecognizable. It is slightly different from the type of books I usually read, but lockdown is a great time to explore some new genres!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by: Heather Morris

This book has been on my book list for many years, but every time I think about opening it, I wonder if I am truly ready for the emotional roller coaster I know this book will embark on. However, recently I read another book by Heather Morris, called Cilka’s Journey, and I loved it. It was definitely emotionally tormenting but, I am very glad I read it. So I decided I needed to give The Tattooist of Auschwitz a read.

A Promised Land by: Barack Obama

I haven’t read a biography in a long time, and I find myself craving to read one. Since American politics has been a focal point in world news recently, I found it only fitting to add A Promised Land by Barack Obama to my book list. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you cannot argue his presidency’s historical significance and wonder how he got there.

What does your lockdown booklist look like?


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 them suitable homes.  However, the TCHS actually 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 for 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 read to gain a better understanding of the TCHS for her book (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 since the description is quite clear, however, I will mention some important details.

This story is told through the perspective of the character Rill Foss.  Rill is the oldest of the five Foss 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 that the children could attend school. The Foss parents loved and cherished their children.  The love Rill experienced from her parents gives her the continued courage to fight and protect herself and her siblings. She is determined 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 herself to 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.  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 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. However, as their romance begins and 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. Also, I never felt like I understood why Miller was so obviously unhappy in her current life with her husband.

Overall I don’t think I would recommend this book to my peers but, if you disagree or have any additional comments 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 attached to the story from the very beginning!

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 in the family, Kya is the youngest.  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 home.  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. She has now become accustomed to people leaving her.

Now that her brother has left, Kya lives alone with her dad in the marsh.  However, her father isn’t really around, anytime he leaves he 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 intellectually behind 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. From a very young age Kya learned to take care of herself in the marsh, the only place she felt safe.

Once Kya’s father leaves the marsh, Kya becomes better acquainted to one of his fathers friends, a black man named Jumpin. Jumpin lives on the water and Kya takes her fathers boat to him to get supplies and food. He becomes like 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 1950s 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 interesting learning about this time in history; I always like 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 from 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 the black community.   This is more clearly seen during Kya’s trial, where Jumpin and Mabel attend in support of Kya. There was a very powerful moment in the story when Jumpin and Mabel come and sit in the assumed “white” sections of the courtroom and no one stops them.

It is also clear that Owens has a biology background in the way 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.   I also found it fascinating to see Kya’s resiliency living in the marsh and how she grows to become one with nature.

The second half of the book was difficult to read.  Although this was not a true story, the reader knows the prejudice discussed in the story did actually occurred for many groups of people.  People are always fearful of the unknown and Delia Owens does a great job at showing this to her readers 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

Have you read this book? Or any other Delia Owens books?


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 this genre 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 to Auschwitz many years ago.

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 she 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 brought me 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 seemed 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 mostly 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 love.  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.


City of Girls – Book Review

Book by: Elizabeth Gilbert

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 into their high society circle.  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, The Lily Playhouse, is a run down old facility. It is no where near the ritz and glamour of theatre life in New York City, but Vivian loves it! 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 see Vivian’s character mature and she begins to 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 the way Gilbert described it.

I also loved the fun and excitement of theatre life at The Lily Playhouse.  It seemed like such a fun place to work and live.  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 certain role.  It could be a brief relationship, someone you enjoy at that time, or a life long friendship. I feel this was one of the most important 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 naïve, 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.

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


Beautiful Bookstores of Switzerland

When I moved to Switzerland, one of the first things I did was visit all the bookstores near me. It was a bit disheartening knowing these stores would mostly (or only) sell German books but, I had to take a tour anyway. To my surprise and delight, many of the bookstores in the area sold English books! Most of the shops seem to be small family-run businesses, which added a layer of charm to these bookstores. 

Below are some of the bookstores that I have explored around my home in Switzerland:

The Travel Book Shop

This is one of the most unique bookstores in Switzerland. It primarily features one genre: travel. From fiction to non-fiction, all the books in this store have to relate to travel. This shop also sells old and new maps of places all over the world. They have some antique maps on display that were quite beautiful.

Buchhandlung Beer & Co.

This bookstore had a small English section near the back. Once I began scanning the titles, I noticed pretty quickly that they were a bit different. I barely recognized any of them. It seems this shop focuses on books centered around Anthroposophy, a philosophy which was created in the 20th century by Rudolf Steiner. This would explain why the authors were not familiar to me. Beer & Co. is a fascinating shop to visit and explore.

Peter Bichsel Antiquariat/Peter Bichsel Fine Books

Visiting this bookstore is like stepping back into history. Peter Bichsel Fine Books sells fine/antique books. Some of them date back to the 15th century! As a history buff, exploring this store was fascinating. The books look so delicate, fragile but exceptional. The old fashion step ladder in the center of the store added even more charm to this little space. Although I do not dare touch any of the books, I explore each aisle and love viewing all the featured titles. This is a beautiful bookstore.

Pile of Books

Pile of Books is the only all English bookstore in Zurich (maybe all of Switzerland?). This shop features all the recognizable authors and bestsellers. For English speakers like myself, Pile of Books suits my needs the most, while also keeping the appeal of a small European bookstore.

Hirschmatt Buchhandlung

This bookstore has a good selection of German books from all different genres. Their English section is pretty small, but they have an online store you can order from. Hirschmatt offers the coziness of a small shop but with an extensive book catalogue.

What are some of your favourite bookstores?


The Dutch House- Book Review

By: Ann Patchett

Why I chose to read this book…

I came across this book at multiple different bookstores and finally decided to pick it up. The book is very positively reviewed as well.

A little bit about the book…

The book centers around a large estate in Philadelphia nicknamed The Dutch House. The interior of the home is decorated with large painted portraits of past residents and covered with embellishments that are compared to the Palace of Versailles. The current inhabitants of The Dutch House are the Conroys. The book follows the brother and sister, Danny and Meave Conroy with Danny narrating their story.

Patchett chooses to divide The Dutch House into three parts.

Part one focuses on Danny and Meave’s childhood. Through their perspectives, readers get a glimpse into what it would have been like growing up in the Dutch House. It is clear that their father, Cyril, really loves this historic home, despite his family’s distaste for it. As years progress, Cyril moves on from his failed marriage with a woman named Andrea. When Andrea and her two daughters move into the home it becomes increasingly clear things in the Dutch House will be changing. Some catastrophic events follow for the Conroy family, and by the end of part one, the siblings have lost the Dutch House and need to rebuild their lives elsewhere.

Part two begins with Danny returning home from college for Thanksgiving. Home is now a small apartment that Maeve lives in. Patchett paints a clear picture of how the siblings live after leaving the Dutch House. Maeve has a steady job she likes, and Danny is studying in Medical School even though he doesn’t want to be a doctor. The siblings always feel an urge to go back and see the Dutch House and a couple times a year they choose to go see the house form a distance. Despite this, Danny’s life seems to move on from the house; he goes to school meets a woman, gets married and has children. In contrast, Meave’s life does not seem to change as the years pass. After a close encounter with Andrea, part two ends with the siblings vowing never to revisit the house.

Part three began with some trouble for Meave, which sent Danny into a whirlwind of emotions. This event also brings back an old family member that Danny isn’t ready to accept back into his life. Danny tries to figure out how to best deal with this returned family member as well as focus on being a good husband and father. The ending is quite moving and has a couple surprises.

The central theme of the book…

One of the most dominant messages of the book was the power of love. You see this in the relationships that are formed, kept and treasured among family and friends. The love that Maeve and Danny have for one another is a perfect example. We also see this with their love for their childhood nannies, for their father, and all the new characters throughout the book. The power of love is shown from the beginning of the book through to the end. The different relationships that are formed in the book are what interested me the most.

My thoughts on the book…

My overall thoughts are that it is a good story about the lives of two siblings and their broken family. Ann Patchett is a skilled writer and makes the characters of her book come to life. However, I did find the book a bit predictable, which didn’t allow for much excitement or intrigue. It also seemed that Patchett added a bit too many unnecessary details that made the book a bit too long.

Other books by the Author:
The Patron Saint of Liars
The Magician’s Assistant
Bel Canto
Run
State of Wonder
Commonwealth