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?


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


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?


How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division – Book Review

Author: Elif Shafak

This is a very short read but an important one.  In today’s world of division it is sometimes hard to see where you fit, to see where your ideas, values and opinions meet.  Society focuses on the “us vs them” narrative leaving little room for people in the middle. How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division by Elif Shafak encourages people of all different opinions to communicate. 

This book was very recently published, so recent, that it includes commentary on the current protests in the United States and the ongoing global pandemic.  I recommend everyone read this book, in hopes that it will underline the importance of understanding the views of others.

Since this book is short, I will not detail what it is about (the title gives the plot away anyway!).  Instead, I will list below the quotes that impacted me the most.

Book Quotes:

Part 1: Introduction

“We are made of stories — those that have happened, those that are still happening at this moment in time and those that are shaped purely in our imagination through words, images, dreams and an endless sense of wonder about the world around us and how it works.  Unvarnished truths, innermost reflections, fragments of memory, wounds unhealed.  Not to be able to tell your story, to be silenced and shut out, therefore, is to be dehumanized.  It strikes at your sanity, the validity of your version of events.  It creates a profound, and existential anxiety in us.” (page 9)

“… when you feel alone don’t look within, look out and look beyond for others who feel the same way, for there are always others, and if you connect with them and with their story, you will be able to see everything in a new light.” (page 14)

“The moment we stop listening to diverse opinions is also when we stop learning.  Because the truth is we don’t learn much from the sameness and monotony.  We usually learn from differences.” (page 16)

Part 2: Disillusionment and Bewilderment 

“Whether in public or digital spaced nuanced debates are not welcome anymore. ”  (page 29)

“In the aftermath of the pandemic fewer tourists will be able to take overseas trips, fewer international students will apply, and fewer immigrant workers will be welcomed.  It worries me immensely, seeing the walls rise higher and higher.” (page 45)

Part 5: Apathy

“When we are indifferent, disconnected, atomized.  Too busy with our own lives to care about others.  Uninterested in and unmoved by someone else’s pain.  That is the most dangerous emotion —  the lack of emotion.” (page 77)

“One of the greatest paradoxes of our times is the hardliners are more passionate, engaged and involved than many moderates.  When we do not engage in civil discourse and public space, we become increasingly isolated and disconnected, thereby breeding apathy.” (page 77)

Part 6: Information, Knowledge, Wisdom

“Perhaps in an era when everything is in constant flux, in order to be more sane, we need a blend of conscious optimism and creative pessimism.” (page 87)

“It is natural to seek out a collegial and congenial group who will reinforce our core values and primary goals, and bring us closer to the stories we want to hear and prioritize.  That can be a good starting point but it cannot be the entire destination.” (page 89)

About the Author:

Elif Sharak is a British – Turkish author, that has published 17 books.  She advocates for women’s rights, minority rights and free speech.  Sharak is a founding member of the European Council of Foreign Affairs.  She has also spoken at TED Global.

Other books she has published: 

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World 

Three Daughters of Eve

The Forty Rules of Love 


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


Educated- Book Review

By: Tara Westover

How I came across this book:

I kept seeing this book displayed in multiple bookstores. Every time I read the summary, truthfully, I just wasn’t that interested. I thought I’d heard this story before, a brainwashing family keeping their children trapped by not educating them; been there, heard that. Despite my disinterest, something kept drawing me back to it. I don’t know what it was, but I finally caved. After digging into the first few pages, I was immediately hooked. This is a fantastic memoir.

What was the book about:

Educated by Tara Westover is a remarkable memoir about a Mormon family living in Idaho. Each chapter entangles you deeper into her story. It follows Westover’s isolated upbringing living in their farm house by the mountains.  You see the complexity of the life this family lived following their father’s strict interpretation of Mormonism.  Westover was so isolated from the community around her that she never truly realized how different her life was from the average American. As she grew up she began to question many things, especially the lack of education she was receiving at home. With the help of her brother she begins to teach herself math and science to try and get admitted to college. While she begins to focus most of her time on her study’s we see the escalation of violence within her household. Westover’s brother begins to physically and psychologically abuse her.  Once Westover gets admitted to college she finally gets the opportunity to leave home. Her seclusion from the world is magnified in college. This is especially clear when she begins to learn about world events that she had never heard of before, like the Holocaust. As time progresses you see her gradually drifting from her family in many wars. This drifting eventually leads to an excommunication from her family.   I kept reading, hoping that things would get better for Tara and her family; I was hoping that something would be done about her brother. Westover keeps you holding on to hope, the same way she holds hope today that she will one day be reunited with her family (under her terms).

Some personal thoughts:

At the very beginning Westover emphasized that this book was not an attack on Mormonism or any other type of religious belief. She wanted to make sure it was clear that she was not putting faith or religion down because, in many situations, other Mormons or people of faith had tried to help her. It was clear that her fathers interpretation was very different then others and this is what caused the biggest struggles within the family. I think this was important for her to include, to show her readers this is a story of her family not a story of Mormonism. To me, the real problems were the mental illness her father and brother faced. Westover shows how bad things could get if people don’t get the treatment they need.  

This book taught me more about mental health and how it can impact, not only the people who have a mental illness, but also the people who are surrounded by it. I think this lesson is so important for society today as we try to gain a clearer understanding of what mental health is and how we can support people who suffer from it. 

The themes of this book:

There are many different themes in this book. Some of the themes that stood out to me were: male patriarchy, mental health, physical abuse, psychological abuse, the power of manipulation and the impact of family love.

Patriarchy:

In her household, Mormonism was the practiced faith, but as she makes very clear, her family’s version of Mormonism was not standard and far more strict than most other Mormon families. Her father was the clear head of the household, and the wife and children had to listen attentively to the father at all times. She was raised with the idea that the man would be the head, and the woman would raise children and tend to household duties. A woman’s role would only be in the kitchen. Throughout the book, her father and brother make many comments to her reminding her that she should be focusing on redirecting her life to the proper role of a woman. 

Mental Health

It is clear from the very beginning that her father has severe mental health problems. His version of Mormonism teeters between faith and insanity. The way he treats his wife and children seems to change daily, rotating between kind and fatherly to authoritarian and angry. I noticed his mental illness more clearly when he become increasingly more paranoid. He spent so much of his time and money preparing for the end of time. The whole family spent many days preparing for this, canning fruits and vegetables and storing gasoline. He also forced his children to stay home from school, which is another way he tried to control his family. Many Mormons attend school, and many go on to continue their studies in college and university.

As well, her brother Shawn has clear anger management issues. The way he manipulates and abuses women and finds joy out of their embarrassment seem to be signs of severe psychological problems. The fact that her brother is still living in Idaho with his family is worrisome.

Physical and mental abuse 

This theme was probably the most obvious. The violence that Shawn showed towards multiple members of his family was genuinely frightening. After each physical altercation took place, he would manipulate his victims into thinking they were at fault or that he was just playing with them. This was indeed the most frightening part of her brother. Through her portrayal of these incidents, how she felt and how quickly she forgot what he had done, one can begin to understand why so many abused women go back to their abuser. For this reason alone, I think it is an important book to gain a clearer understanding of the mind set of those that get abused by someone they love.  

Power of manipulation

In the final part of the book, Tara and her sister confront their parents about the abuse they had experienced from their brother. This is the most shocking moment in the book. The way their mother cowers to their father, the way their parents refuse to believe what they are saying, is really upsetting. Later on, Tara’s sister is manipulated into thinking she was wrong about what she said about Shawn abusing her. It is scary to see what the human brain can convince itself, with just a bit of encouragement.

Family love

Tara struggles so much near the end to figure out how her new educated life can fit into her life with her family. She doesn’t want to lose her family because, ultimately, she does love them. This love keeps her tied to her family; this love keeps her returning to her home town. In the end, she realizes that despite the love she has for them, she cannot go back to that life. 

I believe the book’s overall message is by becoming educated you free yourself to feel and understand the way you want to. Only through this freedom can you live your own life and make your own decisions.

Author Info:

Here is a link to her website: https://tarawestover.com/


The Nightingale- Book Review

By: Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is one of my most favourite books. It is centered around two sisters living in France during World War II. There were so many emotions that were felt throughout this book from love and joy to utter sadness and despair. From the very first page of this book, I was hooked!

I first came across The Nightingale when it was my turn to select a book for my book club. I knew I wanted to choose a something historical, as this was my favourite genre, and many of the book club participants had never read a historical fiction book. I was convinced I could convert them with the right book. The Nightingale continuously appeared at the top of all my searches and the reviews were amazing. Therefore, I selected it for my book club and luckily, it was a huge success! Everyone loved it, and it sparked so many great conversations. In fact, many of the people in my book club continued to ask for more recommendations on other historical fiction novels.

The theme of this book…

The Nightingale is about two sisters and the very different paths their lives take during World War II in France. The sisters think they are nothing alike as they pursue very different lives but, as the story continues, you begin to see the similar characteristics these two sisters share. Each sister is fighting for survival in their own way, showing courage and resiliency in each of their struggles. The author, Kristin Hannah, brings the characters’ thoughts and emotions to life so clearly and vividly you begin to feel those emotions yourself.

Hannah also details the difficulties faced by the French people, mostly women, who lived under Nazi occupation. The reader gains an understanding as to how the French women were helping in the war effort, from their homes. The women wanted to do whatever they could to help defeat the Nazis. This book was not about war battles and soldiers; it was about the struggle of occupation, the push to survive, and the fight to gain freedom. Truly a remarkable story about a challenging time in France’s history.

What I learned from this book…

The Nightingale is an inspirational story about women’s fight for survival and their constant determination to protect their family and those around them. The ordeal that these two sisters experience is beyond my imagination; it seems impossible to overcome such horrible obstacles in life. This story also emphasized the importance of fighting for what you believe.

I also learned so much more about the difficulties faced by the women living under Nazi occupation, something I think history books do not focus enough time on. It opened a new door to the different experiences of World War II.

Other books written by this author… 

Kristin Hannah has written many books, so I have listed some of her better-known books below:

*The Four Winds (newest book)
*The Great Alone
*Home Front
*Night Road
*Winter Garden


A Long Petal of the Sea- Book Review

By: Isabel Allende

A Long Petal of the Sea details the life of a man named Victor. Allende begins this story during the Spanish Civil War. When this war ends Victor and his family flee from Spain and immigrate to Chile. Throughout their lives they immigrate between other South American countries as well. Allende shows the reader the circumstances of the Spanish Civil War and how it shaped the Spanish people. Later on, Victor is taken through yet another civil war, this time in Chile. We also get to see what Venezuela was like during the early 1980s, a very different picture then what Venezuela has become today. This book covers many topics and historical events. You learn about the struggles of a refugee and what it’s like starting over again in a foreign country. Allende perfectly shows the ever-changing political landscape of once-stable countries. It shows how quickly security and freedom can slip from your grasp. Victor and his family begin as refugees fleeing a political coup in their home country, and this theme seems to follow them everywhere they go.

“Venezuela received Victor with the same easygoing generosity with which it took in thousands of immigrants from many parts of the world… [Venezuela] was one of the wealthiest countries in the world… nobody killed themselves working… life was a long party, with a great sense of freedom and a profound sense of equality.”

Why I chose this book…

I decided to read this book because I often saw it on different book blogs and reading lists. I was interested in reading a historical fiction novel however, I wanted the book to cover a period in history that I wasn’t familiar with. I know very little about the Spanish Civil War or about Chilean history so I was intrigued to read this story.

My thoughts on the book… 

I’m happy I chose to read this book. It was eventful, had good character development, and had some unexpected twists along the way. However, I was surprised to see that the Spanish Civil War was just one event and not the main event in this book. I didn’t get to learn as much about the Spanish Civil War as I would have liked. The layout of this book was a bit different then I was used to, and I felt like some events were too rushed. The chapters were laid out by years. Within each chapter you learn what happens to all the characters during those specific years. I think that may be the reason each event was rushed. As well, each chapter ended with the ending of a time frame, not with an intriguing angle that made you want to keep reading. I also found that the ending was a bit abrupt, and I was hoping to hear more about that final major event in Victor’s life. That being said, I still enjoyed reading this book.

The Author…

Isabel Allende is well known for her novel, The House of the Spirits, but she has written over 20 books that have all won critical acclaim. A Long Petal of the Sea is her most recent book, it is a book that includes stories that were told to her as a child. Her cultural background is South American (raised in Chile), and many of the people and events she writes about are from stories she hears from older relatives. None of the characters are real, but they are all shaped by people she knew.