Cilka’s Journey

Like many others, I was fascinated by Heather Morris’ book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz about Lale Sokolov. During their time together, Mr. Sokolov told Heather Morris that Cilka Klein “was the bravest person” he ever met and said she was the person who saved his life. In their conversations Ms. Morris learned that Cilka, a very beautiful young girl of 16, was imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau and only survived by allowing herself to be repeatedly raped by two senior SS officers. The first part of her story is mentioned in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. In the epilogue the author states she received many inquiries as to what happened to Cilka. This novel is the answer to that question. While one would not need to read The Tattooist of Auschwitz prior to reading this book, I think would be helpful.

This novel starts right after Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is liberated by the Soviets. Cilka is immediately convicted, without a trial, of working with the enemy, as a prostitute and additionally as a spy . Her punishment is to be further imprisoned for fifteen years in the coldest place on earth, Vorkuta Gulag.

Cilka is a fascinating character. She is smart, loyal, and generous. She is befriended by a kind female physician, who allows Cilka to train as a nurse. Cilka is able to improve the condition of the nursery, and is a comfort to many people. She is brave and often entered dangerous situations as a member of the ambulance crew. Cilka was human too, often entering into dark periods because of the hopelessness she often found herself in. She lives with the guilt of her time at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Heather Morris has done a fantastic job of historical research to show us the horrendous conditions of the Vorkuta Gulag, where Trustees ruled in gangs, raped as many women prisoners as they pleased, and tormented the staff.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of this book that will be released on October 1, 2019. 5 stars.

Dear Me! What Was I Thinking?

Dear Me! What was I thinking when I decided to read a book about a young boy who was the sole survivor on a plane crash? It’s not a pleasant topic, or a subject that I ordinarily read… but something just drew me to it. Whatever it was, I am very glad I read the book Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. It’s good to be pushed outside one’s comfort zone every now and then.

Eddie is a 12 year old boy who boards a flight from Newark to Los Angeles with his mother, father, and 15 year old brother, Jordan. They are moving to LA where his mother has a new writing job. Eddie and Jordan have always been very close, and their math genius father has home schooled them. After the plane crashes, Eddie is the sole survivor, and the other 191 people aboard have died. He goes to live with his mother’s sister, Lacey, and her husband John. They tell the press and medical staff to call him Edward instead of Eddie.

The book treats Edward’s depression, confusion, and often fugue state of mind with compassion and reality. John and Lacey were already having marital difficulties due to infertility when Edward arrives at their home. They are totally ill-equipped to deal with their own lives, let alone him. But they try and try to love him and protect him from the media circus that surrounds him, as well as all the other strangers who feel they have the right to tell him how to live.

Throughout the story, Edward experiences considerable mournfulness over the loss of his brother. Edward is often reminded that he is “special” for having survived. However, he often lacks the social skills to deal with all the situations he faces. Edward befriends the next door neighbor, Shay, and she helps him deal with issues of school and grief. Their bond is very endearing.

The book divides into chapters dealing with Edward and his recovery, and other chapters regarding the flight before it crashes. The flight chapters spend a little too much time on back stories other several other people on the plane. There was a lot of story line about the first class flight attendant, but I don’t remember there being any meaningful post crash connection between any of her family members and Edward.

Towards the end of the book, we learn of letters that were written to “Dear Edward” after the crash. While sometimes disturbing, these letters help Edward in unexpected ways. Slowly he is able to learn to live with the memories of his past and possibilities of his future. Along the way he supported by his aunt and uncle, Shay and her mom, his therapist, a fantastic school principal, and a PE Coach.

I enjoyed this character driven book much more than I expected. It will be published on January 14, 2020. 4.5 stars. Be sure to put it on your To Read List.

Thanks to Netgalley and to Random House – The Dial Press for my advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

God Is A Tornado!

My favorite book of 2019 (I know it’s only June, but this book will be hard to top as my favorite)

How special it is to find one of those rare and beautiful books that etches a place in your heart. This Tender Land is certainly one of those books for me. I have a feeling after it is published in September 2019, it will be on the best seller list for quite a while. Thank you to NetGalley and to Atria Books for my advanced reader copy. And thank you to the author, William Kent Krueger, for sharing your heart with this book.

The book starts with the narrator, Odie O’Bannion, looking back upon events from the great depression. He tells the reader to open themselves to every possibility, for there is nothing your heart can imagine that is not so. Then he promises a tale of killing, kidnapping, children pursued by demons (and a very persistent Black Witch), courage, cowardice, love, betrayal, and of course hope. And boy does he deliver a magical story!

It is an odyssey of four orphaned children who escape a horrible existence at an Indian School in Minnesota and try to travel via canoe to try to find an aunt in St. Louis, Missouri. The year is 1932. Odie, along with his brother (the only two white children at the Indian school) their best friend Mose, rescue a young girl, Emmy, and take off with some stolen cash and a gun. They know they will be chased by the law and accused of kidnapping Emmy. As they follow the twists and turns of the great rivers they paddle, the four learn more and more about themselves. There are many well wishers, who always say to them “God be with you”. There are also several evil people, who shake their belief system entirely.

Odie O’Bannon, who was only 12 years old, tries to understand God, who had taken away his last hope of happiness with a tornado that killed Emmy’s mother and his favorite teacher. He felt like at every corner of the journey the Tornado God had its ultimate purpose to deny the boy a happy ending. But as the journey continues, he realizes he can’t pin down God. The most important truth he learns is that when he yields to the river and embraces the journey that he finds peace. The other 3 children are also able to come to peace with their purpose, and to find a place they could call home.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this 10 stars. I really loved this book. It will be published on September 3, 2019. Be sure to add it to your “To Read List”!

I Lost My Girlish Laughter

This epistolary novel gives us a secretary’s viewpoint of life at a 1930’s Hollywood studio through free spirited personal letters, newspaper gossip columns, telegrams, interoffice memos, calendar entries, and the secretary’s private journal entries. It was co-authored by Silvia Schulman Lardner, who was David O. Selznick’s personal secretary. The main character, Madge Lawrence, is clearly based on Lardner’s personal experiences. It is a quick and fun read for anyone who loves classic films or the film making industry.

The book introduction is invaluable to the modern reader, 81 years after the book was first published. It explains who the characters are modeled after as well as personal insight to the authors.

Thanks to #Netgalley and Penguin Random House for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my review. 4 stars!