Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar – BOOK REVIEW

36576005Title: Auschwitz Lullaby
Author: Mario Escobar
Publication Date & Publisher: August 7, 2018, Thomas Nelson
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Length: 304 pages
ISBN: 9780785219958
My Rating: 5.0/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

In 1943 Germany, Helene is just about to wake up her children to go to school when a group of policemen break into her house. The policemen want to haul away her gypsy husband and their five children. The police tell Helene that as a German she does not have to go with them, but she decides to share the fate of her family. After convincing her children that they are going off to a vacation place, so as to calm them, the entire family is deported to Auschwitz.

For being German, they are settled in the first barracks of the Gypsy Camp. The living conditions are extremely harsh, but at least she is with her five children. A few days after their arrival, Doctor Mengele comes to pay her a visit, having noticed on her entry card that she is a nurse. He proposes that she direct the camp’s nursery. The facilities would be set up in Barrack 29 and Barrack 31, one of which would be the nursery for newborn infants and the other for children over six years old.

Helene, with the help of two Polish Jewish prisoners and four gypsy mothers, organizes the buildings. Though Mengele provides them with swings, Disney movies, school supplies, and food, the people are living in crowded conditions under extreme conditions. And less than 400 yards away, two gas chambers are exterminating thousands of people daily.

For sixteen months, Helene lives with this reality, desperately trying to find a way to save her children. Auschwitz Lullaby is a story of perseverance, of hope, and of strength in one of the most horrific times in history.

My review:

I could summarize my reaction to this story only one way:  SOOOOO MANY TEARS!!!

Auschwitz Lullaby is such an emotional story! I was an emotional mess the entire time I was reading it! I know that doesn’t sound like a good time to everyone, but I was ready to re-read this one as soon as I finished it… and put myself through the misery all over again!

Helene is a wife and mother we can all look up to. She loves her family fiercely. She’s been supporting them for some time now since her Romani husband is no longer able to work in Nazi territory. And she doesn’t show fear when the Nazi’s come! When faced with the decision to either stay behind and live a comfortable life or follow her husband and children into the Nazi’s camp, she makes it clear there was only one choice:

“There’s no need for you to come, Frau Hannemann,” the sergeant insisted.

I looked straight into his eyes and asked, “Do you think a mother would leave her children in a situation like this?”

“You’d be shocked if I told you all I’ve seen in the past few years,” he answered. “Very well, come with us to the station. We have to get them to the train before ten o’clock.

This wasn’t the only time Helene was given the chance to leave. But she won’t abandon what she knows is right. She ends up protecting not just her own family, but every child in the camp comes under her protection. At one point, she tells the doctor this:

“My family is here. I can’t leave without them. I’m a mother, Herr Doktor. You all wage your wars for grand ideals, you defend your fanatical beliefs about liberty, country, and race, but mothers have only one homeland, one ideal, one race: our family.

One of the hardest things to read in this story centered around the experiments Dr. Mengele was performing on twins. Helene has a set of twins and she lives in constant fear of someone showing up to take them. Mengele uses this on more than one occasion to force Helene to bend to his will.  We’re currently fostering twins and I’ve become a huge fan of all twins! I find myself automatically drawn to and loving every twin I meet (real or fictional). So this aspect of the book drew me in and caused an even deeper emotional wound for me.

There isn’t a single character in Auschwitz Lullaby that I didn’t feel some connection with. I either loved or hated them, but don’t expect to get a lukewarm feeling about anyone! That being said, there were times when I was confused on how I felt about a couple characters. In a situation like this it’s easy to think of the guards as less than human. It’s really the only way to rationalize what they do. But somehow, Mario Escobar managed to keep reminding me that they’re real people, with real feelings (good & bad), and no one is purely evil or purely good.

This truly is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Helene’s journey and sacrifices to protect her family and others around her is amazing and will stick with me for a very long time!

I received a free review copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

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A Home for the Redeeed by Sue Behnke – BOOK REVIEW

31164677-_sy180_Title: A Home for the Redeemed
Author: Sue Behnke
Publication Date & Publisher: July 13, 2016, WestBow Press
Genre(s): Christian Fiction
Length: 206 pages
ISBN: 13: 9781512748406
My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

“He remembered with bitterness how much he had aspired to become a pastor. He had assumed that somehow it would change him. It would make him a different person, a better man. When he earned the title pastor, it seemed everyone else also assumed he was some super being, above the rest, with keys and answers to all life’s problems-the voice of God no less.

He had to admit he believed his own publicity for the longest time.”

Carl is a disillusioned pastor, toying with despair, watching his marriage fall apart. Leading the flock, he still has to counsel those who knock at his door, deal with an attack of the media, and still find a way to love a church that is no longer confident in his leadership. Benjamin is an atheist. His life is shaken by encounters with angels and supernatural happenings. He believes he has a divine message for Pastor Carl. Brendan, a member of the church, used to be a street urchin and an addict. He is a babe in Christ. His transformation is still rocky, and his relapse threatens to shatter those who love him. Can an imperfect pastor shepherd a church? Can the grace of God prevail in brokenness?

My review:

This story is CRAZY!!! It follows a number of people who either attend or are led to a  church led by Pastor Carl, who seems to have been in a funk for quite some time now. His dedication to his faith, his church, his marriage, and even himself is put to the test.

Brendan is a member of the church who used to be a homeless drug addict. After getting saved, he married his ex and now raises their child together. Brendan’s faith seems strong, until he’s really tested…

Benjamin is an atheist married to a woman who prays privately, multiple times a day, in her prayer room. She hasn’t been to church since being driven away after her previous marriage fell apart. Her faith is strong, but she’s been trying to do it all on her own and her new husband doesn’t even talk to her about her beliefs… until they’re both tested to the point of worrying Benjamin may be crazy…

There are many stories and lives woven together in A Home for the Redeemed. Real issues are dealt with and just when it seems everything is going to e okay… BAM! The church and all it’s members are suddenly thrown back into chaos.

I really enjoyed this story, but I got a little confused at the beginning. There are so many characters thrown at you and Brendan and Benjamin’s names are a little too similar for me… I got them mixed up more than once!

Definitely recommend picking this one up!

I received a free review copy of this book through Harper Collins Christian Publishing’s BookLook Bloggers Program. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think of A Home for the Redeemed? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

Are you planning on purchasing A Home for the Redeemed by Sue Behnke Please consider using one of these affiliate links: Amazon, Book Depository

Not the Girls You’re Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi – BOOK REVIEW

35795940Title: Not the Girls You’re Looking For
Author: Aminah Mae Safi
Publication Date & Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (MacMillan), June 19, 2018
Genre(s): Young Adult
Length:  327 pages
ISBN: 978-1-250-15181-0
My Rating: 4.5/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

Lulu Saad doesn’t need your advice, thank you very much. She’s got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It’s all under control. Ish.

Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can’t find her way out of this mess soon, she’ll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She’ll have to go looking for herself.

My review:

There was so much I loved in Not the Girls You’re Looking For, that it’s going to be hard for me not to ramble on and on, but I promise to try!

The main character, Lulu, has a bad habit of getting herself into situations with boys that she shouldn’t. We’re first introduced to Lulu as she’s trying to recover from her latest bad decision with a boy she doesn’t even really like. She’s been warned by her best friends that she’s going to get into serious trouble one day, but, like so many other things, she shrugs it off. Eventually, she does end up in a position she almost doesn’t escape from. I think the author did a good job of showing how Lulu’s high risk behavior doesn’t excuse the boy for his actions, and also shows the psychological effects of the encounter on Lulu.

Lulu’s father is Arab and her mother is a white woman from Louisiana. I love how this book is open about Lulu’s struggles with identity and where she “fits”. It didn’t back down from showing this not just from Lulu’s side, but also how she sees others around her, including, her own family’s struggle with the realities of her parent’s relationship and what that means for Lulu.

To be honest, it’s hard for me to find books I can connect with as much as I did with this one. Lulu experiences racism from kids she grew up with, including from boys she’d had crushes on and even boys she’d kissed – something that I also experienced growing up. It’s a complex feeling, one that’s near impossible to describe… when the people you’ve loved and thought you were accepted & loved by in return, reject you not for who you are, but for “what” you are.

Side rant: I could have really used a book like this when I was growing up! Unfortunately, though I read everything I could get my hands on as a child (not unlike now), there wasn’t a single book with a bi-racial character in it. So out of hundreds of books, I never found one featuring someone I could relate to. That’s not to say that those books didn’t exist, just that none made their way into my hands. It would have been incredibly helpful to have known that I wasn’t as alone as I felt. I’m so incredibly thankful that books like this one finally have a place in this world!

This is one of the most real paragraphs in the book, and it hit home so hard that it made me cry:

Lulu couldn’t help but be reminded of countless conversations she’d had, over and over again; they played out in her head. Of strangers asking her over and over again, what she was. Like a piece of flora or fauna. Like she was missing her proper taxonomy. That her father had planned this kind of life for her was a new idea for Lulu, and the reality of it took her breath away.

There’s a lot I want to say about that, but I’m getting side-tracked and I promised not to ramble, so I’m going to just leave that there and move on… (Except I am going to make this request: If you ever find yourself referring to someone as a “what” instead of a “who”, please stop. Apologize immediately, and then go deal with whatever it is in your heart that allowed you to go there in the first place.)

I love books with messy, real characters and Not the Girls You’re Looking For is full of them! The relationships are raw and real in a way you can’t always find. The conversations Lulu has with her friends are exactly the way I see my teens and their friends talking to each other, so bonus points for being realistic! I also loved the way every character in this book grew and changed, not just the main character!

I definitely recommend reading this one!

I received a free review copy of this book through a giveaway hosted by Eric Smith. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think of Not the Girls You’re Looking For? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

Are you planning on purchasing Not the Girls You’re Looking For? Please consider using one of these affiliate links: Amazon, Book Depository

The House by the Cemetery by John Everson – BLOGOWEEN BOOK REVIEW

House By the CemeteryTitle:  The House by the Cemetery
Author: John Everson
Publication Date & Publisher: October 18, 2018, Flame Tree Press
Genre(s): Mystery & Thrillers
Length:  256 pages
ISBN: 13: 9781787580008
My Rating: 3.5/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

Rumor has it that the abandoned house by the cemetery is haunted by the ghost of a witch. But rumors won’t stop carpenter Mike Kostner from rehabbing the place as a haunted house attraction. Soon he’ll learn that fresh wood and nails can’t keep decades of rumors down. There are noises in the walls, and fresh blood on the floor: secrets that would be better not to discover. And behind the rumors is a real ghost who will do whatever it takes to ensure the house reopens. She needs people to fill her house on Halloween. There’s a dark, horrible ritual to fulfill. Because while the witch may have been dead… she doesn’t intend to stay that way.

My review:

The House by the Cemetery by John Everson reads a lot like a horror movie. I could picture it all unfolding vividly in my mind as I read through (sometimes horrified, sometimes laughing) page after page of this thriller.

This book has all of the necessary components for a good spooky read: witches, murder, haunting, psychics, mystery… So it’s a good Halloween pick. I actually got scared a couple times while reading in the dark, so maybe leave the lights on if you want to sleep at night!

I enjoyed the characters in the book and the attention it brings to the lack of diversity and stereotyping in the horror genre. While there’s no way for me to know if the author purposefully meant to do so, I thought he did a good job of “calling-out” some things while not taking away from the story at all.

The main character, Mike, is a carpenter that’s hired to work on the abandoned house his friend plans to open a haunted house in. Mike is pretty much terrified of the house, but agrees because he’s in need of the job. For the most part, I liked Mike, but at times he seemed way too gullible. Unless he was under some sort of a spell, I just don’t see him actually agreeing to some of the things he does.

A problem I have with the mystery genre in general is that I hate guessing “the mystery.” This book has quite a number of twists that didn’t really surprise me. That being said, there were other aspects that did… One of the hardest parts of reviewing a book like this is not giving away spoilers, so that’s about all I can say here.

While this wasn’t my favorite mystery/thriller novel, I’d still recommend it for adults that enjoy horror movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street, since the book definitely has the same tone/vibe. Because of sexual content/suggestion and the level of blood & gore description, I’d definitely only recommend it for adults though and wouldn’t recommend it for my teens.

Thank you Flame Tree Press and NetGalley for providing me with a free digital review copy of The House by the Cemetery. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think of The House by the Cemetery? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

Are you planning on purchasing The House by the Cemetery by John Everson? Please consider using one of these affiliate links: Amazon

Hunting Annabelle by Wendy Heard – BLOGOWEEN BOOK REVIEW

cover135697-mediumTitle:  Hunting Annabelle
Author: Wendy Heard
Publication Date & Publisher: December 18, 2018 HARLEQUIN – MIRA (U.S. and Canada)
Genre(s): Mystery & Thrillers
Length:  336 pages
ISBN: 13: 9781488095405
My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

Sean Suh is done with killing. After serving three years in a psychiatric prison, he’s determined to stay away from temptation. But he can’t resist Annabelle–beautiful, confident, incandescent Annabelle–who alone can see past the monster to the man inside. The man he’s desperately trying to be.

Then Annabelle disappears.

Sean is sure she’s been kidnapped—he witnessed her being taken first hand—but the police are convinced that Sean himself is at the center of this crime. And he must admit, his illness has caused him to “lose time” before. What if there’s more to what happened than he’s able to remember?

Though haunted by the fear that it might be better for Annabelle if he never finds her, Sean can’t bring himself to let go of her without a fight. To save her, he’ll have to do more than confront his own demons… He’ll have to let them loose.

My review:

blogoweenplogo2
Graphic made by the Amazing Anthony @KeepReadingForward

 

I picked this one to be my first Blogoween post and I’m so excited to share it with you!!! (Please visit Clo@BookDragons to learn more about Blogoween.)

The narrator of Hunting Annabelle is Sean Suh. He’s a young man who’s been released from a psychiatric prison a few years ago. Since being released, he’s only spoken with his mom and his psychiatrist…until he meets Annabelle at Four Corners, an amusement park that he describes as “a cheap Disney rip off.”

Sean has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and he takes multiple medications, which make him feel disoriented and sluggish. This is important because, when Annabelle goes missing during their date at none other than Four Corners, Sean begins to shake off the sluggishness and other side-effects from his medication. He becomes clear for the first time in a very long time. Is it his love for Annabelle removing the effects so he can find her?

As Sean searches for Annabelle, he realizes he didn’t really know her. How could he, after all? He’d only known her for a couple of days. But he’s digging into her life and her past and in doing so, he learns that he wasn’t the only one keeping secrets when they met. This doesn’t deter him from his mission of finding her though. In fact, it seems to only make him care for her even more!

I have to admit… it’s a little odd to be inside the mind of Sean! It’s not that he’s not likable, it’s quite the opposite! I found myself so proud of him at times simply for not killing people! At other times, I was either wishing he had or thankful he did. If you’re a fan of the show Dexter, you’ll definitely take a liking to Sean Suh!!!

This book is crazy in all the best ways and had my heart pounding often!!! I recommend reading it in a nice low-light on a spooky October night! You’ll be in for more than just a good scare… There are multiple HUGE twists in Hunting Annabelle. My best advice for reading this one… don’t ever think you know what’s going on! Trust me, you don’t. (And that, is my highest praise for any good mystery!)

I received a free review copy of this book through NetGalley. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think of Hunting Annabelle? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

Are you planning on purchasing Hunting Annabelle? Please consider using one of these affiliate links: Amazon, Book Depository