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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The Swan Keeper by Milana Marsenich – BOOK REVIEW

38336382Title & Author: The Swan Keeper, Milana Marsenich
Publication Date & Publisher: April 2018, Open Books
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, General (Adult) Fiction
Length: 245 pages
ISBN: 9781948598033
My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

Girlhood, courage, nature, and flight from a tyrant’s hand in post-frontier Montana.

The Swan Keeper is an historical, coming of age novel set in Northwest Montana’s Mission Valley in the late 1920s.

Lillian Connelly loves trumpeter swans and vows to protect them from a hunter who is killing them and leaving their carcasses for the wolves and coyotes to ravage.

On her eleventh birthday Lilly’s family visits the Cattail Marsh to see the newly hatched cygnets. The family outing turns tragic when Dean Drake shows up with his shotgun and fires on not only the swans, but on Lilly’s family. Unable to prevent tragedy, Lillian witnesses Drake kill her father, injure her mother, and slaughter the bevy of trumpeter swans.

The sheriff, Charlie West, thinks that Lilly is reacting to the trauma and blaming Drake because of a previous conflict between Drake and her father. Lilly’s mother, sister, and her best friend, Jerome West, the sheriff’s son, all think the same thing: that Lilly is trying to make sense of a senseless accident.

Left alone to bring Dean Drake to justice, Lilly’s effort is subverted when Drake woos her sister, courts her mother, and moves into their home.

My review: 

This book really surprised me!

I loved the way it started out:

Lilly told three lies to go with her father one stormy afternoon when she was ten, the afternoon that she first learned about the swan killer. She said she’d done her chores, she forgave Pa for fighting with her mother, and she wasn’t afraid.

I’m not sure what it is with me picking books featuring liars lately, but I seem to be addicted to them. (Lies that Bind Us, All That’s Left of Me, The Irrationalist, Truth Seer)

It turns out that Lilly is good not just at telling lies, but she can also tell when others are lying – her mom, dad, sister, her mortal enemy – Dean Drake… but it doesn’t seem to occur to her that they must know when she’s lying too. She’s growing up, but even with her “tiny” lies, there’s still so much innocence left in her – even after her father is killed.

So much is thrown at her, and yet she faces every challenge in her life head on. I love her stubbornness and her deep drive to see justice carried out even when it means putting herself in danger! Being someone who loves children deeply, I connected with Lilly on such a deep level that my husband had to remind me that she wasn’t a real child… twice!

(I just wanted to be able to hug her, let her know I was there for her, and that everything was going to be okay. That’s totally normal when we’re talking about a fictional character…)

The Swan Keeper is divided into four parts – White Swan, Dark Swan, In Flight, and Landing. In each section Lilly changes and grows spiritually and emotionally. True to life, she’s not the same person at 10 as she is as a 12 year old at the end of the book. But her journey is FAR crazier than what most preteens experience.

And amid all the craziness happening around her, she’s experiencing her first crush on a boy. She’s known Jerome West her entire life, but suddenly he’s becoming something else to her entirely and she has no idea what to do with those emotions. I found Lilly’s interactions with Jerome as her feelings for him started changing absolutely adorable!

Just when I thought I couldn’t love Lilly anymore, I think I may have found a new favorite bookish quote from her in this book as well…

Books were full of information. She’d learned to consult books and thank God. It was a good system.

Read that and pretty much screamed in my brain, “Me too, Lilly!  Me too!!!” (Again, it’s totally normal to have imaginary conversations with fictional characters… Stop judging me!!!)

As much as I ended up loving this book, I wasn’t so sure about The Swan Keeper when I first started reading it.  There were a couple of pages before the first chapter that I assumed was a prologue. It didn’t make sense to me until the end of the book, when I realized it was basically excerpts from the last part. I really wish I had just skipped it and gone straight to Chapter 1… if you pick it up, I suggest you do the same!

My only other complaint is that there are a couple of times where people speak and it doesn’t seem completely normal to me. For instance, a character that uses the word “‘specially” for “especially” would use “isn’t” instead of “is not.” That might not throw other readers, but things like that stick out to me and drive me batty if it happens too often. Thankfully, it only happened a couple of times in this book so it wasn’t a deal breaker for me.

I received a review copy of this book from the author. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think of my review of The Swan Keeper? Have you read it or are you planning on reading it in the future? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

Planning on purchasing The Swan Keeper? Please use my affiliate links: Amazon, Book Depository

 

 

Dark Queen Rising by Paul Doherty – BOOK REVIEW

cover141884-mediumTitle: Dark Queen Rising
Author: Paul Doherty
Publication Date & Publisher: October 1, 2018, Severn House
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Length: 224 pages
ISBN: 9781780291079
My Rating: 3.0/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

First in a brand-new historical mystery series featuring Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII and matriarch of the Tudor dynasty.

May, 1471. The Wars of the Roses are reaching their bitter and bloody climax. Edward of York has claimed the English throne, and his supporters are extracting a savage revenge on all who supported the Lancastrian cause. Surrounded by enemies wherever she turns, the position of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother to Henry Tudor, the last remaining hope of the House of Lancaster, is precarious to say the least.

Determined to protect her son whatever it takes, Margaret must rely on her sharp-witted clerk Christopher Ulswicke to be her eyes and ears. When four bodies are discovered in a London tavern, their throats slit, and Margaret herself is suspected of being behind the crime, it’’s up to Ulswicke to prove his mistress’ innocence and unmask the real killer.

My review: 

This may be a really confusing review… which is probably good because I’m really conflicted on exactly how I feel about Dark Queen Rising.

I picked Dark Queen Rising fully expecting more murder mystery than historical fiction, but I personally wouldn’t have categorized it as a mystery at all.

Although it didn’t have the mystery I was looking for, overall, I did actually enjoy the story. It begins with Margaret witnessing a horrific slaughter in what should have been a place of sanctuary. (I mean, how could you go wrong from there, right?)

The story goes back and forth between Margaret and her trusted henchman, Ulswicke. Ulswicke was definitely my favorite character in this book! He’s funny, smart, and scary all at the same time. He also came across as more of believable/relatable character than Margaret (which seems a little odd now that I’m sitting here writing it down for all the world to see. I mean, he kinda kills some people… weird).

At the beginning of the book, there are a lot of people thrown at you and it got confusing for me trying to keep up with everyone. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for the main characters to surface and it gets easier to follow who’s who, who did what, who’s on who’s side, etc. There was also a handy dandy list of key players at the start, so that was nice!

There were times when it seemed like there was too much detail and it slowed the pacing down for me. Other times, I couldn’t seem to put the book down because I was so into it! (Another sign of how conflicted I am with this one!)

I could totally see this being made into a movie. And I’d definitely go watch it… and I’ll probably be reading the next book in this series when it comes out… So a definite “okay” pick…

I’d recommend it for fans of historical fiction, especially fans of fiction during the War of the Roses.

Thank you to NetGalley and Severn House for providing me with a free digital copy of this book. This in no way influenced my review.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of René Descartes by Andrew Pessin

the_irrationalist_coverTitle & Author: The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of René Descartes, Andrew Pessin
Publication Date & Publisher: May 15, 2017, Open Books
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, General (Adult) Fiction, Murder Mystery
Length: 504 pages
ISBN: 13: 978-0998427447
My Rating: 5.0/5.0!!!!

My review: 

(Yeah, I’m changing it up and putting the review first. I’m crazy like that!)

giphyIt’s no secret that I love books! Let’s face it… I blog about books to support my book addiction.  So I’m rarely surprised to read a blurb, love the idea, read a story and love the book.

What is rare??? Finding a book that I love so much that I can find NOTHING negative to say about it! But that actually happened with The Irrationalist…

Andrew Pessin’s The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of René Descartes is a wonderful blending of historical fiction, murder mystery, and humor to create a story that is almost impossible to put down!

The story begins with a sad voyage by Adrien Baillet to Sweden.  Baillet is a reluctant priest being sent away from the only home he can remember to represent his institution to the “most powerful government in Europe.” This might not sound remarkable, but immediately I was like, “huh?”

Baillet isn’t who you’d pick to represent you or your organization in anything! Especially not in important matters… Baillet’s own description is this:

He was in his early thirties – he didn’t know exactly how old – and had lived nearly his whole life first under the care of, and now taking care of, Rector Charlet. The good man had tried to make something of him, without much success. Baillet failed to do much academically, unable to distinguish himself in any subject at the college except swordsmanship, and even there his distinction was merely being the only boy to serve as live target dummy for the fencing classes.

Jesuit’s were expected to be smart, imposing, able to defend themselves and defeat their enemies when necessary (by brain or brawn didn’t matter). This is what everyone Baillet came in contact with expected of him, and they were all sorely disappointed! His mantra seemed to be “Perhaps if I had applied myself…”

When he arrives in Sweden, he is tasked with investigating the mysterious death of René Descartes. The official report needed to be that he had died of natural causes in order to stop the rumors spreading that Descartes had been murdered.

But Baillet’s job isn’t easy… EVERYONE is a suspect. EVERYONE has a motive. It’s like the list of possible suspects never ends!!

Was it the paranoid librarian, Freinsheimus? Or Descartes’ valet, Schluter? What about Doctor Wullens, Père Viogué or Former Predekant Voetius? His own brother, Pierre? The Chancellor himself, Zolindius? Someone else??? Bramer, perhaps?

I was still trying to piece it all together and figure out who did it and why at the very end… which has a twist that had me ready to re-read the entire book right that moment! Then I felt like a fool for not figuring it out myself!

As Baillet is constantly reminded by those he’s investigating… “Trust no one.” I should’ve listened. The answers were all there!

You might expect a book about a murder in the 1600’s to be all seriousness, but The Irrationalist is comical in both it’s dry and not-so-dry humor. Baillet bumbles his way through much of the investigation and his suspects pretty much do the investigating for him. He learns a lot though and comes out a different person at the end.

While the book is titled The Tragic Murder of René Descartes, it’s also about the tragic life and transformation of Adrien Baillet.

I definitely recommend picking this up if you enjoy historical fiction and/or murder mysteries!

 

Description (from Goodreads):

An historical murder mystery based on real events.

Who would want to murder the world’s most famous philosopher?

Turns out: nearly everyone.

In 1649, Descartes was invited by the Queen of Sweden to become her Court Philosopher. Though he was the world’s leading philosopher, his life had by this point fallen apart. He was 53, penniless, living in exile in Amsterdam, alone. With much trepidation but not much choice, he arrived in Stockholm in mid-October.

Shortly thereafter he was dead.

Pneumonia, they said. But who could believe that? There were just too many persons of interest who wanted to see Descartes dead, and for too many reasons. That so many of these persons were in Stockholm—thanks to the Gala the Queen was throwing to celebrate the end of the terrible Thirty Years’ War—made the official story all the less plausible. Death by poisoning was the unofficial word on the cobblestone.

Enter Adrien Baillet. A likeable misfit with a mysterious backstory, he arrives just as the French Ambassador desperately needs an impartial Frenchman to prove that Descartes died of natural causes—lest the “murder” in Lutheran Sweden of France’s great Catholic philosopher trigger colicky French boy-King Louis XIV to reignite that awful War. Baillet hesitatingly agrees to investigate Descartes’s death, knowing that if—or when—he screws up, he could be personally responsible for the War’s Thirty-First Year.

But solving the mystery of Descartes’s death (Baillet soon learns) requires first solving the mystery of Descartes’s life, with all its dangerous secrets … None of it is easy, as nearly everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted. Nor does it help that he must do it all under the menacing gaze of Carolus Zolindius, the terrifying Swedish Chancellor with the strangely intimidating limp.

But Baillet somehow perseveres, surprising everyone as he figures it all out—all the way to the explosive end.

 

What do you think of The Irrationalist? Have you read it or are you planning on reading it in the future? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

Thank you to Open Books for providing me with a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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