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Book Review: Cilka’s Journey – Story of Survival Against All Odds

Cilka’s Journey

By Heather Morris

What would you do if your saviors became your captors? At nineteen that is what happened to Cecilia Kline. The young girl was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau aboard one of the infamous death trains. Sixteen at the time, she found a way to survive the camp. But when that the Soviets liberated those that survived, they claimed Cecilia, known to her friends as Cilka, was an enemy of the state. Therefore, instead of freedom, Cilka is going from one imprisonment to another – Vorkuta, a Soviet Gulag. Also known as the White Hell, it was located in the Arctic Circle.

She is confused and angry. Only doing what she had to for survival, she is now condemned for the life she was forcibly thrust into by the Nazis. Once again, convicted without a trial she will pay for the perceived crimes of spying, prostitution and working with the enemy. She is sentenced to 15 years hard labor for merely trying to survive the atrocities of the Nazis. Many things in her life are shattered, but not her soul. She is a survivor.

In a place where prisoners rarely survived the extreme cold and backbreaking work, Cilka is befriended by Yelena, one of the doctors working for the Soviets. However, she is different from most of the other doctors. Instead of being assigned to the Gulag because of misconduct or some other offense, she is there because she chose to be there to help those that needed help in the brutal conditions. Yelena soon discovered that Cilka was smart and learned quickly. So began Cilka’s nursing career, which also gave her the knowledge and ability to help her fellow prisoners. Her life was still a living hell, but she found a way to survive.

Because the characters are based upon actual people, their stories impact the readers deeply. The places are real, and bring the readers into the camps. Death and demoralization breaks the characters by chipping away at them physically and mentally until they are mere shadows of themselves. With the help of the author, they will live on in the thoughts and minds of each person that reads this powerful story.

This novel is based on the real life of Cecilia Klein. Copious research has been done by the author to bring her story to life. Ms. Morris personalizes the horrors of the concentration camps as well as the Gulag. It is understood that no one can fully comprehend what happened to millions during the Holocaust, but books like Cilka’s Journey help us remember and warn us to never allow such atrocities to happen again.

Cilka’s Journey is the second book I’ve read by Heather Morris. The first was The Tattooist of Auschwitz. The books can be read in either order. Since Cilka’s Journey is not released until October 1, 2019, you may want to reserve your copy now and then read The Tattooist of Auschwitz first as it is available now.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Bookish First in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe – What Will Your Legacy Be?

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

By Heather Webber

Anna Kate arrives in her tiny hometown of Wicklow, Alabama for the first time since she was a child. She is there to lay her beloved grandmother, Zee, to rest. She has to stay for a couple of months according to her grandma’s will. Anna Kate has to run her grandma’s Blackbird Café and then sell it before she can begin medical school in the fall.

She hasn’t been back to Wicklow since she was a child. At her grandmother’s knee she learned to make the famous pies for the Blackbird Café. It is rumored that if you ate a piece of the pie, your deceased relatives would send you messages at night. No one could or wanted to explain it, but most everyone in town believed it.

At Zee’s funeral, not only were the townspeople in attendance, the blackbirds were also there, which is unusual since the townspeople know they only come out at midnight, sing for an hour then leave. When word got out about the blackbirds unusual behavior, bird lovers began to flock to Wicklow.

Anna Kate is determined to leave, but every passing day she falls more in love with the town and it’s residents. Her heart is opening up to the people and the blackbirds. What will happen if she leaves now? The only people she wants to get away from are her father’s family. She blames them for pushing her mother out of the town and their lives. They blame her mother for her father’s death.

From the very first pages the characters jump off the pages into the reader’s heart. Anna Kate is torn between her feelings and a promise she made to her dying mother. She has to choose between what her heart says is right and her responsibility. But each passing day she begins to see more clearly what and who the results of her decision will affect. What will her legacy be?

So many of the townspeople are memorable, it is hard to pick one or two to highlight, but I’ll give it my best shot. The head birder is a hoot. The town busybody made me chuckle. Natalie, Anna Kate’s aunt (who she first meets at the café) is a broken woman after her young husband’s death but is determined to be a great mom to her adorable daughter Ollie. Mr. Cat seems to know things no one else does and has a great sense of direction.

Heather Webber (also writes as Heather Blake) is a prolific writer of over twenty-five novels. I have read and enjoyed several of her cozy mysteries. Midnight at the Blackbird Café has an element of mystery about Anna Kate’s parents, but it is an absolutely fabulous work of women’s fiction. I could not put it down and now that I finished it, I keep thinking of the town that has something special for the residents as well as the readers. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe needs to be on your summer reading list.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Bookish First in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – Fiction Based on Facts

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

By Kim Michele Richardson

Troublesome Creek, Kentucky is rightly named. There are few jobs, too little food other than what can be coaxed out of the stubborn soil and a deep prejudice back in the 1930s. If you are colored you don’t have the same rights as white folks and if you are a blue you are considered to be almost less than human. Children stare and almost everyone refrains from touching a blue.

Cussy Mary Carter is a blue. She lives with her Pa and is proud to have a job delivering books with the Pack Horse Library Project. Pa works in the coal mines and along with the small amount of pay he also collects a large amount of coal dust that resides in his lungs and is slowly leaching the life out of him. Before he dies he wants to marry off Cussy so that she won’t be alone. Cussy on the other hand, does not want a suitor much less a husband. Married women cannot be Book Women and she loves bringing books to people in the Kentucky mountains. They cannot afford books and there isn’t a library to go to in Troublesome Creek.

Known to many as Bluet, Cussy cares for the people on her book route. They depend on her. She grows closer to some than others, but always knows just which books and magazines to bring to each on her route. She goes without food to help feed starving children and brings coveted medicines to sick or injured along with the books in her pack.

The town doc wants to do medical testing on Cussy, but she firmly refuses. Unfortunately she and her Pa need his help and the only way to get it is to allow him to run the tests he has asked for. She will take her first ride in a motor car and go to the city where they take some of her blood and examine her against her will. Surprisingly, there is a cure for her blue skin. The Doc has figured out her ailment and can treat it. She can be white – but at what cost?

The harshness of the hills in the 1930’s is not sugarcoated in this novel. This is where people die from starvation, books and newspapers are hard to come by and blue people suffering from Fugates’ Congenital methemoglobinemia really exist. Ms. Richardson pulls the reader into the hard scrabble life of the Kentucky mountain people. Both the beauty of her prose and the stark realities, she pulls the reader along the rough road Cussy travels as well as the bits of beauty, charm and love she encounters. Ms. Richardson doesn’t just tell the story; you become immersed by the language and descriptions. A couple of my favorites are when Cussy first sees the city. “..the unusual buzz, the city’s open hymnal..”  and also when she first sees the city hospital, “…a concrete tree with branches of polished corridors…”.

Be sure to read the afterward that explains about methemoglobinemia, the history of the disease as well as pictures of those afflicted. The Pack Horse Library Project, established in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s WPA program is also detailed. By reading the afterward, it is evident Ms. Richardson weaves the facts masterfully into her work of fiction. An advocate for prevention of child abuse and domestic violence (which is also touched on in the book), Ms Richardson has written several novels as well as a best-selling memoir, The Unbreakable Child.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Bookish and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Reviews: The First Mistake – Nothing is Perfect and Nothing is as it Seems

The First Mistake

By Sandie Jones

On the surface, Alice lives a perfect life. She has two daughters, a wonderful husband and runs a very successful business. But underneath the guise of perfection lies the truth. She still longs for her first husband, the father of her oldest daughter, Sophia. He died while on a ski trip leaving her to mourn him while raising their daughter alone. She spiraled into darkness and with the help of pills shut herself off to the world.

Alice has found love again with her new husband Nathan. Together they have Olivia, their daughter and he loves Sophia as if she was is his own child. Nathan partners with Alice at the design company she started with her first husband, helping to grow the business. He does all the traveling because Alice has a phobia about leaving since her first husband died on a trip, so they are the perfect couple.

Things begin to unravel when she finds what seems like evidence that her husband is cheating on her. She cannot believe it, but things just don’t add up. The only person she can talk to is her best friend Beth, who was in a relationship that ended disastrously while she was pregnant with a daughter that is the same age as Sophia, and coincidentally is Sophia’s bestie. Beth does not trust men and rightfully so. She convinces Alice to follow up on her suspicions of Nathan’s adultery. This might just cause the carefully balanced life Alice has created to collapse. Can she survive another loss since the last one almost killed her?

Ms. Jones has done it again. I loved her first book, The Other Woman. It is a deservedly a New York Times Best-Selling novel, and The First Mistake is sure to be at the top of that list also. The story pulls the reader in within the first few pages and holds you breathlessly until the very last sentence. It is the perfect woman’s fiction with a touch of mystery that keeps readers turning pages for just one more chapter late into the night.

The First Mistake has many twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the last pages. I was absolutely surprised at the ending, yet all the information had been givin to me throughout the book to figure it out. I love when an author ends with a fantastic finale. It is the perfect beach read, but honestly I would not wait for warm weather to read this fantastic novel.

I have read both of Ms. Jones’ novels and am waiting breathlessly for her to pen another masterpiece like the previous two.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Bookish and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

 

 

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Book Review: Little Darlings – Haunting Psychological Thriller

Little Darlings

By Melanie Golding

Lauren Tranter is in the maternity ward giving birth to her twin sons. No one told her it would be this difficult; in fact, things went so badly the doctor literally has to pull them from her body with forceps. Both boys are declared healthy. If wanting to be fed constantly and crying insistently is perfectly normal for babies, than Morgan and Riley were, by all accounts normal.

Lauren is exhausted and her husband Patrick is not much help. Due to the difficult birth, she needs to stay longer than other mothers. Sharing a room with several other new moms, she could hear the other mothers bonding with their newborns. All she felt was tired. No sleep and constant feedings has exhausted her. Night time was the worst. One night Lauren hears a woman singing behind the curtain that hides the bed next to her. She also hears what sounds like two babies. Thinking the woman had twins just like her. Lauren got up and was shocked to see a filthy woman with two bedraggled babies in a basket on the floor. The woman tries to make a deal with Lauren to trade one of her babies for one of the woman’s. Hysterical, Lauren locks herself in the bathroom and calls the police.

Everyone, including her husband, thinks Lauren is having mental issues. No one has seen or heard the woman except her. She tries to keep the boys near her and safe, but one slip begins her worst nightmare. Morgan and Riley have been replaced with the old woman’s twins and no one else can see that the two boys are not hers. She will do anything to get them back, but what will it cost her? Her only ally may be DS Joanna Harper, who just can’t leave the case alone, even though her supervisor tells her to stop pursuing the ramblings of a woman who is clearly gone off the deep end.

This is the best psychological thriller I have read in ages. Ms. Golding knows how to keep readers up late at night reading just one more chapter until the wee hours. The depth of characters makes you feel like you know them. Is poor Lauren really delusional or is she right and something evil found her and won’t let go?

Little Darlings is Melanie Golding’s first novel. The perfect plot with interestingly true to life characters makes this a novel you won’t soon forget. If you are a fan of Dean Koontz, you will love this book.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Bookish and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

 

 

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Book Review: We Hope for Better Things – History Wrapped In Mystery

We Hope for Better Things

By Erin Bartels

We Hope for Better Things is a remarkably memorable story that winds through the lives of a family from the civil war to today. Focusing on three women that are more alike than different, the story alternates between them giving the reader characters and a story that spans 150 years. Each of these women are vastly different, but still curiously alike.

Mary is a young woman who has to take care of the family farm while her husband is fighting in the civil war. Without thinking of the consequences, he sends a freed slave to Mary and asks her to help keep him from harm. Her husband doesn’t stop there; she soon has a house full of men, women and children who are recently emancipated or on the run from their former owners. The backlash in the community is only one of the problems she has to contend with. Mary soon cares deeply for one of the men sent to her home.

Nora falls in love in the turbulent 1960’s. Her life was forever changed when she meets a young, talented photographer. Will she be willing to give up her family, her wealth and her comfortable life to be with a man who loves her, but society does not approve of?

Lastly there is Nora. She works as a successful journalist but is abruptly fired after standing her ground about a story she is passionate about. Randomly, a man contacts her about her Great-Aunt Nora. Since she is adrift in her professional life, she travels to see her aunt. There she unwittingly begins to dig into her family’s past. She has no intention of staying in the house that has been inhabited by Mary and Nora, but the deeper she digs the closer she feels to them and the ghosts of our nation’s past. Her investigative nature will not let her stop digging until she solves the mystery of the past she encounters

The characters are interesting and full. They come to life on the pages, pulling the reader into each of their lives and stories. As the author masterfully alternates the lives of the three women, I read long into the night to find out what was happening in the different decades. The farm house each of them lived in further links the women together as it whispers of the past and adds hope for the future.

Erin Bartels gives her readers a gift wrapped in history, shrouded in the past and present race relations in the United States. Her beautiful prose pulls readers into the story and lives of the characters. This is her first novel, and I am anxiously awaiting her second novel that will be published in fall of 2019.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Bookish and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: The Knitter’s Dictionary – A Must Have For Knitters

Knitter’s Dictionary

Knitting Know-How From A To Z

By Kate Atherley

Kate Atherley’s newest book The Knitter’s Dictionary, is a must have for fledgling as well as seasoned knitters. Her no nonsense, easy-to-read information about everything from alpaca to wool and everything in between will keep your needles busy creating successful projects.

There are so many interesting and informative tidbits in this little book, it is difficult for me to choose my favorites, but I have finally narrowed it down. At the top of the list is the comprehensive section on gauge. I know that gauge is the part of knitting most knitters hate. Seems like a waste of time – until the garment you have spent a month making is either too small, too large, too long or way too short. Knitters know you should always swatch for gauge. Atherley goes further to explain how to correct needle size and/or yarn type depending upon how your gauge is off to ensure your finish project is perfect.

There is great advice for choosing the perfect yarn for your project. Each fiber gives feel and strength info as well as additional information to keep problems to a minimum. For example, Possum yarn (from Australia, not the United States Opossum!) is warm, soft but can be pilly. It is not a strong fiber when used alone. I can confirm that description 100%. I purchased some of this yarn and created a beautiful shawl that is warm and soft. But working with it was a challenge do to the tendency of the yarn to simply pull apart.

Lastly, I loved the section on sweaters. The illustrations are detailed and the descriptions include shaping and the actual fit of the different types of sweaters. Atherley’s detailed definitions are easy to understand and inspire knitters of all levels to push themselves a little bit further then they may have thought possible.

If you need one more nudge to get this terrific book, The Knitter’s Dictionary is the perfect size, 8 inches by 6 inches. It will easily slip into your project bag or purse. Since the holidays will soon be upon us, you just might want to purchase two; one for yourself and one for one of your knitting buddies.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Bookish and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

 

 

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