Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Island of Lost Girls

Island Of Lost Girls by Jennifer McMahon

Paperback, 255 pages
Published 3rd September 2009 by Sphere
(First published 1st January 2008)

abuse, books-i-own, contemporary, crime-thriller-mystery, disliked, read, read-in-2021, realistic-fiction
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

While parked at a gas station, Rhonda sees something so incongruously surreal that at first she hardly recognises it as a crime in progress. She watches, unmoving, as someone dressed in a rabbit costume kidnaps a young girl. Devastated over having done nothing, Rhonda joins the investigation. But the closer she comes to identifying the abductor, the nearer she gets to the troubling truth about another missing child: her best friend, Lizzy, who vanished years before. For this is not the only white rabbit Rhonda has known - there was another in her childhood; one she feels she has been chasing all her life. The rabbit of her past holds the key to a mystery that has stained the lives of Rhonda and her friends, and now she must track him down - even if it means following where she doesn't want to go ...From the author of the acclaimed Promise Not to Tell comes a chilling and mesmerizing tale of shattered innocence, guilt, and ultimate redemption.

When I started Island of Lost Girls, I had quite high hopes for it. I thought that the premise was really intriguing and I enjoyed the opening section. Our protagonist, Rhonda is at a gas station when she witnesses the abduction of a child by a person wearing a rabbit costume. Following this, she decides to find out what happened to the child and who the person in the costume was.The event also leads us to learn about the unsolved disappearance of Rhonda's childhood friend, Lizzy. 

I enjoyed some of the writing and when we were first introduced to the child's imaginative  setting of the 'submarine' (a car in the backyard), I was originally quite impressed and enjoyed it, but unfortunately the novelty quickly wore off. The author takes us into this fictional world of the submarine, which is nice and novel but didn't really end up having much significance. As well as the submarine, the book also explored a rabbit theme and a Peter Pan theme but unfortunately these didn't work very well. These sections of the book felt like the author was just trying too hard to try and be elaborate and quite honestly, the book would have been better without them. It almost felt as though the author was trying too hard.

Though the book wasn't very thick, it felt as the author was trying to fit in as much as possible meaning that it was quite difficult to keep focus on one part of the story. There are two missing person stories going on at the same time alongside all of the discussions of childhood play. The story itself was very predictable, so that made it slightly easier to follow. There is a deeper, very dark storyline weaved within the story of the children's group which had potential to be interesting but was just far too predictable to redeem the book. 

Overall, this isn't a book that I would recommend. Unfortunately the book couldn't keep my attention and it was neither creepy or intriguing enough.

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Five Chimneys

Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor's True Story of Auschwitz by Olga Lengyel

Paperback, 232 pages
Published 30th August 2005 by Academy Chicago Publishers
(First published 1947)

Shelves:  books-i-own, historical, lasting-impression, memoirs-biographies-etc, read, read-in-2021, non-fiction, translated, ww2

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Description via Goodreads:

Olga Lengyel tells, frankly and without compromise, one of the most horrifying stories of all time. This true, documented chronicle is the intimate, day-to-day record of a beautiful woman who survived the nightmare of Auschwitz and Birkenau. 

Having lost her husband, her parents, and her two young sons to the Nazi exterminators, Olga Lengyel had little to live for during her seven-month internment in Auschwitz. Only Lengyel's work in the prisoners' underground resistance and the need to tell this story kept her fighting for survival. She survived by her wit and incredible strength. 

Despite her horrifying closeness to the subject, Five Chimneys does not retreat into self-pity or sensationalism. When first published (two years after World War 2 ended), Albert Einstein was so moved by her story that he wrote a personal letter to Lengyel, thanking her for her "very frank, very well written book".

This book is a necessary reminder of one of the ugliest chapters in the history of human civilization. It was a shocking experience. It is a shocking book.

Five Chimneys is one of the most formidable memoirs that I have ever, or will ever, read. This is a no-holds-barred portrayal of life in the Holocaust's largest extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, vividly remembered by a Hungarian woman, Olga Lengyel, who endured seven long months there. 

This is a book that needs to be read in order to fully appreciate the true intensity of both the experiences that Lengyel faced and the true horrors of the Holocaust in general. It is impossible to put this across in a review. The book was more factual rather than reflecting on Lengyel's emotions, but, thankfully, this didn't detract from the effectiveness of the book. The author's ability to submerse the reader in the depressing, intimidating atmosphere of the camp and to really make you feel as though you're there is as impressive as it is disturbing. The honesty and authenticity of the book is both uncomfortable and necessary. Though the book is not very long at just over 230 pages, it took me a significantly long time to read due to the content. I had to stop reading several times as the information was just so graphic and impactful. This is not a negative - it is important that we are told the true, unfiltered horrors of this period of history. 

Many topics are covered in this memoir, particularly the everyday experiences in the camp including Lengyel's medical work in the women's camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. This part of this book which will be particularly interesting and informative to those who have read the fictional books 'The Child of Auschwitz' by Lily  Graham and 'Cilka's Journey' by Heather Morris. We also hear of Lengyel's experiences with other people in the camp, an assortment of other prisoners - and more well-known historical figures such as Dr Josef Mengele and the infamous Irma Grese. 

It is difficult to criticise any memoir, especially one from a Holocaust survivor, but there was one particular issue in this book that did bother me. The author repeatedly refers to 'homosexuals and other perverts' and criticises the 'feeble-minded' which I found very difficult to stomach. The book is a reflection on the impact of hatred and persecution against others, yet the author then perpetuates this by being discriminative herself. I understand that the book was originally published in 1947, but I was still disappointed by this.

Overall, this book was vivid, disturbing and one of the most effective pieces of writing concerning experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This is a book that is certainly not enjoyable but it is educational and it is so important. I would highly recommend this book to any adult looking for more information about the Holocaust. 

Friday, 16 July 2021

The Road

 The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Paperback, 307 pages
Published 4th May 2007 by Picador
(First published 26th September 2006)

Shelvesapocalyptic, books-i-own, dystopian, if-i-were-a-boy, read, read-in-2021

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other. 

The Road is a book that I have been meaning to read for a very long time. I don't know what encouraged me to finally pick it up (especially during a global pandemic!) but I did and I am glad that I've finally read this book which has quickly become a lauded modern classic. 

Initially, I wasn't entirely sure if I would enjoy this book. I do enjoy dystopian stories but that's all I really knew about this story - that it was about a boy and his father making a journey across an apocalyptic wasteland. It turns out that was what the book was about and quite frankly, that was all it was about. There wasn't much of a plot to this story, there wasn't many twists or turns, no real 'goal' to achieve by the end. The story was a journey - a journey across a dreary landscape. This experimental style isn't something that would usually appeal to me, but I am so glad that I gave it a go.

When starting the book, I was initially mostly surprised at the writing style. The writing seemed very strange and somewhat unnatural. The characters are never named and there is a distinct lack of punctuation (particularly quotation marks). I found these issues a little uncomfortable to begin with but I adjusted to the style surprisingly quickly. I swiftly became enamoured by McCarthy's writing and I thought that a lot of the prose was truly beautiful. 

This book is short and, on the surface, simple yet it is easy to see why The Road is considered to be a modern masterpiece. The characters are basic but well formed - vulnerability and strength both shine through the pages. The plot is uncomplicated - it is a journey from one place to another. McCarthy has managed to form a scarily realistic, bleak apocalyptic world. Overall, I really enjoyed the 'journey' of this book and became immersed in it easily which is why I would certainly reccommend it. I did find the ending disappointing and the child's choice to be bewildering, but everything that came before was absolutely captivating. 

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

The Twins of Auschwitz

The Twins of Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor

Paperback, 224 pages
Published 11th August 2020 by Octopus Publishing

books-i-own, historical, medical-conditions, non-fiction, read, read-in-2021, ww2

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

The Nazis spared their lives because they were twins. In the summer of 1944, Eva Mozes Kor and her family arrived at Auschwitz. Within thirty minutes, they were separated. Her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, while Eva and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man who became known as the Angel of Death: Dr. Josef Mengele. They were 10 years old. While twins at Auschwitz were granted the 'privileges' of keeping their own clothes and hair, they were also subjected to Mengele's sadistic medical experiments. They were forced to fight daily for their own survival and many died as a result of the experiments, or from the disease and hunger rife in the concentration camp. In a narrative told simply, with emotion and astonishing restraint, The Twins of Auschwitz shares the inspirational story of a child's endurance and survival in the face of truly extraordinary evil. Also included is an epilogue on Eva's incredible recovery and her remarkable decision to publicly forgive the Nazis.

Through her museum and her lectures, she dedicated her life to giving testimony on the Holocaust, providing a message of hope for people who have suffered, and worked toward goals of forgiveness, peace, and the elimination of hatred and prejudice in the world.

The Twins of Auschwitz is the memoir of Eva Mozes Kor, an inspirational Jewish woman who managed to survive the horrors of Auschwitz, primarily thanks to her 'fortune' of being born as a twin. The story tells us of Eva and, her sister, Miriam's time in Auschwitz, what led to them being there and what happened after liberation.

Eva was and will forever continue to be an educator. If you've watched documentaries about the Holocaust, in particular, Auschwitz, it's likely that you may have heard of or seen Eva before - I was familiar with her story due to the large amount of education and experience she has shared on numerous historical documentaries but even with prior knowledge of her story, it was very interesting to get a slightly more detailed account of her experiences in the camp.

This is a relatively short book, with photographs interspersed throughout, and so it didn't take me long to read at all - only a few hours. Expectedly, we do learn some horrific things about the treatment of Eva, her sister and other prisoners at Auschwitz - certainly enough to have a significant emotional impact, but the book isn't overly distressingly-descriptive and so would be a perfect introduction to the Holocaust for school-aged children and upwards. The memoir gives us a particularly fascinating insight to Doctor Mengele's heinous 'medical experiments' on twins.

Something that makes this book, and Kor herself, stand out is that she discusses the issue of forgiveness. Eva repeatedly stated that she forgave the Nazi's for what they did to her and that is a statement that, understandably, has caused a lot of controversy. I found this concept both difficult and interesting to read about but it was extremely interesting to get an insight into the lasting mental  impact of what happened. It certainly leaves you with a lot to think about. 

Overall, this is a very simple yet effectual recollection of Eva and Miriam's lives. I would certainly recommend The Twins of Auschwitz to anybody - it is an important, intriguing and unpleasant story that must be remembered. Whether you know little or lots about the Holocaust, this is certainly worth reading. Kor was undoubtedly a very inspiring woman and will continue to be, well into the future. 

Monday, 12 July 2021

The Child of Auschwitz

The Child of Auschwitz by Lily Graham 

Paperback, 242 pages
Published 8th November 2018 by Bookouture

Shelves:  adult-fiction, books-i-own, historical, read, read-in-2021, realistic-fiction, ww2,young-adult

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

‘She touched the photograph in its gilt frame that was always on her desk, of a young, thin woman with very short hair and a baby in her arms. She had one last story to tell. Theirs. And it began in hell on earth.’ 

It is 1942 and Eva Adami has boarded a train to Auschwitz. Barely able to breathe due to the press of bodies and exhausted from standing up for two days, she can think only of her longed-for reunion with her husband Michal, who was sent there six months earlier. 

But when Eva arrives at Auschwitz, there is no sign of Michal and the stark reality of the camp comes crashing down upon her. As she lies heartbroken and shivering on a thin mattress, her head shaved by rough hands, she hears a whisper. Her bunkmate, Sofie, is reaching out her hand... 

As the days pass, the two women learn each other’s hopes and dreams – Eva’s is that she will find Michal alive in this terrible place, and Sofie’s is that she will be reunited with her son Tomas, over the border in an orphanage in Austria. Sofie sees the chance to engineer one last meeting between Eva and Michal and knows she must take it even if means befriending the enemy… 

But when Eva realises she is pregnant she fears she has endangered both their lives. The women promise to protect each other’s children, should the worst occur. For they are determined to hold on to the last flower of hope in the shadows and degradation: their precious children, who they pray will live to tell their story when they no longer can. 

The Child of Auschwitz is a fictional story which focuses on Eva Adami, a young Jewish girl who is born and raised in Prague where she also ends up falling in love with a musician, Michal. As  their love blossoms, they marry and are excited to begin a new, happy life together. Life seems full of potential and happiness for the couple but unfortunately it is a turbulent time, 1938, and whilst their dreams are coming true, so are their nightmares as the Nazis begin to invade. 

Eva and Michal are determined to survive, but they are soon find themselves separated and Michal is sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where Eva follows in the hope of finding him. Eva quickly makes a close friend, Sofie, a woman who is looking for her cousin who is caring for her son, Tomas. Sofie and Eva's bond is a quickly formed but beautifully genuine and intense, showing the true power and beauty of human friendship. It was good to read about such strong female characters. The character development of other people in the camp was also well done, with each having their own distinct personalities, making it easy to feel genuine compassion towards them. 

The book is clearly well researched and was inspired by the true story of Vera Bein, a lady  who gave birth in Auschwitz-Birkenau and whose story is paralleled well in the book. It was very interesting and emotional to read about the challenges and changes that a hidden baby brought into the camp and it really brought home how incredible and shocking it is that, in reality, at least seven hundred babies were born in Auschwitz-Birkenau (though sadly few survived). I really did love this section of the book and it was by far the most compelling part to me. The exploration of motherhood during the Holocaust is always a sensitive and intriguing subject.

Graham has done a wonderful job of balancing the absolute horrors of the Holocaust alongside  hope and I think that this book certainly gives us a good sense of both. She did well to create an atmosphere and to submerge me, as a reader, into camp life and, as aforementioned, I really took to the characters. My only criticisms would be that I did sometimes find that the book felt a little too sanitised and didn't capture the true, visceral horror of Auschwitz and I although I do enjoy a complete ending, I felt that some parts were a bit too idealised. However, I can understand why this was the case - the book isn't overly complex and is written more for entertainment/past-time purposes than any sort of heavy education.

Overall, despite being a work of fiction, Graham has created a well written and impressively researched story with an authentic array of characters. This is a highly popular book and I can understand why. It is hopeful, intriguing, emotive and I would recommend it to anybody looking for an easy-to-read fictional story focusing on both motherhood and the Holocaust.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood

Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood by Julie Gregory

Paperback, 320 pages
Published 30th September 2004 by Arrow
(First published 2003)

Shelves:  abuse, books-i-own, currently-reading, let-down, medical-conditions, memoirs-biographies-etc, mental-health, misery-lit, read-in-2021

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

A young girl is perched on the cold chrome of yet another doctor’s examining table, missing yet another day of school. Just twelve, she’s tall, skinny, and weak. It’s four o’clock, and she hasn’t been allowed to eat anything all day. Her mother, on the other hand, seems curiously excited. She's about to suggest open-heart surgery on her child to "get to the bottom of this." She checks her teeth for lipstick and, as the doctor enters, shoots the girl a warning glance. This child will not ruin her plans.

From early childhood, Julie Gregory was continually X-rayed, medicated, and operated on—in the vain pursuit of an illness that was created in her mother’s mind. Munchausen by proxy (MBP) is the world’s most hidden and dangerous form of child abuse, in which the caretaker—almost always the mother—invents or induces symptoms in her child because she craves the attention of medical professionals. Many MBP children die, but Julie Gregory not only survived, she escaped the powerful orbit of her mother's madness and rebuilt her identity as a vibrant, healthy young woman.

Punctuated with Julie's actual medical records, Sickened re-creates the bizarre cocoon of her family's isolated double-wide trailer, their wild shopping sprees and gun-waving confrontations, the astonishing naïveté of medical professionals and social workers. It also exposes the twisted bonds of terror and love that roped Julie's family together—including the love that made a child willing to sacrifice herself to win her mother's happiness.

The realization that the sickness lay in her mother, not in herself, would not come to Julie until adulthood. But when it did, it would strike like lightning. Through her painful metamorphosis, she discovered the courage to save her own life—and, ultimately, the life of the girl her mother had found to replace her. Sickened takes us to new places in the human heart and spirit. It is an unforgettable story, unforgettably told.

Sickened is a very well-known memoir that I have been wanting to read for a very long time. I am very interested by mental health and I was extremely intrigued try the thought of reading a book about the rare but highly interesting condition called Munchausen By Proxy (now known as Factitious Disorder by Proxy). Gregory certainly was very successful in bringing awareness to this illness.

Sickened is the memoir of Julie Gregory, a woman brought up by a mother who has  Munchausen by Proxy and has abused her since childhood. This book tells us about her childhood, often spent seeking out different medical specialists and being subjected to numerous unnecessary drugs and procedures. There were some more interesting and shocking scenes described in the book but I often wished there was more depth to them - I felt the book often focused on the negatives of Sandy, Julie's mother, rather than the true impact of her abhorrent actions. The memoir has copies of Gregory's medical records interspersed throughout. I found reading the medical documents to be the most interesting parts of the book.

Despite the fascinating subject matter, I have to be honest and say that I unfortunately just didn't find this book compelling. This book should have been gripping but I really just couldn't connect with it and as a result, I felt more apathetic towards it than I should have. This may partially be to the overly verbose writing style which I really didn't enjoy. Naturally, I felt both sympathy and a sense of respect for Julie but, mainly, I held a strong disdain towards her mother and father.

Unfortunately I can't say that the book had a great impact on me. I think that this may have actually been better portrayed if the Gregory had worked alongside a more experienced writer in order to tell her story. This is one of those books that I do feel bad for criticising due to the sensitive content, but in all honestly, I wouldn't recommend it. I will, however, continue to look for both more stories and factual information about the very important and destructive Factitious Disorder by Proxy. 

Monday, 5 July 2021

The Brothers of Auschwitz

The Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka Adler (Translated by Noel Canon)

Paperback, 433 pages
Published 1st September 2020 by One More Chapter

books-i-own, historical, lasting-impression, memoirs-biographies-etc, non-fiction, read, read-in-2021, ww2

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

An extraordinary novel of hope and heartbreak, this is a story about a family separated by the Holocaust and their harrowing journey back to each other.

My brother’s tears left a delicate, clean line on his face. I stroked his cheek, whispered, it’s really you…

Dov and Yitzhak live in a small village in the mountains of Hungary, isolated both from the world and from the horrors of the war. But one day in 1944, everything changes. The Nazis storm the homes of the Jewish villagers and inform them they have one hour. One hour before the train will take them to Auschwitz.

Six decades later, from the safety of their living rooms at home in Israel, the brothers finally break their silence to a friend who will never let their stories be forgotten.

It's incredibly difficult for me to know where to even start when reviewing this book as it left me speechless. As you've probably determined from my other reviews, I try to consume as many books about the Holocaust (and Auschwitz in particular) as I can and, so far, this has to be the best book that I've read regarding the subject. 

The book is a work of historical fiction which is strongly based on the true stories of two young brothers. The Brothers of Auschwitz follows the story of characters Dov and Yitzhak after they have been expelled from their home in Hungary during the Holocaust and follows their journey all the way up to modern day. The story is intertwined with present-day chapters of the author's journey through Israel. Despite the title, a relatively short amount of this book is actually set in the Auschwitz camp itself and around half way through we begin to learn about the start of the death march and destruction the camp. I found this very interesting and enlightening - we even get to see the long-term effects of all of the events and how it affects the brothers sixty years on. 

It took me a short while to really get into this book due to the distinct lack of punctuation (particularly speech marks), but once I become immersed in the story I was absolutely captivated. This book certainly isn't for the lighthearted but that's actually one of the things that makes it so extradordinary - the descriptions of the emotions and experiences are so visceral, so raw and really do take your breath away. I literally had to put the book down and take a break on several occasions. The honesty and detail in the writing which portrays some of the most abhorrent behaviour of humankind is absolutely jaw-dropping. I have read some books which are more sanitised versions of real events and whilst I can understand why authors do that, I think that this book makes such an impact because of the unadulterated, often sickening descriptions. The honesty is heart wrenching. 

Overall, this is a book that will stay with me for a very, very long time and it's certainly a book that had one of the biggest impacts on me. I would recommend this to anybody who is interested in the the Second World War and wants a raw, no holds barred story about the events and impact of the Holocaust.

Thursday, 1 July 2021

A Spark of Light

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Paperback, 368 pages
Published 11th June 2019 by Hodder
(First published 2nd October 2018)

Shelves:  adult-fiction, books-i-own, contemporary, let-down, medical-conditions, read-in-2021, realistic-fiction, to-be-reviewed

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

I am always keen to read anything written by Jodi Picoult and I was very keen to finally pick up and read A Spark of Light. The premise of this book sounded very interesting, thought-provoking and immediately grabbed my attention. Picoult is known for pushing controversial subjects to the forefront and exploring them without apology - this book is no exception.

A Spark of Light is a story set around an American women's reproductive health clinic on a fateful day when a gunman invades the building and holds everyone inside hostage. The setting allows for the exploration of several subjects, mainly centring around the often-debated, sensitive issue of abortion. Picoult introduces us to several characters in order to help us explore  many different thoughts, viewpoints and explanations. I loved the diversity of all of the different characters - people of different ages, professions, religions, genders, sexualities and backgrounds. Although there were many characters they all felt substantial and well developed. It was very easy to consider and empathise with almost every character. Ironically, the 'main' character, Wren, was the character that I found least interesting. 

Although the content was interesting and made for entertaining (though not joyful) reading, the timeline of this book is what both confused and disappointed me about this book. Picoult certainly made a daring choice by writing this book in reverse chronology but lamentably, it really didn't work for me. It meant that any suspense was quickly diminished in a story that had the potential to be extremely tense and gripping. Due to the timeline there were rarely any surprises or page-turning moments, so I did find some of the book a little laborious to get through - it even felt a little repetitive at times.

In conclusion, A Spark of Light was a story with great potential. I really enjoyed meeting the characters and I feel like I both debated a lot and learned a lot. In particular, I found the section about the actual procedure of abortion to be very educational and emotional. This book certainly leaves you with a lot to think about and I really loved and appreciated the exploration of all points of view. Though I can understand the author's desire for experimentation, I know that if the story was told in a traditional, chronological manner, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.