Thursday, 29 November 2018

A Ladder to the Sky


Author: John Boyne
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, LGBTQ
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 366
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Hogarth Press
First Published: Nov 13, 2018
Opening Lines: "West Berlin - From the moment I accepted the invitation, I was nervous about returning to Germany. It had been so many years since I'd last been there, after all, that it was difficult to know what memories might be stirred up by my return."

Book Description from GoodReads: The new novel from the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Heart's Invisible Furies, a seductive Highsmithian psychodrama following one brilliant, ruthless man who wills top at nothing in his pursuit of fame.

Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for success. The one thing he doesn't have is talent - but he's not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don't need to be his own. 

Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful - but desperately lonely - older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice's first novel.


Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Going into this book, I knew I had high expectations since Boyne's previous book, The Heart's Invisible Furies, easily became one of my all-time favourite reads. As soon as A Ladder to the Sky's publication date was released, I got my hands on a copy. I wanted to, and expected to, enjoy this book but it fell short for me.

There are several things I enjoyed about A Ladder to the Sky. The writing is strong, the premise about the dark and manipulative ambition of a calculating sociopath was interesting and I enjoyed how the story is told via various characters who Maurice manipulates. But the lack of emotional intensity and connection to the characters, a few of whom felt one-dimensional, greatly influenced my experience with this book.

I also had issues with Maurice, a sociopath who readers are expected to believe can get away with all sorts of immoral, malicious choices due to his fantastic good looks. Things just seemed to work out for him too easily and it didn't help that he lacked a redeeming quality I could hold on to. Just when I thought he had one, I was proven wrong.

While I liked getting a glimpse into the life of an author and the literary world, the plot felt predictable and I didn't feel invested in Maurice's life. That said, I remain a fan of John Boyne even though this book didn't quite reach the sky for this reader. 

Monday, 26 November 2018

Becoming


Author: Michelle Obama
Genre: Autobiography
Type: Hardcover and e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library (Hardcover), Audible.ca (audio)
Publisher: Crown Publishing
First Published: November 13, 2018
Opening Lines: "March 2017 - When I was a kid, my aspirations were simple. I wanted a dog. I wanted a house that had stairs in it -- two floors for one family. I wanted, for some reason, a four-door station wagon instead of the two-door Buick that was my father's pride and joy."

Book Description from GoodReads: An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoire by the former First Lady of the United States.

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms.

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: This book was a joy to read. For years I've been a fan of Michelle Obama - I've always liked her strength, her passion to help others, her positivity and her strong devotion to her family. This book just made me appreciate her even more.

Previously, I've never simultaneously read a book in two different formats, but I was glad I did for this book. I balanced reading some chapters in the hardcover edition (when I had time to sit down), and others from the e-audiobook that Michelle Obama herself reads. While I enjoyed the pictures in the paper edition, hearing Ms. Obama read her life story to me was the icing on the proverbial cake.

She is an engaging narrator and throughout the book her warmth, humour, compassion and honesty shine through. She is the Michelle Obama you've seen in interviews and with Becoming, she brings readers into her personal triumphs, losses, insecurities and struggles from her early days as a young Black girl growing up in the southside area of Chicago, to her love of education and her years at Princeton, to meeting a fellow lawyer with a 'weird name' and her eventual role as First Lady of the United States. Readers are privy to the Obama's early years as a couple, Barack's increasing involvement in politics, parenting two daughters together, his run for the presidency of the US and their eight years living in the fish bowl that is the White House.

Michelle Obama has always seemed like a regular kinda gal to me. She's a mom, wife and daughter who just happens to be living an extraordinary life. As FLOTUS, she has lived under public scrutiny trying to balance family life with the daunting workload that she bore as First Lady. She wanted to give their children a reasonably normal childhood and use her role as First Lady to make positive changes in the country she so clearly loves. She gives readers a bird's eye look at her life in the White House - the unique experiences made available to her as well as the limitations to her freedom and I appreciate that she doesn't hold back on her opinions on some of the issues that have plagued and still plague the US.

Throughout the book Michelle Obama is well-spoken, genuine and she comes off as relatable and even inspirational as she shares personal anecdotes that showcase her fears, loves, struggles and accomplishments. Some of her anecdotes had me grinning, relating to her thoughts as a wife and mother, while several caused me to tear up as I listened to her speak about the devastation and loss her country has faced.

This is a moving, powerful and reflective book that readers, especially women and those who have ever felt unseen and ignored, will appreciate. You don't have to be a Democrat (or even an American - says this proud Canadian) to enjoy this book. If you weren't a fan of Michelle Obama's before, you will be after reading this book.


Saturday, 24 November 2018

Once Upon A River


Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: Historical Fiction, Folklore, Fantasy ...
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria (Simon and Schuster)
First Published: December 4, 2018
Opening Lines: "There was once an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radcot, a day's walk from the source. There were a great many inns along the upper reaches of the Thames at the time of this story and you could get drunk in all of them, but beyond the usual ale and cider each one had some particular pleasure to offer."

Book Description from GoodReadsA dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Once Upon A River is a well-written, deeply atmospheric novel and, as its title suggests, has a strong sense of folklore. One might even call it more of a gothic fairy tale. At the heart of the story is a mystery surrounding the identity of the young girl who is found in the Thames and pronounced dead … until she isn't. 

Within the first few pages I realized I was in for a treat. Readers will immediately be drawn to Setterfield's wonderful writing, vivid descriptions of the setting and her diverse group of characters which drives the story much more than the mystery. Much like the Thames itself, the story meanders as the various tributary subplots and characters are introduced but if readers can wade through these slower points in the middle, they'll realize that these aspects all have purpose and are given an incredible amount of depth. 

This gothic folktale stands out for its vivid characterizations, imaginative plot and hint of fantastical things with Setterfield's enchanting storytelling abilities easily being the highlight of this book for me.  Recommended for fans of Setterfield's first book, The Thirteenth Tale.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the publisher, Atria Books for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Watching You


Author: Lisa Jewell
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
First Published: Dec 26, 2018
Opening Lines: "March 24 - DC Rose Pelham kneels down; she can see something behind the kitchen door, just in front of the trash can. For a minute she thinks it's a bloodstained twist of tissue, maybe, or an old bandage."

Book Description from GoodReadsMelville Heights is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.

As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.

One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam.


My Rating: 3 stars (aka 'a good read')

Lisa Jewell is one of my go-to authors so when I saw she had a new book coming out in late 2018 I jumped at the chance to review an advanced copy. A suspenseful novel set in England with loads of secrets and snoopy neighbours?? Yes please!

The book begins with the introduction of its MANY characters (which may take readers time to sort out). Several of the characters share their points of view and while they don't seem to have a lot in common, as the book progresses, readers become privy to their connections and their sometimes lurid pasts.  Ooooo, right? The pacing of the book is on the slower side and while Jewell draws her readers in and gradually increases the tension, I found there were less twists that I would have expected considering all the secrets. 

Watching You has an atmospheric feel with its solid, creepy vibe thanks to all of the neighbours spying on each other, but it was more predictable than Jewell's other books and left only one person, in my mind, who could be the culprit (I was right). There is a large cast of characters but none, except for maybe Freddie, stood out for me and I found some of the connections between characters to be too rushed to be believable. 

Overall, this is a good read but not as great as her previous reads. While I won't be adding it to my long list of "Lisa Jewell Books That I Adore" (which includes Then She Was Gone, The House We Grew Up In and The Girls in the Garden), Lisa Jewell continues to be an author whose books I eagerly await. 

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a digital advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Washington Black



Author: Esi Edughan
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 432
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Patrick Crean Editions
First Published: August 28, 2018
Opening Lines: "I might have been ten, eleven years old -- I cannot say for certain -- when my first master died."

Book Description from GoodReads: Washington Black is an eleven-year-old field slave who knows no other life than the Barbados sugar plantation where he was born. When his master's eccentric brother chooses him to be his manservant, Wash is terrified of the cruelties he is certain await him. But Christopher Wilde, or "Titch," is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor, and abolitionist. He initiates Wash into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky; where two people, separated by an impossible divide, might begin to see each other as human; and where a boy born in chains can embrace a life of dignity and meaning. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, Titch abandons everything to save him. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic, where Wash, left on his own, must invent another new life, one which will propel him further across the globe. From the sultry cane fields of the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, Washington Black tells a story of friendship and betrayal, love and redemption, of a world destroyed and made whole again--and asks the question, what is true freedom?

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Washington Black, with its Giller Prize, Booker Prize and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize nominations, is the talk of the literary town. It focuses on the life of eleven-year-old Washington Black and his beginnings as a young slave at a plantation in the Caribbean and continues as he goes on an adventure across the globe with his master's brother, Titch.

Several topics and themes are introduced throughout the book but overall this is more of a lighthearted adventure that is told in a linear timeline using the first-person narration of Wash himself. The story is broken down into four distinct parts, but I found the first section the most riveting by far. This is where we first meet Wash and Edugyan doesn't hold back about the brutalities that slaves on Caribbean plantations were forced to endure. The story then progresses into more of an adventure (a la Jules Verne) with its slightly steampunk vibe and scientific aspects. The third part focuses on Washington learning to stand on his own two feet and the fourth is about Wash facing his past and figuring out his future.

Unfortunately, the disjointed connections between the different sections of the book took away from the flow of the storytelling. As serendipitous connections between plot and characters emerged and my ability to suspend disbelief was challenged too far, my interest waned as the book progressed until I was presented with an ending that felt inadequate and too abrupt.

While this is an imaginative novel with sometimes powerful and descriptive prose, the focus, energy and even the writing style seemed to wander too much for my liking leaving me with a book that was just okay and a lot of unanswered questions.


Friday, 16 November 2018

Parmesan, Sage & Butternut Squash Risotto

I adore Fall. I love the chill in the air. The 'sweater weather' and the food! Autumn dishes are some of my favourites - from hearty stews and thick soups served with homemade bread to warm apple crisp, I'm a sucker for all things Fall.

This risotto recipe totally fits the bill because it's a wonderfully flavoured, warm dish of yum that uses butternut squash which are plentiful in autumn. Plus, this squash doesn't cost a lot making this dish good for the tummy and the wallet. 

As soon as I taste-tested this dish before I served it, I knew I had a keeper. I may have had a wee foodgasm. We gobbled this dish up with abandon and only had but a wee bit leftover for part of my lunch the next day. While this reheats okay, it is best eaten right away since the leftovers tend to dry out a bit. Still tasty as all get out, but a little drier.

If you're looking for an easy, delicious, impressive (yet a little time consuming) dish to serve, this is it. Serve it with a green salad, grilled scallops or other grilled meats.



Servings: 3-4 servings

Ingredients
2 tbsp. oil (I use grapeseed)
1/2 onion - finely diced
4 garlic cloves - minced
2 tbsp. fresh sage - chiffonade (see 'How To: Chiffonade Fresh Herbs' post)
Salt and Pepper - to taste
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (I used Kenwood Chardonnay)
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup roasted butternut squash - mashed (see 'How To: Roast Butternut Squash' post)
1/4 butter - cut into small chunks (I used salted)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the fake stuff!)

Garnish Options
Fresh sage ribbons
Freshly grated Parmesan
Crisp, bacon crumbles (for the carnivores)

Instructions
In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil.  Add onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes until the onion becomes translucent.
Add sage, salt and pepper to the onion mixture and cook for a minute, stirring to combine well.

Next up is the Arborio rice! No rice substitutions here! This Italian rice is extra starchy which helps give risotto it's extra creamy texture!



Add the Arborio rice and cook for two minutes or until the edges of the rice look translucent.  


Add white wine and mix well (it's gonna smell goooood!). The alcohol from the wine cooks off but the flavour the wine brings to the dish is heavenly! Don't skip this step! Stir often until the rice has absorbed most of the wine (about 5 minutes).
Add vegetable stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring often, until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Keep repeating this process, adding only 1/2 cup of stock at a time, until you've added all of the vegetable stock and the Arborio rice is al dente. During this rather slow but oh-so-worth-it process, the starch in the rice will help to thicken the mixture.
Stir in the roasted squash (I prefer it all mashed but if you want to keep some chunks, have at it). Mix well.
Add the butter and Parmesan cheese - mix until well combined.
Top with additional ribbons of sage, fresh Parmesan and/or fresh, crispy bacon crumbles and serve immediately.
Do not expect leftovers.
Inspired by: lifeasastrawberry.com - Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

Thursday, 15 November 2018

City of Lies


Author: Victoria Thompson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 312
Series: #1 in the Counterfeit Lady series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Berkley Press
First Published: November 7, 2017
Opening Lines: "Jake looked much too smug. Elizabeth's hand itched to smack the smirk off his face, but well-bred young ladies didn't go around smacking people in hotel dining rooms."

Book Description from GoodReadsElizabeth Miles scours 1920’s Washington, D.C. for a killer in the first Counterfeit Lady novel from the author of the New York Times bestselling Gaslight mysteries.

Every woman plays a part—but some are more dangerous than others…

Like most women, Elizabeth Miles assumes many roles; unlike most, hers have made her a woman on the run. Living on the edge of society, Elizabeth uses her guile to relieve so-called respectable men of their ill-gotten gains. But brutal and greedy entrepreneur Oscar Thornton is out for blood. He’s lost a great deal of money and is not going to forgive a woman for outwitting him. With his thugs hot on her trail, Elizabeth seizes the moment to blend in with a group of women who have an agenda of their own.

She never expects to like or understand these privileged women, but she soon comes to respect their intentions, forming an unlikely bond with the wealthy matriarch of the group whose son Gideon is the rarest of species—an honest man in a dishonest world. She knows she’s playing a risky game, and her deception could be revealed at any moment, possibly even by sharp-eyed Gideon. Nor has she been forgotten by Thornton, who’s biding his time within this gilded orbit, waiting to strike. Elizabeth must draw on her wits and every last ounce of courage she possesses to keep her new life from being cut short by this vicious shadow from her past.


My Rating: 3 stars

I picked up this first book in a new series because I was hankering for a series that I could read in between some of the other books in my reading queue - one with a strong main character, a little history and some mystery t'boot. 

Initially, City of Lies piqued my interest with its historical mystery/con artist aspect and while I enjoyed the focus on the women's suffrage movement, unfortunately, the mystery and romance aspects were much less riveting that I had anticipated.

This happened for two reasons. One, I like to jump right into a story and there's quite a bit of a wait to get to the intrigue. Second, I felt on the outside of the story for much of the book. I want to feel pulled into the era, the characters' lives and the plot and that never quite happened here, and I wasn't fond of the romance aspect.

This was a good book but not a great read. The writing is strong, but the blurb entices readers with intrigue that doesn't come into play much until further on in the book. While I was hoping for stronger characters and plot, I'd be willing to give this series another shot because I think Elizabeth shows signs of the daring, intrepid, spunky heroine that tends to keep me coming back to a series. 



Monday, 12 November 2018

You Me Everything




Author: Catherine Isaac
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK
First Published: Nov 13, 2018
First Line: "Sometimes life takes the best and worst it has to offer and throws the whole lot at you on the same day."

Book Description from GoodReads: Set in the French countryside on an idyllic summer vacation, a delicious, tender novel about finding joy and love even I the most unexpected places. 

Jess and her ten-year-old son William set off to spend the summer at Château de Roussignol, deep in the rich, sunlit hills of the Dordogne. There, Jess’s ex-boyfriend—and William’s father—Adam, runs a beautiful hotel in a restored castle. Lush gardens, a gorgeous pool, delectable French food, and a seemingly never-ending wine list—what’s not to like? Jess is bowled over by what Adam has accomplished, but she’s in France for a much more urgent reason: to make Adam fall in love with his own son.

But Adam has other ideas, and another girlfriend—and he doesn’t seem inclined to change the habits of a lifetime just because Jess and William have appeared on the scene. Jess isn’t surprised, but William—who has quickly come to idolize his father—wants nothing more than to spend time with him. But Jess can’t allow Adam to let their son down—because she is tormented by a secret of her own, one that nobody—especially William—must discover.

By turns heartwrenching and hopeful, You Me Everything is a novel about one woman's fierce determination to grab hold of the family she has and never let go, and a romantic story as heady as a crisp Sancerre on a summer day.


My Rating: 4.5 stars

This book took me by surprise. I started off thinking this was a typical Women's Fiction read but as the book progressed, and the layers of Jess' life came together, it became more of an emotional read that highlights the fact that life and relationships aren't always black and white. I simply loved it.

Jess and her ex-boyfriend Adam have had a complicated, tumultuous relationship - especially since the birth of their now 10-year-old son, William. When her life situation suddenly changes, Jess decides to bury the hatchet with Adam and give him and his son time to reconnect as they spend several weeks at Adam's hotel in southern France with a group of their friends.

Isaac's writing is compelling and her descriptions of France's culture, language, scenery and cuisine will have readers booking trips to France toute de suite! But the book isn't all croissants, old cheese and castles. It deals with several issues (alcoholism, illness, complicated family dynamics and changing relationships) and while some were handled in more detail than others, all were compelling, genuinely portrayed and thankfully didn't venture into melodrama. The story contains darker moments but Isaac balances it out with humourous bits many of which come from Jess' endearing, ragtag support system.

Even though the plot itself is fairly predictable and didn't quite get as emotional as I was expecting, I still found it to be compelling. I enjoyed how Isaac slowly divulged the details of Jess' struggles by including bits from her past to fill in the blanks for readers. This kept me glued to the pages and I ended up finishing this book in a couple of days.

Readers will become invested in Jess' emotional, sometimes funny and quite endearing journey. It's a perfect read for people who liked Jojo Moyes' Me Before You. If you enjoy good drama, well fleshed out characters and a plot where family secrets are slowly revealed, then put this book on your 'gotta read' list asap.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

How To: Chiffonade Fresh Herbs

Chiffonade sounds like a 'foo-foo fancy' term but it's a skill that home cooks should know how to do if they enjoy cooking with fresh herbs. When you compare fresh to dried, there's really no comparison. Fresh always tastes better but dried are great in a pinch.

Chiffonade means 'little ribbons' in French which is exactly what you'll get using this popular culinary technique which is simply a slicing technique where flat leafed herbs (basil, sage …) or leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale …) are cut into long, thin strips.


How To Chiffonade Fresh Flat Leaf Herbs


For this post I used fresh sage. Rinse sage under cool water and pat dry. 



Stack the leaves on top of each other …. 



and gently roll them into a cigar-shaped tube. 




Using a sharp knife, slice across the narrow end of the 'cigar' to make thin ribbons of sage. 


If smaller pieces are desired, cut the ribbons in half or quarters.


Now you can add these to your main dish or as a garnish. This technique is used in many recipes on this blog, including:

Parmesan, Sage and Butternut Risotto (recipe coming this week!)

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Tattooist of Auschwitz


Author: Heather Morris
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 288
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
First Published: September 4, 2018
First Line: "Lale tries not to look up."

Book Description from GoodReadsThis beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov's experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.


My Rating: 2.5 stars (ie. 'just okay')

WWII Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres and this book caught my attention due to its cover, online blogger buzz and the fact that it is based on the real life and experiences of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who was sent to Auschwitz. Through numerous interviews with Lale, Heather Morris learned the details of his life story, centering around his experiences as the tattooist who tattooed numbers on the arms of prisoners as they entered the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

This sounds like it would be a good fit for me but for several reasons I struggled to get through this book (even debating DNF'ing it - 'Did Not Finish'). I simply couldn't connect with the story or its characters, but my rating is in no way a reflection on the atrocities Lale experienced and witnessed. Instead, my rating focuses on Morris' writing style and prose. 

The writing is surprisingly weak from an author who is a screenwriter by trade. There's a definite lack of description of the setting and hardly any of the tension that you'd expect in a concentration camp where so many people suffered. Instead, most of the writing focuses on 'telling, not showing' (a lot of 'he said', 'then she said') which felt choppy and overly simplistic. By not describing the scene and atmosphere clearly, and keeping readers at arms length emotionally, I didn't connect with Lale or Gita to sympathize with their experiences.

Overall, I was disappointed with this book. It had such potential and while I appreciate that Morris wrote this book as a tribute to a man who experienced great tragedy, her weak writing and the lack of emotion took away from Sokolov's story.

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