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Review – The Pieces We Keep – Kristina McMorris

the pieces we keepThe Pieces We Keep
Author: Kristina McMorris

Review Copy Provided by the Author via Sisterhood of the Traveling Book on Goodreads

Description:
Two years have done little to ease veterinarian Audra Hughes’s grief over her husband’s untimely death. Eager for a fresh start, Audra plans to leave Portland for a new job in Philadelphia. Her seven-year-old son, Jack, seems apprehensive about flying—but it’s just the beginning of an anxiety that grows to consume him.

As Jack’s fears continue to surface in recurring and violent nightmares, Audra hardly recognizes the introverted boy he has become. Desperate, she traces snippets of information unearthed in Jack’s dreams, leading her to Sean Malloy, a struggling US Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan. Together they unravel a mystery dating back to World War II, and uncover old family secrets that still have the strength to wound—and perhaps, at last, to heal.

Review:
To say words have defied me once i finished reading Kristina McMorris’ latest book is an understatement. I was literally jumping with joy when it showed up in the mail but I forced myself to wait to read it on the metro the next week. And I devoured it – in fact, I realized about 20 seconds prior to the train leaving the station that I needed to get off if I wanted to make my connection…(and I totally tweeted that to Kristina). But I had to ponder my review – not because there were many negatives, but rather because I had so many strong emotions during the reading, that words can’t really describe how it made me feel. She made me laugh, she made me cry, she made me suffer from a severe book depression when I realized that it was over and I wouldn’t visit with the characters again.

While all of her previous books have been set in the past, Kristina took a different route with this story, using an alternating POV with one set in contemporary US and the other WW2 U.S. (which is the setting of her previous books). I will admit that sometimes I find this type of writing style hard to read because it doesn’t always flow well, and the voices of the POV’s sound the same. But that wasn’t the case. Both the voices of Audra (present) and Vivian (past) were unique. I think it also helped that the publisher used two different type-faces for the POV’s. So not only did they sound different, but they also looked different (to geek out a bit, it potentially got rid of the cognitive dissonance from the same format writing but different POV’s).

I could probably go on and continue gushing about the story and how it blew my mind, but I’ll save that for others. But before I close out this review, I wanted to tell a story that reading this reminded me off. When I was in high school, the Holocaust was a major subject of interest for me. In fact, if I had ever decided to pursue graduate education in history, the Holocaust probably would have been my main focus. Anyways, when I was doing my senior English project, I spent time interviewing survivors and talking about how their survival had impacted their lives. One of the survivors I had talked to, survived the Auschwitz Death Marches. In fact, the only reason he survived the initial arrival at Auschwitz was because he was wearing long pants and was put to work, the rest of his family died that day. Post war, he never really talked about his experiences until he started having nightmares several decades later. Then he talked about his experiences to his family and to others, he even started traveling and talking to school groups. When he did this, he found that his nightmares went away.

Reading The Pieces We Keep reminded me of his story and the idea of how dreams and nightmares can tell the story of our experiences, or if you believe in the idea of reincarnation, others. Gushing aside, a solid 5 stars for this book and now begins the torture of waiting for her next book (and its going to be a very long wait)…

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Review – The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz – Denis Avey

Avey_Auschwitz_mech.inddThe Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz
Author: Denis Avey

Description:
The almost unbelievable story of Denis Avey, now 92, began in 1944 when he was captured and sent to a POW work camp. He was put to work every day in a German factory, where he labored alongside Jewish prisoners from a nearby camp called Auschwitz. The stories they told him were horrifying. Eventually Avey’s curiosity, kind-heartedness, derring-do, and perhaps foolhardiness drove him to suggest–and remarkably manage–switching places with two of the Jewish prisoners in order to spend a couple of harrowing days and nights inside. Miraculously, he lived to tell about it.

Review:
I wasn’t sure if I was going to write a review of this book, but it seemed kind of appropriate considering that yesterday (the day that I finished it), marked 20 years since the Holocaust Museum opened in DC. And i had just spent an afternoon there the previous week (even though I have been multiple times, it is still an emotional/moving experience that leaves me shaken). This was particularly so because on the cover of the book, you could see the sign from Auschwitz that said “Work Will Make You Free” (translated). There is a similar replication of that sign at the Holocaust Museum. I found it interesting that there has been some debate over that sign – it was a well-documented fact that it was over the gates of Auschwitz I (the most well-known of the satellite of the camps). However, according to testimony in the book, it also appeared as a sign over Auschwitz III, right next to the POW camp where Avey was being held.

I do have to admit that I was expecting a bit more – when you see a book that is titled, “The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz,” – you would likely expect lots of danger and intrigue. There was that, but at the same time, I think that the author also played down his accomplishment. Yes, he could have been killed for what he did – but he managed to survive. I also expected that it would going to be for a long period that what actually occurred – but the majority of the book was dedicated to the lead-up to him becoming a POW, and then his life post-war. The POW portion of the war only encompassed about 6 short chapters in the book. But they were intriguing – I guess it would be hard to write on a topic when you experienced the same hell, day in and day out.

But stories like this are intrigued to me. I always thought that if I decided to pursue a graduate degree in history (rather than psychology), that I would likely focus on the Holocaust or some other aspect of war/military history. But at the same time, I had never considered looking at it from a psychological perspective. But that is just me mumbling away. I would definately recommend this book for anyone who is interested in WW2 memoirs. I think that it would also be a good book for students studying the WW2 European theatre because the author touches on a lot of the different operations that were on-going (the Africa Korps, Rommell in Africa, some of the Naval battles); as well as his time as a POW. It is a sad thought knowing that each year, more and more people with this memories are dying and soon there will be none left – and all that will remain are memoirs like Avey’s and personal recollections, like the work done by the Shoah Foundation to record the stories of survivors.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Review – Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation Into War – Steven M. Gillon

Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation Into War
Author: Steven M. Gillon

Narrator: John Pruden
Run Time: 6 hours and 40 minutes

Book Description:
Franklin D. Roosevelt famously called December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy.” History would prove him correct; the events of that day—when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor—ended the Great Depression, changed the course of FDR’s presidency, and swept America into World War II. In Pearl Harbor, acclaimed historian Steven M. Gillon provides a vivid, minute-by-minute account of Roosevelt’s skillful leadership in the wake of the most devastating military assault in American history. FDR proved both decisive and deceptive, inspiring the nation while keeping the real facts of the attack a secret from congressional leaders and the public. Pearl Harbor explores the anxious and emotional events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor, showing how the president and the American public responded in the pivotal twenty-four hours that followed, a period in which America burst from precarious peace into total war.

Review:
I don’t typically listen to non-fiction audiobooks, but I was looking for something different and this one caught my eye. Having studied history in college, I found that WW2 was definitely a period that interested me – although the European theater was more to my liking than the Pacific theater or the homefront. But any historian knows FDR’s famous words just a day after the attack on Pearl Harbor – so seeing the lead up to how that speech came to be in the hours following the attack was intriguing.

I found Pruden’s narration to be spot on for the topic and the genre. There was really no need for multiple voices in a non-fiction book, although I would be curious to hear him narrator a fiction book to see his range…I know that I will be on the look-out for more books narrated by him in the future. I’ll also be seeking out more books written by Gillon, as he had a way of bringing a well known time period in history to life, with the minor details that likely are never studied by historians. It is those time periods that bring history to life.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Book Review

 

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Review – Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein

Book Description:
I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team.

Review:
I should have enjoyed the book more than I did. Its set during WW2 which is a time period of interest to me; it featured 2 teenage girls in interesting/difficult situations and in general, the description just sucked me in. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work. I can’t describe what it was or why I struggled with it – I just know that once I put it down, I wasn’t all that motivated to pick it up and while I did finish reading it, it wasn’t a completely enjoyable read, but it wasn’t completely horrendous either (I don’t even know if that makes sense)…

Maybe others will enjoy it more than I did, but the highest I can give it is 2 stars – meaning that it was ok but not enough for me to want to recommend it. However, if you are interested in reading it, the following are the links for purchasing it on Amazon:

Code Name Verity (Hardcover)
Code Name Verity (Kindle)

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Book Review

 

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Review – I am Forbidden – Anouk Markovits

I am Forbidden
Author: Anouk Markovits

Book Description:
A family is torn apart by fierce belief and private longing in this unprecedented journey deep inside the most insular sect of Hasidic Jews, the Satmar.
Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Christian maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live. Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore.

Review
Aside from reading some Chaim Potok back in high school, as well as Night by Eli Weisel, I have really not read a lot of fiction books in the past where religion, and specifically Judaism, play a huge role. However, after seeing I am Forbidden show up as a highlighted book on goodreads, as well as on another website, I was intrigued enough to pick it up.

Words can’t really describe how much I enjoyed the book, as well as how much I learnt from it. While I had heard of the Hasidic sect of Judaism before, I had never heard of the Satmar’s which is a movement within the Hasidic branch. The majority of Satmar jews come from the Hungarian/Romanian part of the world and many were Holocaust survivors. The book itself, started off in Romania during World War 2, followed the Stern family to Paris where the majority of Mila’s (one of the Stern daughters) takes place and then travels to Williamsburg (in New York, not Virginia, like I was expecting), when Mila Stern marries Josef. There was so much detail about life in a Satmar household, that a simple book review cannot cover it all. From the preparations that a woman goes though when she gets her period, traditions governing wedding night protocal and so many other glimpses into the daily life.

It came of no surprise to me, when I read the brief bio of the author on the dust-cover of the book, that she grew up in a Satmar household and then left when she was 19. As a reader, following this discovery, I had to wonder if she had modelled any of the characters on her family, whether Atara (Mila’s sister) was supposed to represent her in some form. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about Judaism as a whole, as well as the various movements within. As well as anyone that is looking for an intriguing family saga that encompasses over 50 years of living and multiple generations. The writing style is easy to get sucked into and I had a hard time putting it down.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Book Review

 

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