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  • Title: The Cabinet of Calm
  • Author: Paul Anthony Jones
  • Publisher: Elliott & Thompson Ltd
  • Publication Date: 14th May 2020

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Sometimes we all need a little reminder that it’s going to be okay… Open The Cabinet of Calm to discover a comforting word that’s equal to your troubles.

The Cabinet of Calm has been designed to be picked up whenever you need a moment of serenity. Just select the emotion listed that reflects whatever you’re feeling and you’ll be offered a matching linguistic remedy: fifty-one soothing words for troubled times.

These kind words – alongside their definitions and their stories – will bring peace, comfort and delight, and provide fresh hope.

Written with a lightness of touch, The Cabinet of Calm shows us that we’re not alone. Like language, our emotions are universal: someone else has felt like this before and so there’s a word to help, whatever the challenge.

So much more than a book of words, The Cabinet of Calm will soothe your soul and ease your mind. It’s the perfect gift.

My Thoughts:

Books are often the thing that many people turn to in a time of need; they provide a means of escape, a form of comfort and indeed they are way to cope when in an uncertain world. And I definitely think that The Cabinet of Calm is a book that deserves its place on the shelf of “books for the soul”.

I am a huge fan of Paul Anthony Jones’s books, each of them has a place on my bookshelf and I’ve worked my way through them more than once, enjoying the luxurious feel of the language within, learning new things and allowing myself to be carried off on a wave of pure escapism and joy.

A heartfelt introduction from the author at the beginning of this book makes you stop and think about the importance of words, the power they hold and the comfort they bring. And as you weave through the pages of the delights in the book, so many resonate …

Take for instance “mooreeffoc”. Jones writes “when we become bored by the everyday world and the sights and sounds in it, taking a step back and appraising it with a fresh pair of eyes can be all that is needed to revitalise our thinking, gain a better understanding of it and revive our interest or approach to it“, a timely reminder to change the way we look at things, or change the way we think about things, may in turn change the way we feel.

A spellbinding and almost melodic collection of words, there is quite likely a word for whatever you’re feeling at the moment. As I flicked through the pages initially I was drawn to certain words and terms, feeling that I agreed with many or thought “so that’s what that feeling is called”. I love a book that gives me knowledge and Jones’s books always do that. Often it’s those phrases you’ve always wondered about but never taken the time to stop and look up, or you’ve just long accepted a meaning for the phrase without question.

A hugely recommended book, and one I would say would make the perfect gift for the word lover in your life.

Now to go and deal with a child with a case of the bocksturrocks

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  • Title: The Betrayal
  • Author: Anne Allen
  • Publisher: Sarnia Press
  • Publication Date: 20th October 2017

Copy purchased via Amazon.co.uk

Description:

Book Six of The Guernsey Novels is another dual-time story set during the German Occupation and present-day Guernsey and is likely to appeal particularly to fans of the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Treachery and theft lead to death – and love

1940. Teresa Bichard and her baby are sent by her beloved husband, Leo, to England as the Germans draw closer to Guernsey. Days later they invade…

1942. Leo, of Jewish descent, is betrayed to the Germans and is sent to a concentration camp, never to return. 

1945. Teresa returns to find Leo did not survive and the family’s valuable art collection, including a Renoir, is missing. Heartbroken, she returns to England.

2011. Nigel and his twin Fiona, buy a long-established antique shop in Guernsey and during a refit, find a hidden stash of paintings, including what appears to be a Renoir. Days later, Fiona finds Nigel dead, an apparent suicide. Refusing to accept the verdict, a distraught Fiona employs a detective to help her discover the truth

Searching for the rightful owner of the painting brings Fiona close to someone who opens a chink in her broken heart. Can she answer some crucial questions before laying her brother’s ghost to rest?

Who betrayed Leo? 

Who knew about the stolen Renoir?

And are they prepared to kill – again?

My Thoughts:

Like the previous post for this blog tour, I want to add that I read this book back in 2018 for a blog tour and absolutely loved it. And because I loved the book so much, I bought a copy straight after to add to my collection on my digital bookshelf. Having read it again for this blog tour, I’ve added some extra thoughts to my original review.

The mystery of this book appealed to me, what was the connection between the events in the 1940s and 2011?  And the beauty of these books is that they can all be read as standalone novels, despite being part of The Guernsey Novels series.

With a story that moves back and forth between the two time settings, readers learn about Leo and his wife Teresa on Guernsey, how they are preparing for invasion by the Nazis and their parting is of necessity.  Once Leo gets his wife and child to safety he awaits his fate along with the remaining islanders.
In 2011 Fiona stumbles upon the body of her twin brother Nigel in their antique shop, an apparent suicide that makes no sense to Fiona or any of their friends.  She sets out to prove to the police that they are wrong, not realising the danger she might be putting herself in.

I enjoyed the way that the stories of Leo and Fiona ran alongside each other, each of their lives filled with moments of heightened emotions, whether trauma and fear, happiness and love.  I perhaps felt a little more connected to the tale of Leo and the Nazi occupation due to having an interest in stories set in this time.  Leo’s life was undoubtedly lonely once he got his wife and child to safety, reading the short narrative where he mentions his love for them both was heart warming and when he recounts the memory of meeting his wife for the first time, it gives readers a wonderful insight into this character.
It did feel that Fiona’s story took up more of the narrative and it needed to, it was the driving force of the plot.  But I felt less connected to it, less invested, but this is down to personal preference. And I always applaud an author who can create a character that intrigues me but possesses characteristics or quirks that don’t instantly gel with me. 

The descriptions of the settings are so clear and vivid, Guernsey sounds like such a beautiful place and so appealing.  The beaches sound breathtaking and the way that the scenery comes to life through the writing makes this a delight to read.  I enjoyed the way that this history of the island was told through the characters and indeed finding out more about the way that the occupation impacted on the lives of the islanders was very interesting.

A well written mystery with touches of romance and danger, and highly recommended!

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  • Title: The Inheritance
  • Author: Anne Allen
  • Publisher: Sarnia Press
  • Publication Date: 8th April 2019

Copy purchased via Amazon.co.uk

Description:

How close were Victor Hugo and his copyist?

1862 Young widow Eugénie faces an uncertain future in Guernsey. A further tragedy brings her to the attention of Monsieur Victor Hugo, living in exile on the island only yards away from Eugénie’s home. Their meeting changes her life and she becomes his copyist, forming a strong friendship with both Hugo and his mistress, Juliette Drouet.

2012 Dr Tess Le Prevost, Guernsey-born but living in England, is shocked to inherit her Great-Aunt’s house on the island. As a child, she was entranced by Doris’s tales of their ancestor, Eugénie, whose house this once was, and her close relationship with Hugo. Was he the real father of her child? Returning to the island gives Tess a fresh start and a chance to unlock family secrets.

Will she discover the truth about Eugénie and Hugo? A surprise find may hold the answer as Tess embraces new challenges which test her strength – and her heart.

My Thoughts:

I should add a note that I read this book last year around publication date for a blog tour and absolutely loved it. And because I loved the book so much, I bought a copy straight after to add to my collection on my digital bookshelf.

The linking of two timelines always appeals to me in a novel, and I know from the outset that any of Anne Allen’s books will be just the right mix of modern day and historic setting. With characters in 2012 and 1862, we span a few centuries but see in both of these times circumstances that impact on society then as much as they do now.
Eugénie in 1862 is mourning the loss of her new husband, his death at sea robbing her of happiness and companionship, and so a chance meeting with Victor Hugo opens her eyes to a world she could never have imagined. She is a character that we slowly watch transform through the pages, the once quiet and withdrawn young woman becomes more confident, more sure in her own skin and begins to move on after the early tragedies that befell her. The friendships she forms are a lifeline for her, they are a comfort to her and they enable her to be Eugénie again, and not just a sad widow.
2012 brings the reader the story of Tess, a young doctor finishing off her training in Exeter. Stunned to learn that she has inherited the home of her Great- Aunt on Guernsey, she makes the life changing decision to move back to her beloved island, and make a life there. But if that wasn’t enough to deal with, there are the simple matters of family politics, clearing out the possessions of her Great-Aunt and unravelling a myth that has run through her family for generations, thrown into the mix.

In both Eugénie and Tess, we see strong female characters who take control of situations they are in. There are times that life throws them a curveball, makes things somewhat difficult for them, but these women are wonderful to watch, they take it in their stride, use the events to give them courage, strength and ultimately adapt.
The mystery element of the plot is fascinating, readers follow Tess as she pieces Eugénie’s life together to form a narrative that gladdens and breaks the heart in equal measure, as well as experience events through the perspective of Eugénie. In Anne Allen’s hands, this is done with sympathy as well as highlighting the harshness of situations that her characters find themselves in.

There’s something comforting about picking up a book from this author, she has a wonderful way of bringing a story alive with rich and atmospheric settings, I felt like I could see the sights of Guernsey, like I could see the houses that she described, I felt like I got to know the characters and became so invested in them. I shared their frustrations, their sorrows, their confusion and eventually, their happiness.
Of all of the Guernsey novels, I think that this has been my favourite so far, I can’t quite put my finger on what it was that grabbed my heart, but something about this book has lingered on after I read the last page. It’s perhaps just my head wondering “what next?” for Tess, her family and her friends, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and absolutely recommend it, and all of the books.

All of the books in this series can be read as standalone.

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  • Title: Sisters of Berlin
  • Author: Juliet Conlin
  • Publisher: Black and White Publishing
  • Publication Date: 16th April 2020

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Berlin 2014.
The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, and the city is gearing up for a celebration of unity and liberation. But, beneath the surface, are those for whom the divisions and allegiances of the past remain close to home.

In her hushed and leafy corner of Berlin, Nina’s life is a comfortable, conventional one– until her younger sister Marie, a free-spirited writer, is attacked and left for dead.

For Nina, Marie’s brutal demise – and that of her unborn child – tips her own carefully controlled life into a nightmare. Stonewalled by official incompetence and subterfuge, Nina begins to realise that her sister’s past and the secrets of the once-divided city are connected in unimaginable ways. As she seeks out justice for Marie, Nina becomes caught in a tangle of obsessions, lies and hidden truths that threatens to destroy her marriage, her livelihood and all that she holds dear.

My Thoughts:

Juliet Conlin is one of those authors that you just know will hold your attention and entrance you with her wonderful writing and transport you entirely to the scenes of her book, and so when I heard about Sisters of Berlin, I was keen to read it and find out what she had lined up.

It has to be said that in each of her previous books there is a wonderful human element, Conlin creates realistic characters that come alive as you read about their lives and you cannot help but become invested in them. You share in their grief, their happiness, their confusion and equally when their lives spiral out of control, you feel the disorienting crashes of that whirlpool as it tosses you to and fro. And that is much the case for Nina in this book. Her once happy life is turned upside down after the murder of her sister Marie, and she feels that she cannot rely on the police to get to the bottom of the case. Delving into the dark corners of Marie’s life, Nina discovers things about her sister that leave her questioning just how well she knew her and she is faced with some dangerous truths that shake the foundations of her life, career and family.

Using this narrative, the reader experiences the story from Nina’s perspective and watches her struggle to connect the pieces of Marie’s life as her own crashes around her. We see her try to continue with family life, being a dutiful wife and mother, trying to support her parents while avoiding their pre-existing issues. Her frustrations at not being able to connect the dots between the things she uncovers in Marie’s life feel very real and I have to admit that at times, I did want to scream and shout on her behalf.

The superb atmosphere created in the book helps the reader feel connected with the narrative, you can see the detailed locations mentioned in the book, you can smell the odours, experience unease at the situations that occur … this is an intense and enthralling read. The themes explored throughout are powerful ones, and I feel that Conlin has used a respectful and sensitive approach to ensure that readers form their own opinions based on what they read, and astutely whilst the actions and dialogue of the characters offer opposing views, it is ultimately left open for the reader to make the final decision about what is morally acceptable when it comes to secrets, mental health, domestic abuse and how we deal with them socially.

A hugely powerful read, wrought with complex and human characters who live on in your head long after you’ve finished reading. It reminds you to take note of those around you and hold them close, not take too much for granted and to tear down the barriers that separate us.

My thanks to Love Books Group for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for this book, and to Black and White Publishing for my review copy.

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  • Title: On Forgiveness
  • Author: Richard Holloway
  • Publisher: Canongate Canons
  • Publication Date: 9th February 2002

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

‘Full of human wisdom, this is a psychologically acute and absorbing approach to a very important subject’ PHILIP PULLMAN

In this inspiring work, Richard Holloway tackles the great theme of forgiveness. One of the most important books on this essential topic, On Forgiveness draws on the great philosophers and writers such as Frederick Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida and Nelson Mandela. Both timely and a timeless modern classic, On Forgiveness is a pertinent and fascinating discourse on how forgiveness works, where it came from and how the need to embrace it is greater than ever if we are to free ourselves from the binds of the past.

My Thoughts:

Richard Holloway is one of Canongate’s most beloved authors and, on 5th March, Leaving Alexandria was the latest of his books to join the Canons collection. To celebrate this wonderful achievement the folks at Canongate are running a blog tour with reviews of Richard’s books so that more readers can experience his wise and fascinating writing.

Whilst a compact book, this is nevertheless a wise and thought-provoking read. There are four chapters, Religion without Religion, Reclaiming the Future, Managing the Chaos, and Redeeming the Chaos, all laid out as though you were listening to Holloway speak. His insightful thoughts take you on a journey as you read, he highlights passages of poems and meditations to emphasise his points, as well as the Bible.
This may not be a manual for forgiveness, it doesn’t give you the right or wrong ways to go about things. Forgiveness isn’t as simple or clear cut as that, but what it does do is give you something to think about. It asks you to consider what forgiveness is in a given situation, what it means to those involved, the actions that lead to the point where forgiveness is necessitated.

A wonderful wee book that I think I will no doubt come back to from time to time. For me this is a book that inspires deep thinking and a profound sense peace as I read, helping me slow down and take the time to really consider things and process it all.

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  • Title: Deep Dark Night
  • Author: Steph Broadribb
  • Publisher: Orenda Books
  • Publication Date: 5th March 2020

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

A city in darkness. A building in lockdown. A score that can only be settled in blood…

Working off the books for FBI Special Agent Alex Monroe, Florida bounty-hunter Lori Anderson and her partner, JT, head to Chicago. Their mission: to entrap the head of the Cabressa crime family. The bait: a priceless chess set that Cabressa is determined to add to his collection.

An exclusive high-stakes poker game is arranged in the penthouse suite of one of the city’s tallest buildings, with Lori holding the cards in an agreed arrangement to hand over the pieces. But, as night falls and the game plays out, stakes rise and tempers flare.

When a power failure plunges the city into darkness, the building goes into lockdown. But this isn’t an ordinary blackout, and the men around the poker table aren’t all who they say they are. Hostages are taken, old scores resurface and the players start to die.

And that’s just the beginning…

My Thoughts:

With every new book in the Lori Anderson series I feel a sense of great excitement when I read the opening pages and catch up with one of the greatest characters I’ve ever “met”. Lori Anderson is fierce, she’s sassy and she’s damned good at her job. Even if she has to adopt different personas to achieve results, and she does it so brilliantly!
If you’ve followed the series, then this is the fourth book in the series, but it can be read as a stand-alone.

The plot is as always gripping and makes for an adrenaline packed read, and the move to Chicago as the setting gives this a darker, gritty feel. But if the plot wasn’t intense enough, Broadribb ensures she hooks her readers by offering perspectives of both Lori and JT, her partner. Doing this allows readers to get to know this character better, form a stronger link to him and witness his motivations and devotion to his loved ones. Somehow Broadribb always manages to craft characters that enchant, enthrall and enrage. They are all so diverse, but each is detailed and you don’t feel that anything is lacking … you get a clear idea of who everyone is and what their role in the story is, even down the the small characters.

Claustrophobia isn’t something I’ve ever really been bothered with, but this book manages to make it feel so real and intense with the apartment setting. This is a locked room mystery like no other, it tests Lori and JT to the limit and it really has you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what happens next and if Lori will succeed.

Follow the blog tour!

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  • Title: The Final Game
  • Author: Caimh McDonnell
  • Publisher: McFori Ink
  • Publication Date: 17th March 2020

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Dorothy Graham is dead, which is inconvenient, not least for her. Luckily, she has planned for this eventuality. Now, if any of the truly dreadful people she is related to want to get their hands on her money, they’re going to have to do so via a fiendish difficult and frankly bizarre competition of Dorothy’s devising. After all, just because you’re dead, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a last laugh at the expense of people who made your life miserable.

Paul Mulchrone, to his unending credit, is neither related to Dorothy or happy that she is dead; What he is however is a contestant in this competition whether he likes it or not, which he definitely doesn’t. He and his off-again on-again girlfriend, the formidable Brigit, are supposed to be running MCM Investigations, a detective agency. Instead, they have to go into battle against Dorothy’s bloodsucking relatives. As if that wasn’t enough, they get hired by the aforementioned dead woman to find out who killed her.

DI Jimmy Stewart is enjoying his retirement – in the sense that he definitely isn’t. He is bored out of his mind. When the offer comes to get back into the crime solving business, it is too good to turn down. But when he finds himself teamed up with the nephew of a man he threw in prison, and a flatulent dog, he starts to think that taking up lawn bowls wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. 

The Final Game is a standalone crime novel perfect for readers new to Caimh McDonnell’s blackly comic take on his hometown, as featured in the international bestselling Dublin Trilogy books. His previous works have been optioned for TV and nominated for awards, which they somehow keep managing not to win.

My Thoughts:

If you search for Caimh McDonnell on this blog you will find reviews of all of his books so far, and you will see that I have absolutely loved each of them. Especially the ones that feature the enigmatic Bunny McGarry. So when I saw that The Final Game featured the original colourful cast of characters I couldn’t wait to get reading!

Following on from the success of the Dublin Trilogy series, McDonnell crafts a wonderfully vivid tale that will have the reader smirking and giggling as they follow Paul Mulchrone and his girlfriend Brigit through a competition that tests their skills and stomachs. The commentary team are hilarious, we need these guys on TV!
As well as the competition, readers watch retired DI Jimmy Stewart navigate widowhood and juggle working a case that has more questions than answers. Things aren’t helped by the fact that he’s teamed up with a flatulent German shepherd with an attitude problem and the nephew of one of his previous collars.

Each of the characters is a creation of brilliance, their quirks and personalities are so very vivid. You can hear their voices, you can see the looks on the faces of those around them, their reactions to the situations that occur around them, everything.
But not only this, readers get a clear image of the settings and the action that plays out in each scene like it was on the big screen. It all makes for a thrilling and exciting read, a much needed escape and utter joy.

If you’ve not read any of the previous books by this author, I would seriously recommend binging! The wit and humour that McDonnel weaves throughout his writing is pitched perfectly. There are few books that I know will have me laughing out loud, but laughter feels guaranteed when you pick up a book by this author.

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  • Title: Code Name: Lise
  • Author: Larry Loftis
  • Publisher: Mirror Books
  • Publication Date: 20th February 2020

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

The year is 1942, and World War II is in full swing.

Odette Sansom decides to follow in her war hero father’s footsteps by becoming an SOE agent to aid Britain and her beloved homeland, France. Five failed attempts and one plane crash later, she finally lands in occupied France to begin her mission.

It is here that she meets her commanding officer Captain Peter Churchill. As they successfully complete mission after mission, Peter and Odette fall in love. All the while, they are being hunted by the cunning German secret police sergeant, Hugo Bleicher, who finally succeeds in capturing them.

They are sent to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and on to concentration camps in Germany, where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. But in the face of despair, they never give up hope, their love for each other, or the whereabouts of their colleagues.

This is portrait of true courage, patriotism and love amidst unimaginable horrors and degradation.

My Thoughts:

When I first heard about this book I was instantly intrigued, Odette Sansom was a name I had heard of in passing but wasn’t the most familiar with her tale, something I was only too pleased to clear up by reading this book.

In Code Name: Lise, the reader meets a young Odette in France and learns about her early life. We also learn about the sort of person she was, determined, tenacious and above all one that never gave up in the face of a challenge. As she gets older, she meets a man and falls in love, moves to England and life is going well for her, until the outbreak of World War II. Feeling guilt at being in the relative safety of rural Somerset, she immediately jumps at the chance to do her bit by supplying photographs of various locations in France to aid in the war effort, which leads to her becoming an SOE agent.

Odette’s first mission is in occupied France, but her journey to France gets off to an incredibly shaky start. The missions that Odette and the team complete are fraught with tension and make for utterly thrilling reading. The danger of agents being captured and killed was something Odette was very aware of, as was the threat of agents around them having being turned into double agents by the enemy. Fearing cover has been blown, Odette and her commanding officer, Peter Churchill flee for safety. But soon they are caught up by the cunning skills of German secret police sergeant, Hugo Bleicher. Interspersed with the tale of Odette and Peter, is information about Hugo Bleicher, his life to this point and what he faced to get to where he was.

Life as a prisoner of the Nazis and SS wasn’t easy for Odette, but through it all, she never lost her spirit or determination to survive. The treatment she received was horrendous, the physical torture methods used were brutal but the psychological torture was something else, often leaving the prisoners questioning reality and their grasp on sanity. But reading through these awful details, my admiration for this character grew. Seeing what Odette endured and how she survived, I felt levels of emotion bubbling up and realised that I was holding in tears, screams of frustration and anguish and the feeling of utter helplessness.

Code Name: Lise is a truly remarkable tale, poignant and yet empowering, and combined with the writing of Larry Loftis, this reads as a thriller. It’s explosive, it’s gripping and the sort of read that gets under your skin.

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Today’s Celebrating Indie Publishing post is joining up with damppebbles blog tours to share my review of Neil Lancaster’s thrilling second novel in the Tom Novak series.

  • Title: Going Rogue
  • Author: Neil Lancaster
  • Publisher: Burning Chair
  • Publication Date: 21st November 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Tom Novak is back.

When a spate of deadly terrorist attacks hit the streets of London, Tom finds himself thrust into the middle of a fight for the survival of all he holds dear.

When the attackers hit closer to home than he could ever imagine, Tom is forced to make a choice between his duty or his conscience. In doing so, he enters a series of increasingly dangerous worlds, in the darkest corners of humanity.

Can Tom and his colleagues get to the bottom of a plot which threatens the very fabric of society?

Will they stop the terrorists before it’s too late?

When faced with the ultimate choice, which way will Tom go?

After all, as Cameron always says: “Always do right, boy…”

Going Rogue is the follow-up to the hugely successful thriller, Going Dark: the book that introduced Tom Novak as the hero who, in the words of best-selling author Tony Parsons, “makes Jason Bourne look like a vegan Pilates teacher”.

Get Going Rogue today, and start a rollercoaster ride of a thriller that you won’t ever want to put down.

My Thoughts:

If Neil Lancaster isn’t a name on your author list then get his name added there quickly! The Tom Novak series is thrilling and exciting, the sort of thing you read while holding your breath in anticipation of what will happen next.

Reading the books in order will definitely give you a more rounded appreciation for this character and his back story, and I felt that having read Going Dark first, I understood this complex character and his life a little better. When you start reading, it’s hard not to wonder if this will be another rogue detective story, someone who has little attachment to those around them and will throw themselves into the most dangerous situations for nothing else other than a thrill … all under the guise of saving someone or saving the world. But in Tom Novak, the reader is given a character that is deep, complex and so fascinating. There is so much detail written into this character, he is multidimensional and as the story unfolds you are drawn to him.

The plotting is once again brilliant, Lancaster writes with great skill and the action feels believable, authentic, something I would expect given his previous career in policing. The pace is like a whirlwind, I wanted to not blast through this book, but at the same time, the author baits the chapters perfectly to hook the reader and ensure they will keep reading, even if it is until late into the wee hours of the morning. Using current events makes the plot very realistic and gives the reader pause for thought to consider who vast and diverse society is.

I really don’t want to say anything that will give away the plot or hints about what will happen, but it’s the sort of book you can easily lose a few hours to once you’re hooked. It’s an action packed, thrilling read that is packed with subtle details that build such a crisp picture of the scenes and the tensions that bubble under the surface. The characterisation is clever, the plot is immersive and this is one series that screams out to appear on screen!

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On Holocaust Memorial Day it is fitting to feature a memoir of someone who survived the atrocities and went on to make a life for themselves, and so, today I am honoured to share a review of Remembering Ravensbrück: From Holocaust to Healing by Natalie B. Hess.

  • Title: Remembering Ravensbrück: From Holocaust to Healing
  • Author: Natalie B. Hess
  • Publisher: Amsterdam Publishers
  • Publication Date: 27th January 2020

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

In her luminous and engrossing memoir, award-winning writer and teacher, Natalie B.Hess, takes us from a sheltered childhood in a small town in Poland, into, through, after the horrors of the Holocaust.

When her parents are rounded up and perish in the Treblinka concentration camp, a Gentile family temporarily hides six-year-old Natalia. Later, protected by a family friend, she is imprisoned in her city’s ghetto, before she is sent to a forced-labor camp, finally Ravensbrück Concentration camp, from which, at nine, she is liberated.

Taken to Sweden, bu the Swedish White Cross busses, she adapts to and grows to love her new home, becoming a “proper Swedish School girl,” until, at 16, she is claimed by relatives and uprooted to Evansville, Indiana. There, she must start over yet again, mastering English, and ultimately earning a PhD in literature.

As a married young mother, she and her husband move to Jerusalem where they and their three children experience life as Israelis, including the bombing of their home during the Six Day War. Back in the States, they settle into life in Arizona until Natalie’s husband dies unexpectedly when a teenager runs a stop sign and hits his car. In her grief, Natalie moves to Philadelphia to be with her daughter and discovers that life still holds surprises for her, including love.

Hess’s compelling portrait in which terror is muted by gratitude and gentle humor, shares the story of so many immigrants dislocated by the tyranny and war. Through her experience as a child separated from her parents, a teenager, young woman, wife, mother, college professor, and later a widow, Hess shows the power of the human spirit to survive and thrive.

My Thoughts:

From the very opening pages of this memoir, I felt a great connection with Natalie, the things she saw and how she interpreted them felt somewhat natural. And the stark reminder that everyone has a story inside them is never more true when you meet someone new or even just see someone in their day to day life. Take for instance the woman getting on the bus, does she need help? Does she want help? Is she proud of her independence and fiercely going to defend it? What has happened in her life to that point? Could she perhaps have lived through a war that forced her to rely on wits, courage and strength that she wasn’t aware she had?

Keep those questions at the back of your head as you read on about Natalie B. Hess.
As a six-year-old girl growing up in a well-to-do family, Natalia has been protected by many things, but she has never been short of love and affection. And it is this love that keeps her safe and alive, her parents taking steps to hide her when the Nazis were sending Jews to concentration camps. Seeing the situation through the eyes of a six-year-old makes the events more poignant and powerful. Her fears felt so real, I was reading with a tremor of dread. What was going to happen? Would she be added to the list? Would she be ok? Moved from the ghetto to a forced-labor camp, and then onto the infamous Ravensbrück, Natalia quickly matures and I felt a great sadness for her losing the sparks of childhood naivety. She like so many her age not being children, not playing or enjoying games but fearing for their lives and existing in a world that knew only cruelty.

After the liberation of Ravensbrück, Natalia’s life takes on the theme of travel and finding a place where she fits. Life in Sweden feels comfortable, she has a safety, a family, school and she feels “Swedish”. But relatives in America have reached out, and soon she is on a ship and bound for the other side of the world, to the land of opportunity.
It is through her steely determination that she proves her education should continue at the level it was, and not have to start back at the beginning. Losing more of her original identity and her beloved Swedish language, Natalie emerges. Thinking and speaking in English, she finds her place in the world, and follows a path towards qualifications and a career. But something is lacking once she has achieved these goals … everyone around her from training seems to be getting married, Natalie’s great humour and easy-going ways soon have the reader chuckling as she recounts dates.

I found the family’s time in Jerusalem interesting and I certainly took a lot from it, the Six Day War in 1967 was not something I knew much about at all, and so after reading about it in Natalie’s memoir, I wanted to find out more.
But I have to admit that one of the most touching and saddening parts of this memoir was how Natalie coped with the loss of her husband. The details of her thought processes at that time made me stop and think, how she felt so adrift and lost when it came to looking at the mountains of paperwork or the wee things like remembering to pick up the charger for the mobile phone … the things she’d not had to do because there was always someone else that did them. The sense that we form a team with others, and how we rely on them for their presence, comfort and support is often a strong force that can keep us moving on, and to lose it, well that can rip apart the very threads that hold our world together.

There are parts of Natalie’s life that felt so unfair, so hard. But equally, there are parts when happiness and love are so abundant in her life that it felt that things had turned a corner for her. But through it all, she remained the same, strong and courageous. Despite the hardships, the terror she faced, Natalie looked at it with what seems like a level-headed approach. Looking for a way to survive, looking for the next step forward and ultimately coming out of it stronger. Her story is powerful, it’s heartbreaking in places, but above all, there is so much that can be learned from this and I would urge readers to pick this book up.
Learn something from this amazing woman, even if it is just something as simple as asking the old woman in the street if she needs help before assuming she does.

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