Lilac Girls – Martha Hall Kelly

Hey, y’all!

It’s been a hot minute since I posted a review (2 weeks?!?). Lets be serious, I simply wasn’t in a huge reading mood lately… I’ve been super excited to read this book- Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly when I put the hold to check it out from my local Library… but even with that excitement, I literally finished reading it the day it was due back! Trust me when I say this book is GOOD. I mean, WOW. It’s Kelly’s first novel  and it is so in depth (very well researched, in my opinion) and well written!! She obviously poured herself into this book, and it paid off so well.

So, Lilac Girls is a rotating story line between 3 woman during WWII in various locations (Poland, Germany, and America/Paris). I would say the foremost main character (in my opinion) is Kasia, a Polish teenager who is captured and then imprisoned as a political prisoner in Ravensbrück (a women’s concentration camp). The next most prominent character is Caroline Ferriday who works at the French consulate in New York. Finally, Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor that works at the Ravensbrück camp and operated on the “Ravensbrück Rabbits”, would be the 3rd most important character to this story. Each character has their own thoughts they share and opinions about the situation unfolding in Europe during the 2nd World War… Kasia’s voice was the one that I looked forward to most.

This book beautifully ties in the stories of these three women, plus a slew of other critical characters. Clocking in at 496 pages, Kelly does not save breath when telling this story, and for this I am so grateful! Kelly is able to touch on the pains and woes of ever character (even Oberheuser- the book villian!) Loosely based on true stories, Kelly does justice to each character, that’s for sure! Do not be alarmed about the page count- it goes by so quickly.

Here are some things I liked/disliked about the main characters (plus a couple backdrop characters):

  • Kasia- I loved Kasia’s story. At one point she states she was held up by love during her time in the camp… To me, that was so moving. Her care for family and loved ones is way too inspiring. Maybe this is why I was so disappointed when she was not able to show the love and care that she had in her heart towards her husband and daughter after she was freed. Although the pain and anguish in her heart was understandable, I just wish she was able to fight through for the loves she had. Again- this is why Kelly did such a great job! I loved Kasia and was disappointed with her actions because I liked her that much!
  • Caroline- I didn’t feel one way or another about Caroline. According to Kelly, there is a real life Caroline who did really help the “Ravensbrück Rabbits” (those women who were subjected to unauthorized experiments by the doctors at Ravensbrück). Although Caroline was a strong women and independent character, much of her story floated on a relationship with a famous actor that played little to do with the actual story line. To me, their shared story line (which never fully ties off in the end) could have been left out.
  • Herta Oberheuser- Based off the real Ravensbrück doctor, Kelly (in my opinion) gives a sympathetic side to this evil doctor. Herta’s back story is sad, but it still did not loosen my heart to her in the slightest. I was curious if her Aunt ever confronted her about Herta and her Uncles “run in”… but, alas, I was left with no clues. Also- what did Herta’s mother even say when she was back to the apartment??! I was so curious what else happened with her story line, but on the same hand, I realize her character was not deserving of additional attention.
  • Matka- Kasia and her sister’s (Zusanna – forgive me if this name is misspelled… I’ve returned the book so I can’t double check) mother who is of German decent. She, like Zusanna and Kasia, is imprisoned in the Ravensbrück camp. She uses her German heritage to befriend Herta and obtain a coveted position within the camp that allows her access to to benefits the others do not get. This eventually costs her dearly. I found Matka to be…. well….. untrustworthy. Although Kasia obviously loves her dearly and Matka tries to pass her benefits to others, I just felt that it was betrayal to befriend the Germans in the first place.
  • Zuzanna- I loved Kasia’s sister Zuzanna! She was such a sweet and gentle person. Her nature in the entire book, and her ability to forgive, made me levitate to her as a person. I desperately wish there was more in this book for just her. Her voice would definitely have been welcomed.

There are many, many other characters in this book, but these are by far the most important.

If I had to boil this book down to one topic of focus, it would be the resilience of the Woman. Literally, everything in this book is about love, sisterhood, redemption, forgiveness. It’s about finding the method to overcome the hardships that life has dealt you and to fight for the goodness. It highlights that if you stray from the goodness you get the karma you deserve (Herta eventually gets what she is owed!) The power of woman is shown again and again and again in this book, in every single generation! What a beautiful story it told, honestly.

Would I buy this book? Yes! Absolutely. Some Amazon reviewers seem to gripe about the story venturing from the truth… Even if the whole entire story line is fictional, it had a story worth hearing… Mind you- it is listed as Fictional! But, with it’s ties to the truth in some ways, it still is a powerful and meaningful book. This will be on my book shelf soon!

 

Have you read this book?

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The Summer That Melted Everything – Tiffany McDaniel

HOLY MOLY, Y’ALL. This is a ROCKER of a debut novel! I’m not even sure where to start, honestly. Simply put, I loved this book. For more detail, do read on!

 

This book is about Fielding Bliss and what happens in his small Ohio town of Breathed the summer the devil, and his heat, came to town. Fielding’s father, Autopsy, invites the Devil to join them in their faithful and loving town. Shortly after the invitation is printed, a black boy at the age of 13, self declared Sal (Sa for Satan, L for Lucifer) shows up to lay claim to the name Devil. Thought to be more of a runaway than a Devil, the sheriff and Autopsy decide that Sal is okay to stay with the family until they can find his real family. Just as the heat melts away at all things sweet, it begins to melt away at all things felt… Common sense drips away like ice gone hot. Tragic accidents begin to be seen as Sal’s evil doing. By the close of the summer, the entire town melts into mania.

 

So- there is so much I loved about this book. It literally tackles so much, and so smoothly, within it’s two covers that I feel like I want to read it one more time. This is a book that has all kinds of issues tied in… You’ve got homosexuality, race, age, phobias, rage, forgiveness, coming of age, family, friendship, religion, love…. Literally, so much! McDaniel did an amazing job not overwhelming the reader with it all though. Other authors may have bogged down the story with all that, but she wrote this book so it would float like oil. Here were just a couple of my favorite topics she hit:

  • Not living up to the standards others set for you, or trying to live them down.
    • The entire book, Grand (Fielding’s brother), tries to live up to what his family wants him to be. Sure, he likes baseball, but did he really want to be a player his whole life? As Fielding pointed out, did he ever truly know who his brother was if he didn’t even know how he loved? Then you have Sal, the assumed Devil (he calls himself that for tragic reasons really…). The entire book he does and says things that make you think there is no way this intelligent, kind being is a devil. The whole book he tries to do right.. He spent the whole summer just wanting someone to tell him he wasn’t the devil he was accused of being.
  • I loved the topic of sexuality brought into this book.
    • I don’t want to give anything away…. but when *a certain character* turns out to be gay near the end, I was surprised… and heartbroken… Heartbroken because how sad of him to feel like he wasn’t worthy of the love another person had to give. That is all I can say without giving more.
  • The Devil.
    • I absolutely loved the way McDaniel was able to prove that the Devil takes more forms that what people see. Just as it’s said that God can be anywhere, so can the Devil. Not only that, but the Devil isn’t one person wholly. A person can be some Devil and not even mean it. How powerful that idea was to me.
  • The names.
    • Lets me serious, with names like Fielding Bliss, Grand, Autopsy, Stella (mom), Sal, etc… McDaniel has one heck of an imagination. All of the names were great. In their weirdness, I found comfort.

Literally the only issue I found in this book was the year that McDaniel choose for the setting. The racial tension felt more 50’s or 60’s to me… but, on the same hand, I understand that it needed to be the 80’s for the feared disease that came into play through the story.

 

Honestly, this book was great. It’s hard for me to believe that this is McDaniel’s first novel! What an interesting story she shared. Definitely worth the read! I plan on buying my own copy, how about you?

 

~LK

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

Guten Tag, buch freunde! (Good day, book buddies!)

Welp… I just finished up reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I saw this book at B & N and thought it looked good.. but I rented from my local library to see if it was purchase worthy first…. I’m glad I did.

The entirety of the book revolves around the disappearance/death of the beloved middle child Lydia Lee. Her parents (James and Marilyn), as well as her siblings (Nath and Hannah), struggle with accepting her untimely death. In their search for answers, the discover their own faults and find the breaking point of the family. The book also has various points of flashbacks that allow us insight to the hidden secrets of this very private family.

It isn’t uncommon for me to read the last couple of pages of a book. Sometimes I do it out of sheer delight and love…. other times, I’m just trying to gauge if I can stand to read another word. At page 80 or so, I skipped to the last few pages- sadly it was because the latter of the two possibilities above. This book *drug* on. Clocking in at 292 pages for the story- it should have taken me 2 days or less. In total, I was chugging away at this book for 5 long, joyless days. Today I read over half the book just because I’m super excited for my next read. You read that right- 4 of those days and I barely made it half way through. Here’s why…

  1. The characters are terribly dull, conceited, and selfish. A list for you:
    • James (father)- son of Chinese immigrants that just wants desperately wanted to fit in. He imagined that is exactly what his children would want and pushed that ideology off on them ten fold. Constantly begrudged his kids when they “failed” his expectations.. On top of everything, despite knowing he was stepping in the wrong direction, he never was able to apologize! It was actually his infidelity around page 80 that made me really question if I was interested in this book.
    • Marilyn (mother)- white daughter of a “Betty Crocker” mother, she wanted to be the exact opposite of her mother in every way. Instead of being a stay at home mom, she strove to be top of her class in hopes of becoming a doctor. She “failed” her life aspirations when she met, and fell in love with, James. They got married after discovering she was pregnant and she became what she didn’t ever want to do. Her unforgivable quality is that she up and abandoned her family to re-pursue her dreams of being a doctor. When she came up pregnant (again), she sulked back home… and AGAIN, no apology was issued. From that point on, she pushed her doctor dreams unto her all-to-eager daughter, Lydia.
    • Lydia was incapable of being honest with how she felt. Just once, if she had spoken sooner, her death could have been avoided. But, alas, she drowned because she was not able to be open with anyone about anything in her life. Even her and her bother (who had an “unspoken” bond) didn’t know the true Lydia. I didn’t care for Lydia because she was vicious- threatening Jack (side character, neighborhood flirt), cutting attention from Nath when he announces about Harvard, smacking her sister for wearing her necklace. It just seemed to me that she didn’t care for anyone but herself, but wasn’t willing to be open either.
    • Nath (brother) – The entire book it is obvious that Nath is jealous of the attention his family gives his sister and not him. Where Lydia sees “understanding” I saw cutting remarks from him about “look how lucky you are, remember where I’m at…” situations. Can’t fault him for being excited about going to Harvard and getting attention there, but I can fault him that he mentions, numerous times, that he noticed a difference in his sister and refused to address it.
    • Hannah (youngest sibling, sister) ***
  2. When James had an affair. This made me really struggle to continue reading. To imagine that someone blinded with grief would accept offers to be in bed with young women, THAT REMIND HIM OF HIS DEAD DAUGHTER, is gross to me.
  3. Ng wrote the book so that the reader is given constant insight to the thoughts of others and I HATED IT. I wanted to punch James and Marilyn every time they spoke. Why Ng couldn’t just write them opening up just once- verbally, not physically- I may have felt different. Instead I’m left knowing James misinterpreted a statement made my Marilyn. It was frustrating.

There was one character of this book that I liked and that was Hannah. Poor, poor Hannah. In the whole book she fights so hard to be loved. Nobody cares if she is there or not throughout the entire book (until the last like 20 pages or something). This kid is supposed to be like 6 and she doesn’t often get the feel or touch of her parents of siblings. They all push her away constantly. I think Marilyn blames her for being the pregnancy that brought her back to her hellish life. I think James is just a shitty father. I think the siblings are too stuck on each others’ lives… but, maybe on an unconscious level, they blame Hannah for bringing back a changed mom? None of them take notice to this small child. My heart broke for her the whole book. Ng writes that she even has a room in the attic where she can, basically, be forgotten. How completely sad. I wish that in the end Hannah held the secret to Lydia’s death. The family dynamic needed to fall apart, and ultimately, Hannah brings them together again… but I wish it was just in a different fashion. (Also, I wish the adults in this story would have been capable of pulling their heads of of their asses themselves….)

Also, Ng brings up race numerous times throughout this book. I realize she was trying to being attention to a problem of this time era (stretches from 50s to 70s) that was common for anyone of foreign nationalities, but she did so with such a heavy hand and constant hounding, I found myself not absorbing the impact she was probably trying to get. For it being such a big problem she wants to address, she never really lets the issue flush in the end. All these happenings in the book do just that… they happen and that is it. No additional comments, no fighting for whats right. No family discussion about heritage and pride. Nothing. It was a disappointment, to say the least.

All in all, this book didn’t stack up to what I had hoped it would be. It just could have been stronger than what it was. I wouldn’t say I hated it or anything, it was just a small disappointment.

Have you read this book?

 

Have a good weekend! 🙂

Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs

Just wrapped up reading Running With Scissors, written by Augusten Burroughs, and I have to say… WHAT A WILD RIDE. Seriously, the entire book (an autobiography, mind you) is heart-breakingly tragic. I knew, from the synopsis and from reading Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison- his biological brother, that this book was messed up… but honestly, I didn’t think I would be so sad for Burroughs.

Here is the break down of why this book was sad… From the beginning you realize that Burroughs truly is just a kid that is starved for attention. He was so starved, he desperately tried to be as identical to his mother as possible, just so she would pay attention to him. Otherwise, she was too focused on herself to care for her own child… not only that, but his father wasn’t there at all for him. His parents prevented him from ever having a normal upbringing when all they did was fight and insult each other. To me, that is the saddest act a parent can unknowingly commit.

Eventually, we are introduced to his mother’s psychiatrist (& his family), Dr. Finch. As his mother falls further and further down a rabbit hole, Burroughs is left on his own (I should mention, he is under the age of 14) at the Finchs’ disgusting, putrid home. The house was written to sound uninhabitable. It should have been condemned. The rest of his book are the occurrences from within the house… & really, talk about nutty….

I’m so astonished that Dr. Finch was able to get his license. Literally, a man that thinks God speaks with him through his own SHIT got a medical degree. What in the actual hell. I find it so incredibly sad that there are people that are out there currently like Dr. Finch who abuse their positions and take advantage of others. This dude was pimping out his kids, for goodness sake… How there was NOT any issues with CPS back then, I have no idea… but for Burroughs, it was tragic miss. Him coming in contact with Bookman and not having someone around to teach him what real love was made me so sad. It’s appalling that the good Dr. knew what Bookman was and never stood up for Burroughs, or any of his own kids. It’s just not right… and it’s just not fair.

The numbness that Burroughs felt throughout the book was alarming. I’m so interested to see what he is like in person, as an adult. I’m sure that the years spent enduring that weirdness had an effect, but Burroughs writes about it with such nonchalance. I can’t help but wonder if he has grasped all that happened and what true wrongness and injustice was done to him. If he has, his coping skills are spectacular. I suppose, any way you bend it, his coping skills are spectacular.

 

Alright- Here is a bitch I have that has nothing to do with the book. I Google the books I read to make sure I spell the titles correctly before I post. When I did that for this book, I saw a movie release from 2006. I am SO pissed that they cast Evan Rachel Wood as Natalie. Can we take a minute and be mad that HOLLYWOOD CAN’T JUST LET A CHARACTER BE FAT??? How many times during the book did Burroughs talk about Natalie’s size?? Even she talks about her fat ass… EVEN AGNES TALKS ABOUT IT. And yet, the movie has a tall, skinny ass/pretty face model-looking actress. I’m so beyond mad about it.

Also, I’m super uncomfortable that they made this book a movie…. since there are multiple rape happenings in the book (with Burroughs and his adult lover… with Burroughs’ mother, Deirdre.. with one of the Finch girls being given to another man for “marriage”). The whole book was a madhouse and gross, and full of perverted happenings.. How someone read it and thought big screen is beyond me.

 

Originally, this book reminded me of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, since both books feature mentally unstable parents.. Walls did a better job at the end of the book getting out of the crazy and separating her life from that of her out of control parents. I can tell, by the way Burroughs left the end of this novel, that he isn’t quiet done with his crazy shenanigans. (I should add that The Glass Castle made me feel like a bad human because, during multiple parts of that story, I wanted something crazy to happen- forgetting that it was an autobiography about a young girls *actual* life…. Burroughs definitely did not leave the effect with any of his readers – this I am sure….). Walls also did a better job at humanizing the mental instabilities. Burroughs just retells the tales, noting the craziness of the situations, but never really empathizing (in my opinion, anyway…)

Yes, I know comparing these two novels, written by two completely different people at different points in their lives, who experienced different traumas, is not necessarily fair or right. It’s just where my mind went to when I read it.

 

Anyway- so you ask me “Lorann, should I purchase this book for my home collection?”… I would suggest that you rent it first. Get a feel for the book and decide for yourself if you want it to sit on your selves. To me, the book was interesting, but not enough so that I will purchase my own copy.. you may be different though! Did you love this book??