Book Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

First line: The Nazi officers are dressed in black.

Summary: Based on the true life events of Dita Kraus we see the courage and strength of the prisoners of Auschwitz. The story follows Dita, a fourteen-year-old girl, and her parents as they are transported to the death camp. Upon arriving, they are assigned to the family camp. Dita is made to work in the “school” where she meets Freddy Hirsch, the Jewish leader in charge of the children of Auschwitz. Hirsch gives Dita that responsibility of hiding and taking care of the contraband books, becoming the librarian of Auschwitz.

Highlights: I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but I do. And this one is beautiful. I absolutely love it. The story is so rich and detailed but heartbreaking at the same time. I have read many accounts of the Holocaust. The strength of the people who lived and endured these hardships is hard to read but they need to be. No one should be allowed to forget these stories and atrocities have happened. I cannot imagine having the courage that Dita has. She was fourteen and risked her life for the love of books and reading. She kept her humanity in the worst possible situation. I loved how the author intermixed the stories that she read into the narrative. We, as the reader, get to experience what kept her going during the dark days.

Lowlights: Several other narratives of fellow prisoners at Auschwitz are woven into Dita’s story. I was confused at times when the story changed narrators.

FYI: Great as an audiobook!

Lit Pairings – I was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920
: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened. With a brilliantly crafted dual narrative structure, Lawhon wades into the most psychologically complex and emotionally compelling territory yet: the nature of identity itself. The question of who Anna Anderson is and what actually happened to Anastasia Romanov creates a saga that spans fifty years and touches three continents. This thrilling story is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.

If you’ve read and enjoyed Lawhon’s other two books The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress and Flight of Dreams  as I have then you are probably really excited to settle in and consume this one too! If you haven’t read any of these then I think it’s obvious I highly recommend them. Lawhon has a way of doling out little tasty clues and hints throughout her stories that make you change your mind about what’s really going on several times until the very end when she hits you with a great twist.

The recipes I picked to accompany I Was Anastasia don’t focus on the Romanov’s when they were in power, but like the book highlight the time they spent is exile. This amazingly comforting Russian Chicken and Dumpling Soup seemed like just the thing to get you through a cold winter’s night in Siberia. I took a short cut and used Trader Joe’s Chicken & Mushroom Pelmeni instead of making the dumplings from scratch. If you’re a baker I would suggest making a nice Russian Black Bread to go with it. However, if you’re like me you’ll just go to your local grocery and pick up a tasty loaf of dark rye, throw it in the oven to warm it and call it good.

Let me know if you make the Russian Chicken and Dumpling Soup, and I’d love to know what some of your favorite cold weather reads and recipes are?


Book Review: The Perfect Nanny

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

First line: The baby is dead.

Summary: When Myriam decides to go back to work she is tasked with finding someone to watch her two children. Along comes Louise. She is perfect. She works late, cleans the house and the kids love her. As time goes on the family and Louise become even more reliant on each other, which leads to jealousy and resentment.

Highlights: For such a short novel there is a lot of story. It was a slow burn. There are no twists and turns. There is just an underlying darkness to the novel. Louise has a past that haunts her but she seems to overcome it. As we delve deeper into the plot, it becomes apparent to Myriam that the perfect nanny is not quite so perfect. Little things begin to happen. Who is the woman that they let into their life? So much is packed into the pages. It is not the next Gone Girl but it is still worth the read.

Lowlights: It ended very quickly and abruptly.

FYI: Translated from its original French version.

Early March new releases

I love spring! I know it’s not here yet, but these glimpses of warmth and sunshine we’ve had recently are such a breath of fresh air after days of cold and gray.

That’s how a new book feels to me—like a breath of fresh air! I walk past the display of new books in the front of the library, and it seems to call to me. And because of that, I can’t walk by it too often, or I’ll find myself buried in new books that are just begging to be read!

I hope you’ll possibly find some books on this list (that will be released this week and next) that call out to you. If you read any of these titles, be sure to pop back over here and let us know what you thought!

Cover of The Last Equation of Isaac SeveryMarch 6: The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs
A book about books is always going to grab my attention, and I am looking forward to reading this one. Hazel, owner of a struggling bookstore, gets a letter from her grandfather, a mathematician,  just a few days before his apparent suicide. The letter asks Hazel to entrust his final bombshell equation to a trusted colleague of his, before a secretive organization can find it. Hazel must decipher a set of clues her grandfather left in her favorite novel to find the equation, and she learns that if she fails, disastrous consequences will affect the entire family.

March 6: All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church
Vegas showgirls. In the 1960s. At 8, Lily Decker unexplainedly survives the car accident that takes the lives of her mother and father. Raised by her aunt and uncle, dance becomes her solace. When she is grown and ready to leave home for good, she changes her name to Ruby Wilde and goes to Las Vegas to become a troupe dancer. However, she lands work as a showgirl instead. She look like a success story, in her elaborate costumes and 5-inch heels, but like every other girl in Vegas, she has to learn how to navigate the world of men she works in and she has to figure out what true love really is.

Cover of The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto UrreaMarch 6: The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
A Mexican-American immigrant story by the author of “Into the Beautiful North,” Wichita area’s Big Read selection of a few years ago. Miguel Angel De La Cruz, beloved family patriarch, is ailing, and before he dies, calls for one last legendary birthday party. In the days leading up to the party, his mother also dies, so now it’s a double farewell. For one weekend in San Diego, the De La Cruz family revisits the many tales that have been passed down in family lore. NOTE: Luis Alberto Urrea will be in Wichita to discuss this book at 6 p.m. March 22 at Watermark Books.

March 13: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Amber Reynolds wakes up in a hospital, in a coma, and she can hear everyone around her. From Goodreads: “Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it’s the truth?

Cover of Islandborn by Junot DiazMarch 13: Islandborn by Junot Diaz (picture book)
Lola’s school is one of children from everywhere, but she can’t remember the island she came from. When her teacher asks the children to draw a picture of where they came from , everyone but Lola is excited.  But her family and friends share their memories, and as they do so, Lola’s imagination takes her on a wonderful journey back to The Island.

Book Review: Wires and Nerve: Gone Rogue

Wires and Nerve: Volume 2: Gone Rogue by Marissa Meyer

First line: Almost a year has passes since we overthrew the wicked tyrant, Queen Levana, and crowned my best friend, Cinder—AKA Princess Selene Blackburn—as the true queen of Luna.

Summary: In the second installment of the Wires and Nerve graphic novels by Marissa Meyer we see Iko and Steele continue to hunt the blood thirsty genetically altered soldiers of Queen Levana. The soldiers have refused to return to Luna and accept that the war is over. With the planned trip to Earth, Cinder and her friends are worried about being attacked while celebrating the new peace treaty between the two nations. It is up to Iko and Steele to prevent this from happening.

Highlights: I loved the Lunar Chronicles. The fairytales intermixed with science fiction/fantasy were fun and exciting. I was happy to see that Meyer was going to continue and expand her universe with the Wires and Nerve stories. I am not much of a graphic novel reader but these were fun. The drawings were simple and monotone but still fit perfectly into the Lunar universe.

Lowlights: With graphic novels, the stories are usually short and very basic. I wanted more. I wanted to see more of my favorite characters. This is why I cannot read too many graphic novels. I like a fuller story.

FYI: Second in the series. However, you need to read the Lunar Chronicles before reading these!