What’s Ashley Reading?: Cilka’s Journey

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

First line: Cilka stares at the soldier standing in front of her, part of the army that has entered the camp.

Summary: Sixteen year old Cilka Klein was sent to Auschwitz along with her family. One of the head SS officers of the camp notices her and moves her away from the other women. Over the three years she is kept in barracks 25 until the day the camp is liberated by the Russian forces. Upon their arrival she is arrested and charged with collaborating with the enemy. She is sentenced to fifteen years in a Siberian gulag.

When she arrives at the prison she finds a world that she has unfortunately become very familiar with. The forced labor and brutal conditions of the camp are not new to her. She makes friends with several of her fellow inmates but when she catches the attention of the female doctor her luck begins to change. With her work in the hospital she finds a way to make amends for the guilt about her past and maybe even start to feel love again.

My Thoughts:The Tattooist of Auschwitz was such a heartbreaking story. But I was beyond shocked by the story of Cilka. She was forced into a Russian prison after suffering for years in a concentration camp because she was raped for three years. It makes no sense. The poor girl is stronger than I can imagine I could ever be. I really cared about what happened to Cilka while reading her story. She did so much good in a terrible place. If only there were more people like her.

I never even considered that things like this happened to some of the survivors. It is sad that the “liberators” were nearly as cruel as the Nazis. Her time in the gulag is unbelievable. I know that the author did lots of research and she does a great job of bringing it to life. People need to know these things in order to try and stop them from happening again.

I felt like this was much better put together than the first book. It was not nearly as choppy.

FYI: This is a sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Wolf Wants In

The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh

First line: A bitter wind sheared through the darkness, biting into my exposed flesh and lashing my hair across my face.

Summary: Sadie Keller is determined to find out what happened to her brother on the night he died. She does not believe the story told to her by his wife, Crystle. But the police do not believe that there is enough evidence to allow them to look deeper into the events.

Henley is hoping to escape from her small Kansas town. Her family are involved in some dangerous activities and she wants to leave before she is sucked into them.

My Thoughts: I loved the author’s previous book Arrowood. It was thrilling. This was sold to be a thriller but it really fell flat. I was hoping for more but it took almost 60% of the book to get to the more interesting pieces. The beginning was about the town, its people and the life in small town Kansas. This made it easy to connect with at least, as a girl from a small town in Kansas.

I liked the characters but they needed something more. We got glimpses into Sadie’s past with her brother. I would have liked more of that. Henley seemed like a filler character. She did reveal some information that lead to big reveal but her story was blah.

FYI: Read Arrowood!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Tidelands

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

First line: The church was grey against a light grey sky, the bell tower, like a watchtower, dark against the darker clouds.

Summary: It is 1648 in England. The country is in turmoil. Alinor is a poor woman living on Sealsea Island with two children. Her husband disappeared several months before and left his family with nothing. One night while Alinor is holding vigil at the local church she stumbles upon a man hiding in the churchyard. He asks for her help to guide him to the home of the local land owner. She learns that he is a priest who is working as a spy for the imprisoned King Charles I.

For her silence about the mysterious visitor she earns the respect of the Peachey family. As she gains favor from her landlord she also draws the suspicions of her neighbors. In this time of witchcraft and superstition, Alinor is in danger of being accused of using spells to bewitch them to advance her ambitions.

My Thoughts: I absolutely loved this book. It is a beautiful story. The descriptions of the land are as vivid as a picture. It is easy to imagine the small island village in the south of England where life is controlled by the tides.

Alinor is a poor simple woman but she stands out from all the other people on her island. She is knowledgeable about herbs, she can read and write. Gregory does an amazing job writing about strong and interesting women. Alinor has been abandoned by her husband but she is able to continue to survive using her own gifts.

The time of Charles I is not one that I am very familiar with. Wikipedia is one of my best friends while reading about a new era in history. I have heard of the English Civil War and the Oliver Cromwell but I have never spent much time reading about it. Gregory did extensive research in order to bring the turbulent time to life. The fear of witches, the hatred of the king and the devastating poverty are just a few issues she covers. It was a time of great change.

A connection is being made here.

Throughout the novel I was constantly worried for Alinor. She is a wise woman. Many of her neighbors come to her for help in delivering babies or curing a sickness. But it is easy for people of the time to turn on women like her. I kept waiting for something to happen her. I was completely invested in her life. As I read the last few pages I was praying that it would not end. I want to know what will happen next for Alinor and her family.

We are SUPER excited!

Last week I was lucky enough to get to travel to Denver and meet Philippa Gregory. My cousin, Alaina, accompanied me to the event. It was a on my bucket list to meet and have a signed copy of one of her books. I was beyond excited to meet her. She was absolutely lovely to listen to. She did several readings from Tidelands and answered audience questions. I love attending author events. For me it is like meeting a movie star. I was literally shaking and nervous. I am so happy that I made the eight hour drive to Denver to meet her. It was surreal.

FYI: Philippa Gregory is my favorite author! My favorite book is The Other Boleyn Girl.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Escape Room

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

First line: It was Miguel who called 911 at 4:07 a.m. on an icy Sunday morning.

Summary: Vincent and his financial team from Stanhope and Sons is told to attend a team building exercise on a Friday night. When they arrive they enter an elevator that takes them up several floors where it stops and the clues begin. As the team tries to figure out how to get out of the escape room they realize that the clues are very specific. However, as the clock clicks on they are not let out of the room. Tension begins to mount and the team begins to let their fears and secrets come to the surface. Will they survive the escape room?

My Thoughts: Following a popular trend with thrillers now we have a book split into a two part narrative. We meet Sara Hall, a young business school graduate who is looking for a job. She lands the job of her dreams at Stanhope and Sons in New York City. She works on big accounts and makes tons of money. But the hours are long, the work is grueling and the people are not very nice.

The other side is the team in the elevator. It is a group of very unlikeable people stuck in a very tight space together. I really enjoyed these scenes as their true personalities came to the forefront. We find out what secrets they have and how truly terrible they are. I could honestly say that I did not care for any of them but I was very interested to see where their story ended.

Even though the ending was rather predictable it was loads of fun! Our staff did an escape room for our Christmas party last year. We had a great time. There are tons of clues and just a short amount of time to put them together. If you have a chance to try one you should but maybe not in an elevator. 😉

FYI: Great for fans of Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Chelsea Girls

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

First line: In the dead of night, during the dreary month of March, the Chelsea Hotel is a quiet place.

Summary: Hazel Ridley is from a stage family. Her father spent years on Broadway, her mother as his manager and her brother was an aspiring actor but Hazel has never been able to find her big break. She decides to sign up for the USO tour. When she arrives in Italy she meets Maxine the leading lady of the troupe and they quickly become close friends.

Upon Hazel’s return to New York City she finds an apartment at the Chelsea Hotel in order to work on her idea for a play based on her time in the war. With Maxine as the leading lady it appears that the show is going to be a hit until her name appears on the list of suspected Communists. As the Red Scare begins to take over the country, Hazel is worried that her show and life may not be what she once believed it would be.

My Thoughts: Like Davis’ other works, this centers around a New York City landmark, the Chelsea Hotel. It plays just as much of a role as the characters. It is the home of creative types during the twentieth century including Mark Twain, Andy Warhol and Arthur Miller. The hotel has a fascinating history. As with other historical novels I love to look at pictures. It is a gorgeous old building.

The Chelsea Hotel in New York City

I learned more about McCarthyism and the Red Scare while reading The Chelsea Girls. It seems like a scary time. The Cold War is going on. You do not know who you can trust. Neighbors are turning in neighbors. This brought it more to life than many of the history textbooks I have read throughout my school years.

I was rather disappointed in The Chelsea Girls. In her previous novels there is a dual narrative with one being in the past (usually the 1920s) and one being modern. It was not so in this case. It did switch between the two main women but it did not seem to have the same magic as her others do. I liked it but it is probably my least favorite.

FYI: Try her other books, The Address, The Dollhouse and the The Masterpiece.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Perfect Wife

The Perfect Wife by J. P. Delaney

First line: You’re having that dream again, the one where you and Tim are in Jaipur for Diwali.

Summary: When Abbie wakes up in a hospital bed she has no memory of how she got there. There is a man who tells her she is his wife and that something terrible happened to her five years before. And through his determination and technological advancements he was able to bring her back. She is the prototype for a new technology called CoBots.

As Abbie acclimates to her new life she starts to wonder what happen to the real Abbie. Using Abbie’s memories, old text messages and the built in intuition she follows the clues to find out how and why Abbie disappeared.

My Thoughts: This was a lot of fun. It was modern day science fiction thriller. At the beginning there is a separate narrative by an unknown character who gives us a look into the past and the real Abbie. I was constantly trying to figure out who it was and I never would have guessed. I like the idea of being able to “bring back” someone who has died but it is also a little sad. I know that there is one person I would love to “see” again but this may make it harder too.

So many different scenarios were flying through my head while trying to figure out the ending. There were lots of twists and turns which make it a great psychological thriller.

FYI: Check out Delaney’s other books Believe Me and The Girl Before.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Turn of the Key

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

First line: Dear Mr. Wrexham, I know you don’t know me but please, please, please you have to help me

Summary: Rowan Caine stumbles upon an advertisement for what appears to be the perfect nanny job. It is for a family with four children, in a big house in Scotland, and a yearly salary of fifty five thousand pounds. When Rowan arrives for her interview she is blown away and a little intimidated by the house. It is a smart house. Everything is connected to apps that can be managed from a cell phone.

After her initial interview she is offered the job which seems like a dream come true. However, she does not realize that appearances can be deceiving. On her very first day she is left alone with the three younger children while the parents are at a weeklong conference. The adjustment for the girls is not going as smoothly as she had hoped but she is trying her best to befriend them.

When strange happenings start to disturb her nights she begins look into the history of the house and what could be causing these strange noises in the attic. With each new night she gets less and less sleep as the mysterious sounds gradually increase. Will she be able to make it through her first week or will she leave in the middle of the night like the other nannies before her?

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed Ruth Ware’s previous novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, but I think this one blew it out of the water. I seriously considered giving this 5 stars because it was very hard to put down. There was the perfect mixture of spookiness and suspense.

I love how the house appears to be a big old Victorian but inside it is very modern. I love the idea of a smart house but at the same time it is also a little scary. I completely understand Rowan’s unease with the cameras and app enabled features. And the fact that this house is basically out in the middle of nowhere. Anyone could easily be spooked by any sounds in the night.

I enjoyed the way that the novel was laid out. It is done in a series of entries in a letter from Rowan to a solicitor while she is in prison for the death of a child. She eludes to what happens but we do not get the full details until the end.

This is full of twists and turns. When you think you have had the big reveal another one appears. I loved every minute of reading this. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for something that they cannot put down. Trust me. I had to force myself to sleep instead of reading one more chapter.

FYI: Warning: a child does die in the book.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Recursion

Recursion by Blake Crouch

First line: Barry Sutton pulls into the fire lane at the main entrance of the Poe Building, an Art Deco tower glowing white in the illumination of its exterior sconces.

Summary: Barry Sutton is a New York cop who witnesses the tragic effects of False Memory Syndrome when a woman jumps from the forty first floor of a skyscraper.

Helena Smith is a researcher looking for a way to save and record memories to help Alzheimer patients.

As the world around them begins to unravel because of the mysterious FMS, they must team up to try and learn how to stop the phenomenon from continuing to plague the world. If they cannot not it can lead to the possible end of the world.

My Thoughts: From the very first page this story is off and running. There is no build up or major character development in the first twenty pages like most novels. Crouch puts us immediately into the story. This is by far one of my favorite parts of his writing. It is very easy to lose interest in a book that drags its story out too long.

When we meet Barry we also hear about False Memory Syndrome but it is not really explained. For a while it was difficult to understand what is happening to those that are affected. However, once I understood what the disease entailed it became obvious why it could be terrifying to contract.

There are several time hops which makes it very important to pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each new section.

I love how fast paced his story telling is. I was on the edge of my seat throughout.

I was never very good with science. Give me history or literature any day. Even though Recursion is very much a science fiction thriller it was not bogged down by the technicalities. When I tried reading The Martian by Andy Weir, the science is what killed the book for me. I just did not get it. But Crouch does a great job of having it as part of the story but not making it overwhelming for the everyday reader.

I cannot say enough good things about this book. Just give it a try. It is worth every minute you spend reading it.

FYI: Pick up Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It is just as thrilling!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Lock Every Door

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

First line: Ginny gazed up at the building, her feet planted firmly on the sidewalk but her heart as wide and churning as the sea.

Summary: The rules at the Bartholomew are strict. No visitors. You must spend every night in the apartment. And no disturbing the other residents. Jules believes that even though the rules a little ridiculous they are worth the large sum of money she will receive as an apartment sitter. After losing her job, her boyfriend and her apartment she is desperate for a new start.

Shortly after she moves into the apartment she meets a fellow sitter, Ingrid. But when Ingrid mysteriously disappears in the middle of the night, Jules decides to do some digging into why and try to discover what is going on at the Bartholomew. In her research she learns about the dark past of the building and some of its former residents. With this new knowledge she is determined to get out before she meets the same fate as Ingrid.

My Thoughts: Riley Sager has become one of my favorite thriller writers. This is his third book and it was fantastic. The suspense and mystery are perfectly blended. I was easily creeped out in the first couple of chapters. I mean who wouldn’t be tempted by a high paying job as an apartment sitter? But once strange things start happening? Nope. I’m out.

I did find the middle of the story a little slow. It seemed to stretch out a little too much as Jules looks into the residents and the history of the building. I assume that Sager was just trying to give us some more little clues or hinting at the sinister past but it seemed to be rather overdone.

And holy cow! The last few chapters are great! My heart was beating so fast and I could not read fast enough. As I finished it I was on an adrenaline high and had to start another book in order to calm down a bit for bed. Read this. It is worth it.

FYI: Sager’s first two novels, Final Girls and The Last Time I Lied, are just as thrilling.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Milady

Milady by Laura L. Sullivan

First line: The things a woman has to do to make her way in this world…

Summary: The villainess of the classic novel, The Three Musketeers, is Milady de Winter. She is accused of many terrible crimes. However, maybe Dumas’ story got it wrong? Milady now wants to tell her story.

Clarice is a young girl, raised in England on a small estate. When her father decides that she is old enough to be of use to him he takes her to the court of King James I of England. There she meets that handsome rogue, George Villiers. They are both taught how to manipulate and use the people around them to gain power. But when Clarice learns something she is sent away to a convent in France. Here she learns more about who she is and sets her on the path to becoming one of the most notorious women in literature.

My Thoughts:The Three Musketeers is one of my favorite books. I love the action, the love, the revenge and of course Milady! When you read the original story it is easy to see her as the villain but Sullivan gives us a look at who she might have really been. It was fascinating and loads of fun to read.

I loved how the author switched between the events of the TTM and Milady’s past. Giving her a past makes her much more likeable and easier to understand her motives. She does do a lot of terrible things to the musketeers but she is also a victim. I never considered the interactions between Milady and D’Artagnan as rape but as I read this I realized that it totally is. Crazy! This romantic hero did what?!

When I began reading I was highly anticipating the events mentioned in TTM at Milady’s trial. I loved her time at the convent. Sullivan twisted the original story and its characters to fit into her story. I could tell that she did lots of research in order to make the story plausible. If I had not recently reread TTM I would have almost believed that things happened the way she wrote it.

My second and probably favorite part was her relationship with the Vicomte de la Fere. He is one of the major twists in the classic novel. I could not wait to see what their relationship was like and how it turned so deadly. It was well worth the wait. I loved seeing her change over time but in the end she could not escape her past.

FYI: If you love swashbuckling tales then this one is for you! And please read The Three Musketeers. It is wonderful! Read my review in our July newsletter.