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 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 First Mistake

The First Mistake by Sandie Jones

First line: “Sophia, let’s go,” I call out from the hall.

Summary: Alice’s life is beginning to come back to normal. She has remarried after the death of her first husband. She has two beautiful daughters and a successful business. But when her husband, Nathan begins acting strangely she turns to her best friend, Beth. As they talk about the situation Alice begins to wonder who she can trust anymore.

My Thoughts: This by no means is anything groundbreaking or new to the genre but it was a lot of fun to read. It went by very fast and kept me interested the whole way. I liked how it was divided into sections for each of the women. We got a look into each of their lives and pasts which helps build up to the conclusion. I had so many theories flying through my head as I read. Each became more twisted with each passing page.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes a fun thriller. It is a perfect summer read!

FYI: Sandie Jones’ first book, The Other Woman, is fantastic as well!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

First line: I’ve a thief to thank for finding the one person I need to see before I die.

Summary: Elise Sontag, a fourteen year old girl from Iowa, has her life turned upside down when her father is arrested on the suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. Her family is sent to an internment camp in Texas where she meets her best friend, a Japanese girl named Mariko. They spend several months together before Elise’s family is deported back to Germany. In the hopes of keeping their friendship alive the two exchange letters but it is difficult with the ongoing war. However, Elise keeps up hope that after the war ends she will be able to return to America and see her best friend again.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. The last several books have not been as good as Secrets of a Charmed Life which was my first book I read by Susan Meissner. It is a topic that has not been talked about much and it could be because it is embarrassing but it is our history and we need to acknowledge it. And learn from it too. I cannot imagine how shocking it would be to have everything taken from you and being forced to live in basically a prison. Then to be sent back to a land that they had left or never even lived before. Especially with a war on and cities are being heavily bombed. How do you rationalize that?

The time spent in camp was actually a very small part of the book. Most of it took place in Germany after Elise’s family is repatriated. I liked listening to her story as she navigates this foreign land in wartime. She did not speak German which put her in a tight spot since the Germans were at war with America. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a story set during World War II.

FYI: Definitely check out Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Warrior of the Wild

Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller

First line: An ax swings for my head.

Summary: Rasmira has been training for years to be a warrior and gain her father’s approval. On the day of her trial she is sabotaged and sentenced to banishment in the wild until she completes a task set by the council. No one ever returns from the wild. However, Rasmira is determined to finish her mission and take revenge on the people who caused her downfall. But how do you kill a god?

My Thoughts: Tricia Levenseller can write a really fun novel! There is no big world building or complicated story lines. It is straight to the point and loads of fun to read. I immediately was hooked on Rasmira’s story. I liked how tough she was. I truly felt sorry for her when she is sent into the wild. Everything that she thought she knew was destroyed. I enjoyed her interactions and friendship with Iric and Soren. They are destined to be friends but it takes a lot for Rasmira to accept them due to past prejudices.

This book really reminded me of The Valiant by Lesley Livingston. There was a lot of action and it was a quick read.

FYI: Check out Levenseller’s debut duology, The Daughter of the Pirate King.

Book Review: An Unwanted Guest

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

First line: The road curves and twists unexpectedly as it leads higher and deeper into the Catskill Mountains, as if the farther you get from civilization, the more uncertain the path.

Summary: For the guests of Mitchell’s Inn in the Catskill Mountains it looks like a beautiful winter weekend. However, when a body of one of the guests is found at the bottom of the stairs on the first morning things become less idyllic. Add to that a power outage from an ice storm and the guests begin to fear for their safety since there appears to be a murderer staying at the hotel.

Highlights: I recently read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. As I started reading An Unwanted Guest I was comparing the two novels. A remote location, a group of strangers, no way to leave and murder! How can you not go wrong with a combination like this? I found the story fun and engaging. Each character was interesting and had little secrets of their own. The idea of being stuck in a hotel with strangers and no electricity while a murderer is on the loose is a bit terrifying. I wish I could have read this during the winter wrapped in a blanket. I liked the atmosphere and suspense. This was a quick read and lots of fun.

Lowlights: I was a little shocked by the ending. However, I thought that when the killer was revealing everything it was a little rushed and quickly thrown together. It did not seem like it was planned out or given too much thought.

FYI: Read the author’s other two books, The Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the House.

Book Review: Uncommon Type

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

First line: Anna said there was only one place to find a meaningful gift for MDash—the Antique Warehouse, not so much a place for old treasures as a permanent swap meet in what used to be the Lux Theater.

Summary: A collection of short stories written by Tom Hanks. Each story has its own feel and flow to it but in each he incorporates a typewriter. The stories span from time travel to a struggling actress to a bowler with a perfect score.

Highlights: I liked each and every story. They are all unique. I was excited to read this book because I am a big fan of Tom Hanks. He is very talented and once again proved it with this collection. The depth of the stories and the variety captured me. It was nice to have something I could pick up and put down without losing track of the storyline. I think my favorite was the story of the time traveling billionaire. The ending was sad but I completely enjoyed it.

Lowlights: I wanted more! I have never been drawn to short stories but I think this will be a gateway into trying more. I was always disappointed when the story ended.

FYI: Must read for all Tom Hanks fans!

Book Review: Warbringer

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

First line: You do not enter a race to lose.

Summary: Diana was born on an island of immortal women called the Amazons. Her mother is the queen of the Amazons. She has never been off the island or even met a man. When Diana sees a shipwreck off the coast of the island, she breaks the laws of her people and rescues a young girl from the wreckage. However, once Alia, a young student, is brought onto the island mysterious things begin to happen. In order to save her home and her fellow Amazons Diana has to take Alia off the island and break the curse associated to her lineage and blood.

Highlights: I loved the Wonder Woman movie so I had to read this! I have never read anything by Leigh Bardugo but I will have to now. I liked the adventure and action. It was fast paced and fun. This was a good reimagining of one of the best female superheroes. Diana is strong willed and brave. She is a role model for young girls.

Lowlights: I was thrown off at the beginning because the story takes place in modern times. Diana is a teenager that is still training to be an Amazon. This is a different spin and completely different from the movie. It took me a while to get used to the idea but it worked well.

FYI: This is the first in the DC Icons series. Next is Batman by Marie Lu, Catwoman by Sarah J. Maas and Superman by Matt de la Pena.