The first book I finished in 2021 was Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris. If you read and enjoyed The Tattooist of Auschwitz, then I would recommend Cilka's Journey. Cilka's story is a follow-up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and it follows the title character Cilka. At 18, she is liberated from Auschwitz only to be taken to The Vortuka gulag (work camp) in Siberia. She is sentenced to 15 years there and this is the story of how she uses her wits, intellect and charm to survive.
Reading books like these are always hard. Cilka was so young when she was captured by the Nazis. She did what she had to do to survive, and that includes giving her body over to Nazi soldiers. She is petrified that the women she befriends in Siberia will find out what she did in Auschwitz and shun her because of it. It's a story of growth, of coming of age, and finding love in the darkest of places. But it's not easy to read. To read about the starvation that these women endured, the conditions in which they lived, and the manner in which they were treated makes me very grateful for all the comforts we have. And to read the author's notes and find that Cilka was in fact, based on a real person, makes the story even more poignant.
If you're looking for a World War II novel, this is a great one.
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I've talked over and over again about how I have always been an avid reader. After having kids, reading definitely got put on the back burner and I have been going through books way more slowly. But this year, between a pandemic (and a lot more time spent at home), the kids finally getting on a good, synchronized schedule, and putting all the boundaries in place when it comes to working from home, I finally managed to meet (and surpass!!) the reading goal I had set for myself. I set the bar low at the start of the year - one book a month. And I ended up reading that amount from June to August alone! I ended up reading twenty books this year, and I am pretty proud of myself!
Some of the books I wrote reviews for on the blog, others I didn't. If I wrote a review, I'm linking it, if I didn't, the link will take you to my affiliate link on Amazon. I'm listing them all below - my top three are the first three, everything else is in no particular order!
So I'm setting a new goal - 21 books in 2021! Send me your recommendations so I can meet that goal! You can also follow me on Goodreads to see what books I've read in the past.
I know most of us are in Christmas prep mode, but I've managed to find enough downtime in the last few weeks to finish up my 20th book of 2020! Plus, we are headed off on a road trip after Christmas, so I know I'll have a little more time to read then, too. Last night I finished Lisa Wingate's The Book of Lost Friends. She is the author of Before We Were Yours, and this popped up as a recommendation for me to read.
Louisiana, 1875: In the tumultuous aftermath of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now-destitute plantation; Juneau Jane, her illegitimate free-born Creole half-sister; and Hannie, Lavinia's former slave. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following dangerous roads rife with ruthless vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and eight siblings before slavery's end, the pilgrimage westward reignites an agonizing question: Could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the seemingly limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope.
Louisiana, 1987: For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt—until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Mississippi River town. Augustine, Louisiana, seems suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled live oaks and run-down plantation homes lies the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything.
I really enjoyed this book. Hannie and Benny are strong female characters who persevere despite having many roadblocks placed in front of them. As a former teacher, I related to Benny's character in several ways, and I loved seeing her come into herself with her students and the people of Augustine. Hannie was a girl who knew what needed to be done and was willing to do it. I can't imagine the things she went through, but her character was a force and I appreciated that for sure. I haven't read many books set in the post-Civil War era and I'm glad I stepped out of my usual categories to read this one, because I liked it!
I've mentioned before how it's important to me that all of these stories be told, not matter how hard or uncomfortable it is to hear these truths, and that's what this whole book is about - carrying these stories on for the generations that come after us so that we don't repeat the same mistakes!
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“No matter how much we may love the melody of a bygone day or imagine the song of a future one, we must dance within the music of today, or we will always be out of step, stumbling around in something that doesn’t suit the moment.”
Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.
Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.
Before We Were Yours is written by Lisa Wingate and is based off of a real-life child adoption ring, where Georgia Tann, the director of an adoption organization based in Memphis, would kidnap poor children from their families and sell them to wealthy families all over the country. Reading the accounts of the children living in dirty, unsanitary, and precarious situations was heartbreaking. Rill is forced to grow up so quickly, and as much as she fights to save her siblings and keep them close, something always comes up against her.
Reading this brought up some big feelings for me for two reasons:
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After I posted about Lilac Girls, SO many of you messaged me and told me I should really read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I have always loved any books that have to do with World War II, and especially those that tell the plight of everyday people. The Nightingale follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac, who live in France during World War II. Vianne lives with her husband Antoine and their daughter in a small village named Carriveau. Her husband is called to the front lines and she is left behind to care for her daughter. She doesn't believe that their lives will change very much, but soon enough, trucks and tanks appear, and a German soldier takes up residence in her home. She must decide whether she will live with the enemy, or risk losing everything.
Isabelle is young and rebellious, and she wants to have a purpose in the wat. She meets a man named Gäetan and falls hopelessly in love with him. When he betrays her, she joins the Resistance and risks her life repeatedly to save others.
While the sisters paths and experiences are totally different, their resilience and love for their country and family is threaded in everything they do. They make choices that so many of us couldn't even dream of making, and they continue to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.
I was completely heartbroken by this book, time and time again. And while I would like to remind myself that it is a work of fiction, the truth of the matter is that there were so many who lived stories like this. It was so well written and every detail was a thread in this beautifully woven tale. As heartbreaking as it was to read, it also gave me tremendous hope that there were SO many people in the world who are willing to risk everything for what is right.
Would I recommend this book? Wholeheartedly. I've mentioned it before, but I think that every story to come out of the Holocaust, World War II, and the fight against Nazi occupation and the genocide of so many is a story that needs to be told. Because when we don't remember history, we allow it to repeat itself.
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