Book Review: Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

From the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz comes Cilka’s Journey. The much anticipated sequel, a testament to human survival.

What is Cilka’s Journey About?

Cilka’s Journey focuses on Cilka Klein, a character present but not explored in depth in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. This book shares what happened to her after she was liberated from Auschwitz.

Charged as a collaborator to the nazis by the Russians, Cilka is sent to a prison camp in Siberia. It is here, inside Vortuka, that Cilka once more finds herself imprisoned.

What I liked about Cilka’s Journey?

As when I reviewed The Tattooist of Auschwitz I found myself reflecting that this is not a book created for enjoyment. It’s primary purpose is to engage and educate the reader.

It does that very well.

Heather Morris bases her book on what is known of Cilka Klein’s, and from the testimonies of other women held within Siberian prison camps. This was an element of history that I previous did not know much about.

I appreciate that fact melds with fiction, to create a story around these places and events. Too often history can be perceived as distant and dry. That’s a shame. But Heather Morris has used her platform as an author to return a level of humanity back to these individuals.

Morris has balanced maintaining the authenticity of emotion, with historical accuracy. I appreciate her acknowledgement that in some areas she has blended history and fiction. Doing so allows us to recognise that this book is not intended to be a historical documentation.

Rather, the book attempts to convey a sense of the loss, struggle and pain endured by those held in Siberian prison camps. Those like Cilka, who had already endured through the horrors of Auschwitz.

I had to keep reading this book, it gripped me and held on. It was a beautiful story.

What I didn’t like about Cilka’s Journey?

Initially, when I finished Cilka’s Journey my sense of closure was not as great upon finishing this book. I think I felt uneasy, I wanted all the information about her happily ever after – as we get somewhat in the first book.

Upon further reflection, this makes sense. Much of the research about Cilka Klein seemed inconclusive, and in some cases, completely contradictory. An ending that is more open ended and has some questions is a reflection of this.

Can I read Cilka’s Journey if I haven’t read The Tattooist of Auschwitz?

If you haven’t read the Tattooist of Auschwitz, you can still read Cilka’s Journey. Though a sequel, the books largely stand apart from one another and I believe that both have merit on their own.

Final Thoughts

In November of 2019 I was fortunate enough to go to a book signing event for Cilka’s Journey. Heather Morris spoke about this book, and also The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

It was an incredible event, hosted by the wonderful team at Collins Croydon. At the event, I was impacted by Morris sharing about the personal challenge it was to record these stories. Listening to and recording traumatic stories takes a toll, so she emphasised the importance of self-care as an author.

She shared some wisdom that someone once gave her – that the pain of others is not ours to carry when it comes to trauma.

I think this is a valid point, especially as we come to engage with texts that share traumatic lived experiences. We cannot truly understand what it is like to have lived that experience. Our role is to listen and learn, not to try and fix or make up for the traumas another person experienced. In many cases, such as for the case of survivors of horrific events (including the holocaust) it is impossible to do so.

Where can I get a copy?

Cilka’s Journey is available from all major booksellers and online. If you’d like to support local – give Collins Croydon a call, they’re amazing!

If you enjoyed today’s review, please consider subscribing to this blog or sharing it with a friend.

Haven’t had enough books? Come say hi to me on social media by searching @stephhuddlestonwriting or by clicking the buttons below.

Book review: In The Neighborhood of True by Susan Carlton

Would you fit in for love – or speak out for what’s right?

A timely, young adult romance that examines religion, race and fitting in. In The Neighborhood of True is a beautiful and thought-provoking read.

Thank you to Susan Carlton and Algonquin Books for sending me an e-book of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What is In The Neighborhood of True about?

It’s the summer of 1958 and Ruth Robb’s father has recently died. With her mother and younger sister, Ruth relocates from New York to Atlanta.

Debutante balls, sweet tea, coca-cola, dimple faced boys rival for Ruth’s attention. But as she adjusts to life in the South, it becomes clear who she is may not fit right here. She’s a Jew, and to her new found friends in the ‘pastel-posse’ and the boy she’s falling for, that’s a big deal.

Against the backdrop of racial and religious tensions and the Klu Klux clan, Ruth must navigate what it means to be true. Discovering the truth isn’t always easy.

Book cover for In The Neighborhood of True

What I liked about In The Neighborhood of True?

In The Neighborhood of True has a gripping opening.

Carlton balances this tension with excellent momentum throughout the novel. I was held to the pages, wanting to know what would happen next.

The character development was exceptional, with the main character displaying that exquisite angst that it seems all teens have around fitting in. This is a common theme in young adult novels, the desire to fit in and be accepted by peers is vital. Readers will relate to those feelings of self-doubt and anxiety around social mis-steps.

The Neighborhood of True‘s triumph is in how it goes beyond the typical ‘fitting in’ concerns to discuss deep and complex issues.

Ruth’s is a Jew, and a member of a synagogue with a passion for racial equality. It was moving to witness the characters struggle with these issues and how they relate to her identity.

The conversation of how to be an ally to those facing racial oppression is one that is ongoing and important. In recent months it’s been occurring more often.

In The Neighborhood of True is a useful way for younger readers to engage with this conversation. Ruth must struggle with her own role, and her place in speaking up against the actions of others.

Many young adult books skim the surface of right and wrong, without challenging readers to consider the real world implications of their own actions.

In The Neighborhood of True with its historical fiction setting is positioned well to challenge, and engage readers in this dialogue.

It’s easy to sit back, to omit truths about ourselves or those around us. To convince ourselves its someone elses fight, not our problem. This book shrinks the distancing, and forces the main character, and readers to confront their own discomfort.

What I didn’t like about The Neighborhood of True?

This was an excellent read. It engaged with a historical time period and culture that I am largely unfamilar with.

That being said, it should be noted that this book, does not have many significant characters who are black. Race is an issue that occurs as a backdrop to the exploration of the character’s identity and struggles around acceptance.

Some may critique this book along similar lines to how The Help has been critiqued. It’s important to remember when black lives are being spoken about, rather than with. In these situations, representation can become a major issue.

In The Neighborhood of True is primarily about the main character’s journey with her own identity. This has merit, and is explored intentionally and with clear efforts made by the author for sensitivity.

The conclusions the book draws around prejudice and hatred is one which has merit. This book does not try to speak on behalf of black people. That is an important distinction between The Neighborhood of True and The Help.

Where can I get a copy?

In The Neighbourhood of True is available from The Book Depository here.

Final thoughts

This is a captivating read! Definitely one to check out.

Readers should be aware that this book does discuss the Klu Klux Klan and some descriptions of violence that are distressing. For that reason, I wouldn’t suggest this book for young readers, unless reading with the supervision of an adult they can discuss the issues raised in the book.

This would make a fantastic book club pick, as there’s so many interesting elements in the book to discuss! You’ll just have to read it.

Thank you for reading today’s review. This blog updates weekly with book reviews, writing tips and other bookish content on a weekly basis. If you enjoyed this review – subscribe at the bottom of the page!

Haven’t had enough books? Come say hi to me on social media by searching @stephhuddlestonwriting or by clicking the buttons below.

The Last Letter From Juliet – Melanie Hudson

A historical fiction with an inspiring woman at the heart of the story. Uplifting and entertaining, but does it just fall short?

Today on the blog I’m reviewing The Last Letter From Juliet which I received in my January 2020 book subscription box from Once Upon A Book Club Box. As a part of this post I won’t be revealing the specifics of items received alongside the book as a part of the subscription box. No spoilers here! However, there is a discount code at the end of the post for Once Upon a Book Club.

What is The Last Letter From Juliet about?

The Last Letter From Juliet follows two women. The daring Juliet Caron, a World War Two pilot who lives a life full of adventure and love and Katherine Henderson a grieving widow trying to rebuild her life and self.

When Katherine Henderson arrives in Cornwall for Christmas she finds herself swept away by reading Juliet’s story and meeting the woman herself. On the eve of Juliet’s 100th birthday she’s enlisted to make Juliet’s final Christmas wish come true.

A story of love torn apart by war, loyalty, friendship and resilance this is a story told through time and letters. Inspired by the real female pilots of World War Two.

What I liked about The Last Letter From Juliet?

This story is told from two points of view and two time periods. The first time period and perspective is Juliet, as a young woman living in World War Two. Katherine’s perspective is set in 2005, as she reads the letters Juliet has written as her memoirs.

I enjoyed reading the memoirs of Juliet, and discovering her story at the same rate as Katherine. It bonded me with both characters, and was an interesting and effective framework for the story.

Juliet’s story was fascinating, in particular because of its real life inspiration. Prior to reading this novel I had no idea about the ‘Spitfire Girls’ as they were called. War is a tragic, awful thing. There will always be elements of a story set in this time that are emotional. That emotion was well written and vibrant.

I was inspired by the knowledge that these female pilots risked their lives and demonstrated the skill and bravery that women can have, in a time where it wasn’t broadly acknowledged.

What I didn’t like about The Last Letter From Juliet?

Unfortunately this book did have quite a few typos within it. While the story is still wonderful, it detracted from my reading experience.

It’s a shame because otherwise this book is really great, but it has some key errors that let down what is ultimately a beautiful story. I don’t normally note this as an issue in my reviews, but this was quite noticeable. This isn’t a reflection on Melanie Hudson at all, but rather an editorial error that should have been picked up. Accidents happen, ultimately it’s not a big deal.

There’s a trope within fiction of ‘strong female characters’ and The Last Letter From Juliet could be viewed by some as playing into that trope. I don’t think this would be a fair criticism, but it’s one to be aware of. It’s important to have stories that show various women and highlight the different strengths each has. Women are strong, so why in fiction do we think these characters are unique or different?

While we often point out books that have ‘strong female characters’ that’s not how we describe books where males are the primary characters. I’ve been reflecting on this recently, so let me know what you think!

I think The Last Letter From Juliet highlights the resilience of different women, and it’s a beautiful story of love. It allows women to push the societal boundaries without compromising on their femininity, they’re not men, even though they’re doing what men do.

Recommendation?

Historical fiction and romance fans, this book is wonderful! Despite the errors in the copy, I really enjoyed this book. I ended up staying up really late one night because I needed to know what happened.

You may need some tissues on hand, because this book serves up some serious bittersweet moments.

Once Upon A Book Club?

I mentioned at the start of this post that The Last Letter From Juliet came in my January Once Upon a Book Club subscription. If you haven’t heard of Once Upon a Book Club you’re in for a treat.

Every month the team at Once Upon a Book Club curates a book box. A book is selected and gifts assembled to go with it. This isn’t like any other book subscription. The gifts correspond to a page number within the book included in your subscription.

Often these gifts relate to something the character is experiencing, or an item that is featured within the story.

I’ve been very impressed with the quality of gifts included and the thoughtful connection each has with the story. The Mister gifted me a subscription for my birthday last year and I’ve loved it!

Discount Code

Once Upon a Book Club has kindly given me a discount code for readers of this blog and followers on my social media. If you’d like to give Once Upon a Book Club a try, use the code: STEPHHUDDLESTON10 to save!

Where Can I Get a Copy of The Last Letter From Juliet?

*The Last Letter From Juliet is available from Amazon here.

*Should you choose to make your purchase using the link above I will receive a small commission, at no additional cost to yourself. Please bear in mind that I only link to products and companies that I personally believe will benefit my readers. Thank you for your support! If you’d like more information about affiliate marketing please visit my disclosure page.

Let’s Be Social!

Thanks for reading the review today. If you enjoyed it, share it with a friend or click that yellow subscribe button below to get more bookish content every week.

Haven’t had enough books? Come say hi to me on social media by searching @stephhuddlestonwriting or by clicking the buttons below.

Until next week,

Happy reading!

The Tattooist Of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

A deeply horrifying, yet beautiful written story of a couple’s survival of the holocaust. This book moved me to tears and is important for us all to read.

Today I’ll be reviewing The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. In writing this review I acknowledge that it will discuss some sensitive subjects for readers. I do not intend any offence or distress to result from this review and will discuss the topics of this book in a non-specific and sensitive manner.

What’s it about?

You may have heard of this book, or maybe not. If you have, feel free to skip ahead to the next section to read my thoughts on this book.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz tells the story of Lale and the woman he loved. Lale is a well dressed charmer, a ladies man. He is also a Jew, among the first transported from his home country Slovakia, to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942.

He stands out among his fellow prisoners, looked up to, and looked after. Eventually he is placed in the privileged position of camp tetovierer, responsible for marking the arms of his fellow prisoners.

One of those he marks is Gita, a young female Jew whom he falls in love with immediately.

Lale struggles to use his position for good, to protect Gita and to dare for a future beyond the wire fences of the camps.

The story is based on years of interviews the author, Heather Morris conducted with the real-life holocaust survivor and tattooist of Auschwitz-Birkenau Ludwig (Lale) Solokov.

What did I like about The Tattooist of Auschwitz?

I’m not sure this is the kind of story anyone likes to read. It’s subject matter is confronting and cuts to the heart for it’s pain. That people went through the horror of the Holocaust is cause for great distress.

That being said this story is one I am glad I read. It is beautifully written and deeply emotive.

I have never cried while reading before. Until I read this book. Heather Morris writing brought an individual story of pain and love to me that I will never forget.

That this book is based on real memories made the book deeply touching and impossible to dismiss. The Holocaust is something that many have tried and failed to describe the horror of, so I will not attempt to capture now what many before me have failed.

While Morris has been critiqued heavily for this book. I find myself unable to do so. The book after all is the memories of a survivor, Lale. It has the endorsement of his and Gita’s family.

While the book does contain some historical inaccuracies (and Morris addresses this herself at the beginning and end of the book) it has value.

I do not have any Jewish relatives that I am aware of. I went to school with someone of Jewish background (I think?) but I like the author, want to hear this story. The holocaust is a story we need to hear, so we can learn from it.

What didn’t I like about the Tattooist of Auschwitz?

This book made me grieve. That was painful. It exposed me to horrific events that were done to innocent people. As I said above, that’s not a process I think many people enjoy.

It is a process that is necessary. My grief is I know fleeting and minute in comparison to the scale of the pain of the victims, survivors and their families. I want to know about these people though, as Heather and Lale both say, they deserve to have their story told.

The de-identification and de-humanising of people will never be okay. It is through telling their stories, and listening that we are able to participate in the healing process for others.

This process of sharing in the role of healing is well documented. Following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 reconciliation models have been developed and studied that involve the sharing of stories from those involved in the conflict.

(If you’re interested in reading more about this visit the World Vision website here)

I want to help people heal by listening to the stories they have to tell, including Lale, Gita and their family. The minimal discomfort I go through, listening, is nothing compared to their lived experience. The afterword to the book is written by Lale and Gita’s son Gary, and is deeply moving in it’s own way as he reflects on how his parents experience of the holocaust impacted his childhood.

Who should read this book?

This book was thought provoking and extraordinary. I highly recommend it. Not suitable for younger readers. I will be attending an author event with Heather Morris later in November where she will be discussing her latest book, Cilka’s Journey which has been recently released. Stay tuned for a post about that event and Cilka’s Journey.

If you’ve read this book, share what you thought of it by commenting on this review. Which parts of the story stood out to you?

If you haven’t read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, what has book moved you emotionally? One of the best aspects of reading in my opinion is the way it enables us to feel emotionally for others.

Today’s review dealt with some heavy subject matter! I do hope you found this review a helpful guide if you’ve been considering reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

For more reviews and bookish content feel free to hit the subscribe button below! I update the blog on a weekly basis. If that’s not enough bookish content in your week, feel free to find me on social media by hitting the buttons below!