Death March Escape, by Jack J. Hersch

The full title reads – Death March Escape: The remarkable story of a man who twice escaped the Nazi Holocaust.
I would say “remarkable” is an understatement in this context. There have only been a handful of recorded cases of prisoners escaping from concentration camps during WWII and not all of those who managed to escape, ever made it to freedom. Many were hunted down, found and killed; many perished on their own, without food and shelter.
Which is why the story of David Hersch, a man who escaped a death march – got captured but somehow not killed – then escaped again – was taken in by kind and courageous people – and lived to tell his tale… is unbelievable!
And yet that is the story we are fortunate to read in this amazing book. I was going to say “wonderful”, but I’m always hesitant to use such words when talking about horrific events. Yet Jack Hersch, David’s son, wrote a truly wonderful book, in the way that it tells the full story without skipping details or minimizing the horror, yet it’s almost a light read. In other words, you can read this book and still sleep well at night, compared to reading some other books on the subject that leave you with nightmares for days and nights to come.
I loved the way that the book was framed as both the story of David’s life and time in the camps, but also as Jack reconnecting with his father. In fact, the idea of writing the book came to Jack after he happened upon a photograph of his father on the memorial website for the Mauthausen concentration camp. A photograph that Jack had never seen before, of a man who used to be his father before the horrors of WWII. This discovery prompted Jack on a quest to find out as much as he could about David Hersch, and in a way to find out more about himself.
I highly recommend this book to a variety of people! If you’re interested in WWII – this book is for you. If you’re interested in the Holocaust but are afraid of the more harrowing stories – this book is for you. If you’re interested in stories about the strength of the human spirit – this book is for you. If you’re interested in stories of survival against unimaginable odds – this book is for you.
Finally, if you’ve ever wondered if your family has any secrets or fascinating tales to tell – this book is definitely for you, as it will spark curiosity in you to find out more about your own family.

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223 Orchard Street, by Renee Ryan

Please note that my rambling reviews almost always CONTAIN SPOILERS!

I was in the mood for historical fiction, and this was alphabetically the first choice of NetGalley books, so that was that. I was excited about the time period and the set-up of two Irish sisters trying to make it in America, one arriving a year after the other. The narrative is third-person but the events are relayed from both sisters’ perspectives which is the optimal balance between detachment and getting to see the world through the character’s eyes.

So all was well for the first couple of pages. Katie gets a summons from the immigration department to collect her sister from Ellis Island, but when she gets there it turns out that little sister Shannon has been detained due to a mysterious illness and might get deported. Katie can only wait and see what the verdict will be.On the way back Katie encounters a familiar figure – Doctor “my friends call me Ty” Brentwood who instantly recognizes her. Despite seeing dozens of patients every day, Ty somehow remembers this lovely girl with Cupid bow lips and big eyes and is drawn to her because she reminds him of a mysterious mistake he made in the past……

And that’s when I realized that this is a romance novel, and I got the urge to barf.

At least it’s not too sappy. After the initial Harlequin descriptions and lots of INTENSE MOMENTS between two strangers, the relationship between Katie and Doctor Ty comes back to reality… well, it gets closer to it anyway. 


Writing style: Flows naturally, is easy to follow. Dialogue stumbles a bit, but finds its rhythm eventually.


Immigration issue: paints a vivid picture of immigrant life and struggle. I had no idea how awful the process of entering the country was. I thought the hardest part was surviving the journey on crowded ships, but I was wrong. It’s much worse to get denied entry on a medical issue that’s not even explained to you.


Ty’s “dark” past: this whole thing with Ty being so dark and dangerous and destroying all the good and beautiful things in his path is so bogus. So he had one surgery that went terribly wrong – so what? It’s not something to be taken lightly, for sure, but it’s not like he botched it on purpose. It’s not like he was drunk or high during the surgery. It’s not like he straight-up murdered that woman and her newborn baby. So what’s the damn problem?! I understand that he’s feeling guilty as hell, and like no amount of lives saved can bring those two back. I get that. But it was a mistake – doesn’t he realize that as a doctor?! It was a complicated procedure that he’d never done before. Plus it was the turn of the twentieth century, people! Medical science was not so advanced back then. Even now people are still dying on operating tables or they never come out of anesthesia. It’s tragic but it happens, and it’s hardly ever the doctor’s fault (unless he’s drunk or high, as I’ve already said). 


Which brings me to why the inevitable romance between Katie and Ty is so annoying. The author is trying to turn Ty into a villain to artificially create an obstacle that they will have to overcome. Like there can’t be anything else that’s keeping them apart? Something that feels organic and not forced? Even having his wealthy family being opposed to him romancing a poor Irish girl would be better. Sure, it would be a cliche, but at least that’s something that actually happened and still happens to people. Pretending that a good doctor suddenly turned into Doctor Doom because of one fatal surgery is bullshit.


And this is where the rambling really gets going…


Overall it feels like this book lacks plot. I’m at the half-mark right now and nothing much has happened. The pages are instead filled with “inner monologue” that all reads the same – as a description of generic feelings of the three main characters. It’s a straightforward description and therefore lacks the ability to get you attached to the characters. You can’t even tell which one of them is “feeling” what, unless you pay close attention. Shouldn’t the characters have their own distinct voices and characteristics?


A little over the halfway mark and I’m reeeeealy bored. Nothing much is happening, the characters keep going round in circles… Katie and Ty are drawn to each other but keep talking themselves out of it because OBSTACLES (that don’t actually matter). Shannon is pregnant and alone, but keeps telling herself that her beloved Liam is on the next boat over to America! (which honestly is NOT happening). And that’s it, basically. Why am I reading this again?!


OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, Liam actually came to America!?! WHY??? At least give me something that doesn’t suck about this book. But no… I guess this inspirational romance gotta inspire and there’s nothing inspirational or romantic about the guy who knocked you up out of wedlock and turned out to be an actual creep. Ugh…


So in conclusion, I tried to see this romance that betrayed me by being a romance, from the point of view of someone who actually likes romance novels. And you know what? It still doesn’t work! The insta-attraction between Katie and Ty is forced, their initial avoidance of each other is forced, their inevitable attraction to each other is forced. It was outright laughable when Ty became SO jealous of that girl’s brother who came to tell him that Shannon was bleeding to death. Ty was all, So he’s making moves on my Katie – I challenge thee to a duel! Bitch, please. Shannon’s romance with Liam is even worse because it’s mostly talked about and Liam is clearly set up to be the villain and when he actually turns up at the eleventh hour you’re just annoyed.
2 ANNOYED STARS for this one.

Bookworm’s paradise

I found out about NetGalley exactly a year ago.
Before then all the books that I read came from my own personal collection, or a vast, vast library that I was working at. Let’s just say, I never ran out of books to read, but rather my book piles kept growing and growing. Yet I always wanted more.
It’s in my nature. Maybe it’s the post-Soviet upbringing, where I hardly had anything, books included, and it was never enough. In fact, I could never get enough books. In those dark days of no Internet, cable or even DVDs, books were all I had.
I am a genetic bookworm – both my parents were huge book nerds. But while my mother mostly borrowed books, as she had no place to store them, my father filled his whole apartment with books to the point where he had to, literally, sleep on top of piles of books. Needless to say, with that pedigree I learned how to read at age 3 and was always ravenous for books.
I will not ramble on about this now, it’s a story for another post – or seven. Now is the moment to praise NetGalley.
So it was January 2017 and I was lamenting the fact that I barely got any new books during the holidays and I, like, ran out of reading material. Which is so not true, but you can never tell a bookworm that. I was browsing through Goodreads, looking at my friends’ reviews and getting more and more agitated because I kept running into the same disclaimer – I got a free copy of this book through NetGalley.
What was this NetGalley, I wondered, and how can I get some free books from it? God knows I’ve earned the right to get free books over a lifetime of obsessive devotion to literature! A quick Google search revealed that NetGalley was a treasure trove of brand new and upcoming releases that could be yours free of charge, if only you’d be so kind as to leave a review on your Goodreads, blog and other social media platforms (also don’t forget Amazon).
Oh em gee, thought I! All these free books in exchange for something that I already do – writing reviews?! Sign me up and give me all the books, please and thank you! It turned out that NetGalley and all the publishers were incredibly generous and really enthusiastic about literature, to the point where most of the books that I requested I would receive. I never even hoped for that much! Pretty soon my Kindle was bursting from countless electronic pages, and my mind was bursting from all the stories that I could help share with the world.
And then my mother got really sick and all my reading and especially reviewing whittled down to nothing…
2018 was officially the worst year of my life. The most challenging, devastating year. One where everything about me was put to the test, including my natural-born love of literature. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t lose myself in a book. Partly because I couldn’t sit still for longer than five minutes at a time, so consumed was I by taking care of my mother and trying to hold on to a job. And partly because reading requires more work than watching movies or shows, especially when you want to write a good review when you’re finished.
Long story short, I closed out the year of devastation and despair without my mother, and with a gaping hole where my heart used to be. And now, at the start of 2019, I realize that I need to fill that hole with something. Could it be my old soulmate Literature? After all, we’ve had some amazing times together over the years. Literature was my constant companion, even when all else failed me. Hopefully it will pull me out of this deep, dark hole now, since nothing and no one else can.
And the reason why I started and concluded this post with praise for NetGalley is that one of my New Year’s resolutions is to get my reading and reviewing back on track. I feel terrible about getting those wonderful free books and then letting publishers down by not reviewing them on time.
Well, if any publishers or NetGalley team is reading this, please know – I will get better, I will keep reading, I will improve my reading and reviewing habits, and I will make you proud! Okay, that last one was kind of cheesy, but when it comes to books I am a cheesy, over-the-top, unapologetic book lover and I will prove that with my actions in 2019!
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to my Kindle – stories await!