Book Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

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Everyone needs to hide the truth and reinvent himself in order to survive.

Based on true events during WWII, The Orphans Tale by Pam Jenoff ephasizes the lengths we go to protect one another and the resillience of the human spirit. The story begins with Ingrid, a Jewish woman, decendant of a circus ancestry, forced to divorce her husband, a Nazi soldier, and left to carry on alone. When she returns home to find her family gone she must reach out to the nearest and most familiar source of help- Herr Neuhoff and his rival circus troupe.

In my mind, the song of the carousel begins to play tinny and faint like a music box. I feel the searing heat of the lights, so hot it could almost  peel off my skin.

Ingrid, renowed for her talent as an aerialist, is willingly taken in, much to her surprise given the past between her father and Herr Neuhoff. However, she learns quickly that the bonds shared by fellow circus folk runs even deeper now that the Nazi threat is becoming reality. In an effort to provide protection, she is given a new identitiy, Astrid, and her Jewish heritage is secreted away.

The circus is a great equalizer, though; no matter class or race or background, we are all the same here, judged on our talent.

In a train station in another part of Germany, not far from where Circus Neuhoff resides, a teenage Dutch girl named Noa is struggling to exist on her own. Disowned and sent to a home for unwed mothers after it is discovered that she became pregenant by the German soldier that was billeted to their home, Noa still feels the weight of the baby that was taken from her and promised a better life. Or so she hopes. When she stumbles upon a train car full of squalling infants left to die she wonders if her child could be among them. The descisions she makes in that moment will change her life forever.

What follows is a harrowing account of two women and their desparate attempt to survive the unfortunate circumstane of WWII. The circus becomes a haven and a provides solace in the shared drama of performance- a temporary escape from the harsh reality. Unlikely bonds are formed and strengthened by unexpected similarities but will they withstand the heartbreak and danger that is everpresent in Nazi-occupied Europe?

But we represent everything Hitler hates: the freaks and oddities in a regime that is all about conformity.

Read voraciously.

Intrigued? Buy  the book here:

The Orphan’s Tale
by B, A. L. O.Trade Paperback

A review copy of this title was provided by Harlequin via Netgalley.

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10 Books to Read in 2017- via BBC Books

Check out the 10 bet books of 2017 according to BBC Books. I thoroughly loved a couple of these. Which one(s) were your favorite?

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Book Review: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

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You know, the voiceover continues, it would be nice if we were defined, ultimately, by the people and places we loved. Good things. But at the end of the day, there’s the reality that we’re not. Does the good stuff really have the weight that the weird stuff does? What makes the deeper imprint— all the ridges and gathers— on who we are? Do we have a choice?

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker chronicles the relationship between two creative persons as they struggle, both together and apart, to work through and rise above their pasts and how their art proves instruamental in that  journey. We meet Sharon at the beginning of her time at  prestegious art school which is a drastic and welcomed change from her Kentucky home.

I had chosen art because I needed something to make use of the bright lights that had existed in my head for as long as I could remember, my fervent, neon wish to be someone else.

Sharon meets Mel’s art before she meets her in person and in that work she sees a reflection of her own passion and a shared ambition. Sharon recognizes the deep need for expression and the outlet that art can provide.

When I looked at Mel’s stuff, I felt something different. I didn’t know how to quantify what I was seeing in words, but I could feel it. She was naturally, easily good, and when I saw things she had done, I felt a curiously pleasurable pressure at my middle, something tinged with pain at the edges. It was an expansive, generous feeling. Before I saw her, even, I saw what she did.

Recognizing an equal level of talent, Mel approches Sharon at the end of class and they spend the remainder of that evening relishing in their shared weirdness and forming the bond that launches their success and withstands all the unknown challanges they face as a result, together.

We sank into a cozy little vacuum, Mel and I, watching. I don’t know if it was the cartoons themselves, or watching them with Mel, but that night was the closest I had felt to knowing what I wanted from my life. She was the first person to see me as I had always wanted to be seen. It was enough to indebt me to her forever.

Fast-forward ten years and  Sharon and Mel are a sucessful  animation partnership and the recipients of a prestegious grant for their work on Nashville Combat a raw, in-depth examination of Mel’s adolesence in Florida  with her mother and her string of boyfriends. Forced to face the reality of her past bared for all to see, Mel increases her efforts to dull the everpresent ache the birth of this creative work left- the constant reguritation of pain.

It’s all happened so fast, the transition of Mel’s hell-raising from preoccupation to main attraction, that I keep asking myself if I’m not blowing it all out of proportion. If I’m really seeing what I think I’m seeing. But you don’t work with someone for over ten years without getting some overflow, knowing a little of what they know, feeling a little of what they feel, and I can feel the dark rushing at Mel’s center, the guilt that’s gnawing her raw. It rips me in half to see something she loves hurt her so badly. I wonder if this is why we can’t come up with a good idea. If she’s scared to work. And, if she is, what I can possibly do about it.

An unexpected tragedy involving Sharon pulls Mel from her downward spiral, the problems of the  present bigger and more threatening. She throws all of her energy into caring for her, as Sharon struggles to regain her life, before.

I used to have such confidence in my mind. I had faith in the life I had created for myself— the serviceable, productive outer persona, and my inner life, the one I could only inhabit in my head. I prided myself on my ability to control the two. Now both have collapsed. I would give anything to be able to speak. To write, to draw. My old self grows faint, moving in and out of darkness.

At Sharon’s bedside night and day, Mel discovers something about Sharon’s past that cracks her wide open. A secret so personal, Sharon struggles to share even with Mel whom she shares every other aspect of her life with. When the story is finally told, the pair do what they do best and they draw, putting into cartoon the trauma of Sharon’s life.

I want to be able to feel this way all the time. To be able to laugh about the things that have happened to me, baggage and all, light and dark. To own it handily enough so that it could be funny and horrifying at once. Maybe this is the idea I’ve been looking for. Maybe this is something close.

Encompassing the entirerity of Sharon’s and Mel’s partnership we see the depth of their stuggle and successes. Whitaker masterfully blends humor, vice and the darkness of th human experience. A surprisingly endearing story is told that is all at once audacious, abrasive and agonizing. The Animators will sink its teeth into you but by then you will be too far gone to notice and when its over the ache will remain long after you’ve read the final page.

I know what Mel and I did with memory. We ran our endurance dry with our life stories, trying to reproduce them, translate them, make them manageable enough to coexist with. We made them smaller, disfiguring them with our surgeries. We were young. We did not know what we were doing.

Read voraciously.

Intrigued? Buy the book here:

Animators A Novel
by Kayla Rae WhitakerHardcover

A review copy of this title was provided by Random House via Netgalley. 

Podcast: Book Club Appetizer with Jennifer Ryan author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir- via Read It Forward

The clever podcast by two Read It Forward contributors features an appetizer and cocktail pairing to go with the plot of the title as well as an exclusive interview with Jennifer Ryan, author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir.

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Explore the Setting of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir- via Read It Forward

Author Jennifer Ryan takes readers on a behind-the-scenes tour of the setting for her novel The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. Check out my review which just published Monday 🙂

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Book Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan


But with a cautious smile, I realized that there are no laws against singing, and I found my voice becoming louder, in defiance of this war. In defiance of my right to be heard.

It all starts with a posting nailed to the door of the church. WWII is underway and all the men have reported for duty.  But that won’t stop the ladies of Chilbury.

“All the men have gone,” I whispered back, aware of our voices carrying uncomfortably through the funeral crowd. “The Vicar says we can’t have a choir without men.”

Through the personal journal entries of Mrs. Tilling, a widowed nurse with a son at the front, and Kitty Winthrop, the youngest daughter of the wealthy Brigadier, and the letters of Edwina Paltry, an immoral, scheming midwife, and Venetia Winthrop, the flirtatious eldest daughter of the Brigadier, we see a gentler side of war. The women are left to cope in a village stripped of it’s men- their fathers, husbands and brothers. They experience a seismic shift in their daily life and with that they gain a newfound boldness.

I felt like clearing my throat and telling her that she was wrong, and before I knew it, I was saying out loud, “Maybe we’ve been told that women can’t do things so many times that we’ve actually started to believe it. In any case, the natural order of things has been temporarily changed because there are no men around.” I glanced around for inspiration.

Throwing convention to the wind, they reinstate the Chilbury Choir under a new name, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, with a renewed sense of purpose. In a time of uncertainty, these women band together and form a support system of the utmost importance.

The volume swelled with passion and deliberation as we poured our emotions into every darkened corner of the church. Every dusty cloister and crevice reverberated, reaching a crescendo in the final chorus, a vocal unison of thirteen villagers that cold, still night, pouring out our longings, our anxieties, our deepest fears.

Each narrative shines with the personality of the character that pens it and we begin to see to the heart of the village, which for some may be less than honorable. A crime, a bribe, and a potential Nazi spy add a bit of color to the events in Chilbury proving the saying that ‘it takes all sorts’. In tandem, new friendships and romances are forged, shining a bright light during a dark time.

“Music is about passion. It’s about humanity. We need to bring our own passions to our voices.” She wound her baton thoughtfully through the air. “We have to imbue every note, every word, with our own stories. Think of what our members can bring: Kitty’s exuberance, Silvie’s courage, Mrs. Quail’s joviality, Hattie’s gentleness, Mrs. Tilling’s diligence. Even you, Mrs. B., bring a gusto and verve to our singing. Every joy, every pain we are feeling from this war will be put to use in our music.”

When the reality of war comes to England, to the front doors of Chilbury, the women are forced to dig even deeper within themselves to ensure the safety of their homes. They lean heavily on each other where they find strength and courage.

And a new dread crept into our singing, as if we were singing for them, for everyone who had lost someone, or could. By the time we reached the powerful chords toward the end, we were almost crying with our song, louder, more raucous than before, until the final Amen, when we all stood together, firm in the power of our choir to face this war together.

All at once charming and sorrowful, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is an inspiring tale about strength of character and the fierce spirit of women.

Perhaps there is something good that has come from this war: everything has been turned around, all the unfairness made grimly plain. It has given us everyday women a voice— dared us to stand up for ourselves, and to stand up for others.

Read voraciously.

Intrigued? Buy the book here:

Chilbury Ladies Choir

by Jennifer RyanHardcover


A review copy of this title was provided by Crown Publishing via Netgalley.

Most beautiful library in every US state.

Click the link to see each of the most beautiful libraries through the United States.

Have you visited any of these?

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