These are the books I wish to finish reading this month. Maybe I will get to read more as well if possible. My reading list for this month.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a horror novella. The story is about a young woman who gets a job as a governess for two mysterious kids on an estate which seems to be haunted. I just started reading it and it has a gothic feel to it because of the descriptions. The young girl who is the narrator of the story is unnamed so far. It is an intriguing read.
2. Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau is a book that details the social experiment Thoreau carried by living in a secluded cabin for two years. I am only a couple of chapters in but, it has a philosophical undertone to it. It talks about the author’s experience with nature and living simply, being self-reliant. It is a little difficult to read because there is a lot of symbolism and depth to the writing.
3. My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin.
My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin is a story about an American Heiress, Cora Cash, who travels to England with her mother to find an aristocratic match. The world in England is different than what she is accustomed to and when she marries Ivo, an eligible but secretive bachelor, her life changes. I enjoyed reading this book so far though I have trouble relating to Cora’s character which I hope will happen eventually. It seems like a fun read.
4. Morrigan’s Cross by Nora Roberts.
Morrigan’s Cross by Nora Roberts is the first book of the Circle Trilogy. A sorcerer named Hoyt loses his brother in 12th century Ireland to evil forces. He is chosen for a mission by the goddess Morrigan and is told he will be joined by five others to form a team to destroy Lillith. Nora Roberts has a way of blending fantasy elements with the reality that it seems grounded. The story and the characters are interesting. I finished almost seventy pages at one go when I started reading.
This is a book I have been meaning to read for a while but it wasn’t easy to find. Finally, I read it and it was worth the wait. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is set in the time before, during, and after World War II. The story of this novel is based on a true account of Caroline Ferriday, a socialite in New York who helped the Polish women of Ravensbruck camp. The story of Lilac Girls focuses on three main characters – Kasia, Caroline, and Herta who come from different backgrounds and countries but their lives intersect. Caroline helps the medical experiment survivors from Ravensbruck by bringing them for treatment to America almost a decade after the war is over.
Caroline is an ex-actress who comes from a wealthy family and volunteers at the French Consulate in New York City before the war. Caroline and her family have a strong sense of their French roots and enjoy many traditions of their culture. It is also the reason Caroline works dedicatedly at the consulate. Kasia is an 18-year-old girl living happily with her family and friends in Lublin, Poland until Nazi Germany invades Poland on 1st September in 1939 and her life is turned upside down. Herta is studying medicine in Nazi Germany and dreams of being a surgeon but there are restrictions for women in the medical field under the Reich. She is ambitious and determined from the very beginning and has complete faith in Hitler’s vision for her country.
The story is pretty straightforward in terms of timelines and events. The novel is divided into three parts. The first part gives an insight into the background of the characters and this really helped me understand the motivations and personalities of these women. The second part was difficult to read because the main focus of this is the course of their lives during the war. It is not outwardly described in a gory or violent way but it is more about the emotional reactions which get to you. The third part of the story is Caroline, Kasia, and Herta’s life after the war ends.
The characters in the book are what make this novel unique. Caroline does everything in her power to help French children during the war. She does so at a personal cost at times and even when things turn hopeless she keeps doing what she does because she knows this is the least she can do to help. Kasia is a rebellious girl but she wants to help change the situation in Poland. She starts helping the Polish underground in Lublin with the help of her friend and her crush Pietrik. One day she is followed by a German officer after doing an assignment she begs Pietrik for and is arrested. Kasia’s mother and sister Zuzzana, Pietrik, and his sister Luiza who have come to collect the envelope from Kasia are all arrested along with her.
Ravensbruck is where Kasia ends up with her sister and mother, a labor camp in Germany for women. I didn’t know much about this camp and the medical experiments conducted there until I read this book. These women stick together, helping each other stay safe that too at a personal cost. It’s heartwarming to see them help each other this way in a situation where one wrong move meant your death. The experiments were inhumane and the way is written makes us understand the gravity of it. It is at the camp that Kasia’s mother, Halina, is taken under Herta’s wing as a nurse and where Halina dies. This is the only time Herta shows some emotion. Herta is not a fictional character and is based on a camp doctor in Ravensbruck. She believes in what she is doing and it seems like she doesn’t care but somewhere deep down she feels a little remorse for her actions. Most of the time though she is detached and cold focusing only on her medical research with no thought of the human cost.
Caroline has a personal connection to France during the war, a married actor she falls in love with named Paul who is also taken to a camp when France is invaded but survives. Kasia comes back with her sister to Lublin where their father still lives and has trouble adjusting to normal life. She finds Pietrik and he is having a hard time too but Kasia is trying to forget but her guilt about her mother makes her angrier and angrier. Pietrik and Kasia get married and have a daughter who is named Halina after her mother but Kasia doesn’t want her to be named Halina. She snaps at everyone about the tiniest things but slowly realizes she needs to let go. With Caroline’s insistence, Kasia goes to Germany to confront Herta who was released early from prison. Once she confronts Herta and finds out what happened to her mother at the camp that she is finally able to move on with her life and leave all the darkness behind.
Martha Hall Kelly has been able to give a lot of heart to the story through her characters. Kasia and her family are the fictional characters but the story revolves around them in a way and, they are instrumental in telling the story of those Polish women who suffered at Ravensbruck during the war and treated unjustly after the war. It is a beautiful and inspiring story yet it is so sad and heartbreaking.
I don’t usually read non-fiction books but this book was a gift. It is been sitting on my shelf for years. I recently watched The Mindy Project television series and I liked it so I decided that now I will read this book. It is kind of like a collection of humorous essays written by Mindy Kaling. I am only a couple of chapters in but it is a fun read. It is relatable, insightful, and witty.
2. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is inspired by a true story during World War II. Three women Caroline Ferriday, Kasia Kuzmerick, and Herta Oberheuser come from different worlds until World War II begins with the invasion of Poland and their paths cross with each other. I haven’t read beyond the first chapter but historical novels always intrigue me and this one was no different. I look forward to reading this book.
3. The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst.
The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst is a love story between Alexa and Nicholas. Alexa and Nicholas have known each other for years because Maggie is Alexa’s best friend and Nicholas’s sister. Alexa is in a tough financial situation so when Nicholas makes his proposal to her. They get married only in name for Nicholas to be able to inherit his father’s corporation. The story can be predictable in a way but the element of fantasy and unique characters is enough to hook you on the book.
I finally finished reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. There are a lot of things happening in the story with various themes and metaphors; it is a heavy read. I will try my best to explain the story and the literary aspects of it properly as much as I can. The story is set in the two cities of London and Paris during the times of the French Revolution.
The story starts with the release of Dr. Manette from prison after 18 years and is reunited with his daughter Lucie. Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton are two men who are mesmerized by Lucie. Charles and Lucie end up getting married and eventually also have a daughter. Lucie is an innocent and devoted person. She maintains the good in her throughout the story even if the historical and political scenario of the times were ruthless. Dr. Manette has descended into madness during his prison sentence and he finds himself again with his daughter’s devotion towards him. There is an intriguing history to his character but towards the end, he is shown to have lost himself again. His character has faced tragic times, he gets better but then you can never completely escape your past.
Charles Darnay is Charles Evremonde has abandoned his position in the nobility of the French and fled to London. He doesn’t agree morally with the way his family operates and treats people. He does have a strong sense of responsibility and is liberal in his outlook especially considering the time period. Sydney Carton has wasted in youth and is a drunk lawyer who no one has much faith in except Lucie. In the end, he does sacrifice himself to save Lucie and Charles which completes his transformation as a character.
The French Revolution is the main setting of the novel. After years of repression and ill-treatment by French aristocracy, the common people have rebelled. There is never a complete separation of chaos and tyranny from the revolution and that theme plays an important role throughout the story. Through characters like Madame Defarge, Dickens shows that even revolutionists use oppression and violence to meet their goals and that ends up creating a tyrannical situation that they wanted to escape in the first place. The principles of the French Revolution were liberty, equality, and fraternity which were forgotten by the people as the revolution progressed.
The element of sacrifice is also woven throughout the plot. The sacrifice in some cases is personal and in some cases is for the good of the nation. Dr. Manette sacrifices his freedom, Charles sacrifices his wealth and titles but I feel that the ultimate sacrifice comes from Sydney Carton. He sacrifices his life for his love for Lucie which helps Lucie and her family escape from Paris. A Tale of Two Cities doesn’t shy away from the violent and horror elements of this revolution. Dickens has written the novel beautifully and his descriptions vary from beauty to violence effortlessly.
After reading this novel, I realized I had somewhat of a rosy picture of the French Revolution. I was unaware of the extent and gravity of the situation until I read this story. This novel has so many themes and symbols that I haven’t covered here; it is heavy in terms of depth, themes, and even language. The first line of the novel itself is apt about the story “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Even the themes of resurrection and redemption are prevalent throughout the story and different characters represent different elements that add up together in the end.
I liked reading this novel. The historical setting was one of the things that intrigued me about this book and I got a completely new perspective about that particular time in history. It kept me interested but the language at times was a bit heavy because of its diction so it took me a while to finish it. This is a book that had been on my reading list for years and it is a must-read.
Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught is a historical romance set in the aristocratic world of the 19th Century in Britain. The story of the novel focuses on Elizabeth Cameron and Ian Thornton’s love story which is adventurous, passionate, and dramatic.
Elizabeth Cameron is introduced to the London society and immediately is a hit among her peers. Ian Thornton is considered an outcast because he doesn’t have any title to his name. From the first time Elizabeth and Ian meet, there is chemistry straight away. Elizabeth doesn’t need to play dumb or hide her opinions and concerns in front of him like she has been taught to do. They are drawn to each other and Elizabeth especially is scared of her pull towards Ian. She is discovered in Ian’s arms and her reputation is blown to pieces and she has been hiding from the world at her home in Havenhurst ever since then.
The history between Elizabeth and Ian is unraveled after the first couple of chapters and it gives you a complete sense of Elizabeth’s side of the story. The story sets a good pace right from the start and keeps you hooked. Elizabeth’s father left her and her half brother Robert is huge debt and after Robert disappears, the burden falls on her. It is revealed in the flashback how the Camerons’ have been struggling financially which is why it was important for Elizabeth to get marriage proposals in the first place. Things have become harder for her since the entire Ian chapter and now she is left at her uncle’s mercy, her guardian, who just wants her to get married to anyone if he can help financially.
Elizabeth and Ian’s attraction to each other is stronger when they meet again but both have their misgivings about each other. Ian is a hard man. He is arrogant, shrewd, handsome, and very intelligent. In the beginning a lot of times, he comes across a little too harsh but then as you get to know about him more, it gets clearer. He has reasons to behave and think the way he does, it is his defense mechanism. Once he decides to be open and vulnerable with Elizabeth, he is the sweetest and the most supportive person in her life. He is almost perfect, I loved him.
The main draw of the story, for me, was the characters. Elizabeth and Ian’s characters are relatable and compelling. Their love story is dramatic and conflict-ridden but the chemistry between them is established since their first meeting. There are so many cute moments that seem to happen naturally in the plot which makes their love story better. The change in narration from Elizabeth’s point of view to Ian helped me understand both the characters and find them endearing. The setting of the story and descriptions are well written. It paints a vivid picture in your head about life in the 19th century. The only complaint I have is that towards the end it seems a little rushed. I don’t agree with the decision Elizabeth makes about Ian under her brother’s influence. All the conflicts are resolved in the end when Elizabeth and Ian talk things out between them.
Almost Heaven is a love story full of passion, betrayal, conflict, and drama. This is the first historical romance novel that I have completely read. Once I started to read the book, I had to finish it soon because I couldn’t wait to find out or even predict what was going to happen next. Overall, I really enjoyed the story and it was a refreshing read.
Only Time Will Tell is the first book of the family saga Clifton Chronicles which consists of seven books in total including this one. This is the second work of Jeffery Archer that I have read after I loved Kane and Abel and I wasn’t disappointed.
The plot of the novel revolves around the protagonist Harry Clifton and it spans the time between the end of World War I and the beginning of the Second World War. The setting of the novel is in Bristol, England from 1919 – 1940. The protagonist is the character of Harry Clifton, a young boy destined to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncle and work on the docks until he gets a new direction. Harry becomes friends with a dock worker Old Jack Tar who knew his father Arthur when he worked there. Harry is a gifted singer, which opens up new avenues for him. He gets into a good school on a scholarship and his future seems bright.
Harry’s family is poor and lives in difficult conditions but it gets better when his mother finds a job at a tea shop. During the years at school, Harry becomes close friends with Deakins and Giles Barrington, whose father, Hugo Barrington, despises Harry for reasons not known to anyone. Their sister Emma and Harry get along well and eventually fall in love. The real parentage of Harry is not known to him and only his mother and a few others know about it. His mother Masie, struggles a lot to make sure her son has everything he needs.
The narration of the novel is from the point of view of six main characters – Harry, his mother Masie, Emma, Giles, Hugo, and Old Jack Tar. The different character points of view thicken the plot and each of their internal struggles, plots, and secrets are revealed some of which were completely shocking as a reader. All the characters of the story are well sketched and grounded; their actions hold more meaning when their motivations are clear in their heads. Masie Clifton is an admirable character throughout the novel even if she takes questionable steps, she knows it is not right but she does it anyway to provide for her son.
The ending of the novel is a bit of a cliffhanger which is expected since it is the first book of the Clifton Chronicles which makes me want to dive into the next book as soon as possible. The twists and turns increase towards the end of the novel and make the novel more engaging. Some things are known to us as readers but the reaction of the characters to these situations is thoroughly enjoyable. I liked the pace of the novel, it doesn’t slow down in the between and stays engaging. The six narrators of the story make character motivations and their mindset clear and it made me understand each of these characters.
I wasn’t sure if I’ll like this book as much as Kane and Abel but I must say it comes pretty close. I read this book so quickly because I wanted to find out how it all unfolded. I can’t wait to start reading the next books in the Clifton Chronicles.
Reading books with historical themes is an enduring and satisfying experience for me because I like history in general. I found a lot of literature based on and around the time of the World Wars and these books are some of the best books I have read. The central theme of these books might revolve around and during a World war but these books have so much more to offer.
1) A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway.
Ernest Hemingway’s this novel is set during the World War I and its protagonist is an American soldier stationed on the Italian front. Its main focus is on the love affair between our protagonist Henry and an English nurse Catherine during the times of the war. The story is unpredictable with a mix of interesting characters. Once I started reading this book I realized it is not what I expected but it exceeded my expectations. The writing is beautiful and to the point; you through every emotion along with the characters.
2) Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank.
I read this book for the first time when I was 15 when we studied the Second World War in history class. Reading it again seven years later there were a lot of factors which I hadn’t thought about or understood when I read it as a teen. Anne’s beliefs, her perspectives on life were so different and unique; she was far more mature for her age. It’s a beautiful book in form of letters Anne writes in her diary. The end of her letters in abrupt which makes you wonder what happened to her after that; thankfully my copy has an elaborate afterword which didn’t exactly make me feel better after reading it.
3) Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetyus.
This book was a rollercoaster experience. The historical context of this book is Baltic Deportations during World War II; it was something I hardly knew anything about or read anything related to. The book is heartbreaking yet there is a sense of optimism especially in the characters of the story. As I said in my review of this book, for me, the characterization in the novel is something else and it makes you care about each of them.
4) All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr.
The book is set in Nazi-occupied France during the World War II. The protagonists of the novel are a French blind girl Marie and a German boy Werner. The book is such a page-turner, it’s hard to keep it down because you need to know what happens next. The book is slightly longer than it should have been, at least I thought so but its really good. The bond between Marie and her father is so beautiful and her connection with Werner is so strong in such a short span of time. It is just a really good book.
I am sure there are many more books set around the time of the World Wars which are equally good or even better. The books I mentioned above are my personal favorites of this genre though there are still a number of books on my historical ‘want to read’ pile.
I found this book when I was browsing through the lists of War and Historical novels on different site. This book immediately caught my attention because it takes place during the World War II and it’s about a Lithuanian girl. Now when it comes to studying the history of World War II, the Baltic States were never more than mentioned in textbooks. Basically, this is a part of History which I never read or studied about before and it completely fascinated me.
The book is about Baltic Deportations with the main focus on Lithuanian citizens who were deported by the Soviet in 1941 to prison and labor camps. The protagonist of the story is a fifteen-year-old girl named Lina and her family when they are taken from their home and sent to a labor camp somewhere in Siberia. Lina and her mother and brother are together while their father is separated from them that night. The author doesn’t spend much time focusing on the lives of Lina and her family when they were still at home together in the beginning and starts straight up with the night they are taken away. The story is not by any means an easy read.
The descriptions of the treatments these prisoners were given and their living conditions are crudely depicted; there is no sugar-coating just the harsh reality. It makes you cringe while reading it. The emotions of the characters and their reactions to the harsh situation they face are very realistically and naturally portrayed. It never seems out of place or over the top because there are so many characters which are important to the plot and each character’s personality is reflected in the writing.
Lina, her mother Elena and her younger brother Jonas have to learn to survive through brutal conditions with people who share a similar faith to them. Elena is a powerful character as she holds their little group together throughout the terrible ordeal and is incredibly kind. Andrius is a guy who Lina and her family meet on the cattle train on the way to Siberia. He is sort of a love interest for Lina though that is never the main focus and he is so much more than that. Lina is a good artist and is constantly capturing their stories on paper in drawings and sketches. She draws in hope of leaving clues behind for their father to find them and also preserve their stories and sufferings.
It is unbelievable to expect such kindness and care in such situations but throughout the story, all the characters help each other survive and are always kind to one another no matter how little they themselves have. It shows that even in worst situations compassion and kindness actually help someone survive. At no point, Lina gives up or thinks that she doesn’t want to live anymore even though the circumstances keep getting worse. These characters show so much spirit and survival instinct all the while helping each other through it.
This book breaks your heart from start to finish and it is quite difficult to get through because of the powerful depictions. The plot moves ahead at a good pace with flashbacks about the life before capture which somehow is parallel to Lina’s present in the camp. Lina’s drawings in a way preserve the memories of fellow survivors and their sufferings, the stories which were unheard of for decades that followed. The stories about the Baltic states are largely unheard of and this book depicts the displacement and genocide of people who were deported by the Soviet Union. It is a hard-hitting book but it is a book which you should read, it is a part of history which is relatively unknown to many.