(Review) Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust by Planaria Price with Helen Reichmann West

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Publisher and Publication Date: Farrar Straus Giroux. March 13, 2018.
Genre: Nonfiction. World War II. Holocaust. Young adult.
Pages: 272.
Source: I received a complimentary copy, but was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Excellent.
Audience: For adult and young adult readers who read Holocaust survivor stories.

Landing page for the tour at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Amazon link

About the author:
After graduating from Berkeley and earning a Master’s Degree in English Literature from UCLA, Planaria Price began her career teaching English to adult immigrants in Los Angeles. She has written several textbooks for University of Michigan Press and has lectured at over 75 conferences. In addition to her passion for teaching and writing, Planaria has worked with her husband to save and restore over 30 Victorian and Craftsman homes in her historic Los Angeles neighborhood. Claiming My Place is her first book for young adults.
Website for Planaria Price
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Praise:
“Price has boldly elected to tell the story in Basia’s own first-person, present-tense voice. The result is a dramatic, suspenseful account of survival in extremis, told in collaboration with Basia’s American daughter.” ―Booklist
“Price’s rendering of West’s mother’s early life reads like suspenseful historical fiction, telling a rarely heard side of the Jewish experience during WWII . . . Family, friendships, and romance give poignancy to this unique coming-of-age story, which is further enhanced by maps, a glossary, and an afterword.” ―Publishers Weekly
“A rich exploration of a Holocaust survivor’s sheltered childhood, the atrocity that failed to destroy her, and her later life as an immigrant.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“I was completely engrossed by this drama of survival. Barbara Reichmann’s story is quite extraordinary. It is sad, and terrible, and yet somehow captivating. The whole story of those who survived the Shoah by passing as Christians and working in Nazi Germany is an often forgotten part of the historical record.” ―Kai Bird, Executive Director, Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY Graduate Center, and co-author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
“As occurs with The Diary of Anne Frank, this book merges the dire circumstances of the Holocaust with the tenuousness of being a teenager. But Claiming My Place expands the view provided in the diary for one critical reason. Anne Frank’s story is told within an isolated cocoon. In Barbara’s story, however, the Holocaust is in full view as her experiences unfold.” ―David H. Lindquist, Ph.D., IPFW College of Education and Public Policy / Regional Museum Educator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
“This frightening true story of a young Jewish girl’s flight from the deadly grip of the Nazis celebrates the surprising ingenuity and raw courage found only in the depths of the human spirit. Risking what few others dared, Barbara Reichmann, née Gucia Gomolinska, speaks with wisdom and uncommon self-awareness through her detailed, colorful, and evocative recollections from earliest childhood. In the final portion of this book, her daughter, Helen West, continues Barbara’s journey in an insightful and loving overview of Barbara’s life from the family’s arrival in New Orleans in 1951 until her death in 2007. This is a great read with the suspenseful, inspiring and uplifting appeal of a novel, about a character who will capture the reader’s heart.” ―Allan Holzman, Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director and editor (Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Holocaust, Old Man River, The Native Americans)
“Thanks to the detailed memories and the conversational tone, this book provides an engaging and informative reading experience with as much appeal as a fiction title. Recommended for most YA nonfiction collections.” ―Magdalena Teske, West Chicago Public Library District School Library Journal
“This book was truly a celebration of the human spirit. What a gift she has for putting you in the story. Her way with words, plus her weaving of the actual events recounted to her by the unbelievably courageous Basia and her daughter Helen, was nothing short of magical. The included photographs and epilogue served to fully round out this amazing tale. I never wanted this book to end!” ―Rabbi Lynn Brody Slome

Summary:
Claiming My Place is the true story of a young Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by escaping to Nazi Germany and hiding in plain sight.
Meet Gucia Gomolinska: smart, determined, independent, and steadfast in the face of injustice. A Jew growing up in predominantly Catholic Poland during the 1920s and ’30s, Gucia studies hard, makes friends, falls in love, and dreams of a bright future. Her world is turned upside down when Nazis invade Poland and establish the first Jewish ghetto of World War II in her town of Piotrkow Trybunalski. As the war escalates, Gucia and her family, friends, and neighbors suffer starvation, disease, and worse. She knows her blond hair and fair skin give her an advantage, and eventually she faces a harrowing choice: risk either the uncertain horrors of deportation to a concentration camp, or certain death if she is caught resisting. She decides to hide her identity as a Jew and adopts the gentile name Danuta Barbara Tanska. Barbara, nicknamed Basia, leaves behind everything and everyone she has ever known in order to claim a new life for herself.
Writing in the first person, author Planaria Price brings the immediacy of Barbara’s voice to this true account of a young woman whose unlikely survival hinges upon the same determination and defiant spirit already evident in the six-year-old girl we meet as this story begins. The final portion of this narrative, written by Barbara’s daughter, Helen Reichmann West, completes Barbara’s journey from her immigration to America until her natural, timely death.
The book includes three maps and 41 photographs in black and white.

My Thoughts:
Several reasons led me to award this book an excellent rating:
•A detailed account of Barbara Reichmann, from age 6 until post World War II. The book encompasses her home life, parents, siblings, neighborhood, hometown, schools, and university life. In addition, her plight of survival during the war. And, post World War II life: displacement.
•A strong teaching on the Jewish traditions, religion, holidays, and festivals. I enjoyed reading about the foods eaten during Passover, as well as the reasons behind the types of food eaten. During Passover, they sing songs and read from the Haggadah.
•Another point related to the previous. At the Seder meal, an empty chair is left for Elijah, even a cup of wine is left for him. I’d not heard of this custom before, and I loved hearing about the details of several other Jewish customs.
•Through Barbara’s voice, I became swept up in her story. I’ve read a long list of Holocaust stories. Barbara’s story is unique. The story of her survival is the expected reading, but I did not expect to learn about her life as a Jew. I feel this is an excellent teaching tool for students to learn about both the Holocaust and the Jewish religion.
•Barbara gave me a background on anti-Semitism in Europe. What the Jews had been accused of throughout the centuries. And, she gave an interesting perspective by stating it is what they’d come to expect. “Jews have learned to accept and endure the persecution off an on.”
•On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. This begins a thirteen day account of Barbara’s memories of this history. It gave me an overall picture of those first days.
•A horrifying life after Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The new laws, abuse, starvation, and murder. In one scene, Barbara and her family are eating dinner when they hear German voices outside their door shouting, “Schnell! Schnell!” The men come in their home going through the house and stealing, while the family still sits at their dinner table not wanting to take a breath.

Claiming My Place is described as a young adult book. Through most of the story, Barbara is in her twenties. The book is not descriptive about the death camps. I wanted to mention this last statement for a parent who may be thinking of this book for their child. I plan to pass this book along to my teenage granddaughter. However, she too has read extensively Holocaust stories.

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(Review) God For Us: Discovering the Heart of the Father Through the Life of the Son by Abby Ross Hutto

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Publisher and Publication Date: P & R Publishing. February 28, 2019.
Genre: Christian Nonfiction. A personal study of the Gospel of John.
Pages: 216.
Source: I received a complimentary pdf copy, but was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Excellent.
Audience: Christian readers who are looking for a personal study on the Gospel of John. Some of the teachings address: courage, fear, anxiety, abuse, betrayal, stress, shame, affliction, broken in spirit, failure, and restoration.

Abby Hutto’s written interview: Author Interview.

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Amazon book link

Website: www.godforusministries.com
Blog: O Wide-Embracing, Wondrous Love
Facebook Page: Abby Ross Hutto (Author) and God For Us Ministries
Instagram: @godforusministries

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In the introduction, Hutto gives statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.
“In 2016, an estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States reported having had at least one major depressive episode during that calendar year.” Page 10.
That statistic stopped me because I can relate. My husband went through a major depressive episode from mid 2014 until 2017. He refused medicine the doctor prescribed. He refused help. He refused to talk about this to anyone. He was diagnosed earlier this year with major depression. For the first time, he is on an antidepressant. As his wife, this has been a hard journey; hard to watch and hard to know what to do. But I prayed. And still pray. And, I trusted in God. and not an outcome.
Hutto asks, “Where is God when we are afraid? The Bible tells us that he is in our corner and on our side.” Page 11. Hutto answers this question through her teachings from the lives of various people in crisis.
In God For Us, thirteen chapters teach who God is for, using the Gospel of John as the Scripture text. The chapters target a specific person in crisis. For example, in the first chapter: “A God for the Distant.” The Bible text is John 1:1-18. The illustration is a person who grew up in a Christian home, but her heart is distant from God. She does not understand the concept of God’s saving grace, and those who are still lost and suffering. She fears God. She does not have a close relationship with Him.
In God For Us, Hutto takes each illustration and text, and reveals “the intentions of God.” His plans are personal and aimed at developing our heart.
God For Us is a deep book. I took twelve pages of notes. I’d read a chapter and think, “this is the pinnacle of the book.” Then, I’d read the next chapter and think the same. This is a book to read, study, and savor. It is definitely a book for strong conversation in a small group.
At the end of each chapter is “Scripture for Contemplation” and “Questions for Reflection and Discussion.” I’ve noticed most books that have questions for discussion are five or so. In chapter one, ten questions are given.
I love it that there is a building in the chapters of who God is and how He reveals Himself to us. “Jesus is God narrated for us, telling us what the Father is like.” Page 22.
Chapter Four: The “I Am” statements are taught. This chapter is titled: “A God for the Wanderer.” Beautiful and deep statements from Hutto touched my heart.
“In his teaching, he connected himself to the rich traditions of the feast and revealed something wonderful about his Father: God has come to find us in our desert. Even more astounding is this: God has a purpose for us in our wanderings. Nothing is wasted with him. In our deserts we come to know him, the Great I am, as he truly is.”
The word “wasted” has been a large sign blinking in my mind (like a neon flashing light.) All these years (36) I’ve spent with a man who has a mental health issue, and he has acted out in ways that are not for the weak of heart. I’ve felt a feeling of wasted time. Time that cannot be recovered. And, what is the purpose of all this? Is it possible there isn’t a purpose and I’m a lame duck?
God For Us is a book where the reader will identify with the people used as illustrations. I certainly have.
Another quote from this chapter, and it is from Paul Miller: “God takes everyone he loves through a desert. It is his cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden.” Page 64.
And some of the last words from this chapter: “This is what God produces in us during our wandering-fertile ground that is yielding glory.” This is my answer to the feeling of “wasted.” God is producing in me a “fertile ground” that is “yielding glory.”
God For Us is a powerful book. It is a book that speaks to the heart on a personal level.
Additional thoughts:
•A theme is the Gospel message.
•It is written with compassion and humility.
•A meditative book.
•A great introduction to the Gospel of John.
•An excellent source for recovery groups.

 

(Review) Letters to Doberitz by Derek R. Payne

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Publisher and Publication Date: Austin Macauley Publishers LTD. October 31, 2018.
Genre: Nonfiction. Memoir. World War I.
Pages: 224.
Source: I received a complimentary copy, but was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Excellent.
Audience: For readers of World War I and military books.

19 black and white illustrations

Amazon
The Kindle price is $4.49

A FIRST novel from Derek R. Payne

 

Summary:
Letters to Doberitz is a memoir of Derek R. Payne’s family during Word War I. This is the story of his grandparents and great-grandparents. The story represents life in England before World War I and during the war years; it also shows the remarkable story of men who fought in the battles of World War I. Another key feature is the after effects of combat on a battle weary man. The family holds a large selection of black and white photographs from this period. His grandfather learned a new art by painting over the black and white photographs adding watercolours. Payne considers the photographs a “window” to their lives.

My Thoughts:
Letters to Doberitz is an excellent resource for any reader interested in World War I. In the first few pages, I was shown how people felt about the looming war in early 1914. It also shows the work environment, dating, and parent to children relationships. I especially loved a panoramic view shown through strong description of street life. In addition, a speech given to the people in the Bristol town square about the war.
William Payne joined the war early. He was a young man with a driven focus. If the book had only been about him I’d have enjoyed reading it, but the book includes his father’s story.
Additional reasons why I loved this book:
•It was interesting to read about the enlistment process and combat training.
•The first battle, The Battle of Mons. The thoughts of the soldiers who were still in training, and how they heard the battle had not gone well. This point adds to the tension.
•The departure for Belgium, and the first sighting of this country. Through Will’s eyes I understood better about how all the combat ready men must have felt. He’d lived in the same place all his life and he’d embarked on a first trip.
•The trench line. This part of the book, the battle in the trenches, is a crisis point in the book. The nighttime thoughts and perspective. The waiting of when the battle will begin. The anticipation and tension of when the shells hit and are brought in to closer range. The shock wave of the blasts from the guns. The chaos of bombardment. All the sights, sounds, and feelings of being there are brought to life. I feel this is the strongest feature of the book.
•I was most interested to read about how men were treated for “shell shock.” This is what PTSD was called in World War I.

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Photograph is from Wikipedia and not from the book. Photograph taken from a field station at Ypres, Belgium, 1917. 

 

(Review) Winter Loon by Susan Bernhard

 

39344131Publisher and Publication Date: Little A. December 1, 2018.
Genre: Fiction. Coming of age story.
Pages: 333.
Source: Kindle Unlimited program through Amazon. Free e-book/ Kindle copy.
Rating: Very good.
Audience: Readers of coming of age stories where the narrator/character is a boy to young man.

This ebook is available for free through the Kindle Unlimited program.

Summary:
Wes Ballot is in his mid-teens when his mother died. His father left soon afterwards. Wes went to live with maternal grandparents who are like strangers to him. Wes is an only child. His mother was an only child. He has lived a chaotic and poverty stricken childhood. His parents fought. His grandparents fight. And, he is a young man who has been deeply affected by the heavy weight of anger, unforgiveness, abuse, addictions, and unspoken words in the family.
The time period is the late 1970s. The place is rural Minnesota.

My Thoughts:
If the above summary depresses you the book certainly will. Of course, I feel the book is well-written; and the book shows a hard side of life that many readers can relate to.
Several reasons why I loved this book:
•Susan Bernhard writes a perfect voice and persona of a young man. I feel that writing a story about a young man is difficult from the perspective of a female writer. But, Bernhard hits it great with Wes in Winter Loon.
•Bernhard is a wonderful storyteller. The mood and setting of winter, a winter lake, and the northern state of Minnesota. The icy cold of the environment casts a perfect stage for the icy cold of the family.
•Wes is an only child. He is alone in his thoughts. He is alone in his fears. He is alone in his home. Even though he had a mother and father, they are distracted and lost in a dysfunctional world of alcohol.
•I’ve read that in living through the hard times in life we either become bitter or better. Wes’s parents and grandparents became bitter. The story will reveal what Wes becomes.
•From the first page, I became attached to Wes. I wanted to bring him home and feed the young man. I wanted to make sure he had a safe place to grow-up.
•I’m happy to state several of the characters who are (solid and dependable) friends of Wes are Native Americans. Through their stories, I understand the plight and life of Native Americans.
•A few of the quotes stayed with me long after the book was read.
“So much went unsaid between them, like words didn’t matter when their contempt for each other was clear.”
“I would come to know the cold of my grandparents house and felt it that first day.”

(Review) Blackout, Book 3 of Dark Iceland by Ragnar Jonasson

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Publisher and Publication Date: Minotaur Books. Originally published in 2011. Published in the English translation 2016.
U. S. edition, August 2018.
Genre: Mystery, detective.
Pages: 272.
Source: Library.
Rating: Very good.
Audience: Readers of mystery/detective stories.

Books in the series of Dark Iceland:
Nightblind-Book 1
Snowblind-Book 2
Rupture-Book 4
Whiteout-Book 5

It’s confusing about when the books were published in English versus when they were published in Iceland.  The order in Iceland is Snowblind 2010, Blackout 2011, Rupture 2012, Whiteout 2013, Nightblind 2014.

Author page at Amazon: Ragnar Jonasson.

The books were written in the Icelandic language and later translated to English for publication.

Website for Ragnar Jonasson.

To give you a little info on the country of Iceland. The population in 2017 was 341,284. The country is 39,769 square miles. The capital and largest city is Reykjavik. Iceland is a Nordic Island, and a Scandinavian country. For further information: Britannica.

Summary:
An American art student traveling in Iceland discovers a dead body near the road. Ari is the police inspector for the case. A woman named Isrun is the journalist who is to covering the story. Other police inspectors are Tomas and Hlynur. During the investigation, the personal stories of characters are explored.

My Thoughts:
Until now, I’ve not read a book about Iceland. It’s a bit of a mystery to me. An island that has the name of ice in it. A place that seems so remote and sparse in information from the news, I had to read a book about this country, even it’s a work of fiction.
I still don’t know how to pronounce the names correctly.
The focus of the book is solving the crime of a man who was murdered and found near the roadside. However, I loved the personal stories of the journalist and police inspectors. The characters are dimensional, because they are shown for the imperfect humans they are; both their positive and negative traits are shown.  They each carry burdens and scars from their past.
A theme that runs through the book is the work of criminals goes on everywhere. Iceland is considered a country where violent crime is rare. However, the story shows evil manifests everywhere.
There is a secondary mystery story. I love it when there are secondary/understories amongst the main story. This keeps me even more interested in the reading the book.
Through the descriptive scenes, I was given a visual picture of what Iceland looks like.
The closure of Blackout left me with both a sense of unanswered questions but a deep sadness. A sadness because not all of the characters have happy endings.
I’m definitely interested in reading more Ari Thor Thriller books in this series.