The Girls With No Names by Serena Burdick

The Girls with No Names pulls readers into the gilded age of New York City in the 1910s, when suffragettes marched in the street, unions fought for better work conditions—and girls were confined to the House of Mercy for daring to break the rules.

Not far from Luella and Effie Tildon’s large family mansion in Inwood looms the House of Mercy, a work house for wayward girls. The sisters grow up under its shadow with the understanding that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. But when the sisters accidentally discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen older sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases.

But her rebellion comes with consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone. Effie suspects her father has made good on his threat to send Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. But she made a miscalculation, and with no one to believe her story, Effie’s escape from the House of Mercy seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on each other and their tenuous friendship to survive.

The Girls with No Names is a wonderful novel by Serena Burdick set in New York City in the early 1900s. The characters in it are fiction, but the House of Mercy which features prominently in the story is historical, as are the social conditions and fight for better conditions for working class Americans.

Most of the story is told from the point of view of fifteen year old Effie, although parts are also from the perspective of Mable, a fellow prisoner of the ironically named House of Mercy.

I listened to this book, narrated by Emily Lawrence, Nancy Peterson and Amy McFadden, is about twelve and a half hours long. I listened to it in two days, unable to put the story down. At times The Girls with No Names ripped my heart out. It is a thoroughly engaging story and my first by Burdick, but most certainly will not be my last.

This historical fiction weaves together mystery, family drama and the complicated social issues of the day into a book that thoroughly entertain any reader.

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Famous Authors who Share Your Zodiac Sign

One of the challenges on this year’s Popsugar reading challenge is to read a book by an author who shares your zodiac sign.

Well, when it is the middle of the night and you cannot fall asleep, it seems like the perfect time to start looking for someone who matches your birthday, right?! And since I have all these authors I have looked up before finding one who matched my sign, I figured I might as well make a list for some other poor soul struggling with this challenge. Hear ya go…

Aries March 21-April 19

  • Maya Angelou
  • Min Jin Lee
  • Nick Hornby
  • Caitlin Moran
  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • Jo Nesbo
  • Brad Meltzer
  • Anthony Horowitz
  • Beverly Cleary

Taurus April 20-May 20

  • William Shakespeare
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Harper Lee
  • Daphne Du Maurier
  • Richard Adams
  • Hank Green
  • Barbara Park
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Tana French
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Etaf Rum
  • Chevy Stevens

Gemini May 21-June 21

  • Walt Whitman
  • Tess Gerittsen
  • Salman Rushdie
  • Fredrick Backman
  • Anne Frank
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Rick Riordan
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Peter Swanson
  • Louise Erdich
  • Ken Follett
  • Maria Semple
  • Billie Letts
  • Rachel Carson

Cancer June 22-July 22

  • George Orwell
  • Octavia Butler
  • Alice Munro
  • Ian McEwan
  • Erin Morgenstern
  • Joanne Harris
  • Lisa Jewell
  • Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Alexandre Dumas
  • E.B. White
  • Markus Zusak
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Ernest Hemingway

Leo July 23-August 22

  • J.K. Rowling / Robert Galbraith
  • Isabel Allende
  • Herman Melville
  • A.A. Milne
  • Emily Bronte
  • Madeline Miller
  • Daniel Keyes
  • Suzanne Collins
  • Diane Setterfield
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Veronica Roth
  • Cassandra Clare
  • Stieg Larsson
  • Celeste Ng
  • Sue Monk Kidd

Virgo August 23-September 22

  • Stephen King
  • Agatha Christie
  • Angie Thomas
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Orson Scott Card
  • George R.R. Martin
  • Roald Dahl
  • Ken Kesey
  • Fannie Flagg
  • Yasmin Rahman

Libra September 23-October 23

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Shel Silverstein
  • Elie Wiesel
  • Jay Asher
  • Rupi Kaur
  • Roxane Gay
  • Patrick Ness
  • Mark Haddon
  • Carrie Fisher
  • Michael Crichton
  • Nicola Yoon
  • Nora Roberts
  • Ursula K. Le Guin

Scorpius October 24-November 21

  • Margaret Atwood
  • Lee Child
  • Chinua Achebe
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Zadie Smith
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  • Liane Moriarty
  • Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Ann Cleeves
  • Anne Perry
  • Neal Shusterman

Sagittarius November 22-December 21

  • C.S. Lewis
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Jane Austen
  • Shirley Jackson
  • L.M. Montgomery
  • Nancy Mitford
  • George Saunders
  • Louisa May Alcott
  • Mark Twain
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Cornelia Funke
  • Tamora Pierce
  • Penelope Fitzgerald
  • Sophie Kinsella

Capricorn December 22-January 19

  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Donna Tartt
  • Stephanie Meyer
  • Walter Mosley
  • Philippa Gregory
  • Julia Quinn
  • David Mitchell
  • Jack London
  • Harlan Coben
  • Karin Slaughter
  • J.D. Salinger
  • Michelle Obama

Aquarius January 20-February 18

  • Virginia Woolf
  • Toni Morrison
  • Charles Dickens
  • Amy Tan
  • Marissa Meyer
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Alice Walker
  • Stephen Chbosky
  • Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Jules Verne

Pisces February 19-March 20

  • Dr. Seuss
  • Jack Kerouac
  • Victor Hugo
  • Douglas Adams
  • Lois Lowry
  • Khaled Hosseini
  • Trevor Noah
  • Yuval Noah Harari
  • Gillian Flynn

Happy Reading!

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Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

In this follow-up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, the author tells the story, based on a true one, of a woman who survives Auschwitz, only to find herself locked away again.

Cilka Klein is 18 years old when Auschwitz-Birkenau is liberated by Soviet soldiers. But Cilka is one of the many women who is sentenced to a labor camp on charges of having helped the Nazis–with no consideration of the circumstances Cilka and women like her found themselves in as they struggled to survive. Once at the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia, where she is to serve her 15-year sentence, Cilka uses her wits, charm, and beauty to survive.

Cilka Klein was originally introduced to readers in Heather Morris’ award winning novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz as a prisoner and friend to Lale and Gita. Unlike her friends, she didn’t emerge from WWII to establish a new life, find marriage and begin anew. Cilka is a true historical figure who was deemed to be a Nazi collaborator by the Russian Army, and sentenced to 15 years hard labour in Vorkutlag, Siberia.

The conditions under which Cilka and the other women served their sentences was remarkably similar to those of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. That is to say, depressing, dangerous, cold, and inundated with illness, hunger and abuses.

I listened to Cilka’s Journey, narrated by Louise Brealey who did an excellent job portraying the different characters. I have no knowledge of Russian but her pronunciations sounded perfect to my uneducated ears. The end of the audiobook contains an afterword by the author, describing her research process and clarifying which secondary characters are historical figures and which are imaginary, or an amalgamation of several real people.

Ms. Morris had much less first hand research with which to write Cilka’s Journey than she did in writing The Tattooist of Auschwitz. In the tattooist, the story was based on three years of interview between Morris and Lale, whose story she told. Cilka died before Morris ever met her, or indeed Lale, so more of this story is told based on research by the author and professional researchers she hired. As such, this story is inevitably less accurate than The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Cilka seems to have been quite the private person, and no wonder based on everything she was subjected to in her teens and adulthood.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Cilka’s Journey but was disappointed afterwards to learn that several characters and story lines I thought were historically accurate were actually fictional. I felt that too much creative license was taken, whether that is because of a lack of historical evidence or because the author wanted the book to follow a similar path to her previous bestseller. Either way, this information dropped what would have been a five star book in my mind, down to three or four stars.

I still highly recommend this novel, but if you are someone like me who is easily swept up by the story, you might want to learn some of the facts before you get carried away, thinking the story is gospel.

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2021 Popsugar Reading Challenge

I’m a few weeks late posting this year’s challenge, but better late than never. The Popsugar Reading Challenge is my favourite to do because the categories are versatile enough to fit almost any reader. Print out a copy and follow along with me. It’s like a book club without all the extroverting. You can also download a PDF version at the link above.

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Democracy in Action: January 2021

Do you live in Ontario? Me too! Democracy is more than just voting once every few years. It requires active participation from you to remain representative. Don’t worry, it is easy to do. I have provided some current links for residents of Ontario down below, and they are much more interesting that some Buzzfeed quiz that tells determines your secret Disney princess alter ego…

Here are some ways you can participate in democracy from the comfort of your couch and comfy, cozy PJs:

Public Consultations There are numerous surveys and other forms of public consultation at the provincial level on that website, but the one that most interested me was the 2021 budget consultation which asked for a lot of feedback on the types of aid being provided for COVID-19 relief.

Don’t forget to regularly check the Government of Ontario’s online consultation website EngageON.

Turtles All The Way Down

It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.

— — —

Turtles All the Way Down is likely the least depressing novel by John Green and therefore I highly recommend that you start with it if you are new to his novels. It is a fictional YA novel, featuring a teenage girl struggling to maintain her friendships, excel at school and manage mental illness that is at times, utterly debilitating.

The theme of mental health is prominent throughout the book and Green’s depiction of Aza’s internal downward spiral in the midst of a panic attack is all too accurate and familiar. In those moments, it is incredibly easy to step into the character’s shoes and feel her emotions just as deeply as she does. This is particularly true for readers who listen to the audiobook, narrated by Kate Rudd.

Despite this central theme, Turtles All The Way Down is not depressing and Aza’s mental illness is not depicted as ruining her life. It is a part of her and her relationships – inescapable – and yet it does not comprise her. She is still her own person, not consumed by illness. Throughout the novel, mystery and intrigue help drive the plot forward and encourages Aza to push through her difficulties to help her friend. In doing so, she begins to understand a lot about herself as well.

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Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, an enthralling historical saga that recreates the danger, romance, and sacrifice of an era and brings to life one courageous, passionate American—Mildred Fish Harnack—and her circle of women friends who waged a clandestine battle against Hitler in Nazi Berlin.

After Wisconsin graduate student Mildred Fish marries brilliant German economist Arvid Harnack, she accompanies him to his German homeland, where a promising future awaits. In the thriving intellectual culture of 1930s Berlin, the newlyweds create a rich new life filled with love, friendships, and rewarding work—but the rise of a malevolent new political faction inexorably changes their fate.

As Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party wield violence and lies to seize power, Mildred, Arvid, and their friends resolve to resist. Mildred gathers intelligence for her American contacts, including Martha Dodd, the vivacious and very modern daughter of the US ambassador. Her German friends, aspiring author Greta Kuckoff and literature student Sara Weitz, risk their lives to collect information from journalists, military officers, and officials within the highest levels of the Nazi regime.

For years, Mildred’s network stealthily fights to bring down the Third Reich from within. But when Nazi radio operatives detect an errant Russian signal, the Harnack resistance cell is exposed, with fatal consequences.

Inspired by actual events, Resistance Women is an enthralling, unforgettable story of ordinary people determined to resist the rise of evil, sacrificing their own lives and liberty to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.

I have been completely engrossed with WWII novels lately, and Resistance Women is at the top of my favourites list. It tells the actual accounts of German resistance fighters who sought to undermine Nazi doctrine in German society from the late 1920s through to the end of WWII. The members of the “Red Orchestra”, as Nazi intelligence labeled them, were ordinary German citizens who resisted Nazi rule. None were trained spies or foreign government agents inserted in deep cover; just everyday people who couldn’t stand to watch the downfall of their country or the persecution of fellow citizens.

Resistance Women is unique among the WWII fiction I have read in that it tells the story from the point of view of Germans. Most novels of this time period feature the heroics of American, British or French protagonists, such as The Huntress, and The Alice Network, or document the lives of those persecuted as in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I was excited to read from a different point of view and in doing so learned a lot about the rise of nationalist socialism in Germany.

Chiaverini’s novel takes begins in the latter days of 1929, and continues to 1946 and victory in Europe. I learned about the second world war in school as we all do but my studies focused on battles and the contributions of soldiers from my own country. Little time was devoted to learning about how the Nazi party emerged and gained popular support in Germany following the conclusion of the Great War. Chiaverini took great pains to craft a story that is both factual and riveting, drawing in the reader while delivering important lessons from history at the same time.

Throughout my reading of Hitler’s rise to power and eventual ascension as Furor, a position comprising both Chancellor and President of the German state, I couldn’t help but draw conclusions between his leadership style and that of former President Trump. Many of the national socialist rally cries that ultimately led to Nazism are reminiscent of those heard around the world today, particularly in America. It is much easier for me to understand now how the Nazis took control of Germany and then Europe, than it was sitting in history class in secondary school.

I highly recommend this novel as a thoroughly engrossing read, but it is vital to anyone who is interested in this time period. It is the first novel I have read of this author, but she has an extensive backlist of previous publications that I will now jump into.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook of Resistance Women, which is narrated by Saskia Maarleveld. She did an amazing job telling the story of Mildred, Greta, Sara and the other members of the resistance network. Her various accents and pronunciation of German words, titles and cities added to the charm of Chiaverini’s writing. Included in the audiobook is an afterword by the author, validating some keys facts about characters who were based on real people and providing some contemporary context to their lives.

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The German Midwife

A prisoner in the camps, Anke Hoff is doing what she can to keep her pregnant campmates and their newborns alive.

But when Anke’s work is noticed, she is chosen for a task more dangerous than she could ever have imagined. Eva Braun is pregnant with the Führer’s child, and Anke is assigned as her midwife.

Before long, Anke is faced with an impossible choice. Does she serve the Reich she loathes and keep the baby alive? Or does she sacrifice an innocent child for the good of a broken world?

The German Midwife is a fictional story set in WWII Germany. It is author Mandy Robotham’s debut novel and is full of mystery, romance and intrigue.

This book brought up some conflicting emotions for me. There are so many interesting stories of real people to be told during this time and it is likely the most studied period in history. When I first picked up the book, I assumed it was based on a true story and it is not. That’s on me for not learning more about it beforehand. So it is purely a work of fiction and in addition, it heavily features the actual historical person Eva Braun, mistress to Hitler, in a mostly positive light.

I was inspired by The German Midwife to do some research on Braun and discovered that historians know very little about her. She was heavily insulated and protected by the Reich and as a result, not much is known about her, even today. I certainly found no evidence in my cursory research that she was pregnant at any point in her life, or that she was the kind-hearted, whimsical, easily misled girl that Robotham characterized her as in The German Midwife.

Robotham is a real-life midwife in addition to author, and as such, all aspects of the midwifery care that Anke provides in the story is extremely accurate as to how prenatal and childbirth were handled in the 1940s.

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Rage by Bob Woodward

Rage goes behind the scenes like never before, with stunning new details about early national security decisions and operations and Trump’s moves as he faces a global pandemic, economic disaster and racial unrest.

Woodward, the #1 internationally bestselling author of 13 #1 bestsellers, including Fear: Trump in the White House, shows Trump up close in his entirety before the 2020 presidential election.

President Trump has said publicly that Woodward has interviewed him. What is not known is that Trump provided Woodward a window into his mind through a series of exclusive interviews.

Rage draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand witnesses, as well as participants’ notes, emails, diaries, calendars and confidential documents.

— — —

I have consumed several books about the Trump presidency over the last four years, but few authors write with the authority of Robert Woodward.

As I wrote in my review of Fear, Woodward is a bipartisan historian of the presidency who has devoted his career to the topic, and is well respected on both sides of the political aisle. As a result, I know I can rely on the reporting and conclusions drawn in Rage, with the knowledge that it is likely the most accurate portrayal of real goings-on inside the Trump’s White House.

I listed to both Fear and Rage. In both cases, the narration was decent. I did find both books to be rote; both read more like a history text – fitting perhaps as the writer is a celebrated historian – rather than resembling the riveting memoirs and tell-alls that have been published in great quantity.

Listening to Rage after the results of the November 2020 election had been announced and President-elect Biden named as the winner made the reading all the more interesting. The juxtaposition between Trump’s certainty he would be re-elected throughout the book, next to the real life results that he lost in a considerable way, made for more compelling reading.

One advantage that Rage had, is that it is based off of nearly twenty personal interviews the author had with President Trump, a marked difference from Woodward’s previous publication. Also, a good portion of the book discusses COVID-19. I’m not an American so most American politics have little to no effect on my life, even if the wider issue behind those politics does. COVID is different. It has deeply affected every person on this planet, and watching the American response has been horrifying and riveting… a train wreck one cannot turn away from.

Knowing that Trump had such early knowledge about the severity of the illness and its high infection rate but did not act to prepare his country is the type of villainy usually reserved for movies, but his continued obfuscation and denial of the basic facts related to this coronavirus has propelled confusion and misinformation across the globe, including in my country. In this way, I was more easily able to relate to Americans misled by their commander in chief.

Rage cut through many of the rumours online and in news media to illustrate several key points of the latter half of the Trump presidency. I believe it is a key read for Americans, whatever your political views. Knowledge is never the enemy. We have different experiences, different truths, and different perspectives , but the facts are the THE facts. No alternatives. And Woodward presents them in an honest and easily digestible way.

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Bound by the Past (Born in Blood Mafia Chronicles #7)

bound

Dante
My life is a tale of betrayal.
I killed so many because they betrayed our cause, because they betrayed the Outfit.
A hypocrite. A liar. A murderer.
That’s what I am.
Five times I betrayed the Outfit. With my blood I made a vow to our cause, swore my life to it, promised to put the Outfit first. Above all else.
Five times I chose a woman over the good of the Outfit. I betrayed my father. My vow. My men.
You reap what you sow.
Would my betrayals destroy everything I swore to protect?

Valentina
On our wedding day I made a vow to stand by Dante’s side.
In good and in bad times.
To love him through it all.
Growing up in the mafia, I knew the challenges in our life would be numerous. I never expected them to tear at the very base of our family, of our existence.

—                         —                         —

Bound by the Past starts prior to any other Cora Reilly book, and extends up to the present day, following the events of Twisted Pride. Most of the book is told from Dante’s POV, but there are sections told from Valentina’s as well.

I generally hate books that are retelling a story previously known, from another character’s point of view. I think it is a cheap way to resell the same old story and find it boring. Personally, books I read tend to be more plot driven and incorporate character development rather than rely on it to move the story forward. So long-winded version short: this book was designed for a reader like me.

All that being said …

I do like Cora Reilly’s story-telling abilities. A grammar freak may have trouble reading her books, as English is not her first language and this is noticeable, but the vivid world and characters she has created keep me coming back.

I felt a little bad for Dante – aside: am I crazy for sympathizing with a fictional monster??? – for consistently rating low among all the leading men in Reilly’s universe. I felt it was an unfair comparison. Dante’s reputation was riding on being featured in one novel, Bound by Duty, and there had been several books set in each of the rival Capo’s territories.

Bound by the Past introduced readers to more of the Outfit Mafia world, and how it differs from La Famiglia or The Camorra. It was good to see events from another perspective and see how Fina’s departure from this family affects those left behind.

I do not recommend reading this book as a standalone. Readers should have at least read Bound by Duty, if not all of Reilly’s Mafia novels. Proper reading order (IMHO, proper is chronological within cannon to prevent spoilers) is as follows:

  1. Luca Vitiello
  2. Bound by Honor
  3. Bound by Duty
  4. Bound by Hatred
  5. Bound by Temptation
  6. Bound by Vengeance
  7. Sweet Temptation
  8. Twisted Loyalties
  9. Bound by Love
  10. Twisted Emotions
  11. Twisted Pride
  12. Twisted Bonds
  13. Twisted Hearts
  14. Bound by the Past
  15. Twisted Cravings (not yet released)

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