Monday, June 14, 2021

Review - The Photographer

Title:    The Photographer
Author Mary Dixie Carter
Publisher:  Celadon Books
Genre:   Mystery/Thrillers
Format:  Print ARC
No. of Pages:   288
Date of Publication:   May 25, 2021
My Rating:   5 Stars
DESCRIPTION:

Mary Dixie Carter's The Photographer is a slyly observed, suspenseful story of envy and obsession, told in the mesmerizing, irresistible voice of a character who will make you doubt that seeing is ever believing.

WHEN PERFECT IMAGES

As a photographer, Delta Dawn observes the seemingly perfect lives of New York City’s elite: snapping photos of their children’s birthday parties, transforming images of stiff hugs and tearstained faces into visions of pure joy, and creating moments these parents long for.

ARE MADE OF BEAUTIFUL LIES

But when Delta is hired for Natalie Straub’s eleventh birthday, she finds herself wishing she wasn’t behind the lens but a part of the scene―in the Straub family’s gorgeous home and elegant life.

THE TRUTH WILL BE EXPOSED

That’s when Delta puts her plan in place, by babysitting for Natalie; befriending her mother, Amelia; finding chances to listen to her father, Fritz. Soon she’s bathing in the master bathtub, drinking their expensive wine, and eyeing the beautifully finished garden apartment in their townhouse. It seems she can never get close enough, until she discovers that photos aren’t all she can manipulate.


MY THOUGHTS:

Envy and obsession are powerful players in this thrilling story by Mary Dixie Carter. Delta Dawn has a wonderful job. As a photographer, children are often the focus of her talent, and she truly excels when it comes to creating memories for families. However, when she is hired to photograph Natalie Straub's birthday, Delta begins to have strange ideas. She wonders why she is always on the outside looking in. What if she wasn't behind the lens, instead part of the very scenes she is photographing. The Straub's have an idyllic life of wealth and elegance, and Delta becomes obsessed.

As I became immersed in this story I could not help but think of You by Caroline Kepnes. Although I only read the first book in the series, and have not watched the television show, Joe Goldberg was front and center in my mind as I read this book, The Photographer. It has been three years since I read You, and I hadn't even tracked it on Goodreads. Nonetheless, despite close to two thousand books read since then I remember Kepnes's book almost verbatim.

Why the comparison? What is it about Delta? I think it was privilege. She felt she deserved the life of the Straub family. She lays out a plan of attack, as it were, to instill herself into their lives. This begins by offering to babysit. Then she befriends Amelia, Natalie's mother. This leads to fantasizing about Fritz, Natalie's father. Factor in her excellent skills as a photographer, and she even maniuplates photos to appear as if she has been part of their life's events, including imagining herself with Fritz at the most basest of levels.

Delta's imagination and obsession reaches no bounds. Soon she decides to insert herself into the Straub family, even if that means literally erasing Amelia. In fact, Delta was not the only intriguing and off-balance character. Amelia was no peach in this story. Both of the women had a level of creepiness, leaving me to wonder who indeed would end up on top and where things could possibly land.

Lastly, although Natalie was only eleven years old, she had a few things that were not just right as well. Mary Dixie Carter did a great job at writing characters we the reader could hardly warm up to. Instead, we were pretty much groomed to dislike all of them, for their own reasons, all while leaving me to turn pages vigoroursly as I just had to see this book to its conclusion. No worries there. I was engaged, intrigued and shocked.  
 
Many thanks to Celadon Books and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mary Dixie Carter’s debut novel The Photographer will be published in May 2021 by Minotaur Books - St. Martin’s Publishing Group in the US and by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK.

Mary Dixie’s writing has appeared in TIME,  The Economist, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune,  The Philadelphia Inquirer,  The New York Sun, The New York Observer and other print and online publications.  She worked at The Observer for five years, where she served as the publishing director.  In addition to writing, she also has a background as a professional actor. 

Mary Dixie graduated from Harvard College with an honors degree in English Literature and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School.  She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two young children.


Audiobook Review - Coming Home to Seashell Harbor

Title
:   
Coming Home to Seashell Harbor
Author:  Miranda Liasson
Narrator:  Kate Marcin
Series:  Seashell Harbor #2
Genre:   Romance
Publisher:   Forever; OrangeSky Audio                                               Format:  Audiobook ARC
No. of Pages:  384
Date of Publication:  May 4, 2021
My Rating:  4 Stars

DESCRIPTION:

An emotional novel about first love, second chances, and what it means to follow your heart from this award-winning author who "writes with humor and heart" (Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author).

Hadley Wells swapped her dreams of saving the planet for the glamour of Hollywood. But when a very public breakup reveals cracks in her not-so-perfect life, she returns to her hometown to reassess what it is she truly wants. Unfortunately, Seashell Harbor has some trouble of its own—including the first man to ever break her heart.

A serious injury forced footballer Tony Cammareri into early retirement—now he’s determined to reboot his life with a splashy new restaurant venture. He knows better than to expect a happy reunion with Hadley, but he’s determined to make up for the way things ended between them. Yet when Tony and Hadley end up vying for control of the town’s future, they find themselves once again on opposing sides.

As their rivalry intensifies, they must decide what’s worth fighting for—and what it truly means to be happy.


MY THOUGHTS:

Hadley Wells pretty much swoons every times she is around first love Tony Cammareri. They are both back in Seashell Harbor but for very different reasons. For Hadley, her grandmother is recovering from an injury and Hadley is in town to assist her. Having had her heart broken recently, this gives Hadley a time to heal, all while pursuing a dream she once had. WIth regard to Tony, he had the ideal football career but all that is gone due to a career-ending injury. He has an idea to start a restaurant, 

Hadley and Tony both have fond memories of their past, although their lives have gone into different directions for years. Will they get a second chance at love despite major obstacles in their path? There is a building up for grabs - will it be for a no-kill shelter Hadley dreams of starting, or for Tony's new restaurant? Only one of them will get the building. Will pursuit of their dreams push them further apart than ever, even though the spark of attraction is so powerful between them?

I had Coming Home to Seashell Harbor as an audiobook ARC and I was very pleased with Kate Marcin's narration. She did a fine job with the various voices and inflections and this added to my enjoyment of an already warm story. This is the first book in a new series and that makes my heart sing. I enjoyed the story, the characters and the competion between them. There was an additional character who snagged my heart and that was Hadley's grandmother. Then, factor in the dogs in the story and what we have is a very well-rounded story.

Many thanks to Forever, OrangeSky Audio and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Miranda Liasson loves to write stories about everyday people who find love despite themselves, because there’s nothing like a great love story. And if there are a few laughs along the way, even better! She’s a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and an Amazon bestselling author whose heartwarming and humorous small–town romances have won accolades such as the National Readers’ Choice Award and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence and have been Harlequin Junkie and Night Owl Reviews Top Picks.

She lives in the Midwest with her husband and three kids in a charming old neighborhood which is the inspiration for many of the homes in her books.


Miranda loves to hear from readers! Find her at Facebook.com/MirandaLiassonAuthor, and on Instagram and Twitter @mirandaliasson. For information about new releases and other news, feel free to sign up for her newsletter at https://mirandaliasson.com/#mailing-list.



BLOG TOUR - The Child in the Photo


DESCRIPTION
:

I stare at the newspaper article about a baby snatched from the back of a car thirty years ago, and wonder why someone would post it through my door. Looking closer, my blood freezes. The little girl in the photo has an unusual scar – just like mine. I’ve never met anyone with one like it. Is this stolen child… me?

Trembling with shock, I know I have to confront my mother. My parents got me through a horrific accident, helped me find a job I love teaching art, and even with buying my own house. But was it all built on lies?

She tells me the day I was born was the best day of her life, and I’m flooded with guilt for questioning her – but why do I catch her burning papers in the garden the next day?

Then I come home to find a woman sitting on my doorstep, covered in bruises and claiming she knows who abducted me. I don’t know if I can trust her – or if I’ll be the next to get hurt.

Because all the while, I’ve been hiding my own secret. Does whoever sent the article know what really happened the day of my accident? Desperate for the truth, I break into the house of my supposed kidnapper. Inside, I find a handwritten list of names. A shiver goes down my spine as I realise wasn’t the only child to be stolen.

Then I hear a key in the lock, and I know my life is in terrible danger…

An absolutely addictive read that will have you racing through the pages and questioning everything you thought you knew about your family. Perfect for fans of The Girl on the Train, Lisa Jewell and Shari Lapena.


BUY LINKS:


MY THOUGHTS:
 
Title
:   The Child in the Photo
Author:  Kerry Wilkinson
Publisher:  Bookouture
Genre:   Mystery/Thriller
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   318
Date of Publication:   June 14, 2021
My Rating:   4 Stars

In this thrilling read, one impossible to put down, I began reading how Hope discovers a mysterious newspaper clipping in the mailslot in her door. Therefore, it comes to no surprise that something was about to happen. The clipping contained a photo of a baby that was snatched when she was six months of age 34 years ago. Hope is 34 years of age. What is more is that the photo clearly shows that the infant has an unusual scar. Complely identical to the scar that Hope bears. These simply cannot be coincidences. When Hope confonts her mother, she gets a simple and what should be believable explanation about the scar Hope has.

But, it is not enough. She asks best friend Stephen to accompany her while she tries and look for whatever clues - or could it be lies - about her past and about that mysterious photo. If that is not enough, her mother suddenly does a strange thing - she burns papers in the garden. Does her mother have something to hide? Was Hope the abducted baby from all those years ago? 

Hope's intense desire for answers causes her to take drastic actions. In so doing, she begins to unearth chilling clues that lead to abhorrable secrets, proof that she was indeed abducted - and that she was not the only one. This presents grave danger to Hope. 

While this story explores Hope's past, it is also a story of friendship, and of trust. With regard to her friend Stephen, Hope has found a gem. It is the rock of friendship that just might be enough to carry Hope through this difficult search for the truth. Also, Hope had other issues, and it was these issues that showed her strength and vigor, despite obstacles that might have slowed another person down. 

While Hope had someone she could trust in Stephen, other secondary characters floated into the story, proving that trust was something that had to be earned, especially when danger seemed close at bay. Factor in a twist that eases into the story and The Child in the Photo turned out to be a terrific page-turner, intriguing from beginning to end.

Many thanks to Bookouture and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kerry Wilkinson is from the English county of Somerset but has spent far too long living in the north. It’s there that he’s picked up possibly made-up regional words like ‘barm’ and ‘ginnel’. He pretends to know what they mean.

He’s also been busy since turning thirty: his Jessica Daniel crime series has sold more than a million copies in the UK; he has written a fantasy-adventure trilogy for young adults; a second crime series featuring private investigator Andrew Hunter and the standalone thriller, Down Among The Dead Men.

https://kerrywilkinson.com/
https://www.facebook.com/KerryWilkinsonBooks/
https://twitter.com/kerrywk

Review - Remember

Title:  Remember
Author Lisa Genova
Publisher:  Harmony
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   256
Date of Publication:   March 23, 2021
My Rating:   5 Stars
DESCRIPTION:

A fascinating exploration of the intricacies of how we remember, why we forget, and what we can do to protect our memories, from the Harvard-trained neuroscientist and bestselling author of Still Alice.

Have you ever felt a crushing wave of panic when you can't for the life of you remember the name of that actor in the movie you saw last week, or you walk into a room only to forget why you went there in the first place? If you're over forty, you're probably not laughing. You might even be worried that these lapses in memory could be an early sign of Alzheimer's or dementia. In reality, for the vast majority of us, these examples of forgetting are completely normal. Why? Because while memory is amazing, it is far from perfect. Our brains aren't designed to remember every name we hear, plan we make, or day we experience. Just because your memory sometimes fails doesn't mean it's broken or succumbing to disease. Forgetting is actually part of being human.

In Remember, neuroscientist and acclaimed novelist Lisa Genova delves into how memories are made and how we retrieve them. You'll learn whether forgotten memories are temporarily inaccessible or erased forever and why some memories are built to exist for only a few seconds (like a passcode) while others can last a lifetime (your wedding day). You'll come to appreciate the clear distinction between normal forgetting (where you parked your car) and forgetting due to Alzheimer's (that you own a car). And you'll see how memory is profoundly impacted by meaning, emotion, sleep, stress, and context. Once you understand the language of memory and how it functions, its incredible strengths and maddening weaknesses, its natural vulnerabilities and potential superpowers, you can both vastly improve your ability to remember and feel less rattled when you inevitably forget. You can set educated expectations for your memory, and in doing so, create a better relationship with it. You don't have to fear it anymore. And that can be life-changing. 


MY THOUGHTS:

Lisa Genova has published five fictional novels. Her debut novel Still Alice (2007) is the heartbreaking story of 50-year-old Harvard professor Alice Howland's early onset Alzheimer's disease. Her sophomore book was Left Neglected (2011), is the story of Sarah Nickerson's life after an accident causes a traumatic brain injury that caused the complete loss of the left side of her body. Love Anthony (2012) was the story told from a very sad point of view - that of an autistic unknown boy.  Inside the O'Briens (2015) told the sad story of forty-four-year-old police officer Joe O'Brien's battle with Huntington's disease. 
And, lastly, Every Note Played (2018) was the tragic story of concert pianist Richard's devastating battle with ALS, losing more and more use of his body. 

The five titles mentioned were all fictional, and I read them after reading the nonfiction book that is the focus of this review - Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgiving. Until I got this ARC for review, I had not heard  of the author. Reading this book and how memory and how the brain works to remember was explored by neuroscientist Lisa Genova. I was so enthralled with this work, that I had to go back and read the fictional titles mentioned above. Ms. Genova is a highly respected expert involving the nervous system and the brain. 

With the fictional titles, various aspects of the brain and particular injuries were explored. With regard to Remember, the exploration of memory was brilliantly discussed. Things as simple as to how we often try to remember if we shut the stove off, where we put our keys, if we locked the door, etc., After a certain age, are we all victims of early Alzheimer's or dementia, or is growing forgetfullness normal? In fact, this book helps us to find ways to remember, even though we all overload our brain on a daily basis. Ms. Genova goes further in this book. She shows readers how we make memories and what we do to remember the most innocuous of things. 

Although nonfictional this did not read like a self-help book to me. Instead, it was a very good, in-depth almost conversational discussion as to how memories are formed and how we can retrieve them. In fact, sometimes our very environment can influce our ability to remember. I loved learning more about the difference between short-term memory and long-term memory. Or why we can have clear memories from certain dates in our past, but no memories of surrounding dates. I found all of this to be quite intriguing, so much so that I went and read all the books mentioned above. 

Many thanks to Harmony and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lisa Genova graduated valedictorian, summa cum laude from Bates College with a degree in Biopsychology and has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University.

Acclaimed as the Oliver Sacks of fiction and the Michael Crichton of brain science, Lisa has captured a special place in contemporary fiction, writing stories that are equally inspired by neuroscience and the human spirit. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels STILL ALICE, LEFT NEGLECTED, LOVE ANTHONY, INSIDE THE O'BRIENS, and EVERY NOTE PLAYED. 

Her first work of nonfiction, REMEMBER: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, published March 2021, was an instant New York Times bestseller.

STILL ALICE was adapted into a film starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and 

Hunter Parrish. Julianne Moore won the 2015 Best Actress Oscar for her role as Alice Howland. Film adaptations for INSIDE THE O'BRIENS and EVERY NOTE PLAYED are in development.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Review - The Plot

Title:   The Plot
Author Jean Hanff Korelitz
Publisher:  Celadon Books
Genre:   Mystery/Thrillers
Format:  Audiobook and Print ARC
No. of Pages:   336
Date of Publication:   May 11, 2021
My Rating:   4 Stars
DESCRIPTION:

Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he's teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what's left of his self-respect; he hasn't written--let alone published--anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn't need Jake's help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot.

Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker's first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that--a story that absolutely needs to be told.

In a few short years, all of Evan Parker's predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.

As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his "sure thing" of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?

Hailed as breathtakingly suspenseful, Jean Hanff Korelitz's The Plot is a propulsive read about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it.


MY THOUGHTS:

Jacob Finch Bonner was a well respected novelist after just one book. However, for his sophomore title, he is hit with a hard case of writer's block. To make ends meet, he is teaching a program for aspiring writers, although it has been years since he has published. When someone taking the class, Evan Parker, tells Jacob of a plot for a book, Jacob is intrigued. Then, Jacob discovers that Evan has died, so Jacob takes on Evan's plot as his own and writes a bestselling book. The book has done so good that Jacob rises immediately to the top - including an offer from Stephen Spielberg for a feature film. He is a book thief, but who's to know?

Now, wealthy beyond belief, traveling far and wide, Jacob's success almost comes to a screeching halt - and it starts with a single email - You are a thief. That is all it says. Jacob perhaps should have given the idea of Evan's plot some serious thought. Actually, Evan felt it was a sure thing. If Evan had not died, would he have achieved the very success that Jacob is experiencing? 

Who knows of Jacob's actions? Jacob now starts to dig deeper into Evan's life. Now he needs to know how Evan came up with the plot, and whether or not it had anything to do with his death. What was the plot based on, who was really behind it and who is sure to expose Jacob?

That one email becomes many. Then there are the texts. But, it doesn't stop there. Threats are coming fast and hard, giving Jacob pause. However, the train has left the station and Jacob can do no less than to try and sort things out so that he never becomes exposed.

Although I loved this thrilling story, there was a point I pretty much figured it out. Even though that part of the mystery fell flat, I was eager to see the journey ahead of Jacob so that the many questions and fears facing him would be resolved. The book definitely was intriguing, enough that I pretty much read it from cover to cover in one sitting. Having an idea who was threatening Jacob did not take away my enjoyment of the story. In fact, what it did was to keep me even more riveted to the events as they unfolded. I ended up loving this book and have already recommended it countless times. 

Although I received a print ARC of The Plot, I also got an audiobook review copy. I did have to speed up the book in order to feel a bit more engaged with the story. This is not the first time I have listened to this narrator. In fact, two of the books I have listened to were Gone Girl and The Wife Upstairs. Once I got deeper into the story, I was able to relax into the narration, and thus also have been recommending the audiobook to fellow readers.
 
Many thanks to Celadon Books and NetGalley for this ARC for review.  This is my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jean Hanff Korelitz was born and raised in New York City and educated at Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. She is the author of the novels: The Plot,  You Should Have Known (Adapted for HBO as “The Undoing” by David E. Kelley, directed by Susanne Bier and starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland), Admission (adapted as the 2013 film of the same name, starring Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin and Paul Rudd), The Devil and Webster, The White Rose, The Sabbathday River and A Jury of Her Peers, as well as a middle-grade reader, Interference Powder, and a collection of poetry, The Properties of Breath. A new novel, The Latecomer, will be published by Celadon Books in 2022.

With her husband, Irish poet Paul Muldoon, she adapted James Joyce’s “The Dead” as an immersive theatrical event, THE DEAD, 1904. The play was produced by Dot Dot Productions, LLC, for the Irish Repertory Theatre and performed at New York's American Irish Historical Society for seven week runs in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Korelitz is the founder of BOOKTHEWRITER, a New York City based service that offers "Pop-Up Book Groups" where readers can discuss books with their authors. Events are being held online for the duration of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

She and Paul Muldoon are the parents of two children and live in New York City.


BLOG TOUR - The Warsaw Orphan


DESCRIPTION
:

With the thrilling pace and historical drama of Pam Jenoff and Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author Kelly Rimmer's newest novel is an epic WWII saga and love story, based on the real-life efforts of two young people taking extraordinary risks to save their countrymen, as they try to find their way back to each other and the life they once knew.

Following on the success of The Things We Cannot Say, this is Kelly Rimmer's return to the WWII category with a brand new novel inspired by Irena Sendler, the real-life Polish nurse who used her access to the Warsaw ghetto to smuggle Jewish children and babies to safety.

Spanning the tumultuous years between 1942 and 1945 in Poland, The Warsaw Orphan follows Emilia over the course of the war, her involvement with the Resistance, and her love for Sergiusz, a young man imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto who's passion leads him to fight in the Warsaw Uprising. From the Warsaw ghetto to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, through Nazi occupation to the threat of a communist regime, Kelly Rimmer has penned her most meticulously researched and emotionally compelling novel to date.

BUY LINKS:
Amazon | Indigo | Apple | Google Play | Kobo

MY THOUGHTS:
 
Title
:   The Warsaw Orphan
Author:  Kelly Rimmer
Publisher:  Graydon House
Genre:   Historical Fiction
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   416
Date of Publication:   June 1, 2021
  *first published April 28, 2021
My Rating:   5 Stars

Despair and tragedy at every turn in 1942 Warsaw, Poland. However, courage and conviction are also at play. Elzbieta Rabinek has been living a comfortable life despite the tragedy she already experienced. However, she befriends her neighbor Sara, who is a nurse and who often acts as a social worker. Secretly, Sara has been working to save Jewish children, either orphaned, sick or dying, with hopes of secreting these children into families that might give these children a future. It is a dangerous endeavor to be sure, but Elzbieta pushes her way into the resistance, proving her incredible strength, friendship and value, although only fourteen years of age.

Then there is Roman Gorka and his brother Dawidek. Their family is starving and their mother is nursing a six-week old baby girl. Will they be deported, even killed, or simply (not so, really, albeit tragically) starve to death? Sadness and frustration lead to anger, and causes Roman to fight with incredible vigor.

Life has a measure of beauty, despite the dark days each of them face, although for different reasons. Will Roman find strength within himself, even while finding love for Elzbieta and take whatever risks that are in front of them to seek a freedom that is out of the reach for most? Will they face execution and death for their actions?

The Nazi occupation was awful, and that is truly an understatement. Elzbieta and Roman's story of fighting the impossible with the possibility of a future of freedom and love is equally tragic and touching. Over and over again the stories in this book are heartbreaking, considering the countless lives affected by the Nazis. Danger is never far away, making the idea of one day life being worth living a difficult concept to imagine.

The Warsaw Orphan is an incredible story, although utterly tragic, and one that brought many a tear, all while hoping against hope that Elzbieta and Roman just might survive their individual horrors to perhaps forge their way to a future together. I have read many historical fiction novels based on that terrible time during World War II, but this book was harder than most. However, the journey that Elzbieta and Roman traveled was told so well, often seperately, and I could not help but feel for the both of them, while applauding their strength and resilience despite incredible odds. 

Many thanks to Graydon House and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.

Please enjoy the following excerpt:
1

Roman

28 March, 1942

The human spirit is a miraculous thing. It is the strongest part of us—crushed under pressure, but rarely broken. Trapped within our weak and fallible bodies, but never contained. I pondered this as my brother and I walked to a street vendor on Zamenhofa Street in the Warsaw Ghetto, late in the afternoon on a blessedly warm spring day.

“There was one right there,” he said, pointing to a rare gap in the crowd on the sidewalk. I nodded but did not reply. Dawidek sometimes needed to talk me through his workday but he did not need me to comment, which was fortunate, because even after months of this ritual, I still had no idea what to say.

“Down that alleyway, there was one on the steps of a building. Not even on the sidewalk, just right there on the steps.”

I fumbled in my pocket, making sure I still had the sliver of soap my stepfather had given me. Soap was in desperate demand in the ghetto, a place where overcrowding and lack of running water had created a perfect storm for illness. My stepfather ran a tiny dentistry practice in the front room of our apartment and needed the soap as much as anyone—maybe even more so. But as desperate as Samuel’s need for soap was, my mother’s need for food eclipsed it, and so there Dawidek and I were. It was generally considered a woman’s job to go to the market, but Mother needed to conserve every bit of strength she could, and the street vendor Samuel wanted me to speak to was blocks away from our home.

“…and Roman, one was behind a big dumpster,” he hesitated, then grimaced. “Except I think we missed that one yesterday.”

I didn’t ask how he’d come to that conclusion. I knew that the answer was liable to make my heart race and my vision darken, the way it did sometimes. Sometimes, it felt as if my anger was simmering just below the surface: at my nine-year-old brother and the rest of my family. Although, none of this was their fault. At Sala, my boss at the factory on Nowolipki Street, even though he was a good man and he’d gone out of his way to help me and my family more than once. At every damned German I laid eyes on. Always them. Especially them. A sharp, uncompromising anger tinged every interaction those days, and although that anger started and ended with the Germans who had changed our world, it cycled through everyone else I knew before it made its way back where it belonged.

“There was one here yesterday. In the middle of the road at the entrance to the market.”

Dawidek had already told me all about that one, but I let him talk anyway. I hoped this running commentary would spare him from the noxious interior that I was currently grappling with. I envied the ease with which he could talk about his day, even if hearing the details filled me with guilt. Guilt I could handle, I probably deserved it. It was the anger that scared me. I felt like my grip on control was caught between my sweaty hands and, at any given moment, all it would take was for someone to startle me, and I’d lose control.

The street stall came into view through the crowd. There was always a crush of people on the street until the last second before seven o’clock curfew. This was especially the case in summer, when the oppressive heat inside the ghetto apartments could bring people to faint, besides which, the overcrowding inside was no better than the overcrowding outside. I had no idea how many people were inside those ghetto walls—Samuel guessed a million, Mrs. Kuklin´ski in the bedroom beside ours said it was much more, Mother was quite confident that it was maybe only a hundred thousand. All I knew was that ours was not the only apartment in the ghetto designed for one family that was currently housing four—in fact, there were many living in even worse conditions. While the population was a hot topic of conversation on a regular basis, it didn’t actually matter all that much to me. I could see with my own eyes and smell with my own nose that however many people were trapped within the ghetto walls, it was far, far too many.

When the vendor’s table came into view, my heart sank: she was already packing up for the day and there was no produce left. I was disappointed but not surprised: there had been no chance of us finding food so late in the day, let alone food that someone would barter for a simple slip of soap. Dawidek and I had passed a store that was selling eggs, but they’d want zloty for the eggs, not a tiny scrap of soap.

“Wait here a minute,” I murmured to my brother, who shrugged as he sank to sit on an apartment stoop. I might have let him follow me, but even after the depths our family had sunk to over the years of occupation, I still hated for him to see me beg. I glanced at him, recording his location to memory, and then pushed through the last few feet of people mingling on the sidewalk until I reached the street vendor. She shook her head before I’d spoken a word.

“I am sorry young man; I have nothing to offer you.”

“I am Samuel Gorka’s son,” I told her. It was an oversimplification of a complicated truth, but it was the best way I could help her place me. “He fixed your tooth for you, remember? A few months ago? His practice is on Miła Street.”

Recognition dawned in her gaze, but she still regarded me warily.

“I remember Samuel and I’m grateful to him, but that doesn’t change anything. I have no food left today.”

“My brother and I…we work during the day. And Samuel too. You know how busy he is, helping people like yourself. But the thing is, we have a sick family member who hasn’t—”

“Kid, I respect your father. He’s a good man, and a good dentist. I wish I could help, but I have nothing to give you.” She waved to the table, to the empty wooden box she had packed up behind her, and then opened her palms towards me as if to prove the truth of her words.

“There is nowhere else for me to go. I can’t take no for an answer. I’m going to bed hungry tonight, but I can’t let…” I trailed off, the hopelessness hitting me right in the chest. I knew I would be going home without food for my mother that night, and the implications made me want to curl up in a ball, right there in the gutter. But hopelessness was dangerous, at least in part because it was always followed by an evil cousin. Hopelessness was a passive emotion, but its natural successor drove action, and that action rarely resulted in anything positive. I clenched my fists, and my fingers curled around the soap. I pulled it from my pocket and extended it towards the vendor. She looked from my palm to my face, then sighed impatiently and leaned close to me to hiss,

“I told you. I have nothing left to trade today. If you want food, you need to come earlier in the day.”

“That’s impossible for us. Don’t you understand?”

To get to the market early in the day one of us would have to miss work. Samuel couldn’t miss work; he could barely keep up as it was—he performed extractions from sunup to curfew most days. Rarely was this work paid now that money was in such short supply among ordinary families like his patients, but the work was important—not just because it afforded some small measure of comfort for a people group who were, in every other way, suffering immensely. But every now and again Samuel did a favor for one of the Jewish police officers or even a passing German soldier. He had a theory that one day soon, those favors were going to come in handy. I was less optimistic, but I understood that he couldn’t just close his practice. The moment Samuel stopped working would be the moment he had to perform an honest reckoning with our situation, and if he did that, he would come closer to the despair I felt every waking moment of every day.

“Do you have anything else? Or is it just the soap?” the woman asked me suddenly.

“That’s all.”

“Tomorrow. Come back this time tomorrow. I’ll keep something for you, but for that much soap?” She shook her head then pursed her lips. “It’s not going to be much. See if you can find something else to barter.”

“There is nothing else,” I said, my throat tight. But the woman’s gaze was at least sympathetic, and so I nodded at her. “I’ll do my best. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As I turned away, I wondered if it was worth calling into that store to ask about the eggs, even though I knew that the soap wasn’t nearly enough for a whole egg. It wasn’t enough for even half an egg here on the market, and the stores were always more expensive than the street vendors. Maybe they would give me a shell? We could grind it up and Mother could drink it in a little water. We’d done that once before for her. It wasn’t as good as real food, but it might help a little overnight. It surely couldn’t hurt.

As I spun back towards our apartment, a burst of adrenaline nearly knocked me sideways. Dawidek hadn’t moved, but two Jewish police officers were now standing in front of him. Like me, my brother was tall for his age—an inheritance from our maternal grandfather that made us look bizarre when we stood with Samuel and Mother, who were both more diminutive. Even so, he looked far too small to be crowded into the doorway of an apartment by two Jewish Police officers. That situation could turn to bloodshed in a heartbeat. The Kapo operated on a spectrum from well-meaning and kindly to murderously violent, and I had no way of knowing what kind of Kapo were currently accosting Dawidek. My heart thundered against the wall of my chest as I pushed my way back to them, knowing even as I approached that intervening could well get me shot.

For everything I had been through and for everything I had seen, the only thing that kept me going was my family, especially Dawidek. He was my favorite person in the world, a burst of purity in an environment of pure evil. Some days, the only time I felt still inside was when he and I were playing or talking in the evenings—and that stillness was the only rest I got. I could not live without him, in fact—I had already decided that if it came to that, I wouldn’t even try.

“Dawidek?” I called as I neared. Both Kapo turned toward me. The one on the left, the taller one, sized me up as if an emaciated, unarmed 16-year-old was any kind of threat. I knew from bitter experience that the smart thing to do would have been to let Dawidek try to talk his own way out of this. He was nine years old but used to defending himself in the bizarrely toxic environment of the Ghetto. All day long, he was at his job alone, and I was at mine. He needed his wits about him to survive even an hour of that, and I needed to trust that he could handle himself.

But I couldn’t convince myself to be smart, even when I knew that what I was about to do was likely to earn me, at best, a severe beating. I couldn’t even stop myself when the Kapo gave me a second chance to walk away. They ignored me and kept their attention on my brother. “Hey!” I shouted, loud enough that my voice echoed up and down the street, and dozens of people turned to stare. “He’s just a kid. He hasn’t done anything wrong!”

I was mentally planning my next move. I’d make a scene, maybe push one of the Kapo, and when they turned to beat me, Dawidek could run. Pain was never pleasant, but physical pain could also be an effective distraction from mental anguish, which was the worst kind. Maybe I could even land a punch, and that might feel good. But my brother stepped forward, held his hands up to me and said fiercely, “These are my supervisors, Roman. Just supervisors on the crew. We were just talking.”

My stomach dropped. My heartbeat pounded in my ears and my hands were hot.—I knew my face was flushed raspberry, both with embarrassment and from the adrenaline. After a terse pause that seemed to stretch forever, the Kapo exchanged an amused glance, one patted Dawidek on the back, and they continued down the street, both laughing at me. Dawidek shook his head in frustration.

“Why did you do that? What would you do, even if I was in trouble?”

“I’m sorry,” I admitted, scraping my hand through my hair. “I lost my head.”

“You’re always losing your head,” Dawidek muttered, falling into step beside me, as we began to follow the Kapo back towards our own apartment. “You need to listen to Father. Keep your head down, work hard and hope for the best. You are too smart to keep making such dumb decisions.”

Hearing my little brother echoing his father’s wisdom in the same tone and with the same impatience was always jarring, but in this case, I was dizzy with relief, and so I messed up his hair, and let out a weak laugh.

“For a nine-year-old, you are awfully wise.”

“Wise enough to know that you didn’t get any food for mother.”

“We were too late,” I said, and then I swallowed the lump in my throat. “But she said that we should come back tomorrow. She will set something aside for us.”

“Let’s walk the long way home. The trashcans on Smocza Street are sometimes good.”

We were far from the only family in the ghetto who had run out of resources. We were all starving and any morsel of food was quickly found, even if it was from a trashcan. Still, I was not at all keen to return to our crowded apartment, to face the disappointment in my stepfather’s gaze or to see the starvation in my mother’s. I let Dawidek lead the way, and we walked in silence, broken by his periodic bursts of commentary.

“We picked one up here… Another over there… Mordechai helped me with one there.”

As we turned down a quiet street, I realized that Dawidek’s Kapo supervisors were right in front of us, walking a few dozen feet ahead.

“We should turn around, I don’t want any trouble with those guys,” I muttered. Dawidek shook his head.

“They like me. I work hard and don’t give them any trouble. Now that you have stopped trying to get yourself killed, they won’t bother us, even if they do notice us.”

Just then, the shorter policeman glanced towards the sidewalk on his right, and then he paused. He waved his companion ahead, then withdrew something from his pocket as he crouched low to the ground. —I was far too far away to hear the words he spoke, but I saw the sadness in his gaze. The Kapo then rose and jogged ahead to catch up with his partner. Dawidek and I continued along the street, but only when we drew near where he had stopped did I realize why.

We had been in the ghetto for almost two years. Conditions were bad to begin with, and every new day seemed to bring new trials. I learned to wear blinders—to block out the public pain and suffering of my fellow prisoners. I had walked every block of the ghetto, both the Little Ghetto with its nicer apartments where the elite and artists appeared to live in relative comport, and through the Big Ghetto, where poor families like my own were crammed in, trying to survive at a much higher density. The footbridge on Chłodna Street connected the two and elevated the Ghetto residents above the “Aryan” Poles, and even the Germans, who passed beneath it. The irony of this never failed to amuse me when I crossed. Sometimes, I crossed it just to cheer myself up.

I knew the Ghetto inside and out, and I noticed every detail, even if I had taught myself to ignore what I saw as much as I could. I learned not to react when an elderly man or woman caught my hand as I passed, clawing in the hopes that I could spare them a morsel of food. I learned not to so much as startle if someone was shot in front of my eyes. And most of all, I learned to never look at the face of any unfortunate soul who was prone on the sidewalk. The only way to survive was to remain alert so I had to see it all, but I also had to learn to look right through it. The only way to manage my own broiling fury was to bury it.

But the policeman had drawn my attention to a scene of utter carnage outside of what used to be a clothing store. The store had long ago run out of stock and had been re-purposed as accommodation for several families. The wide front window was now taped over with Hessian sacks for privacy; outside of that window, on the paved sidewalk, a child was lying on her stomach. Alive, but barely.

The Ghetto was teeming with street children. The orphanages were full to bursting which meant that those who weren’t under the care of relatives or kindly strangers were left to their own devices. I saw abandoned children, but I didn’t see them.

I’d have passed right by this child on any other day. I couldn’t even manage to keep my own family safe and well, so it was better to keep walking and spare myself the pain of powerlessness. But I was curious about what the policeman had given the child, and so even as we approached her, I was scanning—looking to see what had caught his attention and to try to figure out what he’d put down on the ground.

Starvation confused the normal growth and development of children, but even so, I guessed she was two or three. She wore the same vacant expression I saw in most children by that stage. Patches of her hair had fallen out, and her naked stomach and legs were swollen. Someone had taken her clothing except for a tattered pair of underwear, and I understood why.

This child would not be alive by morning. Once they became too weak to beg for help, it didn’t take long, and this child was long past that point. Her dull brown eyes were liquid pools of defeat and agony.

My eyes drifted to her hands. One was lying open and empty on the sidewalk beside her, her palm facing upward, as if opening her hands to God. The other was also open, slumped against the sidewalk on the other side of her, but this palm was not empty. Bread. The policeman had pressed a chunk of bread beneath the child’s hand. I stared at the food and even though it was never going to find its way to my lips, my mouth began to water. I was torturing myself, but it was much easier to look at the bread than at the girl’s dull eyes.

Dawidek stood silently beside me. I thought of my mother, and then crouched beside the little girl.

“Hello,” I said, stiff and awkward. The child did not react. I cast my gaze all over her face, taking it in. The sharp cheekbones. The way her eyes seemed too big for her face. The matted hair. Someone had once brushed this little girl’s hair, and probably pulled it into pretty braids. Someone had once bathed this child, and tucked her into bed at night, bending down to whisper in her ear that she was loved and special and wanted.

Now, her lips were dry and cracked, and blood dried into a dirty black scab in the corner of her mouth. My eyes burned, and it took me a moment to realize that I was struggling to hold back tears.

“You should eat the bread,” I urged softly. Her eyes moved, and then she blinked, but then her eyelids fluttered and fell closed. She drew in a breath, but her whole chest rattled, the sound I knew people made just before they died—when they were far too ill to even cough. A tear rolled down my cheek. I closed my eyes, but now, instead of blackness, I saw the little girl’s face.

This was why I learned to wear blinders, because if you got too close to the suffering, it would burn itself into your soul. This little girl was now a part of me, and her pain was part of mine.

Even so, I knew that she could not eat the bread. The policeman’s gesture had been well-meaning, but it had come far too late. If I didn’t take the bread, the next person who passed would. If my time in the ghetto had taught me anything, it was that life might deliver blessings, but each one would have a sting in its tail. God might deliver us fortune, but never without a cost. I would take the bread, and the child would die overnight. But that wouldn’t be the end of the tragedy. In some ways, it was only the beginning.

I wiped my cheeks roughly with the back of my hand, and then before I could allow my conscience to stop me, I reached down and plucked the bread from under the child’s hand, to swiftly hide it my pocket. Then I stood, and forced myself to not look at her again. Dawidek and I began to walk.

“The little ones should be easier. I don’t have to ask the big kids for help lifting them, and they don’t weigh anything at all. They should be easier, shouldn’t they?” Dawidek said, almost philosophically. He sighed heavily, and then added in a voice thick with confusion and pain. “I’ll be able to lift her by myself tomorrow morning, but that won’t make it easier.”

Fortune gave me a job with one of the few factories in the ghetto that was owned by a kindly Jew, rather than some German businessman only wanting to take advantage of slave labor. But this meant that when the Kapo came looking for me at home, to help collect the bodies from the streets before sunrise each day, the only other viable person in our household was my brother.

When Dawidek was first recruited to this hideous role, I wanted to quit my job so that I could relieve him of it. But corpse-collection was unpaid work and my factory job paid me in food—every single day, I sat down to a hot lunch, which meant other members of my family could share my portion of rations. This girl would die overnight, and by dawn, my little brother would have lifted her into the back of a wagon. He and a team of children and teenagers, under the supervision of the Kapo, would drag the wagon to the cemetery, where they would tip the corpses into a pit with dozens of others.

Rage, black and red and violent in its intensity, clouded the edges of my vision and I felt the thunder of the injustice in my blood. But then Dawidek drew a deep breath, and he leaned forward to catch my gaze. He gave me a smile, a brave smile, one that tilted the axis of my world until I felt it chase the rage away.
I had to maintain control. I couldn’t allow my fury to destroy me, because my family was relying on me. Dawidek was relying on me.

“Mother is going to be so excited to have bread,” he said, his big brown eyes lighting up at the thought of pleasing her. “And that means Eleonora will get better milk tomorrow, won’t she?”

“Yes,” I said, my tone as empty as the words themselves. “This bread is a real blessing.”

Excerpted from The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer, Copyright © 2021 by Lantana Management Pty Ltd. Published by Graydon House Books.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kelly Rimmer is the worldwide, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Before I Let You Go, The Things We Cannot Say, and Truths I Never Told You. She lives in rural Australia with her husband, two children and fantastically naughty dogs, Sully and Basil. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. Please visit her at https://www.kellyrimmer.com/

SOCIAL LINKS:
Author website: https://www.kellyrimmer.com/
Facebook: @Kellymrimmer
Twitter: @KelRimmerWrites
Instagram: @kelrimmerwrites

Review - The Drowning Kind

Title:  The Drowning Kind
Author Jennifer McMahon
Publisher:  Gallery/Scout Press
Genre:   Mystery/Thrillers
Format:  Audiobook /ebook ARCs
No. of Pages:   336
Date of Publication:   April 6, 2021
My Rating:   5 Stars
DESCRIPTION:

Be careful what you wish for.

When social worker Jax receives nine missed calls from her older sister, Lexie, she assumes that it’s just another one of her sister’s episodes. Manic and increasingly out of touch with reality, Lexie has pushed Jax away for over a year. But the next day, Lexie is dead: drowned in the pool at their grandmother’s estate. When Jax arrives at the house to go through her sister’s things, she learns that Lexie was researching the history of their family and the property. And as she dives deeper into the research herself, she discovers that the land holds a far darker past than she could have ever imagined.

In 1929, thirty-seven-year-old newlywed Ethel Monroe hopes desperately for a baby. In an effort to distract her, her husband whisks her away on a trip to Vermont, where a natural spring is showcased by the newest and most modern hotel in the Northeast. Once there, Ethel learns that the water is rumored to grant wishes, never suspecting that the spring takes in equal measure to what it gives. 


MY THOUGHTS:

What does 1920's New Hampshire have to do with two sisters in present day? Jax has a difficult task ahead of her. She has to see about her sister Lex's affairs after Lex drowned in a pool. Jax is quite upset with herself because she let numerous calls go unanswered by Lex as Lex was often manic. Now Lex is dead, and Jax has to sort things out. The sisters were distant for more than one reason, including the fact that Lex inherited their grandmother's estate. One of the things this estate housed was a pool reputed to be haunted.

Jax is forced to deal with mixed feelings about Lex. Dealing with guilt towards Lex is one thing. Also, Jax did not deal well with Lex's mental illness, something passed on genetically. The story deals with much more than these things, however. In fact the book takes on a supernatural edge, as there were strange things going on with the pool, both years ago and presently. 

When the story shifts back to 1929, there is Ethel Monroe's point of view, Desperation for a baby after marrying the town doctor leads Ethel to reach for desperate measures, including visiting a resort that is connected to a pool said to have healing powers. While making wishes at this pool is a common thing, odd experiences and danger are close at hand.

In present day and Jax's point of view we see how she and Lex were close as children, enjoying their summers together, at that very pool that factored into the other time frame in this story. Lex had a unique attachment to the pool, mesmerizing and more. By the time the girls became adults, they were estranged and this made it rather easy for Jax to ignore those pressing phone calls just before Lex's death. What did Lex want to tell Jax and what led to Lex's death?

The Drowning Kind  was a thrilling story filled with unsual and creepy events, palpable tension and atmosphere and a shocking ending, one that wrapped things up remarkably well.

Many thanks to Gallery/Scout Press and to NetGalley for this ARC for review.  This is my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

I’m the New York Times Bestselling author of ten suspense novels including The Winter People and Promise Not To Tell. My latest, The Drowning Kind, will be out in April. I’ve written about ghosts, serial killers, shape shifting monsters, an evil fairy king, a kidnapping rabbit, and now, a terrifying swimming pool.

My first novel was, at its heart, a ghost story.  That novel drew me to write about the unexplained, the dark side, the fears that keep me awake at night, the way the past haunts the present.  When studying writing in college and grad school, again and again I was told: Write what you know.  But over the years, I have developed my own mantra, one which is so vital to who I am and what I do that I had it tattooed on my wrist: Write what scares you.

I live in Vermont (in a creepy old Victorian on a hill) with my partner, Drea, and our daughter, Zella. When I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time exploring the dark Vermont woods and seeking out haunted places, real and imagined.