Monthly Archives: March 2011

Book Review: Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay

Cannonball Read: 11

I’m gonna have a hard time with this review because, and I’ll be upfront here, I loved and hated Sarah’s Key in equal measure. There, I said it. Here’s why:

In high school, I was a regular at the library and every time I was there, I somehow gravitated to the section with books about the Holocaust. It was a period of history that fascinated me and I’m still intrigued by it. I think it’s because my grandma’s father came to the USA from Germany during WWII, and her mother’s family came not long before her mother was born. For me, this horrific event in history was a way to connect me to a past that was that distanced from me.

I’ve been eyeing this book at Target for a while, so when a blog I read decided to host a book club reading of this particular book, I ordered it and finally got around to reading it. Before I address the parts/elements that made me cringe as a writer and a reader and a human, let me say what I like about this book. I’m going to warn you once: there are spoilers in here. It would be very hard for me to get around them. So read on only if you’ve already read the book, you don’t plan on reading it and don’t care about spoilers, or you just don’t care about spoilers one way or the other.

It’s set in France, for the most part, and starts in the summer of 1942. French police round up Jews in Paris and ultimately they are shipped to Auschwitz, where nearly all of them are murdered by Hilter’s Nazis.  Sarah’s Key weaves together the stories of a little girl during the 1940s and Julia Jarmond, American-gone-pseudo-Frog, who lives in France with her husband and their 11-year-old daughter.  During the 1942 roundup, the girl’s bother hides in a secret cabinet in the wall, and his sister shows him the key and promises to come back and get him.

I was fascinated by this in part because in all the reading about Germany I did as a high school student and a young adult, I never knew about the roundups at Vel’ d’Hiv. But it’s well-documented (forgive me for linking you to Wikipedia!) which makes my heart break even more. The first half of the book alternates between a little girl, who you’d be pretty dense to not know right away is Sarah, and her family, and the story of modern-day Julia Jarmond, doing an article for her magazine on the roundup. Right away, I was drawn in because I really liked Sarah. Of course, my heart was heavy for her, and in some ways, as someone who has never had to experience the atrocities of war and concentration camps, I pitied her. But she was a strong, proud little girl, despite the fact that she should have just crumpled to the ground and died. Her father was sent away as soon as they got the the camps, she had promised her brother she’s return to him and save him, and shortly after arriving at the French camp, she is separated, permanently, from her mother. I thought her escape was beautifully done, although some might argue realistic — but from what I’ve read, not every Nazi truly supported the cause. Sarah’s journey to freedom and to her brother, and the eventual discovery of her brother’s death, is what made me love this story. I spent the entire time wanting to know more about her and the family who saved her life by claiming her as her own, knowing full well what the risks were.

But then Julia Jarmond had to ruin it. From the get-go, I was annoyed with Julia’s story — her husband was kind of a jerk, her in-laws (aside from her father-in-law) were kind of bitchy, and the things she did were so predictable. It’s not so much that I don’t like predictable. I just don’t like books that try to fool me in the process, and I feel like that’s what de Rosnay does with this part of her text.

Okay, seriously, if you hate spoilers quit reading. I’m warning you. This is your last chance to back off. Otherwise, I’m going to ruin the book’s ending for you. So you’ve been warned.

Julia especially annoyed me after Sarah’s story merged into the present day. I thought she was so poorly developed, and honestly, she wasn’t that likable, which is strange because she is a somewhat compelling character. It’s her lack of development that makes her less likable. Although I’m not a journalist, I thought it was horrible the way that she basically accosted Sarah’s son, and was upset that he didn’t want to talk to her. Has she not heard of professional ethics? Fail on de Rosnay’s part. Perhaps it was an attempt to make Julia more human, as most people are controlled very much by their emotions, but it just didn’t work.

And the very last chapter just drove me batty because, are you even kidding me? I saw the baby’s name coming from a million miles away (mostly because of the really awful ways the author referred to her — “I woke the baby from her nap,” “Zoe, grab your sister’s arm,” “after the baby was born” — over and over and over again. So cheesy!). I saw the divorce of William, and I saw them planning their future together as soon as Julia observed that something was missing from her other relationships with men.

Overall, despite my sincere dislike of Julia, I did like this book. I think it could really pave some great book club conversations, and I’m fascinated by the historical aspect I wasn’t aware of until I picked up this book. Just know that you might wanna bunch Julia and de Rosnay in the process.

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Book Review: An Amish Love

Well, this one is a little late (and by little I mean about three months) but better late than never, right? Here’s my review of An Amish Love.

This trio of stories is an easy, cheerful read by Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, and Kelly Long. I’m kind of in this “Amish people are so interesting – and cool!” phase right now, so honestly I probably would’ve liked this regardless, unless its writing was truly horrific, but thankfully it was not. (We we all know that the quality of writing is a serious, serious piece of any book review that I do!)  Something I really appreciated is that although each of these three short stories (“Healing Hearts,” “What the Heart Sees,” and “A Marriage of the Heart”) can be read independently of one another, they’re all loosely connected in terms of character, plot, and setting, which gave these short stories a somewhat unique aspect.

This book is heavy on the values I’ve found in other Amish fiction: forgiveness, faith, the importance of family, and because of the kind of book this is, love. Thankfully, I was expecting all of those things based on the book’s description. Despite the fact that there truthfully isn’t anything too unique about the actual plot and content of the stories (as opposed to how they’re tied together in a different kind of way), there was still something inherently satisfying about reading An Amish Love. Maybe it’s because every character is more or less presented in a realistic way (although I’ll be the first to admit that the character development could have been done a little better in “A Marriage of the Heart,” which was my least favorite of the three short stories). Probably it’s because this was, for me, a “pleasure” book after a few heavier books. It was also a quick read where I was able to easily get lost in the story as I read. It only took me a day and a half to read this book, and would have taken less time had I not been interrupted and busy with other work.

Overall, if you’re in the market for both Christian romance and Amish stories, this is a book you’d like. If you’re not a fan of both of those things, I’d advise you steered clear.

Rating: 7/10

(I received this book for free from the Book Sneeze review program for this review. I was asked to review this book fairly based on my own opinions and not asked to make a positive review in return for receiving the book.)

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Book Review: When the Heart Cries, Cindy Woodsmall

Cannonball Read: 9

I was drawn to When the Heart Cries because I love reading books about Amish people. Some are done better than others, so I wasn’t trying to get my hopes up too much. I thought this was a wonderfully written book. At the basics, it was mostly done well. The dialogue wasn’t so cheesy or forced (which is, like, one of my biggest pet peeves when reading — ask yourself, “Would anyone really ever say this this way?”), and the story itself was enjoyable. One of the reasons I liked reading the book so much was because I really liked Hannah, the protagonist. Hannah becomes secretly engaged to a Mennonite boy, Paul, despite the fact that her father and the rest of her community expects her to embrace Amish life as others before her have done. When she is attacked on the evening of her engagement, everything changes, and not for the good.

Hannah was a good character. She had faults, and she had doubts, but she was resilient and loving and strong at the same time. I loved that she was questioning her world, and her faith, but not in a crazy rebellious way — there were no tattoos or late-night piercings. Just contemplative thought and some conversations with those in the “English” world. Woodsmall makes Hannah a likable character because she is constantly interacting with others. Clearly that happens in most books, but it was done nicely in When the Heart Cries. Hannah lives in a small, close community, so she is constantly talking to her parents, her siblings, her friend Mary, Paul, Paul’s grandmother, people at the hospital after an accident, and so on. We see her development because we get to see her interacting with others frequently.

If you’re looking for a very religious book, this doesn’t necessarily fall into that category. It definitely has a religious aspect, and a lot of Hannah’s struggles relate to faith, her Amish faith in particular, but it’s not a book where there’s a Bible verse or a moral story on every page. That said, it’s a book all about faith: faith in the “nevertheless” (which you’ll understand when you get to the end of the book) and the possibility of what God has the power and the ability to do in a person’s life.

There were, of course, a few things that I found less than perfect, but you can say the same for any book you read. One of the things that left me going “Hrm…” while I scratched my head was the portrayal of the Amish community in the book. For a community that is based in love and forgiveness, there is a lot of anger in assorted people. While I understand that because it was needed to move the plot forward, I am kind of confused by it because it doesn’t really seem like a truly accurate description of the Amish, especially the way Hannah is treated after she is attacked.

This isn’t a super “literary” read, if you’re a book snob, but it was a pleasant read over the span of a few days for me. Take it on vacation with you, throw it in your bag to read during lunch or when you’re standing in line at the post office. Or tuck it in your nightstand and read before you go to bed. Based on its content, it would be a good read for girl starting as young as middle school and up.

I didn’t realize at first that this was the first book in a trilogy, so when I got to the end of kind of had a “What. The. Heck?” moment before I did a quick Google search and discovered that there are two more (please pretend that you can’t see the byline on the book that says “Sisters of the Quilt: Book One” at the bottom of the book. I swear my copy doesn’t have that!), and they’ve both been published. I’ll admit, I already bought the second one to read on my iPad! (And then, a few days after I first published this review, I bought the entire Sisters of the Quilt Trilogy from a closing Borders!)

Rating: 7.5/10

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was asked to review this book fairly based on my own opinions and not asked to make a positive review in return for receiving the book, only an honest one.)

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