Top Ten Tuesday: Difficult Reviews to Write

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is “The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover.” I kinda get what that means, but it doesn’t really happen to me much. The most I could really say that about are books that ended up being my favorites, and listing the last 10 of those would be rehashing other posts I’ve made in the last few months. So I twisted the topic a bit. Sometimes the books that I love the most give me a hangover in the sense that I put off writing the review, because I don’t know how to put into words what I want to say. But there are other reasons that writing a review seems like a far more daunting task than normal. So my topic today is reviews (of those I’ve posted on this blog, the book review part of which only goes back to last July) that were the hardest for me to write, for various reasons. Here is my list in chronological order, starting with my very first book review on this blog:

1. Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren
Just by virtue of being the first book review I’ve written since school days, this was a difficult one to write. It was also written by a friend, so I wanted to make sure to be honest and kind. I wish I’d liked it more, but I’ve always had a different taste in literature than her, which I think influenced my view of the story. I’ve written a couple reviews since then that I knew the author was going to read, and am about to write another. It hasn’t gotten easier so far. (See my review for this book here.)

2. The Oath by Frank E. Peretti
This has been my favorite book for probably 15-20 years. I’ve read it many times. After reading it again for the first time in at least 10 years, I had a very difficult time putting what I liked about it into words. I don’t know if that’s because it was all too familiar, or if everything I liked had melded together over the years, or what. It turned out to be a fairly short review (compared to most of my others).  (See my review for this book here.)

3. Tilly by Frank E. Peretti
Same author, very different problem. I read this book for the first time last year, and it is incredibly short. It’s really hard to say much in a review without giving away what I thought was meant to be a mystery in the book (though it’s flat-out stated in the synopsis on Goodreads…I honestly don’t get it). But just in case, I skirted around it, and there just wasn’t much else to say. (See my review for this book here.)

4. Strands of Truth by Colleen Coble
As it turns out, I’m a pretty picky reader. If a book has 95% 4 and 5 stars on a review platform, I will usually be one of the 2 stars. I don’t really know why…maybe it’s that I have a harder time getting past things that others can ignore to see the positives. Maybe writing has ruined me for reading. Maybe I just have all the wrong personal preferences for books these days. Whatever it is, this is one example of a book that many others lauded, but I had a lot of problems with. I remember starting to write this review and having so much I wanted to say, I didn’t know how to organize it to even start, or how to make sure the review didn’t turn into a rant. (See my review for this book here.)

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
When I read this last year, for the first time ever, and without having seen the movies either, I considered not even writing a review. Everyone has already read it, right? They already know way more about it than I do. What am I going to say that thousands of others haven’t? I did write it, but it took some time. (See my review of this book here.)

6. Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell
The main reason this review was difficult to write is that my mom had strongly recommended it to me and was really anxious to see what I thought about it. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t like it a ton either. I wanted to be careful not to write the review in any way that would make it seem like I was speaking negatively of her opinion or taste. (See my review of this book here.)

7. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
I don’t think it’s at all uncommon to have a difficult time reviewing a book that is about such a dark subject. If you say you liked it, it might seem like you’re being flippant about the subject. If you say you didn’t, it might seem like you’re heartless. I’ve written a few reviews with the same trouble, so hopefully I’m getting some practice at getting it right.  (See my review of this book here.)

8. Holes by Louis Sachar
The biggest issue with this one is that I saw the movie before I read the book, and I loved the movie. It can be difficult to separate them in my mind when writing a review. Even though the movie was very close to the book, there are some differences, and the book had a bit more depth to it. But in the end, I had to be willing to allow some comparison in my review. (See my review of this book here.)

9. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
Have you ever recommended a book (or substitute “movie or TV show” here) to someone and just wanted to be able to say, “Just read it! I promise it’s good!” without having to give reasons. This is that book for me. It was hilarious, relatable, and made me hate Patty Michelle Sinclair just a tiny bit less (well, maybe not).  (See my review of this book here.)

Pithea cover, Kindle

10. Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
I finished this book 5 days ago, and I haven’t even started on the review. I never wait that long. I think part of it was because I knew I had plenty of time before it would be posted, but I’m also having a difficult time putting what I thought about it into words. I can say what I learned most from it, but that seems like a bit more soul-baring than I’m comfortable with. I can give some examples of Brant’s incredible humor, but I can’t tell his stories like he can. Hopefully by Friday, when this review will go up, I’ll have figured out something to say.

What books have you struggled to write a review for? Do you have a list of book hangovers to share? Link your TTT so I can check it out!

September in Review

I read a few less books this month than last month, but still not bad. A combination of homeschooling and starting a new part-time job are probably to blame, but I’m still happy with the amount I read. More importantly, all of the books I finished in September have already been reviewed, so that’s something!

Here are the books I read in September:
Strands of Truth by Colleen Coble (2 / 5)
The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken (3.5 / 5)
Swipe by Evan Angler (3 / 5)
Fatal Strike by DiAnn Mills (4 / 5)
Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell (3.5 / 5)
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (3.5 / 5)
Synapse by Steven James (3.5 / 5)
Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris (4 / 5)
Holes by Louis Sachar (4.5 / 5)

This list includes 5 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from August was Holes (the re-read). My favorite previously unread book was Fatal Strike. My ever-changing list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads, if anyone is interested in that. (Note: The list of books I have read overall is not remotely complete there. When I created my Goodreads page 4 years ago, I added some of my favorite books over the years, but to add everything I’ve ever read would be very time-consuming, not to mention impossible to remember it all.)

Despite my almost too-long list of TBRs, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: Cilka’s Journey

Finished Reading: Cilka’s Journey
by Heather Morris

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

From a Nazi death camp to a Siberian gulag, we follow Cilka Klein, who was charged with spying for the enemy and conspiring, due to her role of senior officers’ mistress and death block leader in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. In the Russian prison camp, she faces 15 years of conditions not much better than they were in Auschwitz, plus the addition of frigid weather nearly year-round. She manages to stand apart yet again, but this time mostly because she shows herself to be a quick learner, which makes her valuable at the prison hospital.

This book is a sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, but only in that Cilka is introduced in that first book, and some of the characters from the first book are brought up again in this one. I do recommend reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz first, for a more full experience, but you wouldn’t lose a lot if you didn’t. Click here to see my review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

I liked Cilka’s Journey a bit more than its predecessor, and I think that is because of the writing. I didn’t find it quite as stilted as in the first book. The subject matter is nearly as dark, especially since there are flashbacks to Cilka’s time at Birkenau, but we also get to see glimpses of her life before she went to the camp as well.

Cilka was very compassionate, even to her own detriment many times. I appreciated the way that her heart ached when a friend was hurt (physically or otherwise), or when a rift came between her and someone she cared about. She even managed to find a way to understand and forgive those who persecuted her, by acknowledging that they were simply trying to survive this place like she was. She may have been a bit on the Mary Sue side, somehow being the best at everything she did, but it wasn’t glaring.

There were a few events and situations that seemed unnecessary, or that were maybe only there to show again how wonderful Cilka was. I know that this book was even more fictionalized than The Tattooist of Auschwitz, with no first-hand account to draw from, so I did at times wonder how realistic certain things were.

In the end, it was a good read, and I would definitely recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially of the WWII era.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find something much lighter to read, especially since the book I had originally planned to read next (Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone) also involves sexual abuse, and between these 2 books, I’ve had enough of that for a while.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review. 

Find out more about Cilka’s Journey
Publication date: October 1, 2019

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Finished Reading: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
by Heather Morris

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction

Tattooist

Set mostly in the concentration camp of Birkenau, Lale Eisenberg (later Lale Sokolov) tattoos numbers onto incoming prisoners for his captors. While tattooing a young woman, he finds himself captivated by her. He uses his position of tattooist, which is part of the political department in the camp, as well as some other savvy enterprises, to get extra food to help keep his fellow prisoners, including Gita, the woman who has stolen his heart. This book is based on a true story.

First, let me make sure to stress that the book may be inspired by a true story, but it is not at all meant to be an accurate depiction of life in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Various statements surrounding the book may make it seem like it is (including several pages of notes at the back of the book), but after being decried as very historically inaccurate, Morris stated that it’s “not meant to be an exhaustive history but rather the recollections of one man who survived the camp.” After doing some research, I could plainly see some of the inaccuracies, especially since I read a good amount of Holocaust literature in my high school days, while others were specific enough I wouldn’t have guessed at them. However, while reading the book, I didn’t notice, and even after researching, it doesn’t sour the book for me (much). If you choose to read it though, do so with this understanding.

For whatever reason, I have long been fascinated by stories of the Holocaust. I think that is the main reason that I did appreciate this book for what it was. Lale often tells others to keep their heads down and do as their told, and they might live another day, especially when first entering the camp. The longer he’s there, the more willing he is to bend some rules and basically game the system, to the benefit of himself and several other prisoners. The friendship between Gita and her friends is heartwarming, as they do everything they can to help each other in times of need, both physically and emotionally. The way these characters attempt to keep their humanity during such inhuman conditions is what this book is all about.

The issue with this book, besides that mentioned above, mostly revolves around the writing. It was originally written as a screenplay, then adapted to be a novel. They are very different types of writing, and it looks like Morris had little to no experience as a prose-writer before adapting her screenplay. The writing is stilted and shallow, and while it made for a fast read (especially for such a short book), there wasn’t nearly the depth of emotion one would expect in a book of this subject matter. There is a sequel, Cilka’s Journey, of which I have an ARC. I wanted to read this first, because I read that Cilka is introduced in this book (though I’m guessing the sequel will mostly include events that happened after Cilka left Birkenau). I assume that it was written directly as a novel, and I’m hoping it will be a better read.

The book isn’t bad, by any means, so as long as you go into it with the understanding that this is very much a fictionalized view of the most famous and deadly concentration camps in the Holocaust, I would recommend this book to those who read historical fiction, especially of this nature.

Find out more about The Tattooist of Auschwitz

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!