An unexpected highlight: Sons and Soldiers

There is a lot of WWII fiction and non-fiction out there. If you’ve read a lot of it, it becomes more challenging to read something that stands out, a story that hasn’t already been picked apart over and over.

But then something like Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler finds its way to you and your interest is piqued.


Bruce Henderson introduces readers to a handful of young Jewish men who were sent out of Germany in the late 1930s, often their family’s only hope of carrying on the family name. These young men were from villages and cities all over Germany and via Amsterdam, France, the U.K., and even a stay in a concentration camp, these young men found themselves in America. They were charged with setting up a new life and finding a way to bring their mothers, fathers, and siblings to America to join them.

When America declares war on Germany, these young men run to enlist. Although most are initially denied on the grounds that they aren’t American, eventually each is drafted into the Army. This is where their unique language skills and knowledge of German culture is recognized as the asset that it could be to an invading army.

The young men are trained to become interrogators, part of a super secret program which earns them the name ‘Ritchie Boys.’ They join major combat units in Europe, in small elite groups, and interrogate German POWs, gathering intelligence that helped swing the tide of war in the Allies’ favour.

I didn’t mean to get invested in this book as quickly as I did. I wanted to read a few pages, to get a sense of the style but thought it was probably too heavy a book for the summer. Henderson starts the book with the story of Martin Selling, who in 1938 is taken from his home and, along with other members of his family, sent to a concentration camp. It is an intense beginning and pulls the reader in quickly – before I knew it, I had read 50 pages.

Sons and Soldiers is being compared to Unbroken and The Boys in the Boat. I’ve read Unbroken – I couldn’t put that down either – and I have to agree with the assessment. Henderson has crafted the kind of non-fiction book that fiction lovers will find themselves invested in. You meet these boys and their families: Gunther Stern, living in idyllic Hildesheim until everything changed when he was 12, sent to American alone at age 16, leaving his parents, brother and sister; Stephan Lewy, whose mother died when he was six and whose father, unable to care for him, dropped him to live at an orphanage in Berlin, visiting him when possible, who found his way out of Germany into France, and eventually into America; Manfred Steinfeld, whose widowed mother sent her oldest son to America alone, sent her other son to Palestine, and kept trying to find a safe way out of Germany for her and her daughter, Irma.

I expected this book to be interesting but I don’t think I was expecting the emotional toll it would take on me. I frequently cried over the stories of families split up, teared up when these Ritchie Boys showed their strength, their loyalty and goodness in the face of unimaginable suffering, and cried again as they tried to find their families at war’s end.

Henderson manages to tell these stories without relying on a lot of the military detail that always make my eyes glaze over. It was like reading Band of Brothers (a series my husband and I re-watch every year) – the Ritchie Boys were involved in a lot of the same battles featured on the show.

This is another one of those non-fiction titles that I think would still hold up for those of you who think you don’t enjoy non-fiction. It was an unexpected reading highlight for me.


Review: The Child

Every summer it seems that the bookish market is inundated with books that promise to thrill you. In the last few years, with the rise of the Gone Girls and The Girl on the Trains, we’re constantly promised that this next book will follow in their glorious footprints.

It becomes hard to figure out which books are the real deal, and what is just noise.

Fiona Barton’s The Child is being marketed as exactly this: the heir to Flynn and Hawkins.


In the wake of gentrification throughout London, a building has been razed giving up it’s decades long secret: the skeletal remains of a baby. Kate Waters, a journalist bored by the directives to write about celebrities and royals, thinks that the case of the Building Site Baby could be something interesting to really sink her teeth into. Her efforts lead her to: Emma, an editor working from home, keeping secrets from her much older husband; Angela, whose baby vanished from the hospital more than 40 years ago; and Jude, Emma’s mother, a woman who has a very complicated relationship with her daughter and the truth.

I don’t think it’s the same kind of thrill ride that fans of Gone Girl would be looking for. Even for those of you looking for a tense, psychological thrill ride, I’m not sure The Child is for you.

But I did enjoy it as something else. A kind of exploration into the relationships of women, with each other, with the men in our lives, with the truth.

I saw the ending coming a mile away – which, if you’ve been a visitor to this blog for any amount of time, you will know is RARE. And even though I knew exactly how this was all going to go, I still enjoyed the getting there. Barton has done an excellent job painting these women at various stages of their lives, as they make decisions that may or may not have ramifications in the years to come.

I read this book in two sittings, completely absorbed in it, even if it might not have been the thrill ride I assumed I was in for. Barton does an excellent job layering the story and allows it to spider out in a number of directions that ultimately, are completely connected. There was a certain amount of enjoyment in being in on the twists – never did I feel like I wanted the getting there to hurry up. It didn’t feel drawn out or unnecessarily complicated.

It’s a safe recommendation for those who like the journey and don’t demand a shocking payoff.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for providing me with an ARC of this book.


No one let me back in a bookstore for a while

I have been on a bit of a book binge recently.

This always happens. I ban myself from accumulating books for one reason or another (this time the idea was to move and buying more books would mean moving those additional books at some point) and then I go insane when I let myself have a little leeway.

I was so good, using the library. I am lucky enough to be sent books regularly enough that I wasn’t feeling like I had no fresh book blood.

But I was in a serious fiction slump. Every time I opened the TBR cupboard doors (I have an actual cupboard that houses my physical TBR ‘list’), I felt uninspired by the choices available.

I want to stress again how completely ridiculous this all was. It’s not even a problem, just super normal summer restlessness.

book piles

Live look at me in my home

I don’t even remember why I went into a bookstore the first time. But I did. And I bought:

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. This story of Cameroonian immigrants trying to make a life for themselves in New York City when the 2008 economic crisis brought their world down around their ears was just picked as Oprah’s Book Club selection. It also just came out in paperback which made it easy to decide to buy it.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbot. This book about the darker side of gymnastics has been raved about by Sarah @ Sarah’s Book Shelves and I have been meaning to read it ever since. It popped into my head last week and when I found a copy in the store, I decided it meant that I was supposed to buy it.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. I was messing around on Instagram one day last week when Reese Witherspoon asked me (personally of course) to help her choose her next beach read. Reese has cultivated quite a bookish following – she has now set up her own book club, RW Book Club. I was voting for Saints For All Occasions but The Alice Network won. People seemed jazzed about this post-WWII story that sees an American socialite teaming up with a female ex-spy and a hot-tempered soldier. Who am I to argue?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I can’t even tell you how excited I am to read this book. I am holding off – I think it will make the perfect lake companion in early August. This book, a kind of fictionalized tale of an Elizabeth Taylor and all her husbands, sounds like something that fits perfectly into my Golden Age of Hollywood obsession.

After that binge, I assumed that I would be good for a while. It’s not like I had no books at all to read. But then I needed to buy my book club book and that meant that I brought home:

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. This was the book that my book club picked and my cousin had texted me a page from this book which was incredibly beautiful. I even started reading it before I’d left the store and was astounded by the care with which Roy had crafted her story.

Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani. The Shoemaker’s Wife made me cry my eyes out and since then I’ve been a bit hesitant to put myself through something like that again. But time heals all wounds and I think I’m ready for this multi-generational story of an Italian family and what happens when a decades-long feud spills over at last.

In the end, my book club changed their mind. Now we’re reading Roxane Gay’s Hunger this time. Either way, excellent choice right?

Now that I have all of this quality fiction waiting for me, I just need all the time in the world to read them!

Where should I start?



Chick Lit Win: Fitness Junkie

Early last year, I read and loved The Knock-Off by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza. It was deliciously chick-lity (no bad thing in these parts) with a decidedly adult outlook on life, love and work. In many ways, this was the book that reignited my love for the genre.

But I completely forgot to keep an eye out for any follow-up novels from this delightful duo.

So when Fitness Junkie appeared on my radar (thanks in large part to Catherine @ The Gilmore Guide to Books), I was very excited.

And it delivered in so many ways!


Janey Sweet and her childhood best friend, Beau, have started a couture wedding gown business, B. Janey’s the business brains behind the operation, while Beau comes up with the incredible designs that make their gowns the champagne standard for brides. Beau has become increasingly obsessed with size – his gowns no longer come in sizes bigger than a 6. After a tumultuous year, Janey is a little heavier than she used to be and Beau is horrified when she is photographed enjoying a bruffin (a brioche muffin) in the front row at Fashion Week. Beau is blunt: lose 30lbs or Janey is out at B.

Janey finds herself with all the time in the world to follow every crazy health and fitness fad out there: eating nothing but clay, a barre fitness class where tiny ballerinas hurl abuse at you, water with a single stem of broccoli in it. The list goes on. Her quest for wellness brings her into the orbit of Stella, an actual shaman, and Sara Strong, who has come up with the most perfect solution called simply The Workout.

As Janey comes to terms with her own body, she has to decide what to do about her friendship with Beau and what that could mean for her business.

Listen, I recently went to cancel my gym membership and found that the location had moved and I didn’t even know it. So one might say that I’m not leading a super active lifestyle. I wondered if this book would have anything for me, besides some serious eye rolling.

Oh but it did!

For one thing, I will always get behind a heroine who is in charge of her own destiny. A woman who is in love with her work, who has built something of worth, and doesn’t necessarily know who she is without this work to define her. I’m always about a book where the main relationship isn’t necessarily romantic but no less serious. Often friend breakups are more devastating than romantic ones and Sykes and Piazza lean in on this angle HARD.

I also really appreciate a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This book is definitely glossy – there is the fashion angle of course, and Janey herself comes from money (her family has a chocolate empire!). But that allows the book to have fun – to throw in a thinly veiled Gwyneth Paltrow and Tracy Anderson dynamic that had me turning page after page.

For a book about fitness, I found that this book had a positive body message. There’s one point where Janey’s other best friend, CJ, a woman completely obsessed with maintaining a certain body, sighs that she thinks women just want to be told that they are acceptable:

You know…I think it’s a lie that all women want to be skinny. I think we just want to be told its okay to look the way we look.

Ultimately, Sykes and Piazza have given us another introspective, self-aware heroine intent on defining herself by her own terms and I am here for it.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for providing me with an ARC of this book. Any errors in quoting are due to coming from an unfinished copy.


Unruly Women

I used to get really stressed out reading about characters that did all the bad things. I always considered myself a rule follower and experiencing second-hand rule breaking was HARD.

But the older I get, the more I realize that actually, I’m not a rule follower. F*ck the rules.

And because I’m a rule-breaker now, I love to read about other women who are miles ahead of me in this department.

too fat

Anne Helen Petersen’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman was so very much exactly the kind of book I’ve been waiting for. In it Petersen,a BuzzFeed staff writer, looks at ten women who she classifies are being “unruly” for some reason. Serena Williams is too strong, Lena Dunham too naked, Melissa McCarthy is too fat while Hillary Clinton is too shrill. Each chapter is an essay dedicated to these women and why they are considered unruly, eschewing the more traditional aspects of femininity.

Look, anytime a book looks at women who break the rules AND pop culture, I am here for it. But more than that, this book is source material for any woman who steps “out of line” from time to time. It’s a way to look at these women, all of them beautiful, brilliant, strong and capable and go “I’m in great company, f*ck the rules!”

One of my favourite essays in the collection looks at Kim Kardashian. And before you roll your eyes at that, take a few minutes and read the essay! It’s pretty great right? Who knew that Kim Kardashian was so radical?

I was especially pleased to see that Petersen didn’t shy away from intersectionality when she was choosing the women for her book. Her essays on Serena Williams and Nicki Minaj (Too Slutty) were among my favourites for her willingness to actually dig in to the issues around Black womanhood. Arguably less successful, but important nonetheless is the chapter on Caitlyn Jenner (Too Queer). The trouble with that chapter is less about Petersen and more about the problematic nature of holding up Jenner as the pinnacle of Trans personhood.

Still, I loved reading each and every one of these essays. It’s the kind of non-fiction that anyone can read, that’s so accessible you will recognize your own life in it. I found myself nodding along as I read, muttering “YES!” to myself each time Petersen vocalized something I’d already felt.

My gossip guru, Lainey Gossip, also loved this book (obviously). She wrote an incredible piece about it in her gossip intro the day it came out. She says everything I want to say so much better!

If you come across Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud I hope that you pick up a copy. This book needs to be read far and wide so that more of us become confidently unruly.


Read it: The Hate U Give

If not for my book club, I’m not sure that I would have read The Hate U Give anytime soon.

Oh, it was on my list. But without the book club pressure, the impetus to get it read by a certain date, I’m not sure when I would have got to it.

Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is BRILLIANT. For real, if there’s one book I would recommend to everyone this summer, this is it.

From Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

It’s really hard to overstate the importance of this book. It should probably be required reading in schools. Thomas has given us a gift with her debut novel.

hate you giveI was emotionally invested in this book really quickly. Thomas’ characters are bold, written with heart, they imprint on readers very quickly. Starr is straddling the middle ground between these two worlds – her neighbourhood with childhood friends, complex family dynamics and violence born of a lifestyle that is necessary to survive with just the basics, and her prep school an hour away, a white boyfriend who has never seen where Starr lives, working hard for an education her parents want so badly for her while handling micro aggressions from girls that are supposed to be her friends.

Thomas is able to deftly handle so many different angles in this book – of Starr, caught in the middle of everything; her parents, fearful for her safety should she speak out; the police, including her uncle who needs time to work out what this means for him; Starr’s friend DeVante, shook up by the shooting and wanting to walk away from a lifestyle that seems destined to end in violence; and the activists who want to use Khalil’s death to force change.

All told, it’s a maelstrom of a book. I cried again and again and again. It’s also incredibly funny. Starr’s observations are so spot on that I found myself chuckling in bed late at night, trying not to wake my husband.

By the time I finished this book, I was sad to leave it behind. I miss Starr and her family. I’m so grateful to Angie Thomas for writing this book.

If you haven’t read it, don’t wait. When it becomes a movie, everyone will be talking about it!


A Summer thing that I’m doing

If Laura @ Reading in Bed is like “hey, come read this mammoth book with me this summer” I seem to be unable to say no. This summer, she is hosting a read-a-long of War and Peace!

If you’ve always meant to read it but haven’t found a reason to, maybe this is your reason? This read-a-long is geared towards Tolstoy newbs, so don’t be intimidated. There’s totally still time to join – reading officially started July 1st! Check out Laura’s blog post for the schedule to get started.

Before we start to get into the nitty-gritty reading, Laura set up a short little book tag to introduce ourselves. So here we go:

  1. Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace?

Sure have. I even wrote about how that went (spoiler: not good). I haven’t ever finished it though!

  1. What edition and translation are you reading?

Vintage Pevear & Volokhonsy translation, physical book only (I already regret this, mofo is heavy!)

  1. How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc)?

It’s funny, even though I read most of it that one time, not much! I clearly retained almost nothing and even the 70 or so pages I’ve read this weekend, haven’t made much of an impression on me.

  1. How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I am doing absolutely nothing? Maybe the more that I get into it, the more I will want to learn about the War and Peace universe. For now, I’m content to just read it.

  1. What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

Finally getting it actually read all the way through! This book has haunted me for years because I couldn’t finish it. And then of course, the bragging rights that come with having actually read War and Peace. I look forward to the days of casually dropping into conversation my having read War and Peace (like an a-hole).

  1. What are you intimidated by?

The sheer length of this book! I do appreciate the schedule – I’m hoping that breaking it up will make it more manageable. I’m also having a hard time keeping the characters and their relationships straight…

  1. Do you think it’s okay to skip the “war” parts?

No, but if it gets really boring, I just might. I remember that I was actually pretty invested in some of the war parts the first time I tried to read this. And I totally skipped like 80 pages of farming in Anna Karenina and I feel really OK about it.

There we have it. All set to finally read this monster. Anyone else joining in? Thanks to Laura for hosting!