This blog post was originally published in NewmarketToday.ca and copied here with permission.

I used to read every book I ever started, start to finish regardless of if I was enjoying it. Not any longer. Now only books I love make it to my finished pile.

Here are five books I have read recently.

Sirens of Memory

There was a time when I wondered why I was still reading Sirens of Memory by Puja Guha (PGC Books). It gave me nightmares the two nights I was reading it. The story is awful, the writing is fantastic and so are the characters who we get to meet in the past and the present as we read through Mariam’s story.

Mariam is pregnant and is attempting flee a horrific abusive marriage when the Kuwait invasion begins. She leaves Tareq for dead and assumes the identity of the dead wife of a man name Raj, whom she met at a refugee camp.

A quarter of a century later, Mariam is still living under her assumed name, but with the help of Raj and their daughter, decides to put her past behind her and attends an event commemorating the anniversary to the invasion of Kuwait.

Tareq is also there.

“Angry and obsessed, he begins planning his revenge. The confrontation that follows forces Mariam to confront her past as a victim and decide who she really is once and for all.”

The book offers it all. It was interesting, talked about a period in our history I don’t really know a lot of about and it was so suspenseful, I was on the edge the two days it took me to read it. The characters are great, Miriam and the secondary characters including her husband, whose story is equally as interesting as Miriam’s, and their daughter, an American who grew up with Western ideals. Another young lady featured in the book was fascinating as well. Tareq is the ultimate in evil and what makes him so scary is there are people out there just like him.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

This older book by Heather Morris is based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, who volunteers to attend what he is told is a work camp to save his family from a similar fate (which of course we know was a lie). He ends up at Auschwitz-Birkenau and due to his ability to speak multiple languages, eventually is put to work as a Tatowierer, German for tattooist and his job is to ink numbers into the arms of his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for two-and-a-half years, Lale witnesses the best and worst of people.

“Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered prisoners to help keep his fellow prisoners alive.”

One day, he tattoos the number 34902 on the arm of a woman named Gita, and he vows they will both survive and will be married as soon as they are free.

Despite the number of Holocaust books I have read, I, sadly, am always disgusted to learn something new about what people faced during this time.

Author Heather Morris interviewed Sokolov to write this book. And while we read about the most awful of things, many of which stays with me, in the end it is a love story.

“…The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.”

At the end Morris offers a list of what happened to some of the key people in the book. What upsets me is the idea of collaboration with the Nazis. Sokolov was concerned he would be tried as a collaborator, while another victim was tried and convicted. Yet Josef Mengele walked free. I don’t understand that. How can a prisoner be a collaborator, when if that person didn’t do what was asked, they, too, would have been murdered. My heart breaks for this person who endured so much at the hands of the Nazis and then was punished for surviving.

Born Behind Bars

I had to look up whether children born to women prisoners in India actually live in jail and sadly, yes, this happens. Equally as awful are these women often haven’t done anything or, like in the case I this book, was wrongly accused and because they have no money, just rot in jail.

In Padma Venkatraman’s middle grade book from Raincoast Books, we read about Kabir, who has been behind bars since he was born nine years before. But one day, the new warden says Kabir is too old to stay in jail and he is forced out onto the streets to defend himself.

On his first day out – where it becomes apparent he doesn’t have the skill to survive despite the desperate last-minute advise from his teacher – he meets Rani, another street kid who takes him under her wing.

The children are judged on their caste (how does this still exist?) and discover their future is difficult.

Kabir doesn’t give up and decides to fight for himself and for his mom, showing the world they belong in it.

I can’t even imagine this situation or how it can possibility exist in today’s world.

Kabir and Rani are amazing characters as are the many secondary characters who grace these pages, including Kabir’s mom, who you don’t read a lot about, but you can see her in Kabir and the decisions he makes. The book wrapped up nice and neat, which is one of the reasons I like middle grade: they dig into some large issues, but they give hope to readers that kids can make a difference and change the world.

The Undercover Book List

I love books about books, and I really enjoyed Colleen Nelson’s middle grade book The Undercover Books List from Pajama Press.

Jane and Sienna are best friends. When Sienna moves away, Jane wonders if she will ever find another best friend.

But Sienna has a plan to help Jane – she creates a secret book club to find a Jane a new friend who loves to read as much as she does.

It is Tyson, the prankster who is waiting for the principal for another detention when he is sent to the library to find a book to read, who discovers an anonymous note for a secret book club
“where being hidden may be the first step to truly being seen.”

As the book flipped between Jane and Tyson’s perspectives, we got to learn more about each character. But it is Tyson who we see the most growth as he discovers he is more than he lets others see and maybe more importantly, discovers he himself is someone more.

On the Line

On the Line is written by Kari-Lynne Winters and illustrated by Scot Ritchie (who also illustrated the front cover of The Undercover Book List. His illustrations are so recognizable) and is from Pajama Press.

Jackson Moore comes from a family of hockey heroes. As he gets ready for his first time on skates, he hears over and over about the how the Moore family are legends on the ice, which leaves him feeling anxious and worried. When he finally does get on the ice, he is like a “potato on skates”, but he soon realizes there is more to being a team player than scoring goals and making assists.

In the author’s note, Winter talks about growing up in a hockey crazy family. And while she played, she was never to top scorer. What she was, she discovered, was something equally important – being a team leader.

“I hope this story inspires other young people to let their stewardship skills shine.”

I think this is a great lesson to learn regardless of what sport kids love and wherever they go in life: it’s how they treat others that more important than how many goals scored.

Currently reading:

Sisters of the Wolf by Patricia Miller-Schroeder from Dundurn Press.

“For fans of Clan of the Cave Bear, in this thrilling adventure of friendship, culture clash, bravery, and survival set in Ice Age Europe, two teens from rival clans must learn to survive together as they are pursued by a ruthless hunter in a land with advancing glaciers and mighty predators.”