I stretched my reading horizons in November

The books I read in November took me to Auschwitz, Barcelona, Boston, Philadelphia, a plantation in Virginia, and a gulag in Siberia. Today I’ll write about three of the seven books I read in November. Four of the seven were written by authors that were new to me.


The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafόn

This author was recommended to me by my cousin, Jerome Williams. Actually, he recommended celebrated Spanish novelist Señor Zafόn’s latest book, The Labyrinth of Spirits. It being the fourth and final book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, I thought it best that I read the first book in the series first – The Shadow of the Wind.

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

When I read reviews of The Shadow of the Wind, I discovered people either raved about it or hated it. People who didn’t like it wrote scathing reviews. Author Kristin Hannah gave it five stars on Goodreads.com and author Diana Gabaldon gave it four stars on that same website. I tend to trust Jerome’s judgment and that of Ms. Hannah and Ms. Gabaldon, so I downloaded the MP3 edition of the book onto my tablet.

I was immediately drawn into the book with its beautiful description of books! In fact, it was the author’s wit and descriptive language are what I liked most about the book. The book continued more off-color language than books I usually read, but the language suited the characters. I mention this, in case you are overly-offended by such language. You might not want to read it, if that’s the case.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed listening to the book and laughed out loud on numerous occasions. I wish I had mastered Spanish in high school and college so I could read The Shadow of the Wind in its original language.

What is the book about? It’s a coming of age tale that begins with a ten-year-old boy, Daniel. His father, a bookseller, takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This secret “library” of endless shelves and twists and turns houses rare books – books that have been forgotten. Daniel is instructed to select a book to save. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind, by Julian Carax.

Daniel is obsessed with finding out everything he can about Julian Carax and, in particular, why his books weren’t well-known. This obsession leads Daniel into a string of dangers and a host of characters. It is believed his copy of The Shadow of the Wind is the last surviving copy of Julian Carax’s book because someone is methodically stealing and burning copies of the book. We eventually find out about the sad life of Julian Carax.


The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

I started reading The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett and immediately liked it. Not far into it, the CD edition became available at the public library and I switched to listening to the novel. It was read by actor Tom Hanks. I should say, it was read to perfection by Tom Hanks.

The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House is a novel about a dysfunctional family. The breaking point is when the mother leaves and doesn’t come back. There are two children. Maeve is the older of the two and is very protective of her younger brother, Danny. The story is told from Danny’s viewpoint from his childhood and well into his adulthood.

Things spiral downward when Maeve and Danny’s father remarries and brings his new wife and her two small daughters into The Dutch House. There are many layers to this novel as all the family dynamics are explored, as well as how the individuals who worked at the house played into the scenario.

The house in which Maeve and Danny lived as young children is called The Dutch House because it was built by a couple from the Netherlands. It is a grand house and it is as important in the story as any of the characters. The house is, in a way, the main character.

Although the overall plot is a sad and tragic tale, there are moments of humor which Tom Hanks presents as only he can. Reading the book is enjoyable, but I highly recommend the CD edition. That might be a first for me!


Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris

This historical novel left me in awe of the real-life Cilka as well as the author. You may recall that I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris, in October of last year. Here’s a link to the blog post in which I wrote about that historical novel:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/11/05/many-good-books-read-in-october/. That book really made an impression on me, so I jumped at the chance to read Ms. Morris’ new novel.

Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris

In Cilka’s Journey, the author expands on the life of a teenage girl being held at Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in her earlier novel. Ms. Morris is a master of historical fiction and makes me wonder if I have what it takes to write in that genre.

Cilka spent three years in captivity at Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the end of World War II in Europe, [SPOILER ALERT:  instead of being set free by her Russian liberators she is charged with sleeping with the enemy (which was not by choice!) and is sentenced to 15 years in a gulag in Siberia!]

Cilka is a natural-born caregiver and learns the nursing profession while a prisoner. She lives a life of unbelievable loss, suffering, and abuse before being allowed to return to her native Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. (Czechoslovakia is, of course, now the Czech Republic.)

It is historical novels like this that remind me that I have lived a charmed and sheltered life compared to millions of other people in the world. I highly recommend Cilka’s Journey. I listened to it on CD. It was beautifully-read by Louise Brealey and contains lots of background information and an interview with the author at the end.

Lale Sokolov, the real-life Auschwitz survivor we learned about in The Tattooist of Auschwitz, said of Cilka, “She was the bravest person I ever met.”


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Nothing More Dangerous, by Allen Eskens and listening to Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

If you enjoy my blog posts, please share that on social media and with your real life friends. Don’t be shy about telling others about my blog!


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always interested to know what you’re reading. Please tell me in a comment.

Janet