The Paris Library – Janet Skeslien Charles [ARC Review]

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Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis:

Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife.

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

Review:

Huge thank you to Atria Books and Netgalley for providing this e-arc in exchange for my honest review.

I am a huge fan of historical fiction! I was browsing Netgalley for books to request when I came across The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles. The cover is absolutely gorgeous and immediately grabbed my attention. I read the synopsis and was hooked. I requested and was lucky enough to receive an e-arc!

The Paris Library follows two young women through two timelines. Odile is a young woman living in Paris during the 1930’s-40’s. Odile has just started as a librarian at the American Library in Paris (the ALP). The book follows her journey throughout the Nazi occupation of Paris and WW2. Lily is a teenage girl in Montana in the 1980’s. Lily is a student who is fascinated by everything French. She decides to interview her neighbor, Odile, for a school project about France.


I absolutely adored The Paris Library. It is first and foremost a love letter to readers. The overarching theme of The Paris Library is the power of books and the importance of libraries. I felt so connected to Odile whenever she described her love of books, libraries, and reading.

There are so many fantastic quotes . . .

Breathing in the best smell in the world—a mélange of the mossy scent of musty books and crisp newspaper pages—I felt as if I’d come home.

I loved being surrounded by stories, some as old as time, others published just last month.

I never judged a book by its beginning. It felt like the first and last date I’d once had, both of us smiling too brightly. No, I opened to a page in the middle, where the author wasn’t trying to impress me.

“I’m Odile Souchet. Sorry to be late. I was early, and I opened a book . . .” “Reading is dangerous,” Miss Reeder said with a knowing smile. “Let’s go to my office.”

The Library is my haven. I can always find a corner of the stacks to call my own, to read and dream. I want to make sure everyone has that chance, most especially the people who feel different and need a place to call home.

“The best thing about Paris? It’s a city of readers,” our neighbor said.

“We’re bookmates,” she said, in the decisive tone one would assert “the sky is blue,” or “Paris is the best city in the world.” I was skeptical about soul mates, but could believe in bookmates, two beings bound by a passion for reading.

Then, with a handful of pages left, I started to dread the fact that this world that I loved was coming to an end. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I read slowly, just savoring the scenes.

“Why on earth would you want to be a librarian?” he asked, an étincelle, a sparkle, in his eye. “Sometimes I like books more than people.” “Books don’t lie or steal,” he said. “We can depend on them.” I was surprised, and heartened, to hear an echo of my own feelings.

“But seriously, why books. Because no other thing possesses that mystical faculty to make people see with other people’s eyes. The Library is a bridge of books between cultures.”

“We all have a book that’s changed us forever,” I said. “One that let us know that we’re not alone. What’s yours?”

“Books will outlast us all.”


The Paris Library is very much a character driven story. There is little to no action. Unlike a typical WW2 based historical fiction, we do not see the outright violence and horror of the war or concentration camps. Instead we focus on the loss and devastation that individual people faced on daily basis. We see family members say goodbye to sons/brothers/friends as they leave to fight in the war. We see the women waiting in endless lines for miniscule rations. We see homes left abandoned after Jewish tenants are forced into camps. And, of course, we see the library and the censorship, surveillance, and rules that are forced upon it.

I honestly had never thought about the the impact of the war on libraries. During the Nazi occupation, Jewish and anyone determined to be an “enemy alien” library subscribers were banned from entering the library. However, librarians from the ALP worked together and delivered books to these subscribers at home. Odile is a fictional character, but librarians like her risked everything to make sure that everyone was able to have access to the library. This is just the most beautiful, kind, and courageous act. I can’t imagine how scary it would have been to pass through the Nazi checkpoints while delivering books. But they still did it.

“I decided that words were worth fighting for, that they were worth the risk.”

“Libraries are lungs,” she scrawled, her pen barely able to keep up with her ideas. “Books the fresh air breathed in to keep the heart beating, to keep the brain imagining, to keep hope alive.”

I think Lily perfectly describes how brave and incredible this was . . .

“You were brave,” I told Odile. “Keeping the library open and making sure all people could check out books.” She sighed. “I did the minimum.” “Le minimum? What you did was amazing. You gave subscribers hope. You showed that during the worst of times, people were still good. You saved books and people. You risked your life to defy the fricking Nazis. That’s huge.”

I could not have said it any better.

I highly encourage everyone to read the author’s note at the end of the book. Janet Skeslien Charles did a huge amount of research for this book. So much of The Paris Library is true and/or based in fact and on real people. I love reading author’s notes in historical fiction books because it is so fun to learn where authors get their inspiration from!


The Paris Library is also a story of friendship. There is loss, love, betrayal, and hope. The Paris Library shows the power of a true friend. It beautifully and heartbreakingly illustrates the importance of treasuring that friendship, being open with those you love, and not running away. This is shown through Odile’s relationship with Margaret.

As I said before, The Paris Library is a character driven story. And I came to love so many of these characters! I truly feel like I go to know each and every one of them. It’s like Lily thought after she heard Odile’s story . . .

“Her hand hugging mind, she introduced her cast of characters. Dear Maman and down-to-earth Eugenie. Blustery Papa. Remy, the mischievous twin I would see every time I looked at Odile. His girl, Bitsi, the brave librarian. Paul, so handsome, I fell in love with him, too. Margaret, every bit as fun as Mary Louise. Miss Reader, the Countess, and Boris, the heart and soul and life of the Library. People I would never know, would never forget. They’d lived in Odile’s memory, and now they lived in mine.

The relationships and friendships between these characters are one of the things that makes The Paris Library so special! Odile’s relationship with Remy, the staff at the ALP, and later with Lily are all beautiful examples of friendship. I love her bond with Remy and the way the staff at the ALP all nerd out about reading. However, my favorite relationship is between Odile and Lily. I love how Lily brings joy and light back into Odile’s life. And how Odile introduces Lily to books and the love of reading. I actually equally enjoyed reading both the Paris and Montana timelines.


As you can see I really enjoyed The Paris Library. I could keep gushing about it for a long time. I wrote down so many quotes that I love! The book mates one is my favorite – I sent it to my book bestie because it describes us perfectly!

I actually struggled writing this review because I don’t feel like I’m able to capture the magic I felt while reading The Paris Library. I think I ended up just ranting, but I can’t help it! The Paris Library actually reminded my of Ruta Sepetys’ books . . . a beautiful story that also teaches me something about a lesser known part of history. This is just a very special book that I think everyone should read. I will hold The Paris Library close to my heart forever.

Congrats to Janet Skeslien Charles on this stunning book!

The Paris Library is set to be released February 9th, 2021 by Atria Books.

The Fountains of Silence – Ruta Sepetys [ARC Review]

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Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray comes a gripping, extraordinary portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.

Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys once again shines light into one of history’s darkest corners in this epic, heart-wrenching novel about identity, unforgettable love, repercussions of war, and the hidden violence of silence–inspired by the true postwar struggles of Spain.

Review:

Wow. Once again Ruta Sepetys has left me speechless. Ruta is one of my favorite authors and story tellers. I have read all of her books, and each one has told a beautiful story about forgotten moments of history. The Fountains of Silence is no exception.

Ruta Sepetys is one of the most gifted authors I have encountered. She writes historical fiction and chooses subjects that aren’t pretty or romanticized. Sepetys is always able to craft a captivating and beautiful story that shines light into dark moments of the past. With each of Sepetys books, I have learned something. The Fountains of Silence, like Between Shades of Grey, Out of the Easy, and Salt to the Sea, showed me periods or aspects of history that I didn’t know anything or very little about. I knew some vague information about the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s rule, but I never delved into the true stories and trauma of this time. Sepetys was able to create a beautiful story that seamlessly integrated the history and truth of what Spain was like at the time. It felt authentic every step of the way. You can tell that Sepetys didn’t choose this subject for shock and awe. She puts in the work and research and it shows in her incredible storytelling. I learned so much, and this book has inspired me to learn more about the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s rule.

The Fountains of Silence shows Ruta Sepetys’ incredible power of storytelling. The Fountains of Silence follows four main characters as they navigate life in Madrid, Spain. There’s Ana and Rafa, a brother and sister whose parents were part of the Republican movement against Franco, their cousin, Puri, and an American visitor named Daniel. Each of these characters lives intersect in different ways. Each is vital to the story and shows a different aspect of this period in Spain. One of my favorite parts is seeing Spain through Daniel’s photography. Sepetys was able to expertly describe what Daniel was seeing and photographing so that I could perfectly visualize the images in my mind. This elevated the already spectacular book.

One thing you can always expect from Ruta Sepetys’ books is an epic love story. The Fountains of Silence delivers another beautiful romance between two of the characters. Sepetys writes romance so well. She is able to create a love story that is vital to the plot, but never distracts or overshadows the rest of the story.

Ruta Sepetys has once again created a stunning book that is a great story, but also an importance piece of literature. The Fountains of Silence delves into a tumultuous time in Spain’s history. It shows the trauma and tragedy of the time, but also the hope and resilience of the Spanish people. The Fountains of Silence was a masterpiece and it will forever be a part of me.

HUGE THANK YOU to Ruta Sepetys, Penguin, and Philomel Books for providing this advanced readers copy of The Fountains of Silence at Book Expo.

The Fountains of Silence will be released October 1st, 2019.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

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Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis:

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

Review:

Wow. What an incredible story. The Tattooist of Auschwitz was a heartbreaking and harrowing, but inspiring story. I am a huge fan of historical fiction and I especially love when these books are based on true events. The Tattooist of Auschwitz was captivating and completely unputdownable! Content warning: there were many graphic and horrific scenes at the concentration camps.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is the true tale of Lale Solokov and his time in Auschwitz. Lale becomes the tattooist and is forced to permanently mark his fellow prisoners with a number. It never occurred to me that this job would be done by a prisoner and not an S.S. officer or other German official. Knowing that a Jewish prisoner was made to do this task makes it even more unimaginable. Lale agonizes over his job, but does it because he is determined to survive. One of his biggest inner struggles is that he could be seen as a Nazi sympathizer. He ultimately does his job so that he can live. I can’t imagine being in this situation. This is one of the many reasons why books about the Holocaust are so important. We need to be educated and to remember about the horrors that were done. We need to imagine/picture these situations so never let it happen again.

One wouldn’t think that a story about Auschwitz and the Holocaust would be about a blossoming love story, but The Tattooist of Auschwitz was exactly that. To be honest, Lale and Gita’s love story started off a bit strong for me. Lale saw Gita one time and was instantly obsessed with her. I know the author wrote this book after interviewing Lale so it’s all from his perspective. At first I was like come on that’s ridiculous insta-love, but then I realized it was true and actually love at first sight. Their love for one another gives them the strength to fight to survive. It was simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking reading Lale and Gita’s story. I loved their love, but I can’t imagine the daily terror of not knowing if you’d ever see each other again. Small spoiler. . . I loved that the author included pictures of Lale and Gita!

The only reason I could not give The Tattooist of Auschwitz five stars was because of the writing style. The story is five stars, but the writing is one or two. This is because the writing was very simplistic. There was very little prose. I think a different author would have been able to create a more emotional and all encompassing atmosphere. Also, I so wish that the book was written from Lale and Gita’s points of view. It was Lale’s story and his words and I think the author did a disservice by not having first person story telling. I did love that Morris included an afterword by Gary Solokov and an author’s note with more info about how she met Lale and their interview process.

I am so glad that I discovered The Tattooist of Auschwitz and got to learn about Lale and Gita’s story. I will carry this book with me forever.