Cheri Reviews Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly


As soon as I saw that Lilac Girls was about prisoners at Ravensbrück, I requested it for review. I had previously read Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein and wanted to get another perspective on the same place.

I’m not going to include the blurb here but you can click on the book cover above and it’ll take you to the listing on Amazon if you want to read it. The book is told from three different points of view: Caroline Ferriday, a middle-aged socialite who lives off her family money and volunteers with the French Consulate in NYC; Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish Catholic teen; and Dr. Herta Oberheuser, a young Nazi doctor. I don’t want to give away anything that happens but I had some very serious problems with this book.

It’s obvious that the author did a tremendous amount of research and she goes into some of that in the afterword. Unfortunately, I thought that much of what she wanted to convey to the reader ended up taking on the form of info dumps through the characters filling in what was happening with the war or the locations. It didn’t feel like it was a natural part of the narrative.

The book also felt disjointed. For more than half of it, Caroline is solidly concerned with France and her married, would-be boyfriend, Paul, while Kasia and Herta are entrenched in the rise of Nazism and life in Ravensbrück. There was no connection at all. I couldn’t, and still don’t, understand why so much time was given to Caroline’s character. She spent most of her chapters complaining about how her rich and idle peers treated her, whining about Paul being married, and later, upset and pouting about his wife not actually being dead. I found her to be a very unlikable character. Her issues compared to the women in the other parts of the book were trivial and she made me want to stop reading before I hit the halfway mark.

Kasia’s POV was the only one that seemed to have any depth at all. If the whole book would have focused on her and her family, I think I would have enjoyed it much more. Her eagerness to do something to help the resistance, her later guilt at having put her family in danger, and finally what follows toward the end of the book could have been deepened and expanded to grab me and teach me something and make me feel connected to her and the other rabbits. But as it was, I felt like we just barely scratched the surface of her character.

The person I wanted to know so much more about was Herta. We’re allowed to share some brief experiences with her as a teen and a young woman, desperate to succeed and be recognized in her field but after her first day at Ravensbrück, we get very little else from her perspective.  She was given very little depth and it was impossible to understand how she could go from being physically ill and protesting the idea of killing a prisoner to the woman she was by the end of the book. Why give her a point of view at all if not to allow the reader to experience her thoughts and feelings and help us to understand her? And there was no resolution at all unless you listen to the afterword. I was the most disappointed in the way this character was handled. I would have rather she had not had a POV and was left as someone we learned about through Kasia instead of being teased with the possibility of gaining insight only to be left wanting.

I haven’t read any other reviews or looked at any individual ratings but I have seen that the average is pretty darn high. But this book just didn’t work for me on any level. After listening to the author talk about her journey in writing the book (I bought the audiobook after it came out and read it that way instead of the ebook I got from NetGalley), I know she wanted to tell the world about Caroline and her work with the Rabbits and her other charity work. But I think it would have been more effective as a biography. As it was, I felt Caroline was a shallow, self-interested woman who did a lot for others but was still more concerned with her appearances and position, while not learning nearly enough about the other two featured characters.

For readers who are interested in a more immersive read about characters at Ravensbrück, I highly recommend Rose Under Fire.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with the ebook ARC of Lilac Girls in exchange for an honest review.

Cheri Reviews Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon


More and more of my reading time has been devoted to mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels. I’m one of those readers who loves to try to solve the mysteries quickly and note somewhere exactly where in the book I think I figured it all out. Try Not to Breathe was great fun to try to puzzle out. I won’t give anything away here, though, so don’t worry.

Here’s the blurb:

Some secrets never die. They’re just locked away.

Alex Dale is lost. Destructive habits have cost her a marriage and a journalism career. All she has left is her routine: a morning run until her body aches, then a few hours of forgettable work before the past grabs hold and drags her down. Every day is treading water, every night is drowning. Until Alex discovers Amy Stevenson. Amy Stevenson, who was just another girl from a nearby town until the day she was found unconscious after a merciless assault. Amy Stevenson, who has been in a coma for fifteen years, forgotten by the world. Amy Stevenson, who, unbeknownst to her doctors, remains locked inside her body, conscious but paralyzed, reliving the past.

Soon Alex’s routine includes visiting hours at the hospital, then interviews with the original suspects in the attack. But what starts as a reporter’s story becomes a personal obsession. How do you solve a crime when the only witness lived but cannot tell the tale? Unable to tear herself away from her attempt to uncover the unspeakable truth, Alex realizes she’s not just chasing a story—she’s seeking salvation.

Shifting from present to past and back again, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer until its heart-stopping conclusion. The result is an utterly immersive, unforgettable debut.

That pretty well sums it up. But it gives the impression that we’re only getting Alex and Amy’s POVs and that’s not actually true. We also regularly hear from Jacob, Amy’s old boyfriend who has never really gotten over her and spends quite a lot of time with her in the hospital, to the detriment of his marriage.

I want to say right off that I truly enjoyed this book. The characters – Alex, Amy, and Jacob – were fairly complex and realistic. I think the author did a fantastic job with Alex. The detail with which her alcoholism is discussed and the manner in which it’s presented to the reader helped to bring the character depth and life. She was flawed and real and I cared for her. Amy’s progression was also interesting and I shuddered a few times thinking about what it would be like to be her. And Jake, poor Jake, I wouldn’t describe what I felt for him as heartbreak, but something close. I don’t think anyone could not feel bad for the guy.

The mystery, itself, I thought was well-done and I wasn’t certain who the bad guy was until I hit 83%. There were a couple red herrings thrown in for good measure but, ultimately, I found the way the story played out very satisfying. There was enough focus on the individual main characters to make us care about them and hope for their success but not too much as to take away from the reason they’ve all been brought together. The balance felt just right to me.

While I definitely recommend this book, it certainly wasn’t perfect. There was one character given a POV for two or three chapters who I don’t think needed to be included. It felt jarring to move between Alex, Jacob, and Amy steadily only to be dropped into this other character’s head when it didn’t seem to add anything to the plot. I don’t recall any information given that couldn’t have been provided in another way or that was truly necessary.

There was one thing that Amy did several times that I found unbelievable and made me grimace each time: she referred to the mystery man as “my secret.” As in, when she would have said or thought his name, she replaced it with “my secret” or a variation of that. If she were talking to someone else, maybe, just maybe that would fly but I cannot imagine anyone who would be thinking to themselves replacing a proper first name with something like that. It’s just not how we think – at least not how I would ever think of someone I knew. It felt unnatural and simply a way to avoid using a name which would have, obviously, given away the bad guy.

I also found the penultimate chapter a bit flat and somewhat of a let-down. Once I figured out whodunnit, I wanted to steam on through to the end and have justice done in a blaze of glory or some other exciting climax and that just didn’t happen. Yes, everything was wrapped up in a way that was pretty unique, I think, but not very thrilling.

Even with the slow wrap-up, I still found this book a great read. I was engaged the entire time and actively working to solve the mystery. I only wish I would have had access to the audio version. With the right narrators, I bet it’ll be great. Also, the end was left open to a possible series – I hope I read that correctly – which I would definitely be interested in. This is the author’s debut novel and I can only imagine how good the next book will be.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase Try Not to Breathe by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen

Thanks to NetGalley and figuring out how to get text-to-speech to work on the Kindle app, I’ve been able to kick up my advanced copy reading. I just finished Tess Gerritsen’s upcoming Playing with Fire. This was my first experience with the author who brought Rizzoli and Isles to life and I’ll sum up my review in a few words: I really freaking liked this book! A lot.

If you want more words, you can watch the quick video review embedded below.

You can pre-order Playing with Fire by clicking here. Or, if it’s after October 27, 2015 when you see this, you can use the same link to purchase or download a sample.

Cheri Reviews The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

A quick review of the upcoming psychological thriller from Jonathan Kellerman, The Murderer’s Daughter, which is slated to be published on August 18th.

Bottom line: I liked it. Interesting story, interesting characters, flashbacks were many but mostly well done. Creepy and enjoyable.


You can pre-order (or after 8/18/15 you can purchase or download a sample of) The Murderer’s Daughter by clicking here.