Kim Fu – The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

Kim Fu – The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

A summer camp for young girls aged nine to twelve. Mostly rich, but there are also some poor ones granted scholarships so that they can take part, too. The rules have been the same over decades, everything in Camp Forevermore is as it has always been. Part of the camp experience is a kayak tour which the girls complete in small groups and which leaves them on isolated islands for a night. Siobhan, Nita, Andee, Isabel and Dina thus are assigned to the oldest and toughest camp supervisor. Yet, unexpectedly, the girls do not end in the spot they were destined to but find themselves on a different, much larger and completely isolated island, their chaperone dead and they themselves running out of food. Now, the real survival lesson begins.

The idea of a bunch of girls having to face raw nature and survive in unknown territory sounded quite intriguing to me. I anticipated it to be a bit like a girl version of the “Lord of the Flies” and I was curious to read how a group of girls develops under those conditions. Yet, the story of the lost girls is just a part of the novel. Their adventure is broken up by narrations about what happens to the girls later in life, their fate after surviving Camp Forevermore. This not only came a bit unexpected, but also shifted the focus away from the actual story to what such an experience makes with people and how they can never really get over it.

Kim Fu has a very lively style of writing. The characters seem authentic and you quickly get a good idea of their different personalities. I liked her writing most in the parts where the girls struggle to survive, she is great at portraying their fears, hate and desperation. Without any question, the girls’ later lives are also interesting and the author actually did a great job in developing the girls further as adults. However, I would have preferred to read more about Camp Forevermore and the girls desperate situation.


Amy Bloom – White Houses

Amy Bloom – White Houses

Life does not endow much to young Lorena Alice Hickok. When her mother dies, her father sends her away and she has to make her way on her own. Thanks to her stubbornness and perseverance, Lorena becomes one of the first woman journalists of the United States. In 1932, she works for Associated Press and reports on Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s electoral campaign. This is when she meets Eleanor for the first time. They women fall for each other immediately and this, Lorena gets closer to the famous couple and finally becomes Eleanor‘s lover.

Based on the known facts, Amy Bloom tells the story of two unorthodox and progressive women of the 1930s. It is especially Lorena who is an extraordinary character. She is not particularly charming, nor very attractive at the first glance, nevertheless, there is something fascinating about her, her independence makes her stand out and her courage and self-confidence irritate the men around her.

On the other hand, Eleanor Roosevelt is an outstanding first lady. Educated in the best boarding schools and acquainted with the manners of the high society, she moves smoothly around the rich and famous. When she entered a room, all eyes were on her. Yet, this did not prevent her husband from betraying her and obviously, she was aware of this. His lovers lived under their roof and Eleanor could watch them closely. But, had Franklin and Eleanor lost interest, they could be awful, nasty people.

Amy Bloom unveils a scandalous affair and tells the story of a woman, or rather two women, who followed their instincts and thus were quite ahead of their time.


Akwaeke Emezi – Freshwater

Akwaeke Emezi – Freshwater


Their prayers have been heard and the god Ala sent them a baby girl: Ada, named in honour of the generous goddess. Yet, it comes with a plus, Ada is not alone, she has got some characters living in her mind, still asleep, but eager to wake up and take over the body given to them. The first two to arrive and take care of Ada and her siblings in their Nigerian village. Later, in America, when another of the voices awakes and takes over control over Ada‘s body, things turn out differently. For the world outside, it is hidden what is going on inside Ada‘s head, once she tries to tell a therapist, however, the voices that possess her are stronger and find a way out of this dangerous situation.

Akwaeke Emezi‘s novel „Freshwater“ was all but easy to read for me. First of all, I had some difficulty understanding who is telling the story, it took me some time to figure out that the voices in Ada‘s head are the narrators. So, we are mostly inside her mind, but sometimes we get what happens outside, too.

You cannot really say that Ada is mad even though she hears voices and follows their command. It was especially when she hurt herself to calm down the first two voices, Smoke and Shadow, that was hard to endure. The third who made her act promiscuously wasn‘t much better. They are evil, after all, misusing an innocent human to fulfil their wishes and greed. I am not sure if it works like this with people hearing voices, even if it is somewhat different, this seems to be horrible. On the other hand, Ada obviously experienced some very bad incidents and the voices were somehow able to split those memories from her normal memory thus making her forget these experiences. Maybe this is the cause why the voices could develop after all.

It is always hard to like a novel if you detest the protagonist or narrator. Thus, „Freshwater“ is not a novel I could fall for easily. Still, I consider the topic highly interesting and, ultimately, the author found a convincing way of making the voices heard for us.

Richard Lawson – All we can do is wait

Richard Lawson – All we can do is wait

An awful accident brings a bunch of teenager together in the waiting area of a hospital: a Boston bridge collapsed during busy traffic and now they are waiting for news. Scott is afraid that his girlfriend Aimee might be amongst the dead. Skyler was on the telephone with her sister when Kate suddenly broke away. Jason and Alex fear the worst about their parents who were on the way to Alexa’s school. And Morgan already knows that her father is not alive anymore. While they are condemned to wait in the sterile area without any information, they all recall the last couple of months, what they went through with the loved ones, the good sides and the bad ones. But sharing this feeling of utmost anxiety also brings out things which were long buried and in the morning, they are not the same anymore.

“All we can do is wait” has the classic drama setting: all characters in one place, waiting for the moment when they are either relieved or their biggest fear is confirmed. There is nothing they can do to change the situation, they have to sit and wait for the verdict. No matter what they wish or pray for, their fate is already sealed but they do not know about it.

Richard Lawson makes his young protagonists alternate in the narration. Each chapter is dedicated to one of them and slowly their lives unfold. Thus, we are not constantly in the situation of extreme stress in the waiting room, but look back also on happy moments full of joy and love. But the sword of Damocles of looming over them all the time and inevitable we return to the hospital.

The story is full of emotion, positive and negative ones, and the author created authentic and lovable characters who are credible in their fears and hopes. They already show whom they are going to be in a couple of years and yet, they are still adolescents with great hopes and wishes. Apart from this, there is obviously a lot of suspense because you just want to know what happened to their friends, sister and parents. This just makes you read on and on and on. I really loved the novel even though it is a rather melancholy story that is told.

Heather Morris – The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Heather Morris – The Tattooist of Auschwitz

When times become hard for Jews in 1942 Slovakia, Ludwig Eisenberg, named Lale, decides to save his family and to present himself to the enemy. After some days waiting he is transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, today the synonym with Nazi cruelty. He soon attracts attention due to his knowledge of several languages and his ability to cope with people. He becomes the tattooist of Auschwitz, the person who replaces the peoples’ names with a number on their wrist. Lale’s extraordinary capabilities make him wander between the lines, on the one hand, he serves the Nazis, on the other, he supports the Jews and gypsies in the camp. When He first sees Gita, he completely falls for her. But a concentration camp is not the best scenery for a love story, especially since you never know if you will die tomorrow.

Heather Morris has written a compelling story in one of the most awful places the Nazi regime has created. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest concentration camp where more than one million persons found death during the second world war and where Josef Mengele carried out is gruesome experiments, is today a museum and remembrance site which aims at preventing such a thing from happening ever again.

The story is based on the narration of the real Lale Eisenberg who later called himself Sokolov when he, after surviving the Holocaust, started a new life first in Slovakia and then Australia. It is incredible to read about his life in the camp, especially considering the fact that he as a kind of collaborator was relatively well off. Those who are burnt in the gas chambers, those who fell prey to Menegle’s experiments and all the ones who died from hunger or illness are only on the fringes of the story. So after all, we actually get one of the happier sides of being held prisoner under unimaginable conditions even though this one isn’t free of tragedy either.

But it is not only the story itself which is moving, it is also the author’s style which makes the book stand out. Most of the narration is in chronological order, only towards the end Lale has some kind of flashbacks of the time before he came to the camp. He never would have guessed that they were in real danger, that Hitler would invade Slovakia and certainly not all that he sees in Auschwitz. Morris makes the reader actually feel what Lale feels, quite often his emotions are palpable which makes the story go deep inside you. Especially in the moments when he is separated from Gita or close to death.

Since it is based on a true story, this is certainly a life which needed to be told and which should be read about widely.

Chloe Benjamin – The Immortalists

Chloe Benjamin – The Immortalists

In summer 1969, the four Gold kids are still young. Varya is only 13, Daniel 11, Klara 9 and Simon just 7. It is the last summer they spend together before the eldest do not want to play with younger ones anymore. But it is also the summer that will change their lives and determine their fates. Having eavesdropped a couple of boys they head to a house where a gipsy woman is telling the future. The kids all just have one question: when will I die? They each get an answer, an exact date. But instead of just laughing and forgetting about it and not taking it seriously, this information will always loom over them.

The novel received a lot of attention and was highly acclaimed before being published. What starts as a story about four kids and a strange prediction, turns into one of the best novels of the last years. After the opening scene, Chloe Benjamin tells the siblings‘ stories, starting with the youngest who is predicted to die first. Each has a singular life, an interesting character and their story blends perfectly with societal developments of their times. Not only a cleverly constructed plot, but also relevant questions about what is important in life, how much do family bonds count and how free are you in shaping your life -and what is determined by fate?

You always wait in a story staring with the presentation of a group of characters for who will turn out to be the most intriguing, the most interesting and the one with the biggest crisis. Benjamin treats the four kids equally. Astonishingly, the moment when each is taking over, he or she becomes really the centre, the focus of everything. Thus, we do not get the development if the others which makes a lot of secrets revealed only later as well as many situations being judged from one perspective when there are actually several points of view which allow you to see a situation also in a completely different way.

The story is often sad, full of despair and emotion. It is hard to say how Benjamin makes you completely indulge in it, but you feel with the characters, you can sense their loss and thus get a wonderful novel to read. Exceptional writing paired with a cleverly constructed novel, carefully drawn characters and the smooth insertion of important topics – is there anything more a reader could wish for?

Julian Barnes – The only Story

Julian Barnes – The only Story

“Would you rather love more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.”


Paul looks back at his life and the love of his life, Susan. He met her when he was only 19, she, at the time, was almost 30 years older, but fascinated by the boy. She was married, had her place in society, was experienced and could teach him how to love. For years they had an affair, then they ran away, and then their life crumbled and fell apart. Susan fell apart. Taking her away from her well-settled life-style did not do her good, but Paul was in love. As he had always been. She was the love of his life. His only love. His only love story. Until he couldn’t go on anymore. But loving her he never stopped, until the very end. And he could never and didn’t ever want to find another woman to love in the same way.

After writing certain kinds of biographies about Shostakovich and Sarah Bernhardt, Julian Barnes returns with a novel about the greatest topic in literature: love. And it is not meant to end well, like most of the great love stories; neither Romeo and Juliet nor Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary found the love they dreamt of and could live it.

The story is told from elderly Paul’s perspective. Many decades have passed when he remembers how it all began, but he does not judge his younger self, nor smile at his naiveté. He takes young Paul just like he was: innocent, inexperienced and with great expectations. There were adults around him telling him that he was just dreaming and naive – but this did not keep him from falling for the elder woman. His unconditional love and admiration for Susan are compelling, but the reader senses that this will not end well. However, it does not turn out as expected since Susan is not the woman she seemed to be. Taken from her natural surroundings, she is completely lost. Her roots are cut and she does not get a grip on the new life.

It is a sad story, but Paul doesn’t regret it:

“What he did regret was that he had been too young, too ignorant, too absolutist, too confident of what he imagined love’s nature and working to be.”

Julian Barnes is a great writer, he knows how to tell a story, how to pace it perfectly and he finds the right words to have his characters express themselves. What I liked especially throughout the novel was the search for a definition of what the big four-letter-word ultimately means. He concludes that it can be happy or unhappy but it surely will be “a real disaster once you give yourself over to it entirely”. Well, that’s it maybe, surrendering yourself, come what may and adhering to it.

A wonderfully told novel, sad but enchanting.

Christopher Greyson – The Girl Who lived

Christopher Greyson – The Girl Who Lived

It’s been ten years since the day that changed her life. The day her beloved sister and father were killed together with her friend and her friend’s mother and she survived. The anniversary is close when Faith Winters is finally released from a psychiatric hospital where she spent most of the time since. She is said to have hallucinations, but she is very sure not to hallucinate at all. It wasn’t her father who killed all of them because he was exposed as adulterer. Yet, nobody believes the then girl and now young woman. Free at last, Faith is going to search for the killer – but the demons of the past haunt her and soon she realises that she cannot trust anybody. Or is she just crazy after all?

Christopher Greyson’s thriller is fast paced and playing on the readers’ nerves. It is a psychological thriller in which you can never be sure of what you read and what or whom you can believe. Faith Winters is a well-chosen protagonist, her past qualifies her to be either totally unbelievable and paranoid; yet, on the other, it is easy to imagine that she had been fooled and that people were eager not to believe her and to simply label her the crazy girl. Her medication and the consumption of alcohol just add to this.

The plot is cleverly crafted, many clues only lead you to dead ends and you have to build you explanation anew. Most of the characters act suspiciously in one or the other way which does not help much since you do not know if their behaviour is linked to the case or motivated by something completely different. The fact that there are many former addicts and people on medication around does not make it easier to distinguish between the credible and the non-credible characters.

All in all, the author did a very good job. Great entertainment, a thrilling plot with many twists and turns, an interesting protagonist and a fast pace – all you could wish for.

Joy Ellis – Beware the Past

Joy Ellis – Beware the Past

It was his most important case, 25 years ago, and now it all seems to be coming back to him. Detective Matt Ballard was still young when a series of murders of three boys hit the remote area of Gibbet Fens. The killing suddenly stopped when their main suspects was killed in an accident, but nevertheless, doubts remained and now the killers seems to have resumed his series. The team is working around the clock and soon they have to realise that this is not just a normal murder case, it is a cat and mouse play with Matt Ballard at the centre. The killer wants his full attention and he want to hurt the detective – therefore everybody close to him is in the highest danger.

Joy Ellis’ thriller is just want I’d suspect from a crime novel: full of suspense, many clues and leads that only lead to dead-ends. Interesting characters with a past and buried secrets. A fast paced story with twists and turns and quite a surprising motive of the predator.

For me, the strongest aspect of the novel was actually the plot and the motivation of the killer. It is hard not to tell too much since it really comes as a surprise, but the way Joy Ellis drafted the novel, the killer’s procedure and the solution of the case was just brilliant. I was kept in the dark about who is behind it all for such a long time – ok, one might have guessed, but actually, the fact that I was totally taken by surprise makes it an outstanding thriller for me.

Lisa Jewell – Then She Was Gone

Lisa Jewell – Then She Was Gone

Ellie just wants to go to the library to study for her GCSEs. But she never arrives there and is never seen again. Her mother Laurel is sure that her daughter is still alive, but where? Ten years pass by, the family splits up and Laurel is alone with her grief. When she meets Floyd, she experiences happiness for the first time in many years. Can this be true? Finding love at the age of 55? But why is the famous writer in love with her, this old, nondescript woman? When she meets Floyd’s daughter Poppy for the first time, a vile thought is planted in her head. Was their encounter really a coincidence? Who is that man in reality?

Lisa Jewell tells the story of the vanished girl from different perspectives at different points of time. Thus, the full picture is only revealed bit by bit throughout the story and the tension is constantly kept high. You never know whom you can really trust, what is true and what isn’t, you can guess, but at times, you might be completely wrong.

I especially liked the mystery about Floyd and his daughter. At the first glance, they appear to be a bit too perfect, too lovely and likeable to be real. Just because of this you become suspicious. Is Floyd the nice loving man or is he simply evil? What might happen to Laurel when she keeps on dating him? From the experience of reading thrillers you are convinced that sooner or later something really wicked will happen, you simply wait for it to happen all the time – of course you still hope that by some miracle the nice and decent woman is spared another nightmare in her life.

“Then she was gone” is not a too bloody thriller, but it is creepy due to the characters and you always teeter on a knife edge about what is going to happen next. So, Lisa Jewell successfully plays on the reader’s nerves – just what I would expect from a good thriller.