Monday 30 September 2019

Book Review: Renia's Diary by Renia Spiegel

Renia's Diary
Renia Spiegel 
Translated by Anna Blasiak & Marta Dziurosz

Publisher: St Martin's Press
Publication date: 24th September 2019
Genre: Nonfiction/Holocaust 
Pages: 328
Format Read: eBook
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley

Renia Spiegel was born in 1924 to an upper-middle class Jewish family living in southeastern Poland, near what was at that time the border with Romania. At the start of 1939 Renia began a diary. “I just want a friend. I want somebody to talk to about my everyday worries and joys. Somebody who would feel what I feel, who would believe me, who would never reveal my secrets. A human being can never be such a friend and that’s why I have decided to look for a confidant in the form of a diary.” And so begins an extraordinary document of an adolescent girl’s hopes and dreams. By the fall of 1939, Renia and her younger sister Elizabeth (nÊe Ariana) were staying with their grandparents in Przemysl, a city in the south, just as the German and Soviet armies invaded Poland. Cut off from their mother, who was in Warsaw, Renia and her family were plunged into war.

Renia's Diary has been translated from the original Polish, and includes a preface, afterword, and notes by her surviving sister, Elizabeth Bellak. An extraordinary historical document, Renia Spiegel survives through the beauty of her words and the efforts of those who loved her and preserved her legacy.

Renia’s Diary is the journal entries of Polish born Renia Spiegel from 1939, age 15 until 1942 when she was murdered, at age 18, by the Nazi’s.

Diaries are an important part of holocaust history. They allow us to hear the voice of those that did not survive. The diarist is writing in the present and has no idea what today’s events may have on things to come.

Renia writes in her diary as if talking to a friend. It is filled with teenage angst; first love, first kiss and jealousies.
At times the war takes a back seat to Renia’s self doubt, troubles with friends and talk about boys. Whilst at other times it is the full focus of her entries. A lot of her feelings are reflected through poetry. She really is an amazing poet!

When the German and Soviet armies split Poland into two zones Renia is living in Przemysl, a small city in south-eastern Poland, with her Grandparents and the yearning for her mother is constant and heart-breaking to read.

As you would expect in a young girls diary some of the entries are obscure. She sometimes uses in-jokes or code words and you need to read between the lines.

As Renia ages you can feel a shift in her entries as she moves from the self-centred anguish of a young teen to a those of a mature woman in love.

The diary is published by Renia’s younger sister Elizabeth who escaped due to the help of Renia’s boyfriend, Zygu, and family friends. Elizabeth fills in a lot of the blanks that are left by the diary.

A must read!

 My rating   4/5



Saturday 28 September 2019

Book Bingo - Round 20 #BookBingo

Book Bingo is a reading challenge hosted by Theresa Smith Writes , Mrs B’s Book Reviews and The Book Muse. Every second Saturday, book bingo participants reveal which bingo category they have read and what book they chose. 

This week I have chosen the category 'A Prize Winning Book'

A prize winning book:

For this category I have chosen 'Exit West' by Mohsin Hamid

I really wanted to use 'Boy Swallows Universe' for this category and I've had it waiting on my TBR pile but time got the best of me and now we are nearing the end of book bingo I'm starting to struggle with the time to read books that fit each category.

Exit West fits perfectly even though I found the writing a bit strange the concept of the book is very timely; refuges fleeing war torn countries looking for a better life but coming up against prejudice and suspicion.

Exit West has a long list of Literary awards:  Booker Prize Nominee (2017), Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (2017), National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee for Fiction (2017), Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee for Fiction (2018), Folio Prize Nominee (2018) Kirkus Prize Nominee for Fiction (2017), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2017), Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize Nominee for Fiction (2017), International Dublin Literary Award Nominee for Shortlist (2019), Aspen Words Literary Prize (2018) 

You can read my review of Exit West here 




Saturday 21 September 2019

Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West
Mohsin Hamid

Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: 7th March 2017
Genre: Literary Fiction/ Magical Realism
Pages: 229
Format Read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of World of Books


In a city far away, bombs and assassinations shatter lives every day. Yet, even here, hope renews itself, welling up through the rubble. Somewhere in this city, two young people are smiling, hesitating, sharing cheap cigarettes, speaking softly then boldly, falling in love.

As the violence worsens and escape feels ever more necessary, they hear rumour of mysterious black doors appearing all over the city, all over the world. To walk through a door is to find a new life – perhaps in Greece, in London, in California – and to lose the old one for ever . . .

What does it mean to leave your only home behind? Can you belong to many places at once? And when the hour comes and the door stands open before you – will you go?


Exit West is not a novel I would normally pick up to read. It was the Fairy Book Club’s chosen novel for August/September book of the month. It’s always good to go out of your comfort zone and read something different.

The story follows two young people, Saeed and Nadia, in an unnamed country on the edge of collapse. The economy was sluggish and the militants had taken over control of the city.
Nadia and Saeed meet and start a chaste relationship. Nadia’s independence and rebellious streak is a stark contrast to Saeed’s conservative personality.

The story centres around the collapse of their country and the appearance of black doors which are portals to other countries. This is the only magical realism in the story. Thousands of people are fleeing poor countries, under siege, in search of a better life.

Mohsin Hamid gives his readers an omniscient point of view which shows the feelings of the natives and the immigrants, without judgement and quite often without emotion. He reflects the fear from both sides and portrays the real struggle of displaced people who only wish to live in safety. Over time, as they move from country to country, trying to fit into a world that views then with fear and suspicion, we observe Nadia and Saeed’s changing relationship.

At times characters flit into the book, tell their story then are gone. I’m not sure whether these vignettes were of any benefit to the overall story.
I did struggle to stay focused on the overly wordy sentences. Some well over a page long!

Exit West is a story of our time for our time.

*Thank you to The Fairy Book Club and World of Books for my copy to read.


My rating  3/5  

Photo Credit: Goodreads
Mohsin Hamid is the author of four novels, Moth Smoke , The Reluctant Fundamentalist , How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia , and Exit West , and a book of essays, Discontent and Its Civilizations .

His writing has been featured on bestseller lists, adapted for the cinema, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, selected as winner or finalist of twenty awards, and translated into thirty-five languages.

Born in Lahore, he has spent about half his life there and much of the rest in London, New York, and California.


Saturday 14 September 2019

Book Bingo - Round 19 #BookBingo

Book Bingo is a reading challenge hosted by Theresa Smith Writes , Mrs B’s Book Reviews and The Book Muse. Every second Saturday, book bingo participants reveal which bingo category they have read and what book they chose. 

This week I have chosen the category 'Themes of Culture'

Themes of Culture:

For this category I have chosen 'Tidelands'
by Philippa Gregory.

Tidelands is set in 1648 and the culture of that era runs throughout the novel.
Harvest festivals, religion, marriage and food are some of the cultural elements in the story.

You can read my review of Tidelands here 

#BookBingo 2019


Saturday 7 September 2019

Book Review: The One by Kaneana May

The One
Kaneana May

Publisher: Harper Collins Australia 
Imprint: Mira
Publication date: 17th June 2019
Genre: Romance
Pages: 405
Format read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher

On the wrong side of thirty, Bonnie Yates wants a happily ever after. Problem is, she keeps choosing the wrong guys. When an ex returns to town with a fiance in tow, history and temptation collide. Unable to shake her inappropriate feelings Bonnie flees, becoming an unlikely contestant on popular dating show The One. Will she find what she's looking for?

Working behind the scenes, Darcy Reed is a driven young producer, dealing with a tyrant of a boss. Despite being surrounded by love at work, her own love-life with long-term boyfriend Drew is floundering. Producing a flawless season is her best chance at a promotion. But with the unrelenting demands of the show, how will she save their relationship while making that shot?

Penelope Baker has relocated to a small seaside town to hide away with her secrets and nurse a broken heart. But with The One beaming across the nation's televisions, she can't seem to quite escape the life she left behind...

I will start by saying I’m a bit of a Bachelor tragic. I like getting right into the drama of the show and trying to guess who will be going home each night, checking Twitter every few minutes to see what other viewers are thinking, which contestants everyone likes or dislikes. We viewers have very distinct opinions about everything that is said and done on the show.

I originally rated the book 4.5 stars because, for me, there wasn’t enough viewer participation in the story. However over the next few weeks I kept talking about The One to anyone within earshot and especially while I was watching episodes of The Bachelor. Which made me think this is definitely 5 star worthy.

The One follows three women during the screening of a reality TV series where an eligible bachelor dates a number of carefully chosen women, eliminating one each episode until he is left with ‘the one’ he chooses to spend his life with.
Darcy is a producer on the show, Bonnie a contestant and Penelope a viewer.

I loved all the behind the scenes producing of the show and all the drama between the contestants. It was exactly as I imagined it would be.

This is a cute and funny RomCom that highlights the ups and downs of love and the strain of long distance relationships and shows all we really want is our own happily ever after.

Kaneana May touches on topics of miscarriage, IVF and cancer with deep sensitivity.
The three main characters were very relatable. Darcy hides behind her work rather than taking the time to re-evaluate her relationship with boyfriend Drew. Bonnie’s anxiety and self loathing cause her to run rather than stand up for herself. Penelope shuts herself off from people as she has already suffered too much pain and loss.

The One is a romantic novel that reminds us that love may be where you least expect it. A story that had me laughing out loud and surreptitiously trying to hide my tears as I read the last few pages in a busy coffee shop.

I am eagerly looking forward to seeing what Kaneana May comes up with next.


My rating  5/5

This review is part of the Book Lover Book Review Aussie author challenge
and book #29 in the Australian Women Writers challenge

Photo credit: Harper Collins
Kaneana May studied television production at university, graduating with first-class honours in screenwriting. She went on to work in television, including roles as a script assistant on All Saints, a storyliner on Headland and a scriptwriter on Home and Away. Since becoming a mother, Kaneana has turned her attention to fiction writing. Kaneana loves to read—mostly YA, romance and women's fiction—and also loves watching TV and films. Writing, boot camp, coffee, chocolate and champagne are just some of her favourite things. Kaneana lives on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales with her husband and three children.