Category Archives: Book Review

Review: Born Survivors by Wendy Holden

Born SurvivorsI don’t remember how or where I first learned about BORN SURVIVORS, but I knew I had to read it. Though I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, the Holocaust is something that draws me. Perhaps because of my Jewish heritage, perhaps because I have Jewish great-uncles who fought in WWII, perhaps it’s because I’ve been to Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory in Krakow, Poland, and toured the Holocaust memorial now housed on that site, and more recently toured the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach, Florida. Perhaps it’s simply because – despite my cynicism – I’m a compassionate human being, who, like so many others, is horrifically fascinated by the evil things humans can do to one another out of fear and ignorance. Perhaps it’s to learn the lessons of the past and do what I can to be sure they’re not repeated in my own lifetime.

Whatever the reason, I was happy to see several ARCs being offered in a Goodreads Giveaway, and gratified to read the email a few weeks later notifying me that I was one of the winners. The moment the ARC arrived in my mailbox, I devoured it. It took me only 3 days to read this book. And it touched me deeply.

The grace and compassion with which Wendy Holden tells the individual stories of these three young, expectant mothers, strangers to one another, interweaving them when they – unknowingly – come to be held in the same camp – is heart-wrenching and emotional. From their lives prior to the war, through the early days of their marriages, to discovering their pregnancies at almost the same time they’re taken from their respective Ghettos to Auschwitz II-Birkenau in 1944, and forced to suffer the terrifying scrutiny of Dr. Josef Mengele – each praying he won’t discover her pregnancy – then being sent to the same German slave-labor camp where they struggle to conceal their condition while being almost worked to death and half-starved. Their hellish journey culminating in a 17-day train ride with thousands of other prisoners to the Mauthausen death camp in Austria.

Reading about the endurance of these women, all who lived with the hope they would see their beloved husbands again, and give birth to the longed-for children who nestled secretly in their wombs – one marvels anew at the strength of the human will, and the courage and kindness of strangers, which helped save these women and their children.

Sixty-five years after their rescue along with their mothers, the three children – Mark, Hana, and Eva – born from the debris of their mothers’ broken bodies and shattered lives, met at Mauthausen for the anniversary of the American liberation. In BORN SURVIVORS, Wendy Holden brings these three stories together for the first time to mark their seventieth birthdays and the seventieth anniversary of the end of the war. Forever will Rachel, Priska and Anka be memorialized within the pages of this book.


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Review: Fortitude by Apryl Pooley

TRIGGER WARNING: This memoir contains rape experiences in much detail, various types of abuse and addiction.

FORTITUDE is Apryl Pooley’s honest and sobering account of living with PTSD and the shame of rape. A “good Christian girl,” Apryl had planned to save herself for marriage. She was raped the first time at age 17, waking up in a strange bed in a fraternity house, paralyzed from the neck down, with no recollection of the previous 16 hours. Having taken the abstinence pledge promoted by the sex program at her school, which hadn’t prepared her – or any of her peers – for the reality of rape, how to respect sexual boundaries and how to say “no” to sex, Apryl took the shame – and fault – upon her own youthful shoulders.

Shattered by this traumatic loss of innocence, and the ensuing ostracization by her peers at school and church, Apryl fought to survive and understand what had happened to her, outwardly portraying the life of a successful college student, while experiencing recurrences of the paralysis, struggling through eating disorders, drug addiction, alcoholism and suicide attempts that dominated her life for the greater part of the decade following her first assault, exacerbated when she was raped a second time just two and a half years later.

With candor and aided by ten years of unedited blog and journal entries, Apryl details her labyrinthine journey to her discovery as a neuroscience doctoral student that PTSD is more than a military issue, leading to her own PTSD diagnosis after nearly a decade of living with the disorder.

By turns funny, heart-wrenching, angry and contemplative, Fortitude is one woman’s frank discussion of rape, PTSD, healing, love and new-found purpose. Highly recommended.

5 of 5 Stars.




Fortitude: A PTSD Memoir

Anchored by ten years of unedited blog and journal entries, Fortitude illustrates a real-time account of an outwardly successful college student living with secrets of rape, childhood molestation, a closeted lesbian identity, PTSD, alcoholism, addiction, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. In her first year as a neuroscience doctoral student, Apryl learned of PTSD as more than a military issue, which led to her own PTSD diagnosis after nearly a decade of living with the disorder. She devoted the remainder of her life’s research to understanding the effects of trauma on the brain but learned that healing from trauma was so much more than a scientific experiment. Fortitude describes Apryl’s unrelenting attempts to hide her shame by escaping her mind and body, only to find that what she needed was to openly share her story and travel deep within herself to find the healing answers that were there all along.

“It’s easy to compare Pooley’s book to some of the great addiction-themed memoirs like “Smashed,” “The Basketball Diaries” or “Drinking: A Love Story,” but [Fortitude: A PTSD Memoir] stands alone for its forthrightness and the author’s scientific bent. Her story deserves everyone’s full attention, and it definitely deserved a book.” –Bill Castanier, Lansing City Pulse literary journalist and editor of Mitten Lit blog about Michigan authors.

Genre: Memoir
Paperback: 254 pages
Publisher: Gravity Imprint of Booktrope Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1-51370-445-6
Available on in Kindle and paperback versions
Available on in Nook and paperback versions


Apryl E. Pooley was raised in Charleston, Illinois–a small, rural college town where she stayed to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the biological sciences department at Eastern Illinois University. She is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Michigan State University Neuroscience Program where she researches the effects of traumatic stress on the brain. A scientist by training, a writer by practice, and an artist by nature, all of Apryl’s work is inspired by the drive to make sense of the world around her and to help others do the same. Apryl’s first publication outside the scientific literature was a short story called Dichroma in author/editor Troy Blackford’s “Robbed of Sleep” series (2014). Her second trade book, released on February 17, 2015, was the culmination of a three-year writing project that became her memoir, “Shadow Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Journey Through PTSD and Womanhood.” All profits from this memoir are being donated to local organizations that help survivors of sexual assault/abuse. Apryl lives in Lansing, Michigan with Mandy and Lady, her wife and dog, respectively.

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Review of Tangle of Thornes by Lorel Clayton

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00043]Lorel Clayton will be on tour April 6-13 with the novel Tangle of Thornes

When Eva’s brother is murdered in a city of rude elves and matriarchal dwarves where humans have no rights, she is forced to investigate the crime herself. What she discovers brings her up against a powerful slave-trading cartel, dark gods, and—worst of all—her twin sister. Both her family and the elven authorities want her hushed. She has no money and no magic of her own with which to combat them, but she does have an illegally-freed slave, a senile nanny, and an ex-almost-boyfriend on her side. Even when she nearly loses her job and almost loses her head in a sword fight on the same night, she isn’t deterred. It’s when the nanny goes missing that she really starts to worry.

Femme fatale turns hard-boiled investigator in this first Eva Thorne novel. Set in a fantasy world where magic and machines can’t stand against the God of Death, humans are on the run from the god’s invasion. Highcrowne is the only refuge, but that means living in the Outskirts of an ancient city ruled by Avian mages, indifferent dwarves, and elves who’d prefer to see humans as their slaves. It’s worst for Eva’s people, Solhans, because they were the ones who summoned the Dead God into the world. No one wants her kind in Highcrowne and there are plenty who would be happy to see her brother dead. There are too many motives and not enough time to unravel them, because other people are dying … and Eva is fast running out of vacation time.

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Her brother Viktor is the only one of her family Eva wishes to claim, so when he’s murdered and mutilated, she doggedly pursues every clue available, even when they take her to places she’d really rather not visit. She first hires a dwarf detective, but when he shows up dead, Eva decides to do the investigating herself, reluctantly accepting the help of her brother’s best friend Duane (aka “The Boss” aka “Adder”), whom she detests.

As a human and hated Solhan, she’s at the bottom of a food chain that includes Elves and Dwarves, to name a few of the races in her world. And since she refuses to learn how to use – let alone utilize – her natural magic because she believes it to be evil, Eva must rely on humans like Duane, and her few Dwarfish allies to assist with her investigation. When the answers to her questions about her brother’s murder are revealed, both Eva and the reader are stunned.

The world building is quite intricate and fascinating. Lorel Clayton draw on various fantasy tropes (Elves and Dwarves) and create a few of their own (i.e., the Dead God). A few things, such as dirigibles, which seem to have little value except to give the world a steam-punkish feel, were a bit distracting from the story as a whole. At first I had a difficult time getting into the story, but as I continued reading, I became drawn into the tale of a woman seeking vengeance for her murdered brother, while at the same time fighting her personal demons, which include her own Solhan nature.

As a reader, I think she fights too hard against the darker side of her nature, that she should come to some sort of accord with who she is, but perhaps that will happen as the series continues. Eva’s a bit of a damsel in distress who fights against being such, and for that I can admire her. Eva wasn’t a very sympathetic character for me, especially since she makes such a point of despising her roots but doesn’t hesitate to use them for her own ends when such use becomes expedient; I did, however, enjoy the book as a whole. There’s something here for almost everyone – fantasy, adventure, action, and a bit of romance. I’m interested to see where Eva’s further adventures take her.

I give this book 4 stars out of 5.



LOREL claytonAuthor Bio

Lorel and Clayton were both born and raised in the Western United States and were teen sweethearts, brought together by a fierce love of books and hormones, of course. They traveled to Australia in 1997 and never left, finding the sunshine and beaches of “Oz” too irresistible. Lorel has a PhD in Pathology and once upon a time did cancer research before turning to marketing. Clayton has a Master’s Degree in Visual Art and prefers Expressionist painting in acrylics but has recently tackled digital painting, mostly because there’s a hyperactive three-year-old boy running around the house (their gorgeous son, in case you were wondering if that’s normal). Despite having been married for twenty-five years, they are still madly in love and still writing! As writing partners, they meld logic and creativity, as well as genres. Fantasy, science-fiction, mystery, horror, steampunk, thriller, romance, and the classics—they read them all, and if they can mix them they will.
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