“Killer of Men” by Christian Cameron

I stumbled across Christian Cameron years and YEARS ago when my Aunt dropped off a giant box of books for my parents to read. Obviously I had to get in there since I have broader reading tastes than they do and came across one by him. It was an incredible book, so when I was used book store shopping and came across another by him, I nabbed it!

Sadly, it sat on my bookshelf for years …and years. But now that my TBR pile is itty bitty, it was time to go through the old 6ft book shelf and see who was neglected. My husband and I actually had a conversation about that, I made a joke that we were addicted to books and he scoffed, “I know, I’m the one that had to carry them downstairs!” I stammered a few times looking for a response and only managed; “I …well …maybe …some of those are yours!”

Both books I’ve now read by Christian Cameron are historical fiction, which I love. The older the better. So this book about Ancient Greece was RIGHT up my alley.

This book was written in a very interesting way, the protagonist, who is now an older man, it telling his life story to his daughter and her friends. I loved the way it was done, but it created an odd paradigm where you KNOW he succeeds at every task, because he’s the one telling us the story. I actually kind of liked how he would break the story to talk directly to his daughter and her friends, sometimes commenting on how he was an egotistical ass as a teenager/young adult, sometimes asking for more wine or commenting on his daughter getting upset at something in his story. It felt very “Interview with a Vampire” because of that.

Our protagonist is a man named Arimnestos of Plataea (warning now, I might spell some of these words wrong, I didn’t make notes and it’s a 404 page book so looking for a word used a handful of times is difficult) and the story starts when he is a child, at home with his parents and brother and sister. His father was a wonderful craftsman that drew the attention of great men, men like Miltiades – who brought mention of the war between Greece and Persia.

When the time came and all the men of Plataea gathered for war, Arimnestos’ family was called upon. His older brother was given armor as a hoplite and Arimnestos was tasked with the other young boys to distract the Persians and throw rocks at them. It was a rough battle, and his older brother did not make it. But Arimnestos learned something important that day that would be a common theme through the rest of the book – he was born killer. After getting his brothers armor and being upgraded in the phalanx, they rushed to the next battle.

As Elder Arimnestos liked to remind his daughter, there may be happy moments, but it was not a happy story. From losing his father to a back-stab, being sold into slavery, to fighting for his freedom and not knowing what else to do but keep fighting. Pirates, prostitutes, and the bronze storm.

If you aren’t a historical fiction fan, this book might be a bit boring. It goes through Arimnestos’ life from about age 9 to around 20. Growing up, going to war, things like that, nothing magical or thrilling, no horror or supernatural, just a young man stuck in a world that both wants to use his talent for killing, and to see him dead.

Arimnestos as a teen is a horrible person. Egotistical, naive, womanizing, all things that make him insufferable. But at the same time, that’s what made it interesting, he seems superhuman (ie: Mary Sue) but since he, in his older age, it the one narrating the story, it’s like he’s reanalyzing himself. He speaks about how egotistical he was, how immortal he felt, how foolish he was, and doesn’t shy away from when he really fucks up.

If you like historical fiction, especially ancient history, Cameron is a great author to check out!

“Aztec” by Gary Jennings

I first heard about this book from a friend back when I was in High School. He had an amazing personal library and I just had the library. So he was always recommending me books and letting me borrow books. He had mentioned this book, but no longer had his copy. It wasn’t until about 10 years later that I actually came across this book in a used place. It was a much bigger book than I was expecting!

The story follows the character Mixtli, from when he was a child, to his teens spent traveling, and his adulthood. There isn’t so much of a “story” per se, in the sense that the book is following one event, it is following the entirety of Mixtli’s life. Following his younger years is interesting, but its his adult years that show his intelligence and cunning. It also shows the collapse of the Aztec culture with the coming of the Spaniards.

Through his whole story the ancient Aztec culture is explored, it was a remarkable civilization, but was also brutal in its belief’s. Jennings explains everything with scientific precision, so this story is definitely NOT for the light of heart. Being an Ancient History buff, this story was right up my alley (and I’m a little dark and creepy myself so …). I love learning everything about cultures, and even though this is a FICTION based on a long destroyed civilization, it is still rooted in current knowledge.

I’m sure he embellishes a lot, but it just makes for a constant page-turner. Mixtli gets himself into many, many binds where the only thing that saved him from execution or torture, was his quick thinking. Even though it kept him alive, those around him weren’t always so lucky. Aztec justice is swift and fierce and finds a way.

I also recently learned, in the past year, that this book was the first in a series, so you KNOW I’m going to be looking for the rest in the series!

Note: We also got our move in date! So hopefully mid-June I will be able to take proper pictures and finally have full access to all my books again!

“The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris

I first noticed this book on my Instagram feed, and it is a World War II novel so naturally it piqued my interest. I filed it in my “want to read” shelf on Good Reads, and didn’t give it much thought after that. I would get to it eventually. But then I started to notice it more frequently on Instagram, and then daily on my Facebook feed. When people started raving about it in one of the Facebook groups I am in, I bumped it up my reading list and bought the book.

The story opens in April of 1942, where Ludwig Eisenberg, or Lale, has been traveling in a cattle car full of young men for days. He doesn’t know where he is going, or what will happen when he gets there, but he knows that going to work for the Germans will keep his family safe. That’s what the posters that were hung all over his small town said: if Jews handed over their young men over the age of 18 to work for the German government, the rest of the family would be safe. And since Jews could no longer work and their businesses were confiscated, they really had little choice.

Lale is finally able to get out of the cattle car only to walk out and face angry SS soldiers, holding guns, demanding orders and viscous dogs barking and biting at passengers. Lale has found himself at Auschwitz, with the words “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” over the iron gates. “Work Sets You Free”.

Lale starts working on roofs of the new buildings being constantly built, but quickly befriends a soldier, and he starts to gain favour. He then meets Pepan, the Tätowierer, or the tattooist. Pepan takes him under his wing, gets him a job helping him tattoo the incoming Jews, a job that comes with a bed all to himself and extra food rations. It is here that he meets her, as he tattoos the green number into her arm. #34902. Through a simple courtship, mostly Lale sneaking her food and letters with the help of an SS soldier, he quickly falls in love with this woman, and eventually finds out that her name is Gita.

Lale sets up a rather simple but dangerous system. He befriends some of the girls working in the collection rooms, where they steal some of the gold, gems and money that belonged to the Jews coming into the concentration camp. He then trades the goods with workers who live outside of the compound for food and chocolate. Lale then brings the food to his friends and allies, buying some freedom to visit with Gita, and undoubtedly saved a few lives.

The conditions are deplorable. If prisoners didn’t die from a bullet or end up in one of the gas chambers, they died of malnutrition, typhus, contact with an electrified fence, or exposure to the harsh winter environment. Lale learns not to judge fellow prisoners who work for the Nazi’s too harshly. They are doing precisely what he was doing…whatever they had to do to survive.

There are just not enough words to describe how much I enjoyed this book. It was so well written, and so thought provoking! I am not going to lie, I cried a few times. To read a story and know these atrocities happened in real life is heartbreaking. It was just so lovely to read of a romance that can blossom in such an unforgiving environment, where the worst of humanity was witnessed.

When I completed the book, there was a very informative section regarding the characters and the authors at the back. What I did not know prior to reading the story was that it was based on a true story! The author met with Lale after Gita had passed away. Lale was 87 at the time, and he wanted his story to be told to the world. He waited years to tell this story, and wanted the perfect author to write it. I think he chose well. The author took a few creative avenues to put Lale and Gita into situations that had not actually happened for the purpose of the love story, but by and large the severe realities of war were real. The author did a lot of research along with her discussions with Lale, and found out after Lale had passed away that his parents were brought to Auschwitz and died there prior to his arrival. He never knew.

This book is going to stick with me for quite a while. Knowing it’s based on a true story just makes it so much more important to read. It was by far my best read of 2018, and definitely top 5 of the last decade. I can’t recommend it enough, and hope you will pick it up and that it touches your heart as much as it did mine!