Book Review: Ravensbrück by Sarah Helm

Book Review: Ravensbrück by Sarah HelmRavensbrück by Sarah Helm
Published by Doubleday on March 31, 2015
Genres: History, Non Fiction
Pages: 768
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
5 Stars
A groundbreaking, masterful, and absorbing account of the last hidden atrocity of World War II—Ravensbrück—the largest female-only concentration camp, where more than 100,000 women consisting of more than twenty nationalities were imprisoned.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the architect of the Holocaust, oversaw the construction of a special concentration camp just fifty miles north of Berlin. He called it Ravensbrück, and during the years that followed thousands of people died there after enduring brutal forms of torture. All were women. There are a handful of studies and memoirs that reference Ravensbrück, but until now no one has written a full account of this atrocity, perhaps due to the mostly masculine narrative of war, or perhaps because it lacks the Jewish context of most mainstream Holocaust history. Ninety percent of Ravensbrück's prisoners were not Jewish. Rather, they were political prisoners, Resistance fighters, lesbians, prostitutes, even the sister of New York's Mayor LaGuardia. In a perverse twist, most of the guards were women themselves. Sarah Helm's groundbreaking work sheds much-needed light on an aspect of World War II that has remained in the shadows for decades. Using research into German and newly opened Russian archives, as well as interviews with survivors, Helm has produced a landmark achievement that weaves together various accounts, allowing us to follow characters on both sides of the prisoner/guard divide. Chilling, compelling, and deeply unsettling, Ravensbrück is essential reading for anyone concerned with Nazi history.

Book Review:

I have read a lot of books on World War II and the Holocaust, from history textbooks to historical fiction to survivor memoirs. There’s a lot of literature out there, and for good reason. It’s something we should never forget or allow to happen again. But RAVENSBRÜCK is one of those books that stands out, and for another good reason: it’s about the only concentration camp designed for women.

I spent almost 21 hours reading RAVENSBRÜCK, and consider every one of those hours well spent. I learned an incredible amount while reading. Have you heard of the Polish students — the “rabbits” — that were experimented on at the camp? They smuggled out letters written in urine to tell the world their story because they feared the Nazis would silence them forever to cover up the crimes. When women were beaten for punishment, Heinrich Himmler personally approved each beating. Ravensbrück trained women guards for the rest of the concentration camps. I learned more about satellite camps than I have in any other book. I also learned that many Soviet women were imprisoned again upon release, because Stalin considered them traitors.

I really feel like the author did an incredible job of making a readable history of Ravensbrück. Yes, it is hard reading because of the atrocities, but I so appreciated that the author didn’t gloss over those, but instead told me how the women survived. I was in awe of the women mentioned, at their thirst to live in horrendous conditions. How they rebelled a hundred tiny ways, sometimes escaping punishment and sometimes suffering the ultimate fate for their rebellion. How many of them returned home and never said a word, because nobody wanted to hear about Ravensbrück.

In RAVENSBRÜCK, Sarah Helm combines historical evidence (records, trial transcripts, etc.) and the voices of the survivors to create a biography of the camp, from founding to liberation. If she couldn’t corroborate an account, she told the reader what the survivor said anyway, adding additional evidence for or against, if there was any. Many, many voices are represented, from guards to Soviet prisoners of war to Polish doctors and students to German communists and more.

I do have one small wish: a list of all the women who had a voice in RAVENSBRÜCK, along with their fates, would have been a good addition in my eyes. There were so many interesting women mentioned, and I doubt I could ever track down information about them.

I can’t recommend this book enough if you have any interest in WWII, concentration camps, or even women’s history in general.

YA Connection:

ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein is a YA historical fiction book set, in part, at Ravensbrück. So far, it’s the only historical fiction book, YA or otherwise, that I’ve read set in Ravensbrück. After reading Sarah Helm’s history of the camp, I feel that Elizabeth Wein did a respectable and realistic job of describing life there.

– leeanna

Book Review: The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

Book Review: The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara CooneyThe Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney
Published by Crown Publishing on October 14, 2014
Genres: Biography
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging For Books
5 Stars
An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.

Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt's throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt's second female pharaoh.

Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

Book Review:

Lately I’ve been on an ancient Egypt reading kick. It’s so bad I’ve been rereading a couple of historical fiction novels over and over. So Kara Cooney’s biography of Hatshepsut, THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING, came along at an excellent time for me.

Actually, I would have enjoyed it anytime, because I found THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING to be an enjoyable read. It’s quite informative, covering from before Hatshepsut’s birth to after her death. This gives as complete a picture as possible about the world she lived in, the customs of the 18th dynasty, religious practices, etc. I find that kind of thing fascinating.

In the Author’s Note, Kara Cooney explains that any biography of Hatshepsut will have little certainty, because of the time that has passed and because so much of Hatshepsut’s reign was erased. So there’s a fair amount of conjecture and speculation in THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING, but with Cooney’s background, I think she’s qualified to do so, and she’s careful to mention when she’s venturing into the realm of guessing, and to back up those guesses with reasons.

This book is very readable and easy to understand. I’d recommend it for readers new to Hatshepsut, or others who want a deeper look into her kingship and how she forged it. I was only vaguely familiar with Hatshepsut before, but now I feel like I know a lot more. Such as how religion and ruling power were connected, and how Hatshepsut used her understanding of the gods and their mysteries to pave her way to being pharaoh, not just a regent.

THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING includes a section of photographs of statues, Hatshepsut’s obelisk, temples, and temple reliefs that helped me visualize Hatshepsut’s many building projects. The footnotes at the end are also interesting reading, all 30+ pages. Lastly, the author includes a long list of books to turn to for further reading.

When I finished THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING, I wished I could take Cooney’s course on women and power at UCLA. I’m really into the idea that one of the reasons Hatshepsut was forgotten is because she did everything right: no scandals to mar her reign, successful military and trade campaigns instead of disasters, and a peaceful death.

Socialize with the author:

Kara Cooney:

– leeanna

Book Review: Life in Motion by Misty Copeland

Book Review: Life in Motion by Misty CopelandLife in Motion by Misty Copeland
Published by Touchstone on March 4, 2014
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
4 Stars
"Picture a ballerina in a tutu and toe shoes. What does she look like?"

As the only African American soloist dancing with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has made history. But when she first placed her hands on the barre at an after-school community center, no one expected the undersized, anxious thirteen-year-old to become a ground-breaking ballerina.

When she discovered ballet, Misty was living in a shabby motel room, struggling with her five siblings for a place to sleep on the floor. A true prodigy, she was dancing en pointe within three months of taking her first dance class and performing professionally in just over a year: a feat unheard of for any classical dancer. But when Misty became caught between the control and comfort she found in the world of ballet and the harsh realities of her own life (culminating in a highly publicized custody battle), she had to choose to embrace both her identity and her dreams, and find the courage to be one of a kind.

With an insider's unique point of view, Misty opens a window into the life of a professional ballerina who lives life center stage: from behind the scenes at her first auditions to her triumphant roles in some of the most iconic ballets. But in this beautifully written memoir, she also delves deeper to reveal the desire and drive that made her dreams reality.

Life in Motion is a story of passion and grace for anyone who has dared to dream of a different life.

Book Review:

Before reading LIFE IN MOTION, I had never heard of Misty Copeland. But I’m always on the lookout for ballet books, especially books by dancers, so I dove in eagerly. I finished the book in a day, and found it easy to read and interesting. In other words, I’m now happy I know who Misty Copeland is, because she’s had quite the life, and I’ll follow her career in the future.

Misty didn’t come from the typical ballet background. In fact, she didn’t take a ballet class until she was in middle school. She’d always loved dancing and was the captain of the middle school drill team, but ballet? Nah. By fifteen, Misty was considered a prodigy in the ballet world, and had been offered scholarships by top ballet schools. Around the same time, Misty was in the middle of a legal battle between her mother and ballet teacher; the teacher had encouraged Misty to file for self-emancipation to move forward in her ballet career, but Misty’s mother fought to keep her.

Misty’s story is almost like a fairy tale. Only the third African American to be promoted to soloist in the American Ballet Theatre, she came from a life of poverty and struggle. At one point, she and her siblings lived in a motel. She’s had to overcome racism, both subtle and overt, as well as body changes and injuries. Throughout the book, she has a pretty positive attitude about everything, rarely succumbing to pity. It was rather inspiring to read.

I do feel like this book was written early in Misty’s career, because I’m sure she’ll eventually be promoted to a principal dancer. However, I was never bored during LIFE IN MOTION, and really enjoyed reading Misty’s journey.

Socialize with the author:

Misty Copeland:

– leeanna

Book Review: Dancing Through It by Jenifer Ringer

Book Review: Dancing Through It by Jenifer RingerDancing Through It by Jenifer Ringer
Published by Viking on February 20, 2014
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
3 Stars
A behind-the-curtains look at the rarefied world of classical ballet from a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet.

In her charming and self-effacing voice, Jenifer Ringer covers the highs and lows of what it’s like to make it to the top in the exclusive, competitive ballet world. From the heart-pounding moments waiting in the wings before a performance to appearing on Oprah to discuss weight and body image among dancers, Dancing Through It is moving and revelatory.

Raised in South Carolina, Ringer led a typical kid’s life until she sat in on a friend’s ballet class, an experience that would change her life forever. By the age of twelve she was enrolled at the elite Washington School of Ballet and soon moved to the School of American Ballet. At sixteen she was a professional dancer at the New York City Ballet in Manhattan, home of the legendary George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

Ringer takes us inside the dancer’s world, detailing a typical day, performance preparation, and the extraordinary pressures that these athletes face. Ringer shares exhilarating stories of starring in Balanchine productions, working with the famous Peter Martins, and of meeting her husband and falling in love at the New York City Ballet. Ringer also talks candidly of Alistair Macauley’s stinging critique of her weight in his 2010 New York Times review of The Nutcracker that ignited a public dialogue about ballet and weight. She unflinchingly describes her personal struggles with eating disorders and body image, and shares how her faith helped her to heal and triumph over these challenges.

Book Review:

DANCING THROUGH IT is the memoir of Jenifer Ringer, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. I hadn’t heard of her, nor seen her perform, but I’m always on the hunt for books about ballet.

The book did succeed in that aspect for me. There’s tons and tons of information on ballet, dancing, training, a dancer’s daily life, the different ballets and choreographers, the adrenaline rush of performing, and so on. I really enjoyed the glimpse into a working ballerina’s life, from the benefits to the sacrifices. I found all of it absolutely fascinating, and did think that Jenifer Ringer described ballet in a way a non-dancer could understand. She also answered a lot of questions, such as what happens when a dancer falls or forgets choreography.

But what I didn’t like about DANCING THROUGH IT was the heavy emphasis on faith. I’d say the book is split 50/50 between ballet and faith. I’m not a religious person, but I understand other people have their beliefs. However, when Jenifer mentioned God or praised him for what she had in what felt like every paragraph, it got to be too much for me.

Overall, the book is good for information about ballet, but not as interesting as it could be due to the emphasis on religion.

– leeanna

Book Review: Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

Book Review: Sous Chef by Michael GibneySous Chef by Michael Gibney
Published by Ballantine Books on March 25, 2014
Genres: Memoir, Non Fiction
Pages: 240
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
4 Stars
The back must slave to feed the belly. . . . In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.

Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.

In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.

Book Review:

SOUS CHEF is a book I devoured. Twice. It’s as tasty as the dishes and food it describes.

An excellent look into the daily routine of a chef, it’s told in a creative style that puts the reader behind the knife. Second-person narrative (You pick up a dish, you make carrot puree) is really difficult to pull off, but I think Michael Gibney did a great job with it in this book. For me, that style made it much easier to learn about a kitchen, being a chef, various techniques, etc., rather than watching a character do it, or being in their head.

The only downside of the second-person narrative is that near the end, when talking about why “you’re” a chef, the book got a tad too philosophical for me, which is one reason why it wasn’t a 5 star read.

I learned a ton reading SOUS CHEF. I’ll admit, I love reality shows like Chopped, Top Chef, and Kitchen Nightmares, but I’m not always sure what’s going on when looking inside a professional kitchen. Now I have a much better idea. For example, I now know what “all day” means, the different positions on the line, and the general operating routine of a restaurant from open to close.

SOUS CHEF includes a helpful kitchen floor plan diagram and a comprehensive terminology section at the end. The only confusion I had with the book were the Spanish exchanges between “you” the sous chef and some of the kitchen staff. There’s not any translations for those, and I couldn’t always figure out what was being said.

SOUS CHEF has jumped to the top of my favorite culinary books, and I’m sure I’ll be rereading it in the future. It’s a book that’s super readable, has a style that will stick in your head, and is very easy to sink into and enjoy.

– leeanna

Book Review: The Borgias: The Hidden History by G.J. Meyer

the borgiasInfo:
Title: The Borgias: The Hidden History
Author: G.J. Meyer
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Bantam
Source: Amazon Vine
Series? No
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Page Count: 512
Rating: [2/5 stars]


Forget everything you think you know about the most infamous family of the Italian Renaissance-here in every colorful detail is the real story of the Borgias and their indelible, tumultuous world, written by the gifted author of the acclaimed A World Undone and The Tudors and timed to coincide with the upcoming new season of the celebrated Showtime series, The Borgias.

Meet Rodrigo Borgia-Pope Alexander VI; Cesare Borgia-the reputed model for Machiavelli’s The Prince; Lucrezia; and Juan-the members of one of the most notorious families in European history. Epic in scope and set against the beautifully rendered backdrop of Renaissance Italy, The Borgias is a thrilling new depiction of these celebrated personalities and an era unsurpassed in beauty, terror, and intrigue. (summary from goodreads)

My Review:
I fully admit that I might have liked THE BORGIAS more if I had been in the proper mood to read it. However, I must also say that it wasn’t the book I was expecting. From the summary and title, I expected a book on the Borgia family. But THE BORGIAS is not just a book about the Borgia family: it’s a book about the history of Rome and Italy, the papal system, and a lot of other information.

Now, as a reader with a history background, I normally enjoy massive amounts of information. The more I learn, the better. But with this book, I just couldn’t concentrate. I think it was due in part to the author’s style, which I just couldn’t get into. I felt like G. J. Meyer was trying to stuff in every single detail he learned while researching.

I made it to “Part Two: Rodrigo” before giving up. It took me about twelve hours to get through approximately 80 pages. To give a comparison, usually I can read a 250-300 page book in about two hours. I know a book like THE BORGIAS will take longer, but it shouldn’t take that long.

I am giving THE BORGIAS two stars, even though I didn’t finish it, because I think it IS a good book for the right reader in the right frame of mind. I’ll probably try it again myself in the future, but for now, it just didn’t work for me. If you’re thinking about reading it, I recommend using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to get a feel for the book.

– leeanna

Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

the girls of atomic cityInfo:
Title: The Girls of Atomic City
Author: Denise Kiernan
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Source: Publisher
Series? No
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Adult
Page Count: 400
Rating: [4/5 stars]


The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.

The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!

But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.

Though the young women originally believed they would leave Oak Ridge after the war, many met husbands there, made lifelong friends, and still call the seventy-year-old town home. The reverberations from their work there—work they didn’t fully understand at the time—are still being felt today. In The Girls of Atomic City, Denise Kiernan traces the astonishing story of these unsung WWII workers through interviews with dozens of surviving women and other Oak Ridge residents. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this is history and science made fresh and vibrant—a beautifully told, deeply researched story that unfolds in a suspenseful and exciting way. (summary from goodreads)

My Review:
Before hearing about THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY, I had never heard of Oak Ridge, or knew how the atomic bomb was created. I just knew it had been used to bring about the end of World War II. I did know a little about the science behind it, because I’ve read a few books on Marie Curie and the scientific world at that time, but not a lot.

THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY is a book I savored. In fact, I took longer reading it than I should have because I didn’t want it to end. I can’t remember the last time I so thoroughly enjoyed a non-fiction book from cover to cover. I even found the notes at the end, that gave details on interviews with the women, to be interesting. The majority of the book reads like historical fiction, but even better because you know it’s true! The only parts of the book that were hard for me to get through were the Tubealloy sections; they were in a different font I found hard on the eyes, and I ended up skimming them.

The book is told from the viewpoints of a handful of women whose jobs varied from secretary to janitor to chemist. All of the women had different backgrounds, from girls fresh off the farm and out of high school to college graduates. I felt like I really came to know the women. I was sad to leave them behind when the book finished, because I got the feeling that each of them led fascinating lives even after the end of Oak Ridge as a production site for tubealloy (enriched uranium).

Oak Ridge — a secret, government run project — would never happen today. It’s impossible. Smartphones and social media and the Internet would blow the secret. I also don’t think people share the same patriotism and sense of duty to the U.S. that the WWII generation had (this is MY opinion). Celia, one of the women in the book, took a job at Oak Ridge without knowing where she would be going or what she would be doing. She just got on the train she was told to get on. I know I never would have done that! “[...] all the women on the train had been told that their new jobs served one purpose only: to bring a speedy and victorious end to the war. That was enough for her (p. 7).”

Throughout the book, I wondered how the women who lived and worked at Oak Ridge would feel about the use of the atomic bomb. The author makes sure to answer that question, in their own words. As the author says about her work, “The challenge in telling the story of the atomic bomb is one of nuance, requiring thought and sensitivity and walking a line between commemoration and celebration (p. 313).” I think Denise Kiernan more than succeeded in that challenge, and did an admirable job of melding personal stories with information about how Oak Ridge started and how it operated, as well as its impact on American history.

I highly recommend THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY. The book takes a secret part of American history and brings it into the spotlight. After reading it, I can only wonder what other secrets about the atomic bomb are still classified. It’s the sort of history book I like to read. Instead of focusing on big name people, the author told the story of the average, everyday American woman. The women in this book will stay with me for a long time; for me, it’s ordinary women like the ones featured in THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY that make history real.

Socialize with the author:
Denise Kiernan:

– leeanna

Blog Tour Book Review: Writing Scary Scenes by Rayne Hall

Today I am the blog tour stop for WRITING SCARY SCENES by Rayne Hall. The tour is hosted by Reading Addiction Blog Tours, and you can visit out the rest of the stops here. Below my review is a guest post by the author, so make sure to check that out.

Title: Writing Scary Scenes
Author: Rayne Hall
Release Date: July 6, 2012
Source: Author for blog tour
Series? No
Genre: Nonfiction, How-to
Page Count: 83


Are your frightening scenes scary enough? Learn practical tricks to turn up the suspense. Make your readers’ hearts hammer with suspense, their breaths quicken with excitement, and their skins tingle with goosebumps of delicious fright.

This book contains practical suggestions how to structure a scary scene, increase the suspense, make the climax more terrifying, make the reader feel the character’s fear. It includes techniques for manipulating the readers’ subconscious and creating powerful emotional effects.

Use this book to write a new scene, or to add tension and excitement to a draft.

You will learn tricks of the trade for “black moment” and “climax” scenes, describing monsters and villains, writing harrowing captivity sections and breathtaking escapes, as well as how to make sure that your hero doesn’t come across as a wimp… and much more.

This book is recommended for writers of all genres, especially thriller, horror, paranormal romance and urban fantasy.

My Review:
If you’ve been by my blog before, you may have seen some of my posts on writing. Writing is something very important to me, and I hope to publish my own work someday. So when I got an email about the tour for WRITING SCARY SCENES, I was curious to read it and see if I could pick up any useful tips.

Although the book is intended to help writers work on scary stuff, many of the tips and tricks within can be applied to any type of scene or genre. In fact, the author includes advice on how you can use the techniques in various genres.

WRITING SCARY SCENES flows in a logical way, starting with building suspense and ending with how to tell if you’ve made your main character into a wimp or not. I found a lot of things to watch out for in my own writing, such as keeping a character from wincing or shrugging too much, or overusing suspense or fear. I’m sure that I’ll refer back to WRITING SCARY SCENES when I need to add suspense or fear to a scene.

There are plenty of examples sprinkled throughout the book, both from the author’s writing and from famous authors such as Lisa Gardner or Tanith Lee. At the end are three of Rayne Hall’s short stories, so you can see her advice in use.


Socialize with the author:
Rayne Hall:

Guest Post:

by Rayne Hall

If your novel’s plot includes violent scenes, then some pain and gore is needed to create realism. However, it does not have to be much. Choose carefully how much gore you want to include, based on on your personal taste, your genre, and your readers’ expectations.

Personal Taste

Do you enjoy reading gory fiction, with graphic descriptions of violence, with chainsaw massacres and disembowellings? Then write it, and include detailed descriptions of the injuries.

Does the mere mention of violence repulse you? Do you get sick at the sight of blood? When watching a horror movie, do you fast-forward through the gory bits? Then keep descriptions of violence brief and leave out the gruesome detail. Instead, focus on the psychological aspects.


Some genres – especially thrillers and full-length horror fiction – practically demand violence, because this is what readers expect, so you need to provide it, although not in every scene.

In a thriller, few scenes contain violence, but the violence is graphic. Descriptions of murder victims are graphic, too, often with details intended to shock.

The horror genre spans a wide range. On one end, psychological horror may show no violence at all, although the threat of it is present; the readers know something terrible is going to happen but they don’t witness it on the page. At the other end is slash & gore horror, filled with brutal murders and mutilations, chainsaw massacres and mounds of gore.

In children’s fiction and romance, there is little violence and no gore. Urban fantasy often has some gory bits, but they tend to be brief.

Reader Expectations

Readers expect a certain amount of violence – a lot, a little or none – depending on the genre, on other books by the same author, the book description and the cover picture. If you give them too much for their taste, they’ll be grossed out; if you give them too little, they’ll be disappointed.

While you can’t get it right for everyone, you need to get it right for your average reader. Visualise the typical person buying your book, and consider what other books she has read and who her favourite authors are. Use those as a yardstick for the violence level in your own writing.

In the age of the ebook, readers download sample pages before buying. Try to include in your first pages a hint of the level of violence to come.

The book’s blurb (short description on the back cover or the product page) can also give readers a clue. Use phrases such as extreme horror, violent, not recommended for young readers to warn potential buyers that this may not be the right book for them.

Striking a Balance

While violence can create many different kinds of fear, gore creates horror, shock and revulsion.

If you choose to write gory fiction, take care not to create a non-stop gore-fest. Mutilated corpses piling up in scene after scene soon become boring. The impact of gore soon wears off. Also remember that the mental states of horror and shock don’t last long; they may give way to indifference. Revulsion is stimulating only if it is brief; continued revulsion puts readers off and sends them in search of something more pleasant.

The trick is to use violence and gore only in some scenes, not all the time. Give the reader the chance to recover between each slaughter, so they’re able to experience the horror afresh.

Think of gore as spice: it enhances the flavour of the dish, but is not a dish in itself. Sprinkling black pepper on a dish makes the food more exciting, but you wouldn’t enjoy a dish consisting mostly of black pepper and not much else.

Using Gore to Create Horror

If you want some shock, horror or revulsion, but not too much, make the descriptions graphic but keep them short, perhaps just a sentence or two.

To create horror, describe the colours, textures, shapes and movements of the corpses, injuries and horrible things. Describe one or two details rather than the whole thing. Show the white maggots wiggling in the wound, the blood spurting in a wide arc from the shoulder where the limb has been severed, the eyeball hanging by a thread from its socket.

You can increase the horror further by mentioning something innocuous in the same sentence as the gory detail: Blood drips from the ceiling and forms dark patches on the baby blanket. Intestines spill across the lace tablecloth.

A related technique is to use similes, comparing the terrible thing to something innocuous: Blood stains her lace shawl with pink and scarlet like a garden of roses. Guts spill from his abdomen like strings of undigested sausages.

My advice: Make the gore graphic and intense, but use it sparingly and keep it short.


If you want feedback for an idea or have questions, leave a comment and I’ll reply. I’ll be around for a week and I enjoy answering questions.

More links:
Book Trailer
Barnes & Noble

– leeanna

Book Review: Marie Curie and Her Daughters by Shelley Emling

Title: Marie Curie and Her Daughters
Author: Shelley Emling
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Source: Library
Series? No
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Page Count: 219


A new portrait of the two-time Nobel winner and her two daughters

Focusing on the first family in science, this biography of Marie Curie plumbs the recesses of her relationships with her two daughters, extraordinary in their own right, and presents the legendary scientist to us in a fresh way.

Although the common image is that of a shy introvert toiling away in her laboratory, highly praised science writer Shelley Emling shows how Marie Curie was nothing short of an iconoclast. Her affair with a younger and married man drew the enmity of a xenophobic French establishment, who denied her entry to the Academy of Sciences and tried to expel her from France. But she was determined to live life how she saw fit, and passed on her resilience to her daughters. Emling draws on personal letters released by Curie’s only granddaughter to show how Marie influenced her daughters yet let them blaze their own paths. Irene followed her mother’s footsteps into science and was instrumental in the discovery of nuclear fission. Eve traveled the world as a foreign correspondent and then moved on to humanitarian missions.

Emling also shows how Curie, following World War I, turned to America for help. Few people know about Curie’s close friendship with American journalist Missy Meloney, who arranged speaking tours across the country for Marie and Eve and Irene. Months on the road, charming audiences both large and small, endeared the Curies to American women and established a lifelong relationship with the United States that formed one of the strongest connections of Marie’s life. Without the financial support of American women, Marie might not have been able to go on with her research.

Continuing the family story into the third generation, Emling also interviews Marie Curie’s granddaughter Helene Joliot-Curie, who is an accomplished physicist in her own right. She reveals why her grandmother was a lot more than just a scientist and how Marie’s trips to America forever changed her. Factually rich, personal and original, this is an engrossing story about the most famous woman in science that rips the cover off the myth and reveals the real person, friend, and mother behind it. (summary from goodreads)

My Review:
I’ve been interested in Marie Curie ever since I wrote a paper on her in college, and I thought Marie Curie and Her Daughters would be an interesting read, especially since I knew nothing about her daughters.

The book picks up after Pierre’s death, and has only hints about Marie’s early life. There’s not a lot mentioned on Irene and Eve’s childhoods either, other than that they were often away from their mother because she was so busy with her work, and that she was concerned about their education. I think it would have been informative to have more on the childhoods of all three women, so readers could compare and contrast.

Although I did learn a lot about Irene and Eve, and even about Marie’s life after winning the Nobel Prize, the book wasn’t enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. The last few chapters dragged on. I think Marie Curie and Her Daughters is best read joint with another biography of Marie Curie, so as to get a more complete and informative picture of her life.

It’s an adequate book, and informative on the personal lives of all three Curie women, but I was left wanting more after I finished it.

– leeanna

Book Review: Counting One’s Blessings edited by William Shawcross

counting one's blessingsInfo:
Title: Counting One’s Blessings: The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
Author: edited by William Shawcross
Release Date: November 27, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Source: Library
Series? No
Genre: Nonfiction
Page Count: 688


William Shawcross’s official biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, published in September 2009, was a huge critical and commercial success. One of the great revelations of the book was Queen Elizabeth’s insightful, witty private correspondence. Indeed, The Sunday Times described her letters as “wonderful . . . brimful of liveliness and irreverence, steeliness and sweetness.” Now, Shawcross has put together a selection of her letters, drawing on the vast wealth of material in the Royal Archives and at Glamis Castle. Queen Elizabeth was a prolific correspondent from her earliest childhood before the First World War to the very end of her long life at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and her letters offer readers a vivid insight into the real person behind the public face. (summary from goodreads)

My Review:
I had hoped this book would be a personal, enlightening view into the mind of the Queen Mother, because it’s composed of her letters, but instead it’s a bland, boring book. If I didn’t have a thing about finishing books, I likely would have stopped after the first few letters. The book is almost a disservice to the Queen Mother — her personality comes across as silly and vapid.

The letters from World War II were the most interesting, and if you’re going to skim over any of this book, I recommend checking out those letters. That’s where her “steel” shows through. Shawcross also includes her wartime broadcasts in that section.

However, other than that, this book is a real slog to get through. I think it would have been vastly improved by cutting down on the number of letters in the book (they span her entire life, from childhood to death), and including the letters she was responding to. There’s no context for 95% of the Queen Mother’s letters, and basically I felt like I was reading thank you note after thank you note. There’s only one instance where the text of a letter she replied to is included — a note from Prince Philip. Why only that letter? I wish I knew.

Socialize with the author:
William Shawcross:

– leeanna