what I’m reading: the taster by v.s. alexander.

It’s 1943 and Magda Ritter is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Bavaria. While Magda is German, she is not part of the “party” and has no interest in joining. Nevertheless, she is expected to do her part as a German girl and manages to become employed at the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat. Not knowing what her job will be, Magda shows up on her first day only to learn she will be risking her life every day as one of Hitler’s tasters – young women who taste Hitler’s meals before he eats them to guarantee they haven’t been poisoned.

I had such high hopes for this book but it just didn’t work out.

I felt the story was engaging and I enjoyed this new perspective on World War II. The life that Magda lives during the war is so different than many of the other characters I’ve read about in other WWII books. She is far from the realities of the war, well-fed, has plenty of money, and lives in a mountain retreat where the guards and employees are treated to movies, dances, and tea parties. Magda even becomes friends with Eva Braun.

However, even though I liked the storyline, I felt the characters were a little flat and thought some scenes could have been fleshed out more. The book is written in the first person point of view, and I thought there could have been much more details into what Magda was thinking and how she felt. Some scenes are completely glossed over and I never really connected to the characters. There is a lot of telling in this book, but not much showing.

Magda’s story is loosely based on a real woman named Margot Woelk who was one of Hitler’s tasters. She chose to keep her real-life story a secret until she was 95 years old. In some of the articles I read online, she talks about how her and the other tasters would cry every time they sampled the food because they thought it might be the last thing they ate. Her descriptions of her job and life were intriguing but I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be in her position.

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what I’m reading: the orphan’s tale by pam jenoff.

I have to confess – I’ve never been a huge fan of the circus. Maybe the animals or the clowns scared me or maybe I didn’t like being enclosed in a huge tent. I don’t know. But despite my dislike of the circus, I really enjoyed this book and reading about a traveling circus during World War II.

Sixteen year old Noa is kicked out after she becomes pregnant by a Nazi soldier and is forced to give up her baby. She ends up living and working at a small railroad station. One night she discovers a boxcar full of Jewish infants on their way to a concentration camp. Noa takes one of the babies and flees into the night. She is rescued by a German circus where she proceeds to hide out. In order to stay with the circus, she pretends to be one of the performers and learns the flying trapeze from the lead aerialist Astrid. The two initially hate each other but soon learn to get along.

This is an engaging book about friendship and survival. Noa and Astrid are both damaged by the war and have secrets. Each one is scared to let their guard down thinking the other could find out and tell everyone their secret. But the two come to trust each other and forge a strong friendship.

I found it fascinating to read about the circus and the way that townspeople tried to go on with their lives during World War II. The circus was a major event, one that all the townspeople would show up for to watch as the train come into town. People would put on their best clothes and make a day of going to the circus. The circus was a way for many people to escape all the horrific things that were happening, as well as a way to remind everyone that the show goes on.

The circus is almost another character in the story, in that it was a place of safety and solace for both Noa and Astrid. In the Author’s Note, Pam Jenoff states the novel is inspired by real circuses that hid some Jewish people to keep them safe during the Holocaust and that the boxcar full of babies is based on a true story.