Poignant, powerful and pacey, Ellie Midwood’s The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz tells the remarkable true story of Mala Zimetbaum, a woman who did the all-but-impossible when she escaped Auschwitz with her Resistance fighter lover. It’s an extraordinary tale of courage and heroism in the face of impossible odds and excruciating circumstances - a tale told with much compassion in The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz. It’s autumn 1943 and “Edek had had enough. The grim realization of it dawned on him along with the first slanting rays of the sunset bleeding red atop the barracks’ roofs as he watched SS Officer Brück stomp repeatedly on an inmate’s head with the steel-lined sole of his tall jackboot.” This brutally arresting opening is typical of the book’s style - incisive, and physically impactful. A veteran of the camp, Edek is a political prisoner and resistance fighter – and he’s long been determined to escape. Meanwhile, Belgian-born Mala is at Birkenau Women’s Camp, where she works as a “runner in charge of delivering SS orders and official documents from one block to another.” As such, she “no longer had anything to fear from the wardens or the Kapos. An official armband with an insignia of a Läuferin on her left bicep, civilian clothes and dark-blond hair pulled into a bun instantly distinguished her from the general camp population.” But having been through the horrors of arriving at camp (“First, they took her freedom. Then, they took her hair”), and feeling disgust for the utter lack of humanity, she - like Edek - has resolved to regain her freedom. In the meantime, she uses her position to save lives. When they meet, Mala comes to believe in Edek’s escape plan, comes to believe that there might be light through these darkest of days - and through love. Shot-through with tremendous tension and compassion, this comes recommended for readers who enjoyed The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Purchase The Girl Who Escaped Auschwitz from: Amazon - Currently 99p Apple Kobo Google
In Running America, Jamie McDonald tells the story of his 5,500 mile fundraising dash through no less than 22 US states in an attempt to smash one of the world’s toughest records. Running solo, unsupported, and at times barefoot, Jamie also happens to be dressed as a superhero and pushing a trolley called Caesar. Oh, and then there’s the blistering 50 degree deserts, mountain lions and snakes.. It all sounds a bit much for someone whose mother was once told her son could end up in a wheelchair, because aged seven Jamie was diagnosed with a rare spinal condition called syringomyelia. He also suffered epilepsy and weak immune deficiency. It’s difficult to envision that poorly little boy growing into ‘Adventureman’ and powering his way across America, but there is something both innocent and brave about Jamie’s storytelling that lets you know the kid is still in there and he will never give up. Running America is an incredible journey that will melt hearts.
When foster carer, Cathy Glass, is asked to foster Darcy-May, a two-day old baby, she is very concerned. The baby is coming to her straight from hospital and will have no contact with her teenage mother, Haylea. Even more worrying, she will be brought to Cathy with a police escort as it's vital her extended family don't know where she is. Abandoned at birth, Cathy and her family quickly bond with little Darcy-May although they have to accept she will eventually leave them to be adopted. But fostering is rarely straight forward, and when Haylea asks to see her baby a different story begins to emerge. It's so alarming that even Cathy, a highly experienced foster carer, struggles.
In Coasting, Elise Downing sets out to run the entire coastline of Britain - a 5000 mile / 300 day journey of pain, gratitude and discovery. Endearingly honest and unassuming, Elise describes herself as someone completely unsuited to the task - and yet she did it. She judges herself as an adventure imposter - and yet she isn’t. One wonders how on earth she manages to keep going - and yet she does. There must be thousands of women in their early twenties just like Elise - fresh out of a boozy university experience, career-disillusioned and in a toxic relationship - but the last time I looked they weren’t all queuing up in their trainers to set off round the country from Greenwich. There is certainly something extraordinary about Elise Downing, but of course she doesn’t think there is, and that absence of self-belief is what makes the book so engaging and relatable. With lots of support and encouragement from her adventure community, parents who should probably get an award of some kind and the inexhaustible kindness of strangers, she covers much of the distance with friendly co-runners and free access to warm spare rooms. The trip, however, is not without its traumas and tears - lots of tears - so many in fact one worries she might contribute to a rise in sea levels. Coasting is a classic adventure story wherein an individual has erased the challenges of their life through a bigger, all-consuming challenge and by putting themselves somewhere they perhaps shouldn’t be, has discovered much more of who they really are. *** Don't miss Elise Downing share the story of her run around the UK coast at A Day at the Riverside, 18th September.
Pip Stewart’s Life Lessons from the Amazon is two books in one. Firstly, it’s a graphic account of an expedition down Guyana’s perilous Essequibo River - a source to sea adventure brimming with danger and beauty in equal measure. Secondly it’s a thoughtful reflection on that journey that provides insights and learnings which might be usefully applied to 'normal life'. As the team makes its way down the river each chapter highlights a different emotion, behaviour or human attribute which is then given the jungle treatment as Pip recounts an occasion from her Amazonian experience where it surfaced. Appreciation, Growth, Conflict, Connection.. and many more such themes enjoy an adventurer's analysis leading to the very last chapter, ambitiously titled Death and Life … in which a flesh-eating parasite nibbles its way into the story. For Pip Stewart, this extraordinary adventure was life-changing and some of the hard-earned wisdom she shares within Life Lessons from the Amazon might just change the lives of others.
At once personal, politically-charged, moving and witty, John Chick Donohue’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever is an engaging account of a Vietnam vet’s tracking down of his former comrades-in-arms to bring them a beer from home. Living up to its title, it really does read like the greatest beer run ever, and will have readers interested in the human side of history laughing, crying and thinking in equal measure. Like so many of life’s momentous ideas, a night in a bar prompts ex-Marine and merchant seaman Chick Donohue to hatch his plan to return to Vietnam. But unlike most bar-based ideas, Chick actually goes through with his. Armed with a list of names, a rucksack of beer, and hoping for a sprinkling of Irish luck, he sets off, though he admits that “I still had my doubts that I could pull it off.” This fascinating, enthralling account sees the author having to use his gift of the gab to press on past check-points before tackling multiple dangers and coming face to face with unexpected realities when he reaches Vietnam - realities that bring him to a big realisation: “I began to see that the protesters, however disrespectfully, were at least trying to stop this madness…If there is one thing that I learned as a result of my Vietnam experience it’s that government - all governments for that matter - are not to be trusted. Many politicians lie when it serves their interests.” This is tasty food for thought with universal resonance.