Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Orphan #8" by Kim Van Alkemade, Served with Poached Whole Plums with Vanilla-Honey Sauce & Labneh {Recipe}

Today's TLC Book Tour stop features a review of Orphan #8, a historical novel by Kim Van Alkemade. I am pairing this intense and compelling book with a simple and comforting recipe for Poached Whole Plums with Vanilla-Honey Sauce & Labneh, a recipe inspired by my reading.

Publisher's Blurb:

A stunning debut novel of historical fiction set in the forgotten world of New York City’s Jewish orphanages

In 1919, four-year-old Rachel Rabinowitz is placed in the Hebrew Infant Home where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research on the children. Dr. Solomon subjects Rachel to an experimental course of X-ray treatments that establish the doctor’s reputation while risking the little girl’s health. Now it’s 1954, and Rachel is a nurse in the hospice wing of the Old Hebrews Home when elderly Dr. Solomon becomes her patient. Realizing the power she holds over the helpless doctor, Rachel embarks on a dangerous experiment of her own design. Before the night shift ends, Rachel will be forced to choose between forgiveness and revenge.

Inspired by true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful novel about the human capacity to harm—and to love. 

Paperback: 416 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 4, 2015)

My Review: 
Orphan #8 is not an easy read. There are pages that will make you angry, there are pages that will make you weep. The medical experiments conducted on innocent children who were treated as chattel by doctors were horrifying, and while I wasn't surprised to learn that testing like this actually happened, it isn't something I knew anything about. The effects of the experiments on the main character Rachel, both physical and mental, were devastating and followed her through her life. The story weaves between Rachel's childhood--first in the Hebrew Infant Home and then in the Children's Home, how she made her way into adulthood, and the present day of the novel, where as a hospice nurse she comes across the doctor who lead the X-ray treatments that altered her life in so many ways. Guarding her secrets closely--alopecia due to radiation from the X-rays, now covered by a wig and drawn-in eyebrows, and her sexual orientation and long-term relationship--very much a taboo in the 1950s, has left Rachel feeling isolated from the few co-workers, family, and friends she has. That isolation, combined with her history of abandonment--her mother's death, father's disappearance, and repeated separation and emotional distance from her older brother, have given her a desperate craving for love and acceptance. When she finds her health at serious risk and learns that her childhood  'treatments' from Dr. Solomon were in fact experiments rather than curative, and with no caring or even remorse from the dying doctor, she is pushed towards vengeance. 

Orphan #8 is not a happy book in so many ways; however, there is still a strong thread of hope throughout the story that pulled me along. Despite the many reasons Rachel might be completely broken, she has an amazing strength to her and a fighting spirit that is easy to admire. The author has painted a vivid and interesting picture of life in a Jewish-American orphanage, the war years, lesbianism in New York in the early to mid-1900s, and medical ethics--all interesting and skillfully woven together into one compelling story. I always want to know where the inspiration for a story comes from, particularly when it is inspired by true events so I found the afterword of the book particularly intriguing. The fact that this story came about from some of the experiences of the author's family was fascinating to me and made me want to know more. Be ready for Orphan #8 to wring the emotions out of you, not a light read, but it is fascinating and well worth the effort.

Author Notes: Kim van Alkemade was born in New York. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in literary journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, So to Speak, and CutBank. She teaches writing at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.
Find out more about Kim at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Food Inspiration:

Food isn't the first thought in reading this book so coming up with a dish inspired by it was a bit challenging as nothing was calling out to me between the orphanage food, hospital meals, and Rachel's tuna salad and cracker dinners. There were a couple of instances that as a child, Rachel was eating stewed fruit (prunes and peaches) and it was of comfort to her. I am not a stewed prune fan, but I do love fresh plums and I happened to have pinned a recipe for Poached Whole Plums with Brown Sugar Syrup on The Kitchn. I think it puts a modern and more appetizing spin on a bowl of stewed fruit but keeps the simple, sweet comfort-food factor that drew me to the description.

There is a beauty in serving the whole plum in the dish and since the poached fruit becomes so tender, it is easy to eat around the pit. Instead of brown sugar syrup, I wanted to use vanilla and honey to sweeten, along with a touch of cinnamon. Rather than the suggested ice cream, I served my plums with honey-sweetened labneh (thickened yogurt). It makes an excellent breakfast, as well as a healthy dessert. 

Poached Whole Plums with Honey-Vanilla Sauce
Adapted From/Inspired by The Kitchn
(Serves 2)

1/3 cup water
3 Tbsp honey

1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 small pinch lemon zest (just a few strands- no more than 1/4 teaspoon)
2 medium ripe plums

Place water, honey and cinnamon stick into a small lidded saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the honey. Add the vanilla and lemon zest, then place plums in the bottom of the pan, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue simmering for another 8-10 minutes, until the liquid has thickened. Turn off the heat and allow the plums to cool for about 5 minutes. 

To serve: Place a scoop (about 1/2 cup) of sweetened labneh or thickened Greek yogurt (To serve with the slightly tart plums I used 1 teaspoon honey per 1/2 cup of labneh) into an individual serving bowl. Nestle one of the plums next to the labneh and drizzle with the vanilla honey sauce. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: This is the kind of recipe that makes your kitchen smell incredible with the fruit, cinnamon, and honey bubbling away. The result is a great combination of sweet and tangy--and total comfort food. Simple to make and a pleasure to eat, I will definitely make it again.

Note: A review copy of "Orphan #8" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.



  1. Oh! The flavors are enticing. Great idea to eat it with lebenah- my husband is Middle Eastern and we have been making our own for many years. Long before Greek Yogurt became the in thing.

  2. I would have had a terrible time coming up with an inspired by recipeI thought your review was honest. Sometimes there are books we all need to read. I'm intrigued to say the least. Loved the healthy dessert.

  3. This is going to be such a heartwrenching read but I do really want to read it. I'm glad to know that there is a theme of hope throughout!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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