ARC REVIEW: The Thankful – by Jamie Campbell

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Title: The Thankful
Author: Jamie Campbell

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
First published: August 19th 2016
Publisher: Eltham Press
Finished reading: January 12th 2017
Pages: 132
Rating 4qqq

“Like most everyone else in the world that day they had no real idea. What they has was a feeling. A weight in their stomachs that anatomy text books could not explain.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Confession: I’ve had The Thankful pending for way too long. I’m not sure why though, because this historical fiction ARC about the May War of 1940 in the Netherlands sounded truly fascinating. I grew up in the Netherlands myself and I’m aware of the basic facts of what happened in the country, but it’s been a long time since I last read a story with so many details. Jamie Campbell does a great job of explaining exactly what happened during those days with the help of the main character Ruth. The Thankful basically follows her story as she tries to escape the Germans, but you will learn what happened during the May War along the way. The choice to leave many Dutch and German words without translation is without doubt original, although I do think it would have been a lot more difficult to enjoy the story if I wouldn’t have been able to understand those languages myself. The geography can be quite confusing as well (even for me and I grew up there), but those are only two minor details in an otherwise excellent description of the May War. If you want to learn more about how the Netherlands ended up being invaded by the Germans during WWII, The Thankful is without doubt a great choice. A lot more entertaining than a simple history book without losing its historical accuracy!

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The twelve-year-old Ruth Imker with Jewish heritage has been running for most of her life. She had to leave Vienna because it was no longer safe, but before long she couldn’t stay in Cologne either. They sent her to Rotterdam, because the Netherlands was supposed to be safe. But even though the Dutch didn’t expect it, the Germans came during the early morning of the tenth of May 1940. Ruth will have to run again and try to find a way to get to England… And she has an unlikely protector to help her. Will they be able to escape?

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Even though the story might be a bit more difficult to understand for those who don’t understand Dutch and German due to the use of certain use in that language, I still think it is a great read for those who want to learn more about the May War. Apart from the words in foreign languages, the rest of the story is both intriguing and easy to follow; you will find yourself hoping the characters will be able to find a way out. Not perfect, but without doubt an interesting historical fiction read!


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ARC REVIEW: That Burning Summer – by Lydia Syson

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Title: That Burning Summer
Author: Lydia Syson

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: January 24th 2017
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Finished reading: January 8th 2017
Pages: 336
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“It wasn’t his strength he needed. Nerve. That was what had deserted him. Like water into sand, it had seeped away while he wasn’t looking, and left him drained.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I always enjoy reading historical fiction, especially if the story is set during or around WWII, so that explains why I found That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson an easy choice. I was really looking forward to another WWII story, but unfortunately I wasn’t too convinced by this one. I’m not saying it was a bad read, but it took me a long time to get a proper feel for the story and I struggled to focus on the plot. I cannot put my finger exactly on the why though… It might have been the tone, it might have been the pace, but it just wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. The premise of That Burning Summer is interesting even though I’ve read about characters hiding soldiers in the past. The Polish airman Henryk has an interesting background, but I felt the focus of this story was too much on the ‘childish’ romantic feelings between him and Peggy instead of what is happening in the war. That angle would have been much more interesting, especially since as far as I could tell the descriptions of the war are very accurate and seem well researched. Instead, both the childish feelings of Peggy for the soldier and her annoying little brother distracted from what could have been such an intriguing story. Most people seem to enjoy That Burning Summer though, so it might just have been me…

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It’s July 1940 and the soldiers are struggling to keep the war out of England. Then one day a plane crashes in the march somewhere on the south coast of England, and it is the sixteen-year-old Peggy who finds the pilot. She is supposed to report the event, but Peggy feels for the young Polish airman who is afraid to return to the fight. She decides to help him find a place to hide, and leads him to a remote and abandoned church. Peggy knows what she is doing is illegal and tries to keep it a secret… But it is turning out to be really hard to hide a soldier when her younger brother follows her everywhere and she has to steal food at home to feed him.

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I really wanted to enjoy That Burning Summer, but unfortunately my experience wasn’t as positive as I thought it would be. I’m having a hard time putting my finger exactly on the way, but I’m quite sure the ‘childish’ romance scenes and slow pace did have a lot to do with. The historical elements are great though and it’s nice to see a Polish airman playing such a big role in this story.


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ARC REVIEW: Point Of No Return – by Martha Gellhorn

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Title: Point Of No Return
Author: Martha Gellhorn

Genre: Historical Fiction, War, Romance
First published: 1948 (republished December 20th 2016)
Publisher: Open Road Media 
Finished reading: December 30th 2016
Pages: 332
Rating 3,5qqq

“He had no other life and no other knowledge; he knew that he could not live anywhere now because in his mind, slyly, there was nothing but horror.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Open Road Media in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Those who follow my blog are probably already aware of the fact that I enjoy reading historical fiction and have a special interest in stories set during or around WWII. I’m actually quite surprised I hadn’t heard about Point Of No Return before, especially since Martha Gellhorn is considered to be one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century. The story was actually first published in 1948, only a few years after the war ended, and has been republished last month. There is no doubt that Point Of No Return is a powerful read and I admire the author for her courage and what she was able to achieve during her life. The plot itself is intriguing and follows an American Jewish soldier during the war up until his ‘point of no return’. The story is without doubt well written and well researched, although it did read a bit slow and I personally thought there would be more focus on the concentration camps… There was a little too much focus on the romance to my taste, but that might just have been me. The final part also felt a bit rushed, especially since it’s the part I felt would have been most interesting. Still, there is no doubt this is a very solid WWII historical fiction read.

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Jacob Levy grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and is a typical American boy. He doesn’t give his Jewish heritage or the world affairs much thought, but when the United States joins the war in order to stop Hitler, Jacob joins the cause. As a soldier during the last months of WWII, Jacob lives through the Battle of the Bulge and the discovery of Nazi concentration camps. This experiences have a big impact on his life, and witnessing the liberation of Dachau forces him to confront a level of cruelty beyond his own imaginations…

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After reading the blurb of Point Of No Return, I honestly thought the discovery of the concentration camps and its impact would have played a bigger role in the story. It was only mentioned near the end and that part actually felt a bit rushed. Rather than developing this angle, Point Of No Return is about the experiences of an US Jewish soldier and how the war has changed him forever in general. Still a solid enough read, but not as good as I was expecting.

ARC REVIEW: From Sand And Ash – by Amy Harmon

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Title: From Sand And Ash
Author: Amy Harmon

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction, Romance
First published: December 1st 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: December 26th 2016
Pages: 386
Rating 4,5qqq

“They can take our homes, our possessions. Our families. Our lives. They can drive us out, like they’ve driven us out before. They can humiliate us and dehumanize us. But they cannot take our thoughts. They cannot take our talents. They cannot take our knowledge, or our memories, or our minds. In music there is no bondage. Music is a door, and the soul escapes through the melody.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Brandie @ Brandie is a Book Junkie has been telling wonderful things about Amy Harmon‘s novels this year, so when I saw her newest novel at Netgalley I grabbed the chance (and copy!) with both of my greedy hands. And she (like many other bloggers) was absolutely right about this author. I really enjoy reading historical fiction stories and I have a special interest in any story about WWII, and From Sand And Ash will definitely appear on my list of all time favorites of the genre. Amy Harmon both writes beautifully and is able to make you feel connected to the characters and the things that happen to them. It’s a haunting and well researched story that will keep with you for a long time… The pace is a bit slow at points, but you forget all about that when you reach the final part. Make sure to keep your tissues ready! I liked the Italian setting and I could really appreciate the attention to detail when it comes to both descriptions and character development. I fell in love with the prose and I will no doubt read more of her work soon! If you enjoy reading historical fiction, I can strongly recommend From Sand And Ash.

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Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family, but religion separated them as Eva is Jewish and Angelo Catholic. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love, but the circumstances are less than ideal as World War II is looming over them. Angelo chooses becoming a Catholic priest even though he has deep feelings for Eva, and Eva has nowhere to go… It is not longer save to be a Jew in Italy, or anywhere in Europe for that matter, and when things become to dangerous Angelo does anything to hide Eva from the Gestapo. But Eve feels she cannot just hide quietly…

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I have read many historical fiction novels set during or around WWII over the years, and From Sand And Ash is no doubt one of the best novels of the bunch. The prose is simply beautiful and the character development as well as the plot are excellent, making it really easy to both connect to the story and enjoy reading it. Sure, the pace is a bit slow at points and I had initially deducted a star from the rating, but the final part of the story is just too good not to give it one of the highest rating. You will probably feel emotional after reading From Sand And Ash, so make sure to keep some tissues ready! This is without doubt an excellent read.

ARC REVIEW: Another Day Gone – by Eliza Graham

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Title: Another Day Gone
Author: Eliza Graham

Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary
First published: November 22nd 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: December 2nd 2016
Pages: 322
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“Come on, sweetheart, or it’ll be another day gone.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Another Day Gone belongs to one of my favorite genres, so it is easy to say I had high hopes for this book. Historical fiction, set during various generations, interesting blurb… It ticked all the right boxes, but unfortunately I ended up having a hard time enjoying this novel written by Eliza Graham. I couldn’t get a proper feel for the story OR characters and it was all kind of confusing at times. It took a long time for it to become clear what the story exactly was about and to connect the different chapters and characters correctly. The plot twists and hidden information about the past were probably supposed to be tactics to increase the suspense, but I actually found them rather annoying instead of entertaining. That said, it does show Another Day Gone is a well-researched story and there is no doubt it has a lot of potential. I seem to be in the minority when it comes to my opinion, because most people seem to love it, but I’m afraid I just couldn’t warm up to the story or characters. If you like the genre, I would suggest still giving it a try though, because it might just be another case of the ‘unpopular opinion curse‘.

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Just before the outbreak of WWII a terrorist bomb explodes on a busy street in Coventry. A man is hanged based on the witness account of a young girl, but as time goes on the girl is starting to doubt her testimony. It’s too late to save the man, but that doesn’t mean she will ever forget… Over sixty years later, Sara returns to her childhood home in the wake of the 7/7 London bombings. There she discovers that her sister Polly, who was missing for more than ten years, has finally returned. Why did she come back now? And where did she go in the first place? And that is not the only mystery in the family, as their nanny, Bridie, seems to be hiding a family secret of her own…

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Like I said before, Another Day Gone has a lot of potential and it is without doubt a well-researched novel with an interesting topic. That said, I can’t say I actually enjoyed reading this story. It had a slow pace and I had a hard time getting a proper feel for the story. It was quite confusing how the different chapters and characters fit together at first, and while that might have been done to increase the suspense, I personally couldn’t appreciate it. I seem to be in the minority though, so give this novel a try if you think you would enjoy it.

BOOK REVIEW: Homegoing – by Yaa Gyasi

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Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
First published: June 7th 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Finished reading: November 21st 2016 
Pages: 305
Rating 4qqq

“You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

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As soon as I came across this story a few months ago, I just knew I had to read it at some point. I always have a weak spot for a solid historical fiction novel, and Homegoing had all the signs it was going to be just that. I somehow ended up posponing this read longer than I had initially planned, but the Goodreads Choice Awards were the perfect excuse to finally pick up this novel by Yaa Gyasi. And there is no doubt that Homegoing deserves its nomination. It’s a truly interesting historical fiction novel set in both Africa and the US, starting in the 18th century with two characters and following their future generations during centuries. I actually kind of had One Hundred Years Of Solitude flashbacks every time I considered this aspect of Homegoing, and that is definitely a compliment. Sure, the story is a bit confusing in the beginning, mostly due to the sheer amount of characters that are introduced over time. The pace was also a tad slow at times, but that is all forgotten if you look at just how brilliantly written this story actually is. The author is able to include so many important moments in the history of both slavery and race problematics in general, and manages to do so without it feeling like a dull history book. Each character adds a little something to the story, and even though it was hard to keep track of them at times, the fact that there are so many of them adds to the charm. Homegoing is without doubt a very powerful and well researched historical fiction novel that I can recommend to any fan of the genre with my eyes closed.

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Two half-sisters are separated by forces beyond their control: Esi is sold into slavery, while Effia was married to a British slaver. Their future and and those of their future generations of family have been changed forever by this fate, and their destinies will eventually lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history. The true legacy of slavery will be revealed with its many many aspects, all with the help of these two generations of families.

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While not perfect, Homegoing is without doubt well researched and is one of the most interesting books on slavery I’ve read to this date. Thanks to the three hundred years and different generations of those families, Yaa Gyasi is able to talk about so many important fact relating to both slavery and race problematics in general. And even though the pace is a bit slow and the sheer amount of characters can get confusing, there is no doubt that this is an excellent historical fiction novel with a powerful message.

BOOK REVIEW: Anna And The Swallow Man – by Gavriel Savit

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Title: Anna And The Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
First published: January 26th 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Finished reading: August 25th 2016
Pages: 240
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“Because,” said the swallow man. “A friend is not someone to whom you give the things you need when the world is at war. A friend is someone to whom you give the things that you need when the world is at peace.”

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Ok, here’s the thing: I normally love historical fiction and I have a special interest in WWII stories. As soon as I heard about this novel by Gavriel Savit, I just knew I had to add it to my wishlist. Unfortunately Anna And The Swallow Man didn’t seem to convince me and I honestly struggled to finish it. The idea behind this story is interesting and I liked both the linguistic references and how languages were described; they really woke the inner philologist nerd in me. That said, I found that the tone was all off and I didn’t like the prose itself. It just didn’t seem to fit the middle grade target at all… I also wasn’t convinced by the magical realism elements in Anna And The Swallow Man. I guess this ones just one of those cases were magical realism just didn’t do it for me and I don’t think the target group would be able to fully understand its meaning either. In short, while the linguistic and historical references were interesting enough, the prose and surreal elements made me enjoy this story a lot less.

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Anna Lania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father in 1939 during the purge of intellectuals in Poland. Her father is a linguistics professor and has a gift for languages: he can speak many languages fluently and Anna has been a willing student. Now he is taken away, Anna is left alone. She then meets the Swallow Man. He is a complete mystery… A strange and tall man, a skilled deceiver and a language expert not unlike her father. Anna knows he is in danger of being taken as well, but the Swallow Man seems to have some tricks up his sleeve. Because when German soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see. Anna is entranced, and decides to follow the him into the wilderness.  And they encounter all kind of dangers during their travels together…

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I was really looking forward to this read, but unfortunately it mostly turned out to be a disappointment. I guess that one of the dangers of reading a story with magical realism elements is that it can go both ways, and in the case of Anna And The Swallow Man it just didn’t work for me. And while I liked some of the other elements, I’m not sure if I can actually recommend this book…