ARC REVIEW: Sky In The Deep – by Adrienne Young @StMartinsPress

Title: Sky In The Deep
Author: Adrienne Young
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
First published: April 24th 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: April 19th 2018
Pages: 352

“You’ll find your own end before the snow melts because your pride and your anger are more importan to you than your own survival.”

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

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I admit I was sold as soon as I saw the cover and the mention of vikings. And maybe the fact that Sky In The Deep is called one of the most anticipated YA fantasy releases this year, although that also made me a bit afraid it won’t live up to the hype. But thankfully Sky In The Deep is actually worth all the praise it has been receiving. What a wonderful and well written debut! Although this story has no exact time setting and appears to be more fantasy than historical fiction, with the viking culture playing such a central role it is easy to deduct this story was set long ago (probably 800s?). Would I have liked a more detailed worldbuilding with more descriptions and facts? Yes, but I can also understand why the exact details have been kept vague, focusing instead on the characters and clan feud plot. I would have liked to have a glossary for the foreign words and phrases used, although most are easy to interpret from the context. These little things aside, I absolutely loved this story. The main character is the typical strong female lead, but Eelyn really came alive in the descriptions and dialogue and was easy to connect to. The different clans and the old feud between the two had me completely hooked, as well as for the plot twists that changed their future forever. Definitely the best viking-inspired story I’ve read to this date! I admit I could have done without the romance, but at least we were spared the dreaded love triangle. And I’m sure romance fans will love that little twist (although I saw it coming quite early on). In short, while not perfect, this debut still managed to completely blow me away and Eelyn’s story will stay with me for a long time. Vikings to the win!

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Seventeen-year-old Eelyn was raised to be a warrior and fights alongside her Aska clansmen against the Riki clan. The two have been enemies for a long time, fighting each other every five years in a ruthless battle. This year is no different and Eelyn is fighting on the battlefield when something strange happens: she sees her brother Iri, the same brother who she watched die five years ago. Following his ghost, she ends up in a very dangerous situation herself…One that will be both hard to accept and find a way out of.

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Despite a few minor details that made me lower the rating slightly, there is no doubt I absolutely loved this book. I have a weak spot for viking stories and Sky In The Deep has to be the best viking-inspired fantasy story I’ve read to this date. The writing is very engaging and made it really easy to like this story. The plot and clan feud turning into something else was an interesting one and while there were slow parts, you will get plently of viking fighting action as well. A little advice: don’t read the full blurb before you start reading it! This one is more fun going in completely blind. YA fantasy fans who like their stories having a dose of romance, well developed characters and a couple of pretty intense fighting scenes will love Sky In The Deep. A very powerful debut!


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ARC REVIEW: The Air Raid Killer – by Frank Goldammer

Title: The Air Raid Killer
(Max Heller, Dresden Detective #1)
Author: Frank Goldammer
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: September 23rd 2016
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Finished reading: April 12th 2018
Pages: 292
(Originally written in German: ‘Der Angstmann’)

“How does anyone really know what someone’s capable of?”

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

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I stumbled upon this title during my hunt for more international authors/translations and I was immediately intrigued both by the cover and the blurb. I admit I had forgotten about the exact content of the story when I started reading it and went in blind thinking it was going to be a historical fiction read. And while there is no doubt that The Air Raid Killer is a proper historical fiction read set in Dresden, Germany during the final part of WWII, I was pleasantly surprised to find out especially the first part reads more like a historical detective thriller. Two of my favorite genres combined? Definitely a bonus! The Air Raid Killer starts out strong and will be able to draw you in straight away. Historical descriptions are mixed with a most brutal murder scene that will definitely chill you to the bone. The main character of this German detective series Max Heller has the almost impossible task to try and find out what happened when nobody seems to care about one more body in a war with so many casualties. But detective Max Heller is determined to find out even when he meets resistance everywhere. Both the actual murders and the general situation in Dresden are not suited for the weak-hearted; combined they form a very explosive and sometimes shocking plot. The serial killer on the loose is without doubt brutal, and combined with the air raid attacks and the chaos during the end of the war you have a recipe for a very disturbing read. While the first part focuses on the thriller aspect of the plot, the second half of the story is more historical fiction focused. I think I would have preferred to have it just one way or the other and not both, although I do understand why the author made the choice to swap and include more historical details in the second half. The final reveals of the murder case do feel a bit rushed though, and I’m also wondering up to what point the methods of investigation used were actually available in that time period. Still, The Air Raid Killer was without doubt a very good historical thriller set during the end of WWII, and both detective thriller and historical fiction fans will be able to enjoy this one.

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In the final months of WWII, the inhabitants of the city of Dresden not only have to fear the air raid bombs that might destroy the city at any time. There are also rumors about the Fright Man, a twisted killer who uses the nighttime air raid siren to hunt the streets unseen and kill… Only to disappear into thin air afterwards. Detective Max Heller begins to investigate, but is is harder to ever to start a proper investigation. And soon after the Fright Man kills again… Will Max Heller be able to find any clues with his resources non-existent and a new boss who doesn’t want him to investigate further?

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Historical fiction is mixed with a classic detective thriller, as a serial killer and air raid bombs fight for the title of ‘most feared’ by the inhabitants of the city of Dresden. The writing style and initial plot make it really easy to get a proper feel for the story, and the first half of the story is without doubt the strongest part of the book. I would have preferred a continued focus on the detective thriller side of the story, which felt a bit rushed in the second half. But I also understand the switch and need for a focus on what happened in Dresden during those final days and after. While not perfect, The Air Raid Killer is without doubt a great read for anyone who wants to read a WWII story with a slightly different focus and angle.


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ARC REVIEW: The Letter For The King – by Tonke Dragt

Title: The Letter For The King
(The Letter For The King #1)
Author: Tonke Dragt
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical, Fantasy
First published: 1962
Publisher: Pushkin Children’s Books
Finished reading: April 9th 2018
Pages: 508
(Originally written in Dutch: ‘De Brief Voor De Koning´)

“It’s only when something’s threatened that you realize just how much you love it.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Pushkin Children’s Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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The Letter For The King was my very first MG read of the year and a translation of an older (1962) Dutch publication that is scheduled to be published later this year. And just look at that gorgeous cover! I thought I had read it in Dutch before when I was a kid, but apparently I was wrong because I didn’t recognize the story. That said, I think I probably would have enjoyed it a lot better back then. It’s not the fact that this is a middle grade read and ment for a younger public, because I have enjoyed books belonging to the age group before… And I can’t really put my finger on the why, but the fact is that I just couldn’t get used to the writing style and tone. I’m not saying the writing is bad at all, just that I was never able to get a proper feel for it. And unfortunately it took me ages to finally finish it. I felt the story itself was rather slow and dragged at points… The Letter For The King is over 500 pages long and I think it would have worked better with a faster pace and 200 pages less. The story itself is interesting as well as the quest the main character finds himself on; I liked the worldbuilding too. There was just something about the different kingdoms, the long ago setting with knights and quests that is truly enchanting. But overall it was just too slow for me. The right age-group will enjoy this story a lot better though, as long as they don’t have a short attention span.

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Sixteen-year-old Tiuri is about to become a knight when he is forced to abandon his vigil after a desperate call for help. He feels it is his duty to do as the old man says, but his task is becoming a lot more complicated than I initially thought. Suddenly, he finds himself on a mission both important and dangerous, where enemies will try to stop him from completing that mission. The future of an entire kingdom depends on him and his mission…

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There were things I really liked about The Letter For The King, including the long ago setting and worldbuilding full of knights, interesting kingdoms and quests. The rating above is my personal rating, but I do believe the right target group will enjoy this story a lot better. The main element I personally struggled with is a combination of a slow pace and a writing style I couldn’t become used to. I believe The Letter For The King would have worked better with a faster pace and less dialogue; with over 500 pages, I felt the story was a bit overlong. The adventure, intrigue and suspense are there, but it was kind of burried under a big pile of not that important dialogue… Still, especially younger boys will like following Tiuri on his mission.


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ARC REVIEW: Jilliand – by Clare Gutierrez

Title: Jilliand
Author: Clare Gutierrez
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: April 17th 2018
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Finished reading: April 3rd 2018
Pages: 298

“I keep my word. My word is all I have left to me.”

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

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I admit I was sold as soon as I saw the cover and mention of vikings. I’m a huge fan of the TV show Vikings and I don’t think I’ve ever read a story about vikings before, so I was really excited to be reading Jilliand. And it was by no means a bad read, just that it didn’t manage to blow me away. There was just something about the tone and writing style that felt a bit distant and made it harder to connect to the story. Also, I felt there were sudden changes between scenes and POV that either didn’t feel natural or simply didn’t connect with each other. More than once I found myself wondering suddenly what was happening, where they were or who the story was talking about… Not a good sign. This also happened more than once with sudden changes between a first and third person POV, although those might be solved in the final version. Still, these incoherences made it hard to concentrate on the story and slowed down the pace. I also felt the characters lacked some dept, and I was kept wanting for more when it comes to background and general character information. That said, it does show the author has investigated the time period and I realize it is hard to get solid information of a period there isn’t all that much ‘neutral’ information available of in the first place. The story follows two main characters in particular over a large span of time. While it was interesting to see the changes in both character and environment, I also thought there were almost too many things happening in the amount of pages available. This is probably why I felt a lack of dept as a consequence; long periods were sometimes skipped and other scenes were not as detailed as I would have liked. Still, Jilliand is quite an interesting read set in a time period that hasn’t been written about that frequently. It’s a story of survival, (forbidden) love, vikings, war and plundering… And although the ending came a bit sudden, I bet most will be able to appreciate it.

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Jilliand hasn’t had an easy life so far, losing her mother at birth and having to live with a father who wanted a son instead. She has been locked up and beaten for years, only barely surviving… Until one night she manages to escape her prison just in time with some help. But life outside is by no means easy either, and Jilliand is ill prepared for what is to come. And she definitely didn’t know how to act when Vikings start plundering the village she took refuge in.

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I really wanted to love Jilland, and I admit it was nice to see some similarities to the traditions and customs I’ve become used to after watching the Vikings TV Show. While Jilliand had an interesting premise and background story, using the forbidden love element to weave two different stories and cultures together, I almost felt there was too much going on at once, resulting in a lack of dept instead. There was just something about the writing style and tone that didn’t manage to grab me either, and all in all I didn’t end up enjoying it as much as I hoped I would. It’s not a bad read, but unfortunately didn’t manage to wow me either.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #23: Salt To The Sea & Ready Player One

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two titles I’ve been meaning to read for ages and that both turned out to be excellent reads. Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline… Popular hyped books that actually lived up to the hype and without doubt worth reading!


Title: Salt To The Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
First published: February 2nd 2016
Publisher: Philomel Books
Finished reading: March 27th 2018
Pages: 393

“War had bled color from everything, leaving nothing but a storm of gray.”


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I’ve been wanting to read this novel for a long time now, probably ever since I first heard about it. I’ve become a fan of Ruta Sepetys‘ writing after reading Between Shades Of Gray and Out Of The Easy; both because of the fantastic writing and well researched and detailed historical settings and descriptions. Salt To The Sea without doubt fits all these points above. I have a weak spot for WWII historical fiction in general and I hadn’t heard about the Wilhelm Gustloff incident before, so that was a double bonus for me. It truly shows in the little details just how well researched this novel is and the descriptions made it feel as if you were there yourself along with the characters. The plot is an interesting one and shows just how difficult it was to find your way to safety close to the end of the war. I admit it took me a while to get used to the multiple POVs and remembering who is who, which slowed down the pace inicially, but each different character and POV does show a different view on the situation and add something to the story. I was a bit annoyed by Alfred, who I didn’t like at all and I wasn’t sure about the particular style of his chapters. But the rest of the characters were interesting and I liked how the different styles used in each POV showed their different personalities. There is even some sort of interaction between the POVs and sometimes different characters tell their personal experience of the same event… Adding power to what was happening to them. Salt To The Sea is without doubt a very strong historical fiction read that shines the light on an event that is not all that well known. It’s not my favorite Ruta Sepetys novel, but without doubt worth reading.


Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline

Genre: YA, Science Fiction, Dystopia
First published: August 16th 2011
Publisher: Broadway Books
Finished reading: March 31st 2018
Pages: 386

“I felt like a kid standing in the world’s greatest video arcade without any quarters, unable to do anything but walk around and watch the other kids play.”


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I have been meaning to read this one for years (and that is without exaggerating). Somehow, the enormous hype around Ready Player One made me a bit afraid to actually pick it up, especially considering my complicated relationship with hyped books in the first place. I finally read Armada first last year, and I can’t say I was that impressed by it… But since people kept telling me that Ready Player One was so much better, I was determined to give it a go one day. And I’m glad I finally did do so, because I loved it so much better than I thought I would! Science fiction can go both ways for me, but as a (former) gamer myself I just loved the general worldbuilding and many many game references… The 80s references didn’t hit home, but that is mostly because I was too young to actually remember that time in the first place. And from what I could see, everything was well researched. Ready Player One is set in the future, and a dystopian future at that. A very interesting backdrop for this story and very well developed! The worldbuilding wasn’t the only thing that worked well for me. I also really enjoyed the writing style itself and of course the plot, which both made me want to keep on reading to find out what would happen next. The characters are well developed and easy to like, and I could also appreciate the fact we get to see both the online side and the ‘real’ side of the main characters involved. All in all a superentertaining and well written sci-fi and gaming adventure I can recommend to fans of the genre.


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ARC REVIEW: The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter – by Julia Drosten

Title: The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter
Author: Julia Drosten
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: August 8th 2016
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Finished reading: March 26th 2018
Pages: 295
(Originally written in German: ‘Die Elefantenhüterin’)

“Sometimes it’s very hard not to follow the path of revenge.”

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

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I have a weak spot for historical fiction, especially if they are set in an era or country I’m not all that familiar with. I was instantly intrigued when I first read about The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter, with its promises of a country/culture I don’t know much about as well as the era the story takes place. The 19th century history of Ceylon (now called Scri Lanka) is a fascinating background for this story and the descriptions of both the country itself and the customs and culture are lavishly and thoroughly described. It is really easy to imagine how Ceylon would have looked like from the descriptions alone! And it also shows the background for this story was very well researched and put together. Sadly, somehow I didn’t manage to get a proper feel for The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter though. While I love thorough descriptions, especially of places that are foreign to me, I started to wonder about the balance of those descriptions and the actual plot. It is true that the descriptions help set the right atmosphere and foreign setting/era, but they also slowed down the pace considerably. And not just the pace, because I also felt the transition from background descriptions to the more active parts was quite haltered and as a consequence the story didn’t really flow. I can’t put my finger on the why exactly, but I think my mixed feelings had a lot to do with the general tone and writing style as well. Both seemed distant and not natural, and the second especially stood out in the dialogues. And in general, even though they story describes some pretty barbaric events, it doesn’t seem to be able to provoke true emotions due to this feeling of distance. The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter has a lot of potential and the main characters have an interesting story, but sadly I wasn’t able to enjoy this story better. I’m still wondering if part of my problem with the tone and writing style could have been due to the fact this novel is a translation though, and some of its original charm might have been lost.

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In the royal city of Kandy, the king’s elephant keeper’s wife gives birth to a daughter the same day the king’s favorite elephant gives birth to her young. The couple was desperate for a boy to ensure the line of succession, and the mother hides her daughter’s gender by raising her as a boy. Phera and her elephant Siddhi become close friends and spends most of her time with the animal. Phera realizes she is not like other boys, but her parents force her to keep her true gender a secret… Until the British colonists invade Ceylon and they have to flee the capital.

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I really wanted to like this one and I still think the plot itself has a lot of potential. The worldbuilding and descriptions of the era and setting are thorough and it shows the background of The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter was very well researched. Sadly, I’m still on the fence about this one, as I didn’t manage to enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Part of the problem was the tone and writing style as well as the fact the story didn’t really flow… Which made it hard to properly connect to the story. The setting is fascinating though as well as the time period the story is set in with its consequences of the British invasion.


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DNF ARC REVIEW: Graffiti Palace by A.G. Lombardo

Title: Graffiti Palace
Author: A.G. Lombardo
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
First published: March 13th 2018
Publisher: MCD
Finished reading: March 9th 2018 
Pages: 336
DNF at 49% (165 pages)

“At the mystic interstice where the mind and the beating heart held the brush or the spray can and the paint touched the inanimate skin of the city, who could really say where one began and the other ended?”

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

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It’s August 1965 in Los Angeles and Americo Monk is trying to return home to his girlfriend Karmann. He is known throughout the neighborhood as the man who keeps track of the graffiti decorating the community… And relatively safe among the different gangs and police. But this might mean nothing during the Watts Riots, because his status won’t take away the fact that there is nothing but chaos all around. Chaos that will lead him on different and surprising paths that won’t directly lead home…

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I admit I was intrigued by Graffiti Palace as soon as I saw the cover and read the blurb. I have an interest in stories involving race problematics and I have to admit I don’t know much about the era this story is set in other than just the bare details. I was looking forward to exploring this setting as well as learning more about this particular situation and find out how the graffiti element fits in. Sadly, it didn’t turn out to be the reading experience I thought it would be. I’ve tried several times over the last two weeks to start reading Graffiti Palace, but unfortunately I have been struggling with it right from the very first page. The main thing that stood out for me was the writing style, which simply wasn’t for me. It felt confusing, chaotic, haltering… And it simply made it hard to make sense of it all. Some might call it literary fiction, colorful and exuberant prose, but the sad hard facts are that I personally found it a constant struggle to reach the end of each page. The endless descriptions of just about every little tiny detail didn’t help warming up to the story either… Don’t get me wrong, I love a good detailed description in a story, but this was just way too much unrelevant details and too little focus on a possible plot itself. The parts where Monk wandered around the city were slightly better in the sense there were less descriptions and more ‘action’, but whenever Karmann’s POV popped up the pace slowed down to an almost full stop. Monk’s character has a lot of potential, I stil like the idea of the graffiti and what the art stands for and the potential of the riots and the race problematics being represented by the different groups that form part of the community. Graffiti Palace had all the potential to blow me away, but instead I was left struggling and feeling confused about it all. I really tried to continue reading to see if things would improve, but I had to give up when I reached the halfway mark and couldn’t see things getting better. I just felt this story was trying to hard to stand out and the writing style and descriptions too unlikeable and hard to read to be called lush and wonderful. I’m guessing the right person will most likely enjoy this story significantly better than I did, but I do believe this Graffiti Palace is not for everyone. I’m still sad I had to make the decision to DNF though.


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