ARC REVIEW: Devastation Road – by Jason Hewitt

Title: Devastation Road
Author: Jason Hewitt

Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: July 3rd 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Finished reading: July 1st 2017
Pages: 384

“Strange how memories were breaking through as if he’d slipped under ice and now there were patches of it starting to melt so he could see snippets of the life he once had on the surface. Just when he thought his memory was improving, just when he thought he could retain the events of a day, something always disappeared in turn.”

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

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!! Happy Publication Day !!

This is going to be my third ‘unpopular opinion’ review in a row; what is happening to me?! I enjoy reading historical fiction in general and actually have a special interest in any story related to WWII. Devastation Road sounded particularly interesting due to the fact that the main character has amnesia and I found myself really looking forward to read this novel. Devastation Road has received a lot of praise so far and I was expecting to be adding another positive review to the mix myself, but unfortunately I didn’t have the same reading experience as most people. First of all I want to make clear that the idea behind this story is without doubt fascinating: an English soldier in 1945 who has amnesia and doesn’t remember that last four years nor can retain new memories. I could also really appreciate the many descriptions of the places the characters passed through, flashbacks and historical details in general. But. And there is where the tricky part comes in… I REALLY struggled with the writing style. Instead of luring me in, the first pages and chapters only managed to frustrate me and disconnect me from the story with the constant repeat of he, he, he in the sentences. Somehow the prose didn’t flow and I had a hard time figuring out what was going on… This is possibly ment to portray the main character and his amnesia, but it made it really hard for me to properly enjoy the story. That said, apart from the writing style I found it also extremely hard to connect to the characters AND plot itself. It’s not that the main character aren’t intriguing and each has their own history, but somehow I found myself mostly detached from them. And while I normally love the use of foreign languages in a story, I think in the case of Janeck it only made it more difficult to connect to him. I mentioned the flow of the writing style before, and I think I had the same problem with the plot itself. The story goes from memory to present to past and completely different scenes without warning and although this once again can be seen as a representation of amnesia, I found myself really struggling to keep track instead. Devastation Road had all the signs of being an excellent read and the problem might have been just me since so many seem to love this story, but unfortunately I struggled along with the characters to reach the final page. And I still feel kind of sad I wasn’t able to enjoy it more.

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In the final stretch of WWII, a man wakes up in a field in a country he doesn’t know. He is injured and can’t seem to remember how he got there in the first place… In fact, only flashes of memory come back to him and he only has a vague recollection of joining the war he is currently in the middle of. His name is Owen and he is trying to get back to England, although this isn’t easy with his amnesia. He finds help in unlikely places, although he is not sure why exactly they help him or what they want from him. Will his memory get better and will he make it to safety?

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I really wanted to enjoy Devastation Road, especially since it is a combination of two topics that fascinate me: WWII and amnesia. Unfortunately I found it extremely hard to connect to the writing style, characters AND plot… And honestly I think I would probably have opted for a DNF if this weren’t an ARC. I seem to be in the minority though since most reviews have been really positive, so give this one a chance if this sounds like your cup of tea!


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ARC REVIEW: The Mayfly – by James Hazel @JamesHazelBooks @BonnierZaffre

Title: The Mayfly
(Charlie Priest #1)
Author: Mystery, Thriller, Crime

Genre: James Hazel
First published: June 15th 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Finished reading: June 3rd 2017
Pages: 432

“I don’t know what history will remember me as. A murderer? A scientist? A revolutionalist? I suppose it depends who writes the textbook you’re reading. But history will remember me.”

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

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The cover is what first caught my attention, but it was the blurb that sealed the deal. I mean, a psychological thriller AND a connection to WWII? That’s basically combining two of my favorite genres and simply irresistible. This story mosty definitely didn’t disappoint. I actually didn’t know that The Mayfly is the first book of a new series, but now now I’ve finished this story I will be looking forward to see more of Charlie Priest in the future. The Mayfly reads almost like a private detective story, but Charlie Priest is actually a lawyer instead (and ex-cop). Charlie has a lot of flaws and a messed up personal life, but his character didn’t feel like a cliche at all. In fact, with a serial killer for a brother and his dissociative disorder Priest scores top marks for being an intriguing character. The plot itself is fascinating and I loved the chapters that went back to events set just after WWII. The references to the Holocaust add a whole different level to this story and really made The Mayfly stand out for me. There were quite a lot of twists and while I expected some things to happen, I didn’t guess the full truth until the very end. I could have done without the love triangle and romance scenes in general though, although it’s just the love triangle itself that didn’t add anything substantial to the plot. Also, some of the things that happen can make you doubt the credibility of it all… For example: how did they manage to go on for years without being catched? But those are only minor complaints about what is still essentially a highly entertaining rollercoaster ride.

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Charlie Priest used to be a DI, but is now a successful lawyer despite his flaws and has quite a few important clients. One day he is hired by the influential entrepeneur Kenneth Ellinder to investigate the murder of his son. Priest doesn’t want to take the case at first, but circumstances leave him no other option than to find out what is happening. People seem determined to keep Priest from discovering the truth though, and he might be in more danger than he thinks he is… And more importantly, he isn’t sure who he can trust in the first place.

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There is no doubt that The Mayfly is a fascinating story that will definitely appeal to psychological thriller fans. The flashbacks and connections to the Second World War added a whole different level to what was already an intriguing plot and definitely made me appreciate this story even more. I had a few minor doubts, but those are just that: minor. The writing style and pace turned The Mayfly into a superfast read and I will be looking forward to see more of Charlie Priest in the future!


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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
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“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.

BOOK REVIEW: The Nightingale – by Kristin Hannah

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Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: February 3rd 2015
Finished reading: April 30th 2016
Pages: 440
Rating 4qqq

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

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Historical fiction is probably one of my favorite genres, especially when the story is set during WWII. After hearing so many great things about The Nightingale and several recommendations, I just knew I had to pick it up as soon as possible… And I agree this is without doubt a very well written, beautiful and heartbreaking story that is a must read for any WWII historical fiction fan. Ever since finishing this novel by Kristin Hannah, I have been doubting the final rating, especially since the ending simply blew me away. Why the seemingly ‘low’ 4 star rating? I did have some small issues with the story that I couldn’t ignore. First of all, it actually took me a lot of time to finish The Nightingale and initially I wasn’t completely convinced by some of the characters either. The plot is intriguing from the start, but some of the actions and dialogues of the main characters (especially Vianne and Isabelle) just didn’t feel all that ‘natural’ in the beginning. And even though that feeling went away mostly as the story continued, it was only in the end that I started to feel a proper connection with Vianne. Why? The fact that Vianne seemed to rely so much on her husband and both feels helpless without him and is quite ignorant in general during most of the story is actually quite annoying… But she did make up for it in the end. Isabelle managed to convince me a lot sooner and like I said the story itself is more than excellent. The Nightingale is without doubt a novel I won’t be forgetting any time soon!

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Vianne Mauriac and her sister Isabelle didn’t exactly have an easy childhood. Their father was never the same after he came back home when WWI ended, and their mother passed away not long after. Vianne ended up marrying young and lives with her husband and daughter in a quiet village named Carriveau. Isabelle was a lot younger when all this happened, and she grew up to be a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl that doesn’t like to be told what to do… A dangerous thing with the threat of the Nazis invasion becoming more real every day. Vianne has to say goodbye to her husband Antoine, who has been called to fight at the Front. She doesn’t believe at first that the Nazis will actually invade France, but soon finds out what kind of trouble they soon will be in. Vianne is forced to take an enemy soldier into her house and her every move is watched… And without food, money or hope, things are becoming desperate. The fact that her sister Isabelle is forced by their father to stay with her doesn’t help either… But Isabelle doesn’t want to sit tight and wait until the war is over. No, she wants to do something to help the cause and fight the Nazis from within France. Joining the Resistance can have deadly consequences for those she loves though; something Isabelle doesn’t seem to fully realize… What will happen to both seemingly so different sisters?

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The Nightingale is without doubt an excellent WWII historical fiction novel and I’m still not sure whether to add an extra 1/2 star to the rating or not. The only real ‘problem’ I had with this story is that the first part read quite slow and the characters didn’t completely convince me in the beginning. The last part of this novel is exceptional though and the ending simply blew me away. Also, I loved the fact that Kristin Hannah wrote about the woman’s side of the war. Recommended!

BOOK REVIEW: You Are My Sunshine – by Roberta Kagan

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Title: You Are My Sunshine
Author: Roberta Kagan
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII
First published: March 20th 2014
Finished reading: August 10th 2015
Pages: 403
Rating 2

“If we forget people, then they will really die. As long as we keep memories alive, then they live in our memories.”

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I decided to start You Are My Sunshine mostly because I wanted to read a proper historical fiction novel after a misleading read a few weeks ago. I normally really enjoy stories set during WWII, fiction or non fiction. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of this novel by Roberta Kagan. There are a lot of different characters and every single one of them seemed flat and quite boring. The way they acted felt forced and unnatural and I wasn’t a fan of the prose at all. The whole plot in general just didn’t feel credible and was quite weak. I guess the author just wanted to include too many things into the novel and it would have been better focusing on less characters and events. I understand why Roberta Kagan wanted to tell us the background story of some of the less important characters as well, but the only result I could see was an even slower pace. And the prose… I’m not sure how to explain it, but the way the characters interacted was almost cartoon-like and not natural at all. All in all it just wasn’t a convincing WWII historical fiction novel for me.

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The Polish Zofia is a Jewish girl who ends up pregnant by a school teacher… She decides to take care of her child unmarried, something that is frowned upon by the Jewish community. But she has the help of two women who give her a home and a job. Her little girl Eidel looks just like a non Jewish child… Something that will end up saving her when the Nazi’s invade Poland. Zofia and the two women are sent to a concentration camp where they end up meeting SS Manfred Blau. The story has followed Manfred ever since his teenage years and shows his rise and fall within the Nazi party… Which ends with him and his wife and adopted child being sent to the concentration camp; Manfred has to work there to show his loyalty to the party and he turns into a monster. What will happen to Manfred, Zofia and the rest of the characters? What impact has the war on their lives?

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It has been a while since I’ve read a WWII historical fiction novel, so I was really looking forward to You Are My Sunshine. Now I’ve read it, I cannot say it lived up to expectations or that it is actually worth reading. I really feel there are a lot better WWII novels out there that show a better picture of the events during those horrible years. The storylines with Zofia and Manfred have potential, but the prose and bland characters kind of ruined the reading experience for me.

BOOK REVIEW: The Storyteller – by Jodi Picoult

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Title: The Storyteller
Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary
First published: 2013
Finished reading: April 17th 2015
Pages: 460
Rating 4,5

“History isn’t about dates and places and wars. It’s about the people who fill the spaces between them.”

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The Storyteller ended up being a mix between contemporary and historical fiction, where part of the story is set in the present and the rest of the story during WWII. Jodi Picoult has even incorporated a fantasy story that is written by one of the main characters during the war… This story about a Polish upior (similar to a vampire) plays a big role in the survival of a Jewish girl named Minka and is one of the links to the scenes set in the present. Those contemporary scenes are probably my least favorite, but still I liked most of the main characters. Some of the less important ones were a bit unbelievable though, and that’s probably why I haven’t given The Storyteller the full five stars… But the scenes set during WWII are so well written that they make up for the weaker contemporary scenes. Jodi Picoult described the situation of Minka and her Jewish family so well that I actually had tears in my eyes at some point… And I do not cry easily when I’m reading.

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Sage Singer doesn’t see herself as a Jew, but her grandmother Minka is a Holocaust survivor… Although she never talks about her experience. Sage had a car accident two years ago that left her with a scar on her face and without a mother… And she still struggles with her loss. To hide from society and her loss, Sage prefers to work night shifts at a local bakery. She normally tries to push people away, but one day she starts an unlikely friendship with an old retired teacher named Josef Weber. When they get to know each other a little better, he asks her for a huge favor: to help him kill himself. Sage is shocked, but Josef tries to get her to help him anyway by confessing his darkest secret: he was a Nazi SS guard during WWII, working in one of the death camps. Therefore, he deserves to die…

Sage first doesn’t believe him, but contacts the autorities anyway. The FBI has a special unit chasing old war criminals, and the guy in charge asks her to collect more information; forcing Sage to continue her friendship with Josef. As he starts telling more and more about his past, Sage doesn’t know if she can live with the horrible facts she now knows. How can she ever forgive a man who has done so many terrible things? And is she the right person to hand out that forgiveness? Her own grandmother is a Holocaust survivor; was she one of Josef’s victims?

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The sappy romance scenes were quite annoying, but the rest of the story made up for it. The chapters set during WWII were written brilliantly and full of emotion. Jodi Picoult chose to write from both Josef’s and Minka’s point of view, which gives you a general impression of both ‘sides’ of the situation and the consequences of certain actions. The ending of The Storyteller is definitely unexpected, although it wasn’t a total surprise after Josef’s blood group was mentioned… The upior fantasy story is an unique touch to this historical holocaust testimony, and is probably one of the reasons why I gave this novel such a high rating. That and the WWII chapters… In short, this novel is perfect for those who enjoy reading historical fiction, as long as you don’t mind some sappy romance scenes and bakery talk. The main character Sage is a baker like some of her ancestors, and baking plays an important role in the story…

BOOK REVIEW: The Boy In The Striped Pajamas – by John Boyne

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Title: The Boy In The Striped Pajamas
Author: John Boyne
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA, WWII
First published: 2006
Finished reading: June 23rd 2014
Pages: 224
Rating 4,5

He looked down and did something quite out of character for him: he took hold of Shmuel’s tiny hand in his and squeezed it tightly.
“You’re my best friend, Shmuel,” he said. “My best friend for life.”

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The Boy In The Striped Pajamas was a great read. This book by John Boyne can be classified as amazingly moving and is ingeniously written from the point of view of a nine-year-old boy called Bruno. After seeing the movie various times, I already knew this book was going to be sad… And Boyne was able to make the tears flow perfectly while describing the developing relationship between Bruno and the Jewish boy Shmuel. The way Boyne incorporates themes as the Auschwitz concentration camp and other horrible facts of the Second World War and shows them through the eyes of a boy is refreshing. Bruno is too young to understand what’s happening during the Second World War or what his father’s job really implies… With terrible consequences.

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The story is set during the 1949’s in Nazi Germany, where Bruno and his family live a comfortable life in Berlin. His father is an important man and one day the Fury (Fuhrer) visits their home with important news. Soon his father is offered a job at Out-With (Auschwitz) and the family has to move to Poland. Bruno hates it there and wants to go back to Berlin, unable to understand why they moved there in the first place. Being a naive nine-year-old, he cannot grasp the real meaning of his father’s job… And he doesn’t understand what kind of place Out-With really is. When he looks out of his bedroom window, he sees a big group of people wearing striped pajamas and caps. They are all gathered together in a huge area with small huts and a fench surrounding them, and Bruno wonders what is really out there…

Acting like the explorer he wants to be some day, he decides to walk to the fence himself and find out more about those people wearing the pajamas. He knows he’s not supposed to be going there, but his curiosity wins and soon finds himself close to the fence. Bruno then meets a small Jewish boy named Shmuel, prisoner at the Out-With camp. They discover they were born the same day, and soon share more than that… Bruno tries to visit his new friend every day, sharing thoughts and food with the boy. Somehow sensing his friendship with Shmuel might be frowned upon, he decides to keep him a secret. When Bruno’s mother wants to move back to Berlin, he decides to pay one last visit to Shmuel. Bruno had promised to help find the Jewish boy’s missing father, and he wanted to discover for himself what was behind the fence. He had asked Shmuel to bring him an extra pair of striped pajamas so he could walk around the camp unseen…

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The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is a beautiful, but very sad story to read. Make sure to keep a box of tissues close as you will probably need it during the last few chapters. And make sure you watch the movie too if you haven’t; both are definitely recommended! Keep away if you don’t like sad endings though.