ARC REVIEW: A Thousand Devils – by Frank Goldammer

Title: A Thousand Devils
(Max Heller, Dresden Detective #2)
Author: Frank Goldammer
Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller, Crime
First published: October 13th 2017
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Finished reading: September 25th 2018
Pages: 312
(Originally written in German: ‘Tausend Teufel’)

“Nothing came for free. In a place where so many people hat lost their lives, it was a simple fact that you would pay somehow for still being alive.”

*** 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 really enjoyed reading the first book of this series, The Air Raid Killer, earlier this year, so of course I wanted to read the sequel as well now that it is translated into English (out tomorrow!). I have to say that A Thousand Devils has only increased my interest in this series. The stories are what I call a perfect mix of historical fiction and a detective thriller, with our detective Max Heller trying to solve cases just after WWII in the German city of  Dresden. Talk about a fascinating setting! Learning more about the German situation just after the war is fascinating, especially in the subtle way Frank Goldammer incorporates historical elements. It makes the historical setting feel authentic and it was very interesting to see how the detective tried to do his job in an almost impossibly difficult situation. I feel A Thousand Devils will appeal to both historical fiction fans and detective thriller readers because of the well crafted balance of both genres, although I do have to warn for some graphic scenes, violence and abuse. That said, I think A Thousand Devils was even stronger than the first, and although set just after WWII this time instead of during the last year, you will find plenty of historical facts to absorb. There are lots of twists involved as well, cleverly executed to keep you guessing how everything fits together until the end… I can without doubt recommend this series.

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WARNING: Possible spoilers! Please don’t read this summary if you haven’t read the first book of this series yet. I’ll keep the summary super short but it’s impossible to keep it completely spoiler-free…

Two years after the bombing of Dresden left most of the East German city in ruins, survivors are still struggling to continue their lives and the suffering continues. The winter months have been brutal so far, and with supplies being low everyone has to fight to survive… The German citizens are not happy with the Russian occupation, and the Russians are always trying to keep everything under control. When the both of a brutally stabbed Russian officer is found, detective Max Heller is called to the scene. To make things worse, near to the body they find an abandoned backpack with another man’s head inside… Are the two cases connected? Is this an attack against the Russians or simply an act of rage? Detective Max Heller has a hard time figuring out the facts as he finds obstacles around every single corner.

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Whether you prefer reading historical fiction or detective thrillers, the content of A Thousand Devils will be able to satisfy your needs. It is not easy to combine the two genres in a natural way, but there is no doubt that Frank Goldammer has done an excellent job. From the writing to the plot development, historical details, suspense and characters… Everything just clicks together and makes it easy to imagine just being there right next to Max Heller trying to solve those cases. Recommended!


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ARC REVIEW: The Tango War – by Mary Jo Conahay

Title: The Tango War
Author: Mary Jo McConahay
Genre: Non Fiction, History, War
First published: September 18th 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: August 10th 2018
Pages: 336

“Each side closely shadowed the steps of the other, like dancers in a tango.”

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

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My interest in this non fiction read was piqued for three reasons: I’m hugely interested in anything related to WWII, nobody ever talks about the role of Latin America during WWII and last but not least I have a special interest in history related to Latin America especially since I have settled down in Argentina. The Tango War is an eye-catching title and the cover stands out as well, but it is important to not forget this is a non fiction read first, entertaining thriller second. I don’t agree with the blurb that The Tango War can be read as a thriller, because the chapters lack cohesion for that. The chapters jump between countries and point of views of the war, which sometimes is necessary, but turns this book into a collection of essays rather than a single story. I also would have prefered to see more focus on the actual Latin American countries, instead of the clearly US influenced point of view of the different topics discussed. I don’t think I could call this non fiction read 100% neutral as a consequence, but that doesn’t take away that The Tango War was a thoroughly interesting read. There has never been much talk about the role of Latin America during WWII, most people instead focusing on Europe, the United States and Japan as the main contenders. It was fascinating to read about how various countries in Latin America had a big influence in the things that happened during the war. The focus isn’t solely on the years during WWII though, as many events both before and after are put in the spotlight as well. If you are interested in the topic and enjoy non fiction reads, The Tango War is just the book for you.

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There has never been enough focus on the fact that Latin America played a big role during WWII. Both sides have been fighting for the allegiance of the countries of Latin America even long before the war, knowing that their support will play a vital role. Each side is willing to play dirty, doing what is needed to win over the countries and get the support needed…

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If you enjoy reading non fiction historical texts and have an interest in the Second World War, The Tango War will without doubt interest you. It’s not the fastest read of the world and the essay-like chapters might slow you down, but this book shines the light upon a wide variety of topics related to the role of Latin America during the war. Would I have liked to see a more neutral point of view instead of a clearly US influenced perspective? Maybe. Would I have liked to see more of Latin America itself? Probably. But there is no doubt The Tango War is still a little goldmine of information.


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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: 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 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
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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.