YVO’S SHORTIES #148 – Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet & What We Saw

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time two backlist titles I’ve been wanting to read for a while, and both turned out to be excellent reads. Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford was both hardbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, and while What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler is without doubt a darker read, the heavy elements including rape and victim shaming are excellently and realistically portrayed.


Title: Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: January 27th 2009
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Finished reading: February 3rd 2020
Pages: 396

“The hardest choices in life aren’t between what’s right and what’s wrong but between what’s right and what’s best.”


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I confess I have been meaning to read Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet for years now, and last year I thought getting a physical copy would help making me finally read it. It still took me way longer than expected, but I finally did! I think it’s probably known by now that I have a weak spot for WWII historical fiction and this story is able to give us an original angle. Set in Seattle during the war, the focus is on the Chinese and Japanese community and the threats the Japanese community receives as a direct consequence of Japan’s role in WWII. Main characters Henry and Keiko are able to describe this inner conflict, the racism and the consequences for the Japanese community perfectly. Switching between 1942-1945 and 1986 and between young and old Henry, we slowly learn more about the events that started and blossomed the friendship between Henry and Keiko as well as the more serious events involving the Japanese community as a whole. On top of that we have a wonderful extra element in the form of jazz music and Sheldon, who was such a lovely character and he definitely added a little something extra to the story as well as both him and his music providing a red thread to weave the past and present together. Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet is a beautifully written, poignant and sometimes heartbreaking read, but not without a note of hope… And it is able to describe the race problematics and injustice for all those innocent Japanese families perfectly. I’m positive any historical fiction fan will have an excellent time reading this wonderful story about Henry and Keiko!


Title: What We Saw
Author: Aaron Hartzler

Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: September 22nd 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
Finished reading: February 4th 2020
Pages: 336

“I wonder which is worse: the fear of the unknown? Or knowing for sure that something terrible is true?”


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I’ve been wanting to read What We Saw for a while now, and I’m definitely glad my TBR jar thought it was time to finally pick it up. I already knew this wasn’t going to be an easy read with the rape and victim blaming topic, and it is without doubt trigger warning worthy… That said, I thought the author did an excellent job portraying the whole situation as well as shining an all important light on the topic. Sadly the events as described What We Saw are all too real and sadly rape victims like Stacey become victims all over again when nobody believes their story and people simply say ‘she had it coming’ or ‘she asked for it with the way she dressed and by being wasted’ without knowing the facts… It was interesting to see the whole story from Kate’s POV as she wasn’t directly involved or too close to the victim. Instead, we see the whole situation as an ‘outsider’ wanting to uncover the truth and not accept what everybody wants or finds it easy to believe as the truth… And showing in the process how hard it can be to go against the popular kids and just how far victim blaming can go. What We Saw is definitely a darker read, but the heavy elements including rape and victime blaming/shaming are excellently and realistically portrayed. If you can stomach it, it makes for a very interesting read!


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ARC REVIEW: The Huntress – by Kate Quinn @fictionpubteam @HarperCollinsUK

Title: The Huntress
Author: Kate Quinn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: February 26th 2019
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Finished reading: September 30th 2019
Pages: 560

“It was pointless trying to find evil in a face. So often, evil sat invisible behind perfectly ordinary features.”

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


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I kept seeing glowing reviews about The Huntress ever since it was published earlier this year, so I was over the moon when my request for an ARC was actually approved. WWII historical fiction is one of my absolute favorite subgenres, so it is easy to say that between the glowing reviews and the bonus of a favorite genre I had extremely high expectations for this story. It’s the first time I read one of Kate Quinn‘s books (I have The Alice Network high on my TBR though), and I was definitely blown away by what I found. My expectations were more than met and I have found a new favorite story as well as author. Say hello to one of my 2019 top reads!

With its 560 pages, there is so much going on in The Huntress that I’m having a hard time figuring out where to start with my review. For lack of better ideas, I’ve decided to keep it simple and start with the historical setting. Due to the complexity of this story, we have three different storylines, POVs and thus three different historical settings to discuss… The one I found most striking was Nina’s POV, as we don’t often see a focus on the Russian side of the war, let alone learn more about female Russian pilots and everything related to their role in the war. We see Nina evolve as she grows up in inhospitable Siberia and wants to follow her dream to conquer the sky… The descriptions of the different places in Russia are simply fantastic, and the same goes for the incorporation of historical facts about the female pilot division and everything that relates to the Night Witches, the bombings and other things happening during the war. And I have to say that Nina’s POV alone already made me want to hand out the full 5 stars for this story.

To contrast this rather intense storyline, we have the milder POV set in postwar Boston with Jordan in the lead. This is a story of a young woman with a passion for photography, dreaming about a seemingly unreachable exciting life but instead being pushed to tie the knot with her boyfriend and take over her father’s business in the future. This storyline is also focused on family and has that whole ‘possibly evil’ stepmother vibe… It was really interesting to see both this storyline and Jordan’s character evolve over time and slowly merge with the third POV: Ian. Ian Graham is a British war correspondent who is determined to hunt down as many Nazi members as possible after the war with the help of his colleague Tony. Their journey starts in Austria as they decide to track down the infamous ‘huntress’, and here comes Nina in play as well as the only witness who saw the woman and survived.

At this point in the story we don’t know about Nina’s past yet, and it was fascinating to see how all different storylines slowly evolve as the hunt continues and brings them to different places and closer to the final so-called reckoning. I especially liked how we only learned about Nina’s past in small doses, absorbing those final details just before the story reaches its climax. The three different storylines and POVs are woven together in the most expert way and basically give you three different high quality stories to follow all wrapped together into one brilliant masterpiece. I’m not lying when I say that this is without doubt one of the best WWII inspired historical fiction stories I’ve read to this date, and I’m not taking those words lightly… The Huntress left me lost for words.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but what I can say is that between the complex and rich plot, the writing, the different characters, historical references and settings, there is a lot to love in The Huntress. While the pace might be slower in points, the story also has moments of speed (especially in Nina’s POV) and you will have to prepare yourself for a healthy dose of surprises in the plot. The writing is simply beautiful and draws you right in, and I loved the use of foreign words here and there. The character development is also sublime, and I loved how the different storylines slowly came together until the full picture is finally revealed as you fit the last piece of the puzzle. Most of the characters are so easy to like as well, partly because of their flaws and realistic development, partly because of their charms. Especially Nina stood out for me (I loved her bluntness), but it was great to follow Ian and Jordan as well. Even the ‘huntress’ was a fascinating and well developed character, though of course she can never be called likeable.

As you might have guessed, there is a lot to love in The Huntress and I can highly highly recommend it to anyone who loves WWII historical fiction as much as I do. Between an unique, complex and rich plot, beautiful writing, fascinating characters, detailed descriptions that really make the historical settings come alive and a healthy dose of secrets and surprises, you will find yourself having a hard time picking what exactly your favorite element of this story is.


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ARC REVIEW: Along The Broken Bay – by Flora J. Solomon

Title: Along The Broken Bay
Author: Flora J. Solomon
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: July 1st 2019
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: July 19th 2019
Pages: 389

“Manila’s magic was gone, replaced by an undercurrent of fear potent enough to be sensed by an observer.”

*** 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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I have always had a weak spot for historical fiction, and especially if the story is set during WWI or WWII. I admit I was sold as soon as I read the blurb of Along The Broken Bay, as you don’t often see a WWII fiction setting in the Philippines and Gina’s story of working in the resistance sounded absolutely fascinating. I was looking forward to fully emerge myself in what I thought would be a new favorite story, but sadly fate had a different reaction for me in store. Because while I still think that the premise of this story is fascinating, unfortunately I can’t say I enjoyed the execution all that much. I’ll try to explain below why.

First of all I have to state that the description of the Manila and Zambales mountains settings is thorough and gives us insight in the local flora and fauna. It made the Philippines come alive and gives this WWII fiction read an exotic vibe. I can’t say I was too happy with how the local population was described though, nor how the main characters interacted with them. The demeaning way the locals, their culture and how they interacted was described left me with a very bad taste in my mouth and for me it crossed the line of racial discrimination. I think that the fact that (rich) Americans and Europeans living in Manila might have seen the locals in that way back in the 1940s is no excuse to degrade certain characters in such way. Likewise, I found Gina to be too much of a typical ‘rich white woman with prejudices’ cliche; her constant whining and complaining about the precarious situations she suddenly finds herself in not only distracting but also highly highly annoying. I really couldn’t stand her character, and as the story was basically build around Gina, it was really hard to convince myself to stay invested in the story. In fact, I had such a strong averse reaction to her that I confess that I probably wouldn’t have made it to the final page if this wouldn’t have been an ARC.

The pace in Along The Broken Bay is quite slow as well, and combined with my repulsion for the main character and the way the story treated the local population I ended up struggling considerably to reach the final page. I still think the premise on its own is intriguing, and it was interesting to learn more about how the resistance operated and their network in general. The nightclub was also an interesting twist; the dangers of the operation adding a hint of suspense to the story. The little chapter introductions featuring the thoughts of Gina’s husband Ray while he is separated from his family were likewise a nice touch. And while Along The Broken Bay clearly wasn’t my cup of tea despite my love for the genre, I’ve also seen that most people seem to have a very positive reaction to this story, so definitely don’t give up yet if you are intrigued by the premise.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #96 – The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society & The Murder On The Links

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two backlist titles I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and probably should have sooner, because I ended up really enjoying both. The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows turned out to be a wonderful piece of historical fiction written in epistolary form… And my third meeting with Hercule Poirot in The Murder In The Links turned out to be another successful one.


Title: The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: July 10th 2008
Publisher: The Dial Press
Finished reading: April 22nd 2019
Pages: 322

“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.”


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I’ve been meaning to read The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society for years now, but somehow I always ended up posponing it. Lately I’ve been wanting to watch the adaptation on Netflix though, so I decided to finally read it so I could do so. The genre is right up my alley, as I love WWII historical fiction, and I really liked the setting on Guernsey as well since I don’t think I’ve read about the Channel Islands as a setting in stories before. Not only the historical and geographical setting made this story into a success for me, but also the format that is chosen to narrate this story. The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel, where the story is told through a series of letters and occasionally telegrams written between a wide variety of different characters. While I admit it took me a little while to keep track of all those different characters, they all added their little touch to the story and I especially loved those letters set in Guernsey. It was interesting to see the different characters and relationships evolve over time, and while I could have done without the whole ‘Mark’ romance, the rest of the story mostly made up for it. Juliet grows a lot during the story, and will definitely win you over before you reach the final page. The star of the story for me is Elizabeth though; the glue that connects everything together. The letters are written in such a way that the personality of the characters shines through; something that takes this story to the next level. More devastating WWII facts are mixed with humor and ‘lighter’ scenes, creating a well-balanced story that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Both historical fiction and romantic drama fans will have a wonderful time with The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society.


Title: The Murder On The Links
(Hercule Poirot #2)
Author: Agatha Christie

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Detective
First published: May 1923
Publisher: Harper Collins
Finished reading: April 25th 2019
Pages: 272

“Mon ami, a clue of two feet long is every bit as valuable as one measuring two millimetres! But it is the romantic idea that all important clues must be infinitesimal.”


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Although I started this series out of order a year ago by reading book number ten first (Murder On The Orient Express), I made a promise to myself to try and read them in order in the future. I read the first book later last year, and although it took me longer than expected to get to The Murder On The Links, I’m definitely glad I finally did so. I really enjoyed spending more time with Hercule Poirot. He is such an interesting character! I love the way he investigates by using what he calls using his grey cells, and deducts and discovers the truth by noticing things others might overlook. The writing makes it very easy to fly through this classic, and I had an excellent time trying to discover the hidden clues along with Poirot. Mr. Hastings can get quite annoying, but I tried not to focus on that and enjoy the investigation instead. The Murder On The Links is mostly set in a small village in France, and the story without doubt has an interesting set of characters. Detective Giraud made an excellent contrast with Hercule Poirot, as his investigation methods and ideas are completely opposite to our main character. I personally really liked this rivalry and different takes on what was happening. I had a great time with this second book and I will definitely be looking forward to see more of Hercule Poirot in the future.


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ARC REVIEW: We Are Of Dust – by Clare Coombes

Title: We Are Of Dust 
Author: Clare Coombes
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: December 3rd 2018
Publisher: The Liverpool Editing Company
Finished reading: March 25th 2019
Pages: 300

“And each one of us has a chance to defy all those who have harmed us, by living.”

*** 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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I guess you might know by now I have a weak spot for WWII historical fiction… So it’s easy to understand why, as soon as I read the blurb of We Are Of Dust, I knew I HAD to accept this request and read the story. It turned out to be a solid and heartbreaking little gem. The first thing that stands out in We Are Of Dust is that the story is based on true events. It shows that the author has investigated the details painstakingly and I could really appreciate how we are able to see multiple sides of the war with the help of the different characters. We have the Hitler Youth, we have resistance members, we have (half)Jewish characters hiding and running for their lives… This gives the story a multifaceted aspect and gives the plot more dept. We Are Of Dust switches back and forth between different points of view and we slowly start to discover how everything fits together in the plot. The story focuses on the events around the so-called Kristallnacht in November 1938 and what happens to the different characters both during and after that horrible night. I personally could really appreciate the focus on that event as many see the Kristallnacht as the beginning of the Holocaust and stories don’t tend to stand still and help remember that fact. While things can come over as chaotic in the beginning with the different storylines and characters, things soon improve as you get a better idea about how everything fits together. What I didn’t know was that We Are Of Dust is actually the first book of a series, and the story ends with a cliffhanger that will leave you wanting for more… Especially if you expect to get all the answers by the final page. I suppose me wanting to know more is a good sign though. If you enjoy WWII historical fiction, you should definitely give this story a try.

Alice Sommer is the half-Jewish daughter of an important German physicist, forced to hide with her litlte sister as things get more dangerous. Kurt Hertz is a member of the Hitler Youth, but is forced to run after he attacks his superior to defend his friend… The two meet while they are on the run, hiding their true identities from each other and making each other believe they are not in fact the exact thing they can’t stand. Somehow Alice and Kurt end up on the same ship that is supposed to bring them to freedom… But is that really true? And how long can they hide their true identities?

If you enjoy a good WWII historical fiction story based on true events, We Are Of Dust is a worthy title to add to your wishlist. It’s a solid start of a new series with a focus on the events on the Kristallnacht and the story of the German ocean liner MS St. Louis. With the help of multiple POVs, the story shows us different sides of the war and how visions about what is right and wrong can change over time. It’s an excellent representation of that period of time and I will be looking forward to find out what will happen to Alice and Kurt.


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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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