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
Rating 3qqq

“It wasn’t his strength he needed. Nerve. That was what had deserted him. Like water into sand, it had seeped away while he wasn’t looking, and left him drained.”

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

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

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

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


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ARC REVIEW: Point Of No Return – by Martha Gellhorn

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Title: Point Of No Return
Author: Martha Gellhorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARC REVIEW: From Sand And Ash – by Amy Harmon

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Title: From Sand And Ash
Author: Amy Harmon

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEW: Between Shades Of Gray – by Ruta Sepetys

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Title: Between Shades Of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
First published: March 22nd 2011
Finished reading: November 24th 2015
Pages: 344
Rating 4qqq

“I shut the bathroom door and caught sight of my face in the mirror. I had no idea how quickly it was to change, to fade. If I had, I would have stared at my reflection, memorizing it. It was the last time I would look into a real mirror for more than a decade.”

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I have always had a special interest for historical fiction novels set during WWI or WWII. I normally prefer non fiction or adult fiction, although there are exceptions: The Diary Of A Young Girl, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas and now Between Shades Of Gray. I wasn’t fully convinced by Ruta Sepetys‘ prose itself in the beginning mostly because I felt it sounded too childish, and not in a The Boy In The Striped Pajamas good way. Still, once I got over the ‘young feel’ of the prose I actually enjoyed how it was narrated. WWII survival stories are never pleasant and Between Shades Of Gray is definitely heartbreaking. It’s impressive how Lina and the other characters are able to survive against all odds, especially once they are set to work in a work camp in freezing Siberia… This novel is quite a quick read and perfect for those who enjoy historical fiction and don’t mind reading a story ment for young teens.

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Before the war changed their lives, Lina was just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl. She can draw wonderfully and is about to her her dream fulfilled of studying art and learning from the best… But all that is taken away from her when Soviet officers barge into her home and take both her, her mother and her little brother Jonas away. Lina doesn’t know where her father is and is forced into a crowded and dirty train with unknown destination. By chance they cross the train with her father inside, and his promise to find Lina again gives her hope. They travel all the way north to Siberia, making stops in work camps on the way. Their living conditions are inhumane and the Soviet officers treat their prisoners as pigs. But Lina, Jonas and her mother are determined to survive and return home one day. Lina finds solace in her art and draws everything she sees, hoping these drawings will find their way to her father’s prison camp. Will they ever see each other again? And will they be able to survive against all odds?

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Aside from the somewhat childish prose in the beginning, I really enjoyed this novel. For such a heavy topic, Between Shades Of Gray is quite easy to read and the character development is very well done. My favorite characters would probably be Lina and Andrius, but I liked most characters. Ruta Sepetys is able to describe the emotions and suffering perfectly and even though this is a fictional story, it feels real. Recommended!

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.