YVO’S SHORTIES #103 – In An Absent Dream & Navigating Early

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two completely different reading experiences. One turned out to be a delightful read: In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire is another excellent addition to the Wayward Children series and I’m already looking forward to the next one. Unfortunately Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool turned out to be a struggle for me. Warning: unpopular opinion review ahead!


Title: In An Absent Dream
(Wayward Children #4)
Author: Seanan McGuire

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Fiction
First published: January 8th 2019
Publisher: Tor
Finished reading: May 25th 2019 
Pages: 203

“She was ordinary, She was remarkable. Of such commonplace contradictions are weapons made.”


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I loved the first three Wayward Children books, and I’ve been looking forward to another story ever since I finished Beneath The Sugar Sky a few months back. I was in dire need of a magical story, and I thought In An Absent Dream would be a good fit. I turned out being right, because book four is without doubt another excellent addition to the series. The writing style sweeps you away, makes you forget about daily chores and feel yourself part of the story. I LOVED both Lundy as a character and the fantasy world that fits her personality. Goblin Market is different from the other worlds in a way that Lundy is able to travel back and forth between the real world and Goblin Market almost unlimitedly, with only her age being a deciding factor. Goblin Market is a wondrous world of fair value, debts and birds; the description of both world and the characters that inhibit it are excellent and truly make it come alive. The message behind this story, that of fair value and treating each other fairly in general, is an important one and plays a key role in this story. And the time Lundy spends in the ‘real’ world only reinforces that message. In An Absent Dream is one of my favorites of the series and I’m already looking forward to the next installment which is scheduled to be published early 2020.


Title: Navigating Early
Author: Clare Vanderpool

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Adventure
First published: January 8th 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Finished reading: May 29th 2019
Pages: 320

“Navigating Early was as challenging as navigating mysterious and uncharted waters.”


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I’ve been meaning to read Navigating Early for a while now. The mix between historical fiction and adventure sounded absolutely fascinating and right up my alley, and with so many high ratings I was confident I was going to enjoy the story as well. Somehow, I turned out to be wrong in the end. Warning: unpopular opinion rambles ahead! So… Why wasn’t Navigating Early for me? I can’t pinpoint the exact reason, but there is one thing for sure and that is that I couldn’t connect with this story at all. I know I’m in the minority here since most people seem to love it, but despite the historical setting, WWII references, maths references and the promise of an adventure, basically I couldn’t care less what was happening to the main characters. Both Jack and Early were unable to win me over at all, which is strange especially in the case of Early as I normally love my quirky and complicated characters. I’ve tried really hard connecting to both these characters and this story in general, but I feel I should have just given in and DNFed it instead. In fact, I confess I ended up skimreading the last 40% or so of the story as I just wasn’t interested in what was happening to Jack and Early. It might have been the characters, it might have been the writing style, but there was just something about Navigating Early that simply wasn’t for me. The whole Pi chapters might have done something with that feeling as well, as they felt more magical realism than anything else and I tend to have mixed reactions to that. Instead of adding a little something original to the story, the only slowed down the main story for me and made it drag… Although I do appreciate what the author was trying to do. I don’t think Navigating Early is a bad story and the many high ratings agree with that, but it’s definitely true that this story simply wasn’t my cup of tea.


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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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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Courier – by Kjell Ola Dahl @Orendabooks #NordicNoir

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the The Courier blog tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I always love discovering international authors and I just couldn’t resist this chance to read more Nordic Noir. So please join me while I share my thoughts on The Courier!

Title: The Courier
Author: Kjell Ola Dahl
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: 2015
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: March 9th 2019
Pages: 276
(Originally written in Norwegian: ‘Kureren’)

“You can hide, you can move to an island, build a hut and wander on a beach for years, lonely. But when the past comes calling you are the same person.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Anne Cater and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Those who know me are probably already aware of the fact I have a special interest in WWII historical fiction and I always enjoy a good mystery. Add an international setting you don’t see every day and the fact that it’s Nordic Noir in the first place and you’ll find me jumping up and down out of sheer excitement. Oh yes, I couldn’t wait to dive into my copy of The Courier and it turned out to be just as good as the reviews I saw popping up kept promising me. Want to know why?

The first thing that stands out in The Courier is that this story is actually set in three different time periods which are connected by the main characters. The story mainly switches between 1942 and 1967, both having its own storyline and different angle to contribute to the plot. This mostly dual timeline was one of the strongest elements of this story for me and highly enhanced my reading experience. The fact that we are left in the dark about what happened in 1942 and what consequences it has on the characters in 1967 adds a healthy dose of suspense to the plot and the author is able to build this feeling of suspense and intrigue in both storylines. Both are equally strong for different reasons, a balance that is easy to achieve while using a dual timeline.

The writing and plot development also really stood out for me. This story managed to grab my attention right from the very first chapter and the engaging writing style made it easy to fully emerge myself in the story and travel back in time. The descriptions of time, place and characters are detailed and well developed, making it easy to imagine yourself as a spectator observing the story from a front row seat. The main characters felt real as they are realistically displayed with flaws and all; you will soon find yourself rooting for them and this makes connecting to the story all the easier.

Another thing I could really appreciate was the historical content and the many references to daily life in Norway and Sweden in 1942 and 1967. Especially since WWII historical fiction tends to focus on countries like Germany, Poland or France, I was excited to be offered a glimpse of the history of lesser known countries that were affected by that particular part of history. It was interesting to see the characters evolve over time as they react to the things that happen to and around them. The plot also has quite a few surprises in store and I can promise you that you will not see them coming. The Courier is a little Nordic Noir gem and a very satisfying read for fans of historical fiction and thrillers alike. Highly recommended!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Olso.

 


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ARC REVIEW: Colombiano – by Rusty Young

Title: Colombiano
Author: Rusty Young
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime
First published: August 1st 2017
Publisher: Havelock & Baker
Finished reading: February 16th 2019
Pages: 813

“Like an autumn tree stripping itself to grow strong again, I had to let the leaves of kindness and compassion fall. “

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

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I have a special interest in the war on drugs and Latin America related stories, so when I saw Colombiano I immediately knew I had to read it. Colombia has a special place in my heart as it gave me three wonderful months of memories during my time living in Cartagena as well as it being the place where I first met my hubby. Colombia has a complicated history though and Rusty Young does a fantastic job portraying the struggles and give insight in what it was like for innocent inhabitants and autodefensas members alike. Colombiano is a mix of facts and fiction as the author spent years working secretly for  the US government in Colombia and was able to hear a lot of testimonies of child soldiers during that time. If you want to learn more about the struggles between the guerrilla, army and autodefensas and its consequences for both country and inhabitants, this book is an excellent way to do so in an entertaining way. I know it’s a huge book with over 800 pages, but it’s worth every single minute of your time. Like I said before, facts and fiction are mixed in Pedro’s quest for justice for the death of his father. Both sides have been incorporated into the story in such a way that feels natural and Colombiano is informative without it slowing down the pace of the story. The driving force behind Colombiano are Pedro, Palillo and the other main characters. Together they help understand what it is like living in a small village in the middle of the fight between the guerrilla and the army, and also show why someone would join the autodefensas and how that organization works. This story is about violence, drugs, power struggles and revenge, but also a coming of age story about young people growing up in such a difficult situation. Colombiano is hands down one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and definitely worth your time if the topic interests you. Between the writing style, characters, descriptions and plot you will have no idea this story is that long as you will find yourself turning those pages with gusto.

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Fifteen year old Pedro Gutierrez is living a comfortable life in a small Colombian town with his parents and girlfriend Camila. Then his life changes forever as guerrilla soldiers execute his father in front of Pedro after false accusations. And not only that, but both he and his mother as banished from their farm and left without a future. Pedro is determined to revenge his father and hunt down the five men responsible. He only sees one way to complish that: join an illegal paramilitary group called the autodefensas with his best friend Palillo. They are sent to a remote location to be trained to fight, kill and obey until any sign of weakness is smothered. But how far is Pedro willing to go to reach his goal?

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Even though Colombiano is a big beast of a read with 800+ pages, the story by no means slows down or drags at any point. This is due to a combination of an engaging writing style, fascinating details and descriptions, characters that will win over your heart and a well developed and intricate plot. The story itself is partly a coming of age story, partly a crime thriller with a drugs and violence focus and partly a story of family and what we are willing do sacrifice to keep those dear to us safe. Facts and fiction are mixed in a way that will give you both a goldmine of intriguing information about the conflicts between guerrilla, army and autodefensa as well as offering you a fascinating story and main character to follow. Anyone interested in the topic will love this story.


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ARC REVIEW: A Woman Of War – by Mandy Robotham

Title: A Woman Of War
Author: Mandy Robotham
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: December 7th 2018
Publisher: Avon
Finished reading: November 30th 2018 
Pages: 352

“When you saw so much horror, destruction and inhumanity in one place, it was the simplest things that broke your resolve and reminded you of kindness in the world.”

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

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I always have a weak spot for WWII historical fiction… As soon as I recognized the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp entrance I was able to see with my own eyes a few months back on the cover, I just new I had to read A Woman Of War. Although I admit I was a bit disappointed to not see that particular camp featured, there is no doubt that the author has a very interesting premise here. The plot of A Woman Of War is a proper fictional one and more a what if? story than one based on true events. It also shows some pro-Nazi characters in a very positive light; something you don’t see often in historical fiction, but also something I’m not sure how I feel about. The writing style flows and makes it quite easy to read this story rapidly despite the sometimes heavy topics and more graphic scenes. It shows that the author is a midwife herself, as there are detailed descriptions about women in labor and birth itself. The main character Anke is a midwife and her role is key in A Woman Of War. It brings forth a very interesting ethical and moral question: either Anke helping one of Hitler’s inner circle’s women during her pregnancy and betraying her own beliefs, or her refusing and being responsible for the death of her family. Seeing pro-Nazi characters in a positive light makes me feel uncomfortable and I could have done without the romance, but overall it was quite an interesting read. Anke’s flashbacks of her life before working as a midwife and during her time as a prisoner in Ravensbrück were a good balance to the more ‘fictional’ present narrative. Fans of the genre will no doubtly find A Woman Of War an interesting read.

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Anke Hoff used to work as a midwife in Berlin, but she was caught helping a Jewish woman deliver her baby and sent to camp Ravensbrück as a political prisoner and enemy of the Reich. Then one day she is called with the request to serve as the midwife of one of Hitler’s inner circle, with a clear threat that if she refuses or doesn’t do her job, her family will die. Soon after her arrival at the Berghof she learns nothing is as it seems, and she finds herself torn between her duty as a midwife and her hatred for the regime.

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There is no doubt that A Woman Of War offers quite an original take on a what if? situation that could have changed everything. I’m not sure what to make of the way the pro-Nazi characters are portrayed, but it is definitely quite unique no matter how you feel about it. The writing was solid and I especially enjoyed Anke’s flashbacks even though the parts set in Ravensbrück were quite brutal. All in all an interesting although a bit unorthodox WWII historical fiction read.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #50 – The King’s Guard & Radiance Of Tomorrow

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! Today two completely different reads, but both worthwhile. The King’s Guard is the third and final Fire And Thorns novella and without doubt my favorite of the bunch. And I have been wanting to read Radiance Of Tomorrow forever, especially since Ishmael Beah‘s memoir made such an impact. This fictional story also set in his country Sierra Leone is another powerful and heartbreaking read.


Title: The King’s Guard
(Fire And Thorns #0.7)
Author: Rae Carson

Genre: YA, Fantasy
First published: July 30th 2013
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Finished reading: September 19th 2018
Pages: 111

“The less you say, the more your words will matter.”


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I have been reading the Fire And Thorns novellas before tackling the sequel, and I have to say this third and final one is probably my favorite of the bunch. The King’s Guard is partly set in the royal palace and is partly an adventure and rescue mission. Hector makes a great main character of this novella and his character is very easy to like. The writing is solid as always and I managed to read it in no time at all… The plot and setting are well fleshed out for a novella and I had a great time reading this one. These novellas are a great addition to the original series and especially the last two novellas are without doubt worth the read if you enjoy the series.


Title: Radiance Of Tomorrow
Author: Ishmael Beah

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction
First published: January 7th 2014
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books
Finished reading: September 20th 2018
Pages: 256

“We must live in the radiance of tomorrow, as our ancestors have suggested in their tales. For what is yet to come tomorrow has possibilities, and we must think of it, the simplest glimpse of that possibility of goodness. That will be our strength. That has always been our strength.”


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A Long Way Gone is one of the most devastating and heartbreaking memoirs I’ve read to this date, and well written at that. I’ve been meaning to read Radiance Of Tomorrow for years now, and I’m glad I’ve finally had the opportunity to do so. While Radiance Of Tomorrow is a fictional story this time around, it has the same setting in Sierra Leone and the same emotional rollercoaster ride. Make sure to brace yourself before you start this one, because it won’t be a happy journey. Radiance Of Tomorrow tells the story of what happens in the ruined village Imperi after the war in Sierra Leone ended. The beginning sets the tone of what will become a heartbreaking, devastating and very emotional read, with little lights shining upon the hope the characters have things will become better in the future. Descriptions of both characters and setting are excellently done and I loved the ‘fusion’ of different languages as the author translated expressions from other languages literally to describe things. This book shows us what it was like for the locals after the war, the struggles still there as they try to survive with all odds against them. You will take the characters under your wing and suffer with them as setbacks occur… Radiance Of Tomorrow has a wonderful bigger message and is without doubt a very powerful and emotional read. I’m glad I decided to finally pick up!


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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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