BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Pursuit Of William Abbey – by Claire North #blogtour @Tr4cyF3nt0n @OrbitBooks

Hello and welcome to my stop of the The Pursuit Of William Abbey blog tour! A huge thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I’ve been meaning to try Claire North‘s books for ages now and there was just no way on earth I was going to be able to resist that blurb. Today I’m interrupting my blogging break to talk about this most intriguing story… Please join me while I share my thoughts!

Title: The Pursuit Of William Abbey
Author: Claire North
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
First published: November 12th 2019
Publisher: Orbit Books
Finished reading: November 13th 2019
Pages: 432

“And whatever you love most is the thing the shadow kills. That is the first lesson of the curse that was laid upon me.”

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

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As soon as I started reading the blurb, The Pursuit Of William Abbey started ticking all the right boxes for me. A historical and international setting: check. A shocking event that changes the life of the main character forever: check. A curse and everything it entails: check. The promise of a lot of movement: check. That feeling of impending doom: check. Oh yes, the blurb alone already fully convinced me I was going to be in for a VERY interesting ride. And now I’ve had the chance to read The Pursuit Of William Abbey, I can state that this story has one of the most compelling and captivating premises I’ve had the chance to encounter this year.

There are quite a few different elements I loved in The Pursuit Of William Abbey. I’m struggling a bit to decide where to start, but I guess we’ll keep it simple and return to the core of this story. And there is just no way to describe the plot without calling the curse the key stone on which the rest of the story is build. I don’t want to give away too much, but as you might have guessed from reading the blurb, the main character William Abbey is cursed in the beginning of this story and his life changes forever after that. In the rest of the story, this curse is omnipresent and will determine every movement and even thought of William Abbey and those close to him. The curse gives The Pursuit Of William Abbey a touch of the mystical and what I personally would call magical realism. Why? This story isn’t full blown fantasy; instead it’s rather a work of literary fiction with a historical setting and a blurred line between the surreal and reality. This mix of genres is most fascinating and while it might not be for everyone, (historical) fiction fans will find it probably very easy to warm up to this story.

Another thing that stands out in The Pursuit Of William Abbey is both the international setting and diversity of different countries, local customs and politics incorporated into the plot. The nature of the curse alone forces William Abbey to travel a lot, and as the story develops he will have more than one reason to travel the globe. The many many references to different countries, local events and culture definitely made my travel heart happy and gives this story a complex, multifaceted and global feel. From Europe to Asia to Africa to the US; William Abbey never stops and as a consequence we never stop either.

The structure of the plot is also very intriguing. Basically, we start at the end, set in 1917, and then slowly learn more about the events in 1884 and the years after as William Abbey narrates his story through flashbacks. This way, his motivation for his actions in 1917 France are not clear for a long time, and this technique definitely helps you stay invested as you try to find all the answers. There are also quite a few characters in play, and this might be a bit of a juggle in the beginning, but my advice would be to just take your time with this story… This won’t be too difficult, as the pace in The Pursuit Of William Abbey is surprisingly slow in general despite the many different settings, events and quite some action. Part of this slower pace can be explained through the detailed descriptions that help this story come alive… If you are a fan of elaborate and thorough descriptions, you will definitely be in for a treat.

The slower pace in The Pursuit Of William Abbey can also be explained through the extensive character development, and the fact that this book can be considered a mainly character driven story. While the different international settings and events of course play a role, I felt the main focus was on William Abbey, the other key characters and their development. A lot of thought was put in both their descriptions and growth over time. It was also fascinating to see the different attitudes towards and reactions to the curse. The characters helped build the bridge that connects the surreal with the more worldly elements… And they are definitely the reason why this mix of different genres works so well.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot itself and the things that happen to William Abbey to avoid spoiling the fun of discovering it all on your own… But I can say this about The Pursuit Of William Abbey in general: if you are a fan of slower character driven (historical) fiction, don’t mind a hint of magical realism and love a multilayered international plot, you should definitely add this fascinating story to your wishlist.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Claire North is the pen name for the Carnegie-nominated Catherine Webb, who also writes under the name Kate Griffin. Her latest book, 84K has been shortlisted for the Brave New Words and Philip K. Dick Awards. Catherine currently works as a live music lighting designer, teaches women’s self-defense, and is a fan of big cities, long walks, Thai food and graffiti-spotting. She lives in London.


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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 #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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