BOOK REVIEW: Block 46 – by Johana Gustawsson @Orendabooks

Title: Block 46
(Emily Roy & Alexis Castells #1)

Author: Johana Gustawsson
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: October 21st 2016
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: July 26th 2019
Pages: 300
(Originally written in French: ‘Block 46’)

“Whatever she did, the words were dislodged by her thoughts; like a swarm of bees hounded from their hive, they scattered erratically, unable to organise themselves.”


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It’s been three weeks since I finished reading Block 46 and I’m still struggling to get a word on paper. Oh yes, such is the power of this story! After multiple recommendations and reading fantastic reviews about both Block 46 and Keeper, I knew I could not go wrong with this series and I’ve been meaning to pick it up for quite some time now. I think the only reason I hesitated was that I knew I was going to be blown away and that it would be impossible to write a decent review afterwards… Guess what? That is EXACTLY what happened! Even three weeks later, I’m still recovering from the shock of this brilliant and harrowing read, but the time has come to stop procrastinating and try getting something constructive on paper. I do have a copy of Keeper waiting for me I want to read before the blog tour for Blood Song starts next month after all…

The first thing that stands out is that Block 46 is basically a combination of two of my favorite genres: historical fiction and crime fiction. Having both genres merged so beautifully and successfully was a huge bonus for me, as well as the fact that I have a weak spot for WWII stories and the chapters set in Buchenwald were both harrowing and fascinating at the same time. I’ve read my share of WWII fiction, and I truly believe Johana Gustawsson describes and developes the events in the Buchenwald concentration camp thoroughly and realistically. Shocking, gut-wrenching and definitely not for the weak-hearted, but then again the Holocaust was no picnic in the first place. The WWII flashbacks are expertly incorporated into the plot and give us background information as well as a possible explanation about what is happening in the present. They give this crime thriller an unique touch and really enhanced the reading experience for me.

Another thing I loved was the setting: I have a weak spot foreign settings and having part of the present story set in Sweden was a huge bonus for me. Descriptions of both London and Sweden setting were again thorough and really made both places come alive for me. I loved the references to Swedish culture and customs and it gave Block 46 another unique touch. Likewise, I found it to be really easy to connect to the main characters of this story. I’ve become an instant fan of Emily Roy and Alexis Castells, their character development well crafted and realistic and making me root for them as they try to get to the bottom of what is going on. I love that instead of having the typical detective leads, we have a profiler (Emily Roy) and a true-crime writer (Alexis Castells) instead. Talk about an interesting combination! The other characters were likewise well developed and I always love it when we get to glimpse inside the head of a serial killer.

The writing is beautiful and combined with the pace and plot I found myself to be fully absorbed in the story from the very first chapter. The structure of the plot is complex, with multiple POVs and flashbacks, adding to the richness of Block 46 and really taking this story to the next level. This story has also quite a few surprises for you in store; certain developments you definitely won’t see coming and will leave you with your mouth hanging wide open. The suspense is well present and Block 46 definitely ends with a bang! This first book of what I already know will be a very successful series for me is a beautifully written and harrowing read, and 200% worth your time. If you enjoy unique crime thrillers and haven’t met Emily Roy and Alexis Castells yet, now is the time to change that… Go get a copy! Trust me, you won’t regret it.


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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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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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ARC REVIEW: My Real Name Is Hanna – by Tara Lynn Masih

Title: My Real Name Is Hanna
Author: Tara Lynn Masih
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
First published: September 11th 2018
Publisher: Mandel Vilar Press
Finished reading: July 23rd 2018
Pages: 208

“Life is not good, however you are living it, if you become like those who don’t value you.”

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

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Give me a WWII historical fiction story and I’m sold. Add a lesser known setting (Ukraine), and I’m just about jumping up and down from sheer excitement. Oh yes, I had high expectations for My Real Name Is Hanna and not just because of the beautiful cover and comparison to Between Shades Of Gray. While I do have to note that the ARC version I read had a lot of editing issues (both related to the font, repeated words over and over again and sentences being cut and never finished), I am confident those issues will be fixed in the final sentence and therefore I won’t hold it against the story itself. And there is no doubt that this story set in WWII Ukraine is absolutely wonderful. Though not based on a specific true story, the events are all too real and will shine a light on how Jewish families tried to hide and survive in Ukraine. Both descriptions of the setting and the different characters make the story really come alive and it feels as if you are living the horrific experiences along with them. I really liked the writing style and the way the story was told; the inclusion of local customs a huge bonus. The character development is thorough as well and it was interesting to see them evolve over time, reacting to the increasingly dire situation. If you are like me a fan of WWII survivor stories, My Real Name Is Hanna is a must-read.

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Hanna Slivka is still young when Hitler’s army crosses the border to Ukraine, and soon the Germans are closing in. Her shtetele used to be run by Russians, and she used to spend her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings as well as helping her neighbor with her decorative pysanky eggs. But all that ends when the Germans take over, and both Hanna, her family and other Jewish families are forced to flee the shtetele in order to try and stay alive.

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I was drawn to My Real Name Is Hanna from the very first time I saw it mentioned. I have a weak spot for WWII stories and this one sounded particularly interesting. And there is no doubt that this YA historical fiction story delivered. Well written, well developed, emotional, harrowing, heartbreaking and with a healthy dose of local customs and excellent descriptions of the setting… Oh yes, there is a lot to love in My Real Name Is Hanna. This book shouldn’t be missing from the wishlist of any WWII historcial fiction fan.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #33 – Slaughterhouse-Five & Crochet Animal Rugs

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two completely different titles. The first a modern classic I finally came around reading: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I can’t say it was for me, but I’m glad I did finally read it. The second is a non fiction crafts and hobbies book I just had to request to learn more about those adorable crochet patterns: Crochet Animal Rugs by Ira Rott. If you are looking for a great gift or inspiration to decorate your kid’s bedroom, you will be in for a treat!


Title: Slaughterhouse-Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Genre: Classics, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
First published: 1969
Publisher: The Dial Press
Finished reading: July 11th 2018
Pages: 285

“It was true. So it goes.”


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I’ve had this modern classic on my TBR for years and years, but somehow I never actually picked it up. I had heard it had a WWII angle, so I thought it would be the right fit for me, but what I didn’t realize was that there was going to be a lot of science fiction and time travel involved. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind those elements when done right, but it can come as a bit of shock if you are not expecting it. I think Slaughterhouse-Five and me simply got off on the wrong foot. So it goes. It’s not the story, it’s most likely me that’s the problem here. So it goes. While I can completely understand why so many people have so much love for this story, and I can also understand why this is a modern classic, somehow this story just didn’t work for me. I highly enjoyed the historical aspect of the story and the parts set during WWII. I could have handled the time travel elements as well, since they do add dept to the story… But add aliens to the mix and sign me out. So it goes. This story was just too much for me to handle; without doubt another sign I should try to stay away from science fiction or at least investigate more thoroughly before actually picking up a title. Oh well, we can’t like them all, can we? So it goes… At least I’m glad I did give Slaughterhouse-Five a chance.


Title: Crochet Animal Rugs
Author: Ira Rott

Genre: Non Fiction, Crafts And Hobbies
First published: August 7th 2018
Publisher: Sewandso
Finished reading: July 15th 2018
Pages: 144

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


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Ever since I discovered crochet last year, I’ve been on the look out for new ideas and patterns to try out. As soon as I saw the adorable rug and pillow on the cover of Crochet Animal Rugs, I just knew I had to know more about these patterns. And I have to say they are absolutely adorable. If you are looking for interesting and cute patterns to brighten up your child’s bedroom or gift something adorable to someone else, you will be in for a treat. There are patterns for beginners as well as advanced crocheters, indicated accordingly. There is even advice for left-handed crocheters like myself, which is highly appreciated. This book uses US terminology, but there are useful conversion charts included if you need to convert to different terminology. In the back, stitches are explained clearly with pictures, helping you understand which is which. Also, the making of eyes and bows are explained separately as well as basic pillow shapes. That and other crochet techniques and other ideas of using the patterns. I love the idea of the wall decorations! My absolute favorite of the patterns is between the elephant rug and pillow, and I love the kitty cat placemat and rug as well. The crab security blanket is adorable and the dinosaur theme perfect for a little boy! There is definitely a lot to love in this crochet book.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #27: The Orphan’s Tale & Murder On The Orient Express

Another day and another round of Yvo’s Shorties! Bringing you more shortie reviews of books I read during my hiatus. The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff has been on my list for a long time, and turned out to be just as good as I thought it would be. And I have been meaning to read more of Agatha Christie‘s work for a long time, so accidently watching the Murder On The Orient Express movie turned out to be the perfect excuse to do so.


Title: The Orphan’s Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff

Genre: Historical Fiction, War
First published: February 21st 2017
Publisher: Mira Books
Finished reading: May 18th 2018
Pages: 353

“Sometimes our forever life does not last as long as we think.”


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After a very difficult but extraordinary visit to the Auschwitz camps, I wanted to read another historical fiction story set during WWII to commemorate. I was browsing my kindle and my eyes fell on The Orphan’s Tale, a title I have been meaning to pick up for a long time, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do so. While not exactly the story set in one of the camps I was looking for, this story shows the struggle and fear of the Jews trying to hide their true identity. The Orphan’s Tale has a wide variety of different characters and this diversity was one of the reasons this story worked. The circus setting with all its descriptions and opportunities for plot twists and new angles definitely was another key element. The writing is solid and makes it really easy to fully emerge yourself and keep reading to find out what will happen to the main characters. There comes the only minor flaw I experienced myself though: I didn’t agree with every decision of the characters and somehow it wasn’t as easy to get a proper feeling of some of them. This feeling of slight uneasiness and frustration made me lower the rating slightly, but overall The Orphan’s Tale is without doubt among the better WWII historical fiction stories I’ve read to this date.


Title: Murder On The Orient Express
(Hercule Poirot #10)
Author: Agatha Christie

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Classics
First published: 1926
Publisher: William Morrow
Finished reading: May 21st 2018
Pages: 256

“I know human nature, my friend, and I tell you that, suddenly confronted with the possibility of being tried for murder, the most innocent person will lose their head and do the most absurd things.”


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I’ve been meaning to pick up another Agatha Christie book ever since I finished And Then There Were None back in 2015, but somehow I never did. So I guess accidently watching the Murder On The Orient Express was a blessing in disguise, because since I normally never watch the movie before reading the book, of course I had to immediately remedy that. I had high hopes for the book, and even though I haven’t read the previous Hercule Poirot books yet, I was able to enjoy book number ten anyway. Because Agatha Christie writes in a way that will draw your attention from the start, and she gives just enough background of the main characters to be able to form an idea of their past without the previous books. I still want to read the other nine titles before this one as well of course, and the copies are on my list. But the fact is that Murder On The Orient Express can easily be read as a stand-alone as well and what a good story at that. From the main character to the development of the other characters, the mystery, the way Hercule Poirot conducts his investigation… There is just something about it that will fascinate you completely and any mystery/thriller fan will find themselves flying through it. I personally liked both movie and book equally, although I still wish I would have read the book first, because I had the actors stuck in my head and the descriptions of the characters in the book don’t really match. Thankfully the script itself follows the original plot closely; one of the reasons the adaptation was so successful to me. Murder On The Orient Express has shown me I really need to get copies of more of Agatha Christie‘s books soon, because I have truly been missing out by not reading them.


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ARC REVIEW: The Air Raid Killer – by Frank Goldammer

Title: The Air Raid Killer
(Max Heller, Dresden Detective #1)
Author: Frank Goldammer
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: September 23rd 2016
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Finished reading: April 12th 2018
Pages: 292
(Originally written in German: ‘Der Angstmann’)

“How does anyone really know what someone’s capable of?”

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

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I stumbled upon this title during my hunt for more international authors/translations and I was immediately intrigued both by the cover and the blurb. I admit I had forgotten about the exact content of the story when I started reading it and went in blind thinking it was going to be a historical fiction read. And while there is no doubt that The Air Raid Killer is a proper historical fiction read set in Dresden, Germany during the final part of WWII, I was pleasantly surprised to find out especially the first part reads more like a historical detective thriller. Two of my favorite genres combined? Definitely a bonus! The Air Raid Killer starts out strong and will be able to draw you in straight away. Historical descriptions are mixed with a most brutal murder scene that will definitely chill you to the bone. The main character of this German detective series Max Heller has the almost impossible task to try and find out what happened when nobody seems to care about one more body in a war with so many casualties. But detective Max Heller is determined to find out even when he meets resistance everywhere. Both the actual murders and the general situation in Dresden are not suited for the weak-hearted; combined they form a very explosive and sometimes shocking plot. The serial killer on the loose is without doubt brutal, and combined with the air raid attacks and the chaos during the end of the war you have a recipe for a very disturbing read. While the first part focuses on the thriller aspect of the plot, the second half of the story is more historical fiction focused. I think I would have preferred to have it just one way or the other and not both, although I do understand why the author made the choice to swap and include more historical details in the second half. The final reveals of the murder case do feel a bit rushed though, and I’m also wondering up to what point the methods of investigation used were actually available in that time period. Still, The Air Raid Killer was without doubt a very good historical thriller set during the end of WWII, and both detective thriller and historical fiction fans will be able to enjoy this one.

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In the final months of WWII, the inhabitants of the city of Dresden not only have to fear the air raid bombs that might destroy the city at any time. There are also rumors about the Fright Man, a twisted killer who uses the nighttime air raid siren to hunt the streets unseen and kill… Only to disappear into thin air afterwards. Detective Max Heller begins to investigate, but is is harder to ever to start a proper investigation. And soon after the Fright Man kills again… Will Max Heller be able to find any clues with his resources non-existent and a new boss who doesn’t want him to investigate further?

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Historical fiction is mixed with a classic detective thriller, as a serial killer and air raid bombs fight for the title of ‘most feared’ by the inhabitants of the city of Dresden. The writing style and initial plot make it really easy to get a proper feel for the story, and the first half of the story is without doubt the strongest part of the book. I would have preferred a continued focus on the detective thriller side of the story, which felt a bit rushed in the second half. But I also understand the switch and need for a focus on what happened in Dresden during those final days and after. While not perfect, The Air Raid Killer is without doubt a great read for anyone who wants to read a WWII story with a slightly different focus and angle.


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