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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YVO’S SHORTIES #23: Salt To The Sea & Ready Player One

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two titles I’ve been meaning to read for ages and that both turned out to be excellent reads. Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline… Popular hyped books that actually lived up to the hype and without doubt worth reading!


Title: Salt To The Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
First published: February 2nd 2016
Publisher: Philomel Books
Finished reading: March 27th 2018
Pages: 393

“War had bled color from everything, leaving nothing but a storm of gray.”


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I’ve been wanting to read this novel for a long time now, probably ever since I first heard about it. I’ve become a fan of Ruta Sepetys‘ writing after reading Between Shades Of Gray and Out Of The Easy; both because of the fantastic writing and well researched and detailed historical settings and descriptions. Salt To The Sea without doubt fits all these points above. I have a weak spot for WWII historical fiction in general and I hadn’t heard about the Wilhelm Gustloff incident before, so that was a double bonus for me. It truly shows in the little details just how well researched this novel is and the descriptions made it feel as if you were there yourself along with the characters. The plot is an interesting one and shows just how difficult it was to find your way to safety close to the end of the war. I admit it took me a while to get used to the multiple POVs and remembering who is who, which slowed down the pace inicially, but each different character and POV does show a different view on the situation and add something to the story. I was a bit annoyed by Alfred, who I didn’t like at all and I wasn’t sure about the particular style of his chapters. But the rest of the characters were interesting and I liked how the different styles used in each POV showed their different personalities. There is even some sort of interaction between the POVs and sometimes different characters tell their personal experience of the same event… Adding power to what was happening to them. Salt To The Sea is without doubt a very strong historical fiction read that shines the light on an event that is not all that well known. It’s not my favorite Ruta Sepetys novel, but without doubt worth reading.


Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline

Genre: YA, Science Fiction, Dystopia
First published: August 16th 2011
Publisher: Broadway Books
Finished reading: March 31st 2018
Pages: 386

“I felt like a kid standing in the world’s greatest video arcade without any quarters, unable to do anything but walk around and watch the other kids play.”


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I have been meaning to read this one for years (and that is without exaggerating). Somehow, the enormous hype around Ready Player One made me a bit afraid to actually pick it up, especially considering my complicated relationship with hyped books in the first place. I finally read Armada first last year, and I can’t say I was that impressed by it… But since people kept telling me that Ready Player One was so much better, I was determined to give it a go one day. And I’m glad I finally did do so, because I loved it so much better than I thought I would! Science fiction can go both ways for me, but as a (former) gamer myself I just loved the general worldbuilding and many many game references… The 80s references didn’t hit home, but that is mostly because I was too young to actually remember that time in the first place. And from what I could see, everything was well researched. Ready Player One is set in the future, and a dystopian future at that. A very interesting backdrop for this story and very well developed! The worldbuilding wasn’t the only thing that worked well for me. I also really enjoyed the writing style itself and of course the plot, which both made me want to keep on reading to find out what would happen next. The characters are well developed and easy to like, and I could also appreciate the fact we get to see both the online side and the ‘real’ side of the main characters involved. All in all a superentertaining and well written sci-fi and gaming adventure I can recommend to fans of the genre.


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BOOK REVIEW: Lilac Girls – by Martha Hall Kelly #buddyread

Title: Lilac Girls
Author: Martha Hall Kelly
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: April 5th 2016
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Finished reading: February 11th 2018
Pages: 487

“There was no storm gathering in the east that day, no portent of things to come. The only ominous sign from the direction of Europe was the scent of slack water wafting off the East River.”

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I know I have been saying for months I was going to pick up Lilac Girls, but even my TBR jar couldn’t help me doing so. That’s why I was stoked when Nicki @ Secret Library asked if I wanted to buddy read it: the perfect excuse to finally stop procrastinating and get the job done! I can definitely see why so many people seem to love this novel, and I’m glad I finally did pick it up. It did leave me with a huge book hangover though! Because there is one thing for sure, Lilac Girls doesn’t try to soften the emotional blows and sweeten the horrific facts of the holocaust. O no, you will get a full share of dreadfulness and shocking details of the happenings in the concentration camp Ravensbruck. Trigger warnings are in place for those with a weak stomach! Because especially the WWII camp scenes are both intense and gruesome.

Lilac Girls is divided into three different storylines and POVs, each contributing to the story in a different way. I had my doubts about how the different storylines would work together at first, but now I’ve finished it I can see the role of each one more clearly. I do have to say it took a long time for Caroline’s POV to fit into the story. Both the lack of this connection, the fact it took a long time warming up to her character and the romance made me enjoy her POV considerably less, although I do admit they were a perfect pitstop in between the intense Ravensbruck chapters. And Caroline’s chapters set after the war improved considerably. That’s why her POV ended up coming second place for me. My favorite POV by far was Kasia’s, not only because her storyline itself is fascinating, but her development and story as well. Emotional, heartbreaking, intense… Some chapters are not easy to read, but her POV is by far the strongest of the bunch. I really didn’t like Herta though, although I guess that is kind of natural with her being a camp doctor and doing the things she does? Still, I felt she was less developed than the other two and didn’t add as much to the story either. I guess she did serve as a perfect ‘tool’ to demonstrate the horrors of the holocaust and the ‘other’ side.

What that stood out for me is the fact that this story is actually based on true events and both Caroline and Herta did exist. (Kasia and her sister are close matches). This fact makes the story that much more fascinating and the impact of the horrific details that much stronger. The writing is very well done as well as the plot itself. And what I also loved is that Lilac Girls doesn’t just show us the events during WWII, like most novels with a similar theme do, but also show the aftermath and consequences for the persons involved. These final chapters (the latest set in 1957-1958) add a whole new level to the story and made this story that much more unique.

All in all, despite the fact that I initially didn’t like Caroline all that much and wasn’t sure of the romance in her POV, and despite the fact I couldn’t stand Herta as a character, I do think this is a fascinating historical fiction read. If you are a fan of the genre and can stomach the horrific facts of the holocaust, Lilac Girls is definitely for you.

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Caroline Ferriday works at the French consulate in New York, and has her hands full with her post. Then her world is changed forever when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939… And France might be next. Caroline has to work harder than ever to try and help all those people at the consulate. And some of the cases are rather too close to heart.

In Lublin, Kasia is a Polish teenager that decides to help the underground resistance movement after Hitler invaded Poland. Somehow the unthinkable happens and she is sent to Ravensbruck, the Nazi concentration camp for women. Will she be able to survive?

Young German doctor Herta wants to have a chance to show her talent and be seen as an equal to other male doctors, but this isn’t easy in Nazi Germany. When she sees an ad for a government medical position, she thinks it’s the chance to finally prove herself… But she ends up being trapped in a male-dominated Nazi concentration camp instead. She is still determined to reach her goal though…

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Lilac Girls is without doubt a story you will have to be in the mood for, because it is not an easy read. This historical fiction read will leave you emotionally drained and shock as you try to assimilate the many horrific facts and happenings in the Ravensbruck camp… No doubt excellent research and well written, but not for the weak hearted. Thankfully the Caroline chapters are there to bring some relief of the horrors… And the final part set after the war will help you breathe again as well. No doubt a great read, even if it did leave me with a book hangover!


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ARC REVIEW: The Tattooist Of Auschwitz – by Heather Morris

Title: The Tattooist Of Auschwitz
Author: Heather Morris

Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: January 11th 2018
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Finished reading: January 8th 2018
Pages: 288

“Choosing to live is an act of defiance, a form of heroism.”

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

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The Tattooist Of Auschwitz had me at the title. I have a weak spot for WWII historical fiction and the promise of a story from the POV of the tattooist of Auschwitz sounded intriguing. I have been looking forward to pick up this title, and there is no doubt that this is an excellent read. The Tattooist Of Auschwitz is based on true events, as the author has interviewed the real Tetovierer and this book is his account of his time in Auschwitz. A truly fascinating, emotional and heartbreaking account of how he tried to survive in the Polish concentration camp during the war…The writing flows and the author did an excellent job writing down Lale’s story without interfering. It was intriguing to see the daily life at the camp through the Tetovierer’s eyes… WWII historical fiction fans will love this book. Make sure to have some tissues ready just in case, because it’s hard to keep it dry especially in the final part of this novel. And that is coming from someone who normally has a heart of stone and almost never sheds tears when reading.

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Based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually moved to Australia. Shortly after arriving at the camp, Lale somehow ends up with the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival. The crude method is painful, but nobody dares to complain, Lale included. His job as the Tetovierer gives him a little movement and freedom other prisoners doesn’t have… And he decides to put this advantage to good use. He is determined to survive Auschwitz and help as many people as possible, a nearly impossible feat.

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I was sold as soon as I first heard about this book and it is a truly remarkable story. This book is based on real events and the author has interviewed the main character of this story personally. It gives a fascinating insight in the life at Auschwitz and how the main character manages to survive by having given the task of tattooing the numbers on the arms of the prisoners of Auschwitz. You probably won’t keep your eyes dry with this one! I can highly recommend The Tattooist Of Auschwitz to any fan of the genre.


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ARC REVIEW: The Dollmaker Of Krakow – by R.M. Romero

Title: The Dollmaker Of Krakow
Author: R.M. Romero

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: September 12th 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: September 13th 2017
Pages: 336

“You can destroy a person, Karolina, but destroying their story is far more difficult. No one is ever really lost as long as their story still exists.”

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

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I was drawn to this book as soon as I saw the stunning cover, and when I found out it was a story set during WWII I was sold. I know I don’t read a lot of middle grade novels, but I do like to mix things up a bit every once in a while and this sounded like the perfect book to do so. The Dollmaker Of Krakow has been compared to The Boy In The Striped Pajamas (one of my all time favorites) and not only has a stunning cover, but also a wonderful story. This middle grade story is not just another historical fiction read with a WWII setting. With The Dollmaker Of Krakow, R.M. Romero has created a truly unique story that is a perfectly balanced mix of historical facts and fantasy with a touch of magical realism and a fairytale-like feel. There is magic, there are talking dolls brought to life, but there is also the brutal reality of the war and what the Germans were doing to the Jews during that period. Innocence is mixed with a somber reality in a way that is truly moving and very beautifully crafted. It’s hard to properly label this story, but there is no doubt about the originality and uniqueness of The Dollmaker Of Krakow. I would recommend this story for the ages of ten and up due to the sensitive historical elements (holocaust references) included, but I am positive they will be completely charmed by this fairytale-like mix of fantasy and reality. The writing style reads like a dream and I really liked the contrast between Karolina’s world and the real one. The characters are also well developed and used perfectly to demostrate the situation of both Jews and the people close to them during the war. It will definitely help make the younger readers reflect in an innocent way and leave breadcrumbs of information that will stay with them without the story feeling like a history lesson. All in all definitely recommended!

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Karolina used to live in the Land of the Dolls as a seamstress, happy to work for her king and queen, but one day they are overthrown by Rats and the dolls are no longer safe. A strange wind spirits her away from her home and suddenly she finds herself in Krakow… Right in the middle of the shop of the Dollmaker, a man with an unusual power he didn’t know he had. They will soon find out they benefit mutually from their company, and they  even make new friends with a violin-playing father and his daughter. But the Nazi soldiers come to Krakow and Karolina and the Dollmaker soon realize their new Jewish friends are in danger…

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I was sold as soon as I saw the cover and blurb, and there is no doubt that the writing is just as beautiful as the stunning cover. The Dollmaker Of Krakow is a truly unique story that mixes historical events with a fairytale-like fantasy world and sometimes feels a lot like magical realism. This innocent way of approaching the holocaust is a truly fascinating angle and very well executed; the fantasy elements only add to the overal originality of the story.


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ARC REVIEW: The Mayfly – by James Hazel @JamesHazelBooks @BonnierZaffre

Title: The Mayfly
(Charlie Priest #1)
Author: Mystery, Thriller, Crime

Genre: James Hazel
First published: June 15th 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Finished reading: June 3rd 2017
Pages: 432

“I don’t know what history will remember me as. A murderer? A scientist? A revolutionalist? I suppose it depends who writes the textbook you’re reading. But history will remember me.”

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

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The cover is what first caught my attention, but it was the blurb that sealed the deal. I mean, a psychological thriller AND a connection to WWII? That’s basically combining two of my favorite genres and simply irresistible. This story mosty definitely didn’t disappoint. I actually didn’t know that The Mayfly is the first book of a new series, but now now I’ve finished this story I will be looking forward to see more of Charlie Priest in the future. The Mayfly reads almost like a private detective story, but Charlie Priest is actually a lawyer instead (and ex-cop). Charlie has a lot of flaws and a messed up personal life, but his character didn’t feel like a cliche at all. In fact, with a serial killer for a brother and his dissociative disorder Priest scores top marks for being an intriguing character. The plot itself is fascinating and I loved the chapters that went back to events set just after WWII. The references to the Holocaust add a whole different level to this story and really made The Mayfly stand out for me. There were quite a lot of twists and while I expected some things to happen, I didn’t guess the full truth until the very end. I could have done without the love triangle and romance scenes in general though, although it’s just the love triangle itself that didn’t add anything substantial to the plot. Also, some of the things that happen can make you doubt the credibility of it all… For example: how did they manage to go on for years without being catched? But those are only minor complaints about what is still essentially a highly entertaining rollercoaster ride.

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Charlie Priest used to be a DI, but is now a successful lawyer despite his flaws and has quite a few important clients. One day he is hired by the influential entrepeneur Kenneth Ellinder to investigate the murder of his son. Priest doesn’t want to take the case at first, but circumstances leave him no other option than to find out what is happening. People seem determined to keep Priest from discovering the truth though, and he might be in more danger than he thinks he is… And more importantly, he isn’t sure who he can trust in the first place.

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There is no doubt that The Mayfly is a fascinating story that will definitely appeal to psychological thriller fans. The flashbacks and connections to the Second World War added a whole different level to what was already an intriguing plot and definitely made me appreciate this story even more. I had a few minor doubts, but those are just that: minor. The writing style and pace turned The Mayfly into a superfast read and I will be looking forward to see more of Charlie Priest in the future!


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BOOK REVIEW: Anna And The Swallow Man – by Gavriel Savit

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Title: Anna And The Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
First published: January 26th 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Finished reading: August 25th 2016
Pages: 240
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“Because,” said the swallow man. “A friend is not someone to whom you give the things you need when the world is at war. A friend is someone to whom you give the things that you need when the world is at peace.”

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Ok, here’s the thing: I normally love historical fiction and I have a special interest in WWII stories. As soon as I heard about this novel by Gavriel Savit, I just knew I had to add it to my wishlist. Unfortunately Anna And The Swallow Man didn’t seem to convince me and I honestly struggled to finish it. The idea behind this story is interesting and I liked both the linguistic references and how languages were described; they really woke the inner philologist nerd in me. That said, I found that the tone was all off and I didn’t like the prose itself. It just didn’t seem to fit the middle grade target at all… I also wasn’t convinced by the magical realism elements in Anna And The Swallow Man. I guess this ones just one of those cases were magical realism just didn’t do it for me and I don’t think the target group would be able to fully understand its meaning either. In short, while the linguistic and historical references were interesting enough, the prose and surreal elements made me enjoy this story a lot less.

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Anna Lania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father in 1939 during the purge of intellectuals in Poland. Her father is a linguistics professor and has a gift for languages: he can speak many languages fluently and Anna has been a willing student. Now he is taken away, Anna is left alone. She then meets the Swallow Man. He is a complete mystery… A strange and tall man, a skilled deceiver and a language expert not unlike her father. Anna knows he is in danger of being taken as well, but the Swallow Man seems to have some tricks up his sleeve. Because when German soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see. Anna is entranced, and decides to follow the him into the wilderness.  And they encounter all kind of dangers during their travels together…

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I was really looking forward to this read, but unfortunately it mostly turned out to be a disappointment. I guess that one of the dangers of reading a story with magical realism elements is that it can go both ways, and in the case of Anna And The Swallow Man it just didn’t work for me. And while I liked some of the other elements, I’m not sure if I can actually recommend this book…