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…

ARC REVIEW: The Munich Girl – by Phyllis Edgerly Ring

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Title: The Munich Girl
Author: Phyllis Edgerly Ring
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary
First published: November 14th 2015
Finished reading: June 16th 2016
Pages: 356
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“Exiting onto the street, I heard a chorus of bells from three churches, then saw the blood-red banners with their dark Swastikas everywhere I turned. I’m accustomed to this in Berlin, but seeing them on these lovely old façades is like finding graffiti scrawled on my grandmother’s house. The Nazis are relentless with this display, like dogs marking territory.”

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

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When I was approached by Phyllis Edgerly Ring with the question if I wanted to read and review her novel The Munich Girl, it was really easy to say yes. Since I love just about every historical fiction read related to WWII, I knew straight away I was probably going to enjoy this book, and this story turned out to be particularly interesting. The Munich Girl has a fast pace and switches between contemporary scenes and the notes of the main character Anna’s mother Peggy which are set in the Germany of the 1930s and 1940s. It’s an interesting mix of contemporary and historical fiction where Anna slowly finds out more about her mother’s history, both about her time during WWII and connection to Eva Braun. I particularly enjoyed reading the historical section and I love that this book actually talks about the role of woman during the war, something that isn’t being written about often enough. The only thing I wasn’t fully convinced about were the (contemporary) romance scenes; the romantic developments/love triangle were slightly distracting and took away the focus of the main story. Still, the rest of the story is without doubt excellent and more than makes up for it. I can recommend The Munich Girl to both historical fiction fans and those who prefer reading realistic fiction with a dash of romance, especially since the historical elements are not as omnipresent as in other more ‘dense’ historical fiction reads.

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When her mother Peggy called Anna just before she passed away, she never thought her mother would have been about to finally reveal the truth about their history after all those years. Because fifty years after WWII, Anna discovers that the war-throphy portrait of Eva Braun ment more to her mother than she ever realized. In fact, Peggy and Hitler’s mistress actually seemed to be friends back then! Through the notes her mother left her without her knowledge, Anna slowly retraces the path of the two women as their friendship grows over the years… And she has the help of her husband’s magazine assistent Hannes Ritter during her investigation. They discover more and more about Peggy’s past and her relationship with Eva Braun, and Anna is starting to realize people have been underestimating the true power of the woman behind Hitler; how Eva in the end seemed to be the only woman to actually reach the man and use her influence to save lives. But the notes not only reveal secrets about Eva Braun, they will also reveal the truth about Anna’s history and change things forever…

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The Munich Girl has turned out to be yet another satisfying historical fiction WWII story. The plot is without doubt interesting and makes you think about the role of women during the war. I wasn’t sure about the romantic developments in the contemporary chapters, but the historical section and chapters set in Germany did make up for it. With its fast pace and prose that is easy to read, The Munich Girl is both an intriguing, emotional and entertaining read I can definitely recommend.

BOOK REVIEW: The Nightingale – by Kristin Hannah

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Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: February 3rd 2015
Finished reading: April 30th 2016
Pages: 440
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“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

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Historical fiction is probably one of my favorite genres, especially when the story is set during WWII. After hearing so many great things about The Nightingale and several recommendations, I just knew I had to pick it up as soon as possible… And I agree this is without doubt a very well written, beautiful and heartbreaking story that is a must read for any WWII historical fiction fan. Ever since finishing this novel by Kristin Hannah, I have been doubting the final rating, especially since the ending simply blew me away. Why the seemingly ‘low’ 4 star rating? I did have some small issues with the story that I couldn’t ignore. First of all, it actually took me a lot of time to finish The Nightingale and initially I wasn’t completely convinced by some of the characters either. The plot is intriguing from the start, but some of the actions and dialogues of the main characters (especially Vianne and Isabelle) just didn’t feel all that ‘natural’ in the beginning. And even though that feeling went away mostly as the story continued, it was only in the end that I started to feel a proper connection with Vianne. Why? The fact that Vianne seemed to rely so much on her husband and both feels helpless without him and is quite ignorant in general during most of the story is actually quite annoying… But she did make up for it in the end. Isabelle managed to convince me a lot sooner and like I said the story itself is more than excellent. The Nightingale is without doubt a novel I won’t be forgetting any time soon!

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Vianne Mauriac and her sister Isabelle didn’t exactly have an easy childhood. Their father was never the same after he came back home when WWI ended, and their mother passed away not long after. Vianne ended up marrying young and lives with her husband and daughter in a quiet village named Carriveau. Isabelle was a lot younger when all this happened, and she grew up to be a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl that doesn’t like to be told what to do… A dangerous thing with the threat of the Nazis invasion becoming more real every day. Vianne has to say goodbye to her husband Antoine, who has been called to fight at the Front. She doesn’t believe at first that the Nazis will actually invade France, but soon finds out what kind of trouble they soon will be in. Vianne is forced to take an enemy soldier into her house and her every move is watched… And without food, money or hope, things are becoming desperate. The fact that her sister Isabelle is forced by their father to stay with her doesn’t help either… But Isabelle doesn’t want to sit tight and wait until the war is over. No, she wants to do something to help the cause and fight the Nazis from within France. Joining the Resistance can have deadly consequences for those she loves though; something Isabelle doesn’t seem to fully realize… What will happen to both seemingly so different sisters?

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The Nightingale is without doubt an excellent WWII historical fiction novel and I’m still not sure whether to add an extra 1/2 star to the rating or not. The only real ‘problem’ I had with this story is that the first part read quite slow and the characters didn’t completely convince me in the beginning. The last part of this novel is exceptional though and the ending simply blew me away. Also, I loved the fact that Kristin Hannah wrote about the woman’s side of the war. Recommended!