Between Shades of Gray Book Review (Spoiler Free)

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“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Genre: Historical Fiction, World War II,

Published March 22nd 2011 by Philomel Books

Pages: 344

Rating – 5/5

GoodReads

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Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

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WOW. This was absolutely breathtaking, heartbreaking yet the most alluring read I have read for a long time. I absolutely loved it and I definitely would recommend this to anyone who loves historical fiction or just a powerful story. One of my favorite things about Ruta Sepetys is that she writes about historical events which are not commonly studied about and that is what makes her stories so interesting. In terms of World War II, I was definitely aware of Hitler’s regime and his genocide of the Jewish community, but I never knew about Stalin’s crimes against the people of the Baltic region. The title accurately reflects the plot/characters of the novel in which we see that a person’s character is not entirely black and white – there are those who may be on the “wrong” side but are actually kind and there are people who may be on the “right” side and can end up hurting others.

And I’m sure you all may be curious – Did I cry? OH YOU BET I DID!!! OMGGG!

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Lina Vilkas – Outspoken; Courageous; Strong; It was definitely interesting to read through Lina’s perspective. While I will say that she is flawed in the beginning, with less regard for others and a bit defensive, she gradually grows and we see her become someone who uses her voice and provides hope and strength for others.

Jonas Vilkas – Sweet and Cute LOL; Ahhh what can I say about this cutie patootie? I love this kid to bits. He’s just the sweetest little cinnamon roll that you want to protect forever! There were some scenes which described this character so well that you just want to pick him up and give him a hug.

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Elena Vilkas – Warm; Comforting; I will have to say Elena is probably the sweetest and iconic motherly figure I have seen in all YA novels. There is a level of grace, strength and love that she has not only for her family but for the people around her which makes her such a beautiful character. As the mother of Lina and Jonas, she makes it a priority to safeguard and protect her family while simultaneously giving them ample amounts of courage and hope and I loved that about her.

Andrius Arvydas – Smart; Empathetic; While it did take a while for him to grow on  me, I eventually found myself falling hard. I absolutely love the amount of effort he goes through to help others despite his the precarious situation he is in. It shows that he has a lot of courage and a strong desire to help those in need. It was also beautiful to see the relationship between him and Lina grow that it tugged on your heartstrings.

“Don’t give them anything, Lina. Not even your fear”

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Human Spirit. Hope. Love. Courage. 

If I were to tie the themes of the book together, I think those words truly capture the aura of the novel and it is so well done! In a time where the most ugliest parts of humanity were showcased, one may wonder how anyone can survive something like this. And I think Ruta Sepetys showcased this clearly through weaving the theme of love and hope into the storyline. Whether it be love for family and friends or love for your art/music, it served as a focal point which many people used to combat this horrible event in history. I also appreciated how she delineates the strength of the human spirit in this novel.

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Ruta Sepetys writing really helped transport us to 1941 and it is clear that she had done extensive research to showcase the harsh realities of the Baltic Genocide. The World during this time really did strike fear into our hearts and it pains you as a reader to read through the bloodcurdling and terrifying experiences that the people had to go through. Being transported through a cattle car train, being separated from families, forced to work in labor camps and facing the most cruelest abuse from the Soviet guards were only some of the conditions which these people had to face but you end up admiring their resilience through these events. In fact, there were moments which Ruta Sepetys sprinkled throughout the book which warmed your heart – moments with Lina and her family, moments with Lina and Andrius, etc.

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Overall, I absolutely loved this story. I learned so much about a part of history which I never heard before and I am so thankful that Ruta Sepetys shared story like this. Honestly she had now become one of my favorite authors and I can’t wait to pick up her other books!

In addition to the storyline, the characters and the world, the writing was also exquisite. It was not super detailed and thorough like something out of a textbook, but it was just enough and to the point which evokes emotion and compassion for the characters’ immense struggles. Ruta Septeys definitely has an addicting quality to her writing. I never wanted to stop reading. I think it helps that the chapters are short but they end with a cliffhanger or an interesting moment which just compels you to keep going. And I was HOOKED! To add on to that, I also noticed how she never shies away from the harsh brutalities that the characters had to face. She keeps it real and I think that is what makes this story so powerful. And not to mention heartbreaking, I lost a bucket of tears!

Have you guys read Between Shades of Gray? What were your thoughts on it? Let me know!

Until next time, keep reading and I will see you all soon with another bookish post!

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Top Ten Tuesday – Thrilling and Scary Reads

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Hello my fellow book lovers! I hope you all are having a wonderful start to the week! Guess what day it is?? TUESDAY! And it’s time for another Top Ten Tuesday post!

For this week’s prompt, we were given a Halloween freebie! And since I do not read too many scary novels, I decided to make a post including books which had elements that were both frightening as well as thrilling. So without further ado, let’s get on with the list shall we?

AngelFall

With a setting based in an post apocalyptic/ dystopian world besieged by fallen angels, I couldn’t help but have to include this in my list. Although I do not read too many dystopian novels these days, this one really peaked my interest due to the stellar reviews. What I loved most about this book was how thrilling and fast paced it was.  There were moments which freaked me out, especially during the end so if you do enjoy reading stories of this nature, then maybe you should give this one a try!

House of Salt and Sorrow

I was so thrilled when I received an e-ARC for this book on NetGalley that I immediately dove right into it. From the very beginning, I was super intrigued; especially since I found out this was a fairy tale re-telling of the 12 dancing princesses. I loved the ambiance the author created throughout the story – a feeling of being in a town by the cold sea. The imagery and experiences which the main character goes through sometimes has you questioning what’s real and what’s not and I found that aspect to be really interesting and at times, utterly terrifying.

172 Hours on the Moon

I think I have mentioned this book a couple of times in my other top ten Tuesday posts but I just had to include it in this one because it messed with my mind. While the whole premise of this novel seems a little far fetched with sending teenagers with NASA scientists to the moon, the cascade of events which take place during the entire expedition had me scared out of my wits! And it did not help that I had an upcoming work trip scheduled where I was traveling solo! I honestly had to chuck the book aside and I did not finish it until I came back from my trip! I know . . . I’m such a scaredy cat! LOL

Dark Inside

Here we have another dystopian book on the list and I was pleasantly surprised by this one! Though there are some scary elements within this book due to the aftermath of an earthquake which causes some people to lose control of their minds and turn on each other, I found the plot to be thrilling from start to finish. It honestly had me on the edge of my seat and at times you would constantly wonder about who is “nothing” and who is not. There were moments where I would be overwhelmed with anxiety since the author is so good in capturing those moments of high tension within those dangerous and horrific scenes.

*sighs* Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with late night reading when I was sure it would disturb my sleep . . . #badchoices

Stalking Jack the Ripper

Well . . . The title is enough to make it a perfect book to include in this list isn’t it? I mean . . . who would ever think of stalking one of the most heinous criminal of all time? I have to say when I first heard the hype about this novel, I seriously wondered whether I would be able to even read it. To my surprise, I found it’s mystery to be quite interesting. I also loved the depiction of the setting in Victorian London and the author was able to capture the haunting and dangerous atmosphere quite well. Since this book also sheds a light on the topic of forensic science, there were a few scenes which scared the living daylights out of me.

(Ahem . . and I would like to thank Thomas Creswell for making this read a bit more manageable)

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

I think this novel is a perfect example of showcasing an unreliable narrator. While I cannot recall all the plot details since I did read it a while ago, I do remember some moments which seriously made my blood run cold. There were just so many unexpected moments that were thrown at you and as a reader you were actively trying to figure what were the true moments versus those which were not. That was the major part of the book which I thoroughly enjoyed although it freaked me out at some points!

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This book was also one which I have read awhile ago and it caught my attention since it was about fallen angels which at the time was something that I have never read about so I was eager to pick it up. There is an element of mystery within this novel and you are constantly trying to figure out who to trust. While I wouldn’t say that this novel was scary, I do recall certain scenes which had me quaking in my boots!

Prisoner of Night and Fog

Ok. This one was a seriously well written and well researched historical fiction novel! What I loved most was how the author dove into the psychological aspects of the diverse personalities that people have. What really makes a person good versus bad? She was brilliant in articulating how a person’s mind works and she does so with one of the most notorious historical figures – Adolf Hitler.

An Ember in the Ashes

I absolutely love this series! The best part of it all was the gripping and thrilling plot which had me flying through the pages eagerly anticipating what was going to happen next! I seriously could not put it down. The high stakes, the lurking danger at every corner, the secrecy, the ruthless villains and raw brutality had me shaking!

The Cruel Prince

When it comes to thrilling and captivating reads, I think Cruel Prince would top the list! I am usually quite hesitant to pick up books with a lot of hype since I am worried whether I would enjoy it or not but this one certainly lived up to the hype. The intense politics, the growing tension between characters, the deceptions and secrecy made it so interesting to read. (Let’s not forget all those crazy plot twists!) There was just so much going on that I had a plethora of annotations throughout the book! I can’t wait till I re-read this so I can go through all my reactions!

What about you lovelies? Do you have any scary/ thrilling reads to recommend? Let’s chat!

Until next time, keep on reading and I will see you all soon with another bookish post!

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Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke Book Review (Spoiler Free)

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Author: Anna Blankman

Publication: April 21st 2015 by Balzer + Bray

Pages: 406

Rating: 5/5

GoodReads

“We are each our own person, separate from our family, not wholly formed by our experiences. We decide who we want to be.” 

So  . . . I don’t have this sort of reaction for the novels I read but OMG I teared up. THE EMOTIONS GOT TO ME! I was so invested! Anne Blankman has a way of effortlessly blending facts with fiction into something that’s so captivating and heart wrenching that you can’t help but be completely addicted to this work of art! 🙂 This duology is probably my most favorite historical fictions ever!

(Please note the summary below has minor spoilers for the first book, Prisoner of Night and Fog)

Summary (GoodReads):

The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives with a kindly English family, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel Cohen, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.

But then, Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside-down. And when she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped-and return to her homeland.

Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture and recognition, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time-or will Hitler discover them first? 

Characters:

Gretchen Muller – It’s amazing to see Gretchen’s growth from the first novel to the second. The amount of courage she has despite the heightened stakes in Germany is truly amazing to see. The girl we meet in the first book would have never made the hard choices she does in this novel and it is great to see that much growth within a character.

” . . she chose to see with her own eyes, however painful and ugly the view.” 

Daniel – Daniel is such a great character! Because of his reporter background we can see how determined and passionate he is about finding the truth and bringing those at fault to justice and I loved seeing that part of him. I really wish we had Daniel’s perspective in this story just so we can learn more about him and his thought process. I definitely think it would have added an extra boost to the story telling within this story. I still enjoyed Gretchen’s perspective but I really liked Daniel’s character and would have liked to see a bit more from his perspective.

“I don’t believe that we can blame our actions on our upbringings. If we could, then nobody would be responsible for anything they do.” 

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My Review: 

Setting – Although it took a couple of pages for the story to pick up pace, I ended up glued to the pages after about 50 pages. Blankman really captivates the reader with the high stakes and overall danger of Gretchen’s decision to venture into Germany during the Nazi reign. As soon as you enter the country, you are just filled with this sense of thrill, panic and worry for the characters. It was a rush of emotions!

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Plot – While the author does use the Forbidden Love trope, the romance was handled so well. While it does form a major arc of the storyline, the author is careful to weave it into the novel in correct doses while simultaneously focusing on the journey of the characters. It is so realistic and heartwarming that you can’t help but wish they would find their happiness. As with the first book, I also loved the incorporation of psychology. It added an extra level of insight and knowledge to the book and in a way, helps us understand why people are the way they are.

Character Growth – The amount of effort and perseverance that Gretchen has towards locating Daniel is remarkable to see. The lengths of travel she takes to find him is truly sweet but also courageous.

Themes – There are quite a few themes and morals which the author incorporated into the novel such as exploring the concept of relationships whether it is within family, a lover or friends and how we need to have them in balance in order to truly live happily as a human being. Also, while psychology may allow us to understand another person’s mind or how they behave, everyone ultimately has a choice and they are responsible for their actions.

Overall, I honestly believe that this was a solid duology that aligned well with the course of history. As an author, it takes an extensive amount of research in order to produce a work of fiction during this time period. While this is a sensitive topic, I felt as though the author addressed the major concerns professionally.

Have any of you guys read this duology? What were your thoughts on it?

Until next time, keep reading and I will see you all soon with another bookish post!

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Stalking Jack the Ripper Book Review (Spoiler Free)

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“Fear is a hungry beast. The more you feed it, the more it grows.” 

Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Publication: September 20th 2016 by Jimmy Patterson

Pages: 337

Genre: Fiction; YA; Mystery

Rating: 4/5

Summary:

Audrey Rose Wadsworth is not like many women her age – organizing tea parties, attending silk dress fittings, or jumping in on the latest gossip. Instead, she lives a secret life unbeknownst to her father as an apprentice to her Uncle, a professor of forensic medicine. Amidst her dissection studies, she stumbles upon an investigation of a notorious serial killer who rampaged the streets of London. Despite the brutality of the murders, Audrey’s curiosity and tenacity pushes her to search for answers and reclaim justice for the victims. But as she gets closer to unraveling the clues, it leads her to the most blood chilling conclusion.

Characters: 

Audrey Rose WadsworthSmart, Witty, Kind, Fearless – Its official. Audrey has fallen into my top favorite female leads of all times 🙂  She has such a great combination of strength, tenacity and intelligence which makes you want to root for her throughout the novel. Despite these esteemed qualities, she does have her weaknesses too and that showcase her to be more relatable as a character. Nevertheless, I loved her curiosity and her passion for forensic science and it was so refreshing to see her fight for women given the time period that the novel is set in.

“By my blood, I will make this right or die trying.” 

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Thomas CreswellCharming, Witty, Arrogant – Oh Lord. This guy haha A close representation of Thomas’ character would probably be Captain Thorne from the Lunar Chronicles whom I adored from the start and Thomas was no different. I swear, the amount of eye rolls and laughter I experienced whenever he would comment with a sly and witty demeanor is exponential 🙂 And when paired with a feisty heroine with sass of her own, you get the most entertaining banter ever! I loved it!

“I don’t blame you, I am rather attractive. The tall, dark hero of your dreams, swooping in to save you with my vast intellect. You should accept my hand at once.” 

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Final Thoughts: 

After finishing Truly Devious, I was in the mood for some more mystery novels and this one immediately caught my attention. Everything about the premise was so interesting and I am happy to say that the author delivered an awesome story! One aspect of the novel which I really enjoyed was the setting. The late 1800s London was very well delineated and I honestly felt as if I was walking through the streets with these characters. It was also refreshing to read about a heroine who is from a mixed background – half Indian and half British. It’s not so often I come across characters who I can relate to! And I loved the bits of Indian heritage that the author had woven into the story but I would have definitely liked to have seen more of it.

In addition, the author does a fabulous job setting the tone for the novel, creating an eerie yet mysterious atmosphere which entangles you into the story. I will say that there were certain parts of the novel which completely creeped me out! But if you are a fan of forensics and criminal investigations, then I would definitely recommend this book to you!

Have any of you read Stalking Jack the Ripper? What were your thoughts on it?

Until next time, keep reading and I will see you all with another bookish post!

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Wolf by Wolf Book Review (Spoiler Free)

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“Her self-reflection was no reflection at all. It was a shattered mirror. Something she had to piece together, over and over again. Memory by memory. Loss by loss. Wolf by wolf.” 

Author: Ryan Graudin

Publication: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 20th 2015

Pages: 388

Rating: 5/5

Plot:

Set in an alternative history during the year 1956 where the Axis Powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan hold significant control over the world, Wolf by Wolf details the journey of a young girl named Yael who vows to restore unity to the world through destroying the one man responsible for her people’s suffering: Adolf Hitler. After her heartbreaking and terrifying experiences within a death camp, Yael tattooed five wolves on her arm to serve as a reminder of the ones she lost, each representing a significant part of her character. Through cruel and painful experimentation, Yael develops the ability to skinshift – allowing her to exhibit the facial features of a character she chooses to imitate. As a result, she proves to be a brilliant candidate for the Resistance to take part in the imperative mission to bring down Hitler. By winning the annual Motorcycle Tournament under the character of the previous year’s champion Adele Wolfe, Yael would be given the opportunity to dance with Hitler himself at the Victor’s Ball. But the mission seems to grow complicated as Luka, Adele’s former love interest, and Felix, Adele’s twin brother, enter the picture. Even with the growing relationships with the other candidates, Yael must prove herself to be as ruthless and daring enough to bring down Hitler and his regime.

 

Characters:

Yael – Strong; Smart; One of my favorite aspects of Yael was that she was very goal oriented from the start and her passion and determination for her mission is truly remarkable.

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Adele Wolfe – Passionate; Strong; Although we see Adele Wolfe for a limited time within the novel, we can already see that she is strong and capable of standing on her own.

Felix Wolfe – Protective; Supportive; Smart; Felix was enticing from the start. He loves his family and will do anything he can to keep them together.

Luka – Extroverted; Bold; Strong; Adele’s former love interest who has a strong passion for winning the game despite knowing that Adele (Yael) is participating.

 

Final Thoughts:

If you have not read this book, please pick this up!

It is a thrill ride and it had me hooked from the start. One of my favorite aspects of the entire novel is the writing and storytelling – it is absolutely amazing and so well done. The setting does shift from the past to the present many times within the novel but I never felt as if it slowed the pace or left the plot lagging. It was done at the appropriate moments to add depth to the character and progress the story. By revealing her past experiences, we learn why Yael is the way she is and what are her weaknesses/regrets/strengths. It was through these areas of the book where I found her to be relatable since she is a strong character; yet she also had her own monsters/vulnerabilities’ within her which made her seem more human.

I have also developed a strong appreciation for the historical fiction genre. As with writing any novel, research is crucial to develop a thorough world/setting. However, with historical fiction it is imperative to maintain accuracy to previous events in order to provide credibility to the reader. While Wolf by Wolf is an alternate history novel, I truly appreciate the author’s efforts for creating a work of literature while maintaining a believable world and an accuracy to history. Previously I have read Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anna Blankman which had a sense of mystery and intrigue entangled with the historical fiction genre which made it a compelling and brilliantly crafted read. This was the first novel that really helped me to venture into a new genre and through reading Wolf by Wolf, I will definitely be picking up more in the future!

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Have any of you read Wolf by Wolf? What are your thoughts on it? And if you have any historical fiction recommendations please let me know 🙂

Until next time, keep reading and I’ll see you all soon with another bookish post!

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Prisoner of Night and Fog Book Review (Spoiler Free)

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“If you think love means secrecy, then you don’t understand what love is at all.” 

Author: Anne Blankman

Publication: April 22nd 2014 by Balzer + Bray

Genre: Thriller/Historical Fiction

Pages: 401

GoodReads

Rating: 5/5

I often don’t pick up historical fiction novels since I am more interested in high fantasy and science fiction genres. However, I wanted to try something new so I picked up Prisoner of Night and Fog since I heard so many great reviews about it and I wanted to read it for myself. And I have to say, this is book is phenomenal!

Summary: 

Gretchen Müller is a German girl living in Munich during the 1930s under the the National Socialist Party and her “uncle” Dolf, or otherwise known as Adolf Hitler. Ever since her father had died protecting him, she and her family have always been revered and guarded within the party. However, everything changes once she meets a Jewish reporter, Daniel Cohen, who claims to have evidence supporting that her father’s death was in fact murder. Despite whatever she had been taught about the Jews, she can’t help but be intrigued by him and his story and finds herself growing closer to him. Together, they work to reveal the secrets within Hitler’s inner circle and by doing so discover her father’s killer.

Characters

Gretchen Müller – Naive, Kind, Goal-Oriented; Gretchen growth within this novel is commendable. I love the fact that she is goal oriented and values her education and her ambition of becoming a doctor. You also see her slowly becoming braver and stronger as the novel progresses and you can’t help but cheer for her.

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Daniel Cohen – Brave, Adventurous, Smart; Daniel does at first clash with Gretchen since they both technically are on opposing sides. However, he does see that she is different from the other Party members and grows more and more surprised by her actions. Their relationship slowly progresses from adversaries to friendship and eventually a sweet yet forbidden romance.

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Final Thoughts:

When I first started reading this novel, I found the beginning to be quite mysterious yet intriguing and at some times a bit slow; however, the author does this for a reason. You see her slowly placing pieces together bit by bit which lead up to some terrifying events enough to make your skin crawl.

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Although a general summary of this novel may lead one to believe this is a romance novel, please do not that fool you. It is actually a fantastic thriller and mystery book with a sprinkle of romance which takes a back seat to the action and I loved that aspect of the book. The main mystery surrounding Gretchen’s father was what kept me so intrigued and the character development is absolutely stunning.

By the end of the book, Gretchen is not the same person we meet in the beginning. And the transformation happens in a gradual pace which makes this more realistic. Because of this, she has become one of my favorite female leads of all time. Our male lead, Daniel, also deserves some praise since he was an absolute pleasure to read about. He is portrayed as smart, courageous, and adventurous and you can’t help but fall in love with his personality.

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Overall, if you are looking for some historical fiction novels I highly recommend you pick this one up! And if you happen to read it, definitely look into the author’s note in the end. You can tell that she placed a tremendous amount of time and effort researching Hitler’s inner circle and learning every small detail which is probably why this book feels so real.

I hope you all will give this book a chance! It will make you tear up, it will make you smile, it will make your heart race and it will most certainly make you absolutely terrified!

Until next time, keep reading and I will be back with another bookish post!

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