The Taster by V. S. Alexander

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I used to be a huge fan of historical fiction novels. At one point, this was the only genre I would read from. But as time went on, I became more drawn to fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries. Now, it’s a rare thing for me to read a historical fiction story – but it is always an exciting experience. I was thrilled when I saw this book up on Netgalley and could not wait to start reading it…. so here is my review:


Synopsis (Goodreads): In early 1943, Magda Ritter’s parents send her to relatives in Bavaria, hoping to keep her safe from the Allied bombs strafing Berlin. Young German women are expected to do their duty–working for the Reich or marrying to produce strong, healthy children. After an interview with the civil service, Magda is assigned to the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat. Only after weeks of training does she learn her assignment: she will be one of several young women tasting the Fuhrer’s food, offering herself in sacrifice to keep him from being poisoned.

Perched high in the Bavarian Alps, the Berghof seems worlds away from the realities of battle. Though terrified at first, Magda gradually becomes used to her dangerous occupation–though she knows better than to voice her misgivings about the war. But her love for a conspirator within the SS, and her growing awareness of the Reich’s atrocities, draw Magda into a plot that will test her wits and loyalty in a quest for safety, freedom, and ultimately, vengeance.


Review: While I think that this novel shows a very unique perspective of such a historical point in time, it failed to captivate me.

I really liked how the author gave readers an insightful look into Hitler’s lifestyle. We see the opulence of the food and the way many people consider Hitler to be a father figure, someone worth supporting and fighting for. The author doesn’t shy away from talking about the horrors that Hitler has inflicted on people, but the focus is very much on what it is like to be close to Hitler.

I actually have no problems in terms of the content, message, or intent of the story. In terms of these 3 aspects, the author did a great job.

But this wasn’t a story.

It was hard to connect with Magda, our protagonist. At no point did I feel sympathy for her – and I had plenty of opportunities to do so. Where the author lavishly described details of life in Germany, there was an omission in creating depth in his characters. The relationships that developed throughout the story were lackluster and didn’t have the right flow to it. While I could factually understand why there were people who did not agree with Hitler and wanted him to die, I could not feel the emotion behind those sentiments. Of course, it’s obvious that Hitler did bad things and deserved to be punished, but why don’t you make me feel it in my gut as I read about it from the characters who are seeing this cruel side of him?! I wanted more connection and more depth to the story and the characters. At times, it felt like I was being told and not shown things, and that led to this feeling that the story was just surface-deep and had nothing more beneath it.

Do I think this is an important topic to discuss and an interesting perspective to take? Yes. But it was far too factual, with more telling than showing and lacked a great deal of depth in terms of character development. For those reasons, I’m giving it a 2/5 stars.

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Happy reading ~

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The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor

Thank you to Penguin Random House and their First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’m not a big fan of historical fiction and if you go through my blog, you will see that I haven’t read very many books from this genre. I always feel a bit guilty about not widening my horizons so this time I chose a book that is not only part of the historical fiction genre but also the romance genre (which I also don’t delve into very much).

Austria, 1938.
Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. However, when Kristallnacht occurs, Kristoff’s teacher disappears and it is up to Kristoff to deal with the Germans, who want him to engrave stamps for the Fuhrer and his army. With the help of his teacher’s fiery daughter, Elena, the stamps get made …. but for each stamp created for the Fuhrer comes another stamp for the Austrian resistance, along with forged papers to help Jewish Austrians escape. As Kristoff and Elena’s love for each other grows, they must find a way to keep each other safe before they get caught.

Los Angeles, 1989.
Katie Nelson is struggling with her life, as she goes through a divorce and deals with her father’s memory loss. As she cleans up her house, she comes across her father’s beloved stamp collection. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter, Katie finds herself intrigued. As she and Benjamin try to get to the bottom of this mystery, they are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall.

This was a very well-written story and looked at a very different angle of the war than one I’ve previously read about. I’ve heard of Kristallnacht, of course, but this novel took an interesting perspective of it. Even though half of the story takes place during WWII, the emphasis was evenly divided between the relationship of Kristoff and Elena and the resistance effort. I also really liked the other narrative that was happening with Katie and her father’s stamp collection. I learned a lot about stamps and their significance that I was unaware of before this story, and that was a nice surprise. The romance aspect of this novel was really well done; it was believable and simple and touching. I quite enjoyed the read and got a bit emotional at the end, which is always a good sign. This is definitely a strong historical fiction novel with a well written romance angle!

Happy reading ~

Goblin by Ever Dundas

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I read a premise that is just straight-up weird, I can’t resist the urge to read the book. The premise itself becomes the mystery and my curiosity won’t let me rest until I discover what it is all about. That was how I felt when I came across this novel and so, I was very glad to have received this book through NetGalley and the publishers!

Goblin is an outcast girl growing up in London during World War 2. She is rejected by her mother, ignored by her father, and only finds solace in the company of her older brother and her animals. After witnessing a shocking event, Goblin retreats into a self-constructed imaginary world where she can be safe. And so begins her feral life amidst the wreckage of London, with only her family of abandoned animals to keep her company.
It is now 2011, and an elderly Goblin receives an unwanted phone call to return to London amidst the riots. But returning means facing the ghosts of her past, something which she may not have the strength for. Will she finally discover the truth she has been hiding from?

I think calling this novel a blend between fantasy and reality might be a bit of a stretch. And the reason that I say this is because it misled me a great deal. From the premise, I thought that I would be reading about a girl who flits back and forth between different realms and it is up to the reader to discover which is the truth. The novel is better depicted as flitting between past and present, and there is always this feeling that something is being hidden from the reader and from the protagonist herself. Yes, she makes up things and creates her own reality, but I wouldn’t go so far as to portray it as a fantasy because technically, not much of what she says is fake. Most of it is real. Aside from this contradiction, I really did enjoy this story. It is deep and complex, and you get lost in Goblin’s world. She is a unique character, one that I have never really encountered and seeing things from her perspective is just such a bizarre and amazing experience. Her life is absolutely ridiculous in its trajectory but that’s what keeps the story moving, and keeps the interest of the reader. As the story continued to build, and the digging for the truth begins, the author ramps up the tension – and this is done beautifully, by the way. I was holding my breath, turning the pages as fast as I could until I finally reached the end. And the ending was abrupt, I won’t lie, but it worked because this is just one of those books that doesn’t really follow the rules. In short, I think this was a very interesting novel that takes place during World War 2 and features a very unique female protagonist; however, if you are expecting some major fantasy elements, then you may find yourself disappointed.

Happy reading ~

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer L. Ryan

What intrigued me about this book is that it was projected to be an uplifting novel that is set in the time of WWII. You don’t come across that often. Most historical fiction novels set during this time period are distressing, and focused on the horrors inflicted on people by the Nazis. While this novel doesn’t ignore these issues, it also doesn’t dampen the spirits and seeks to show that love and courage can be found in all forms. That was enough to get me interested in reading this novel!

As England enters WWII’s dark period, a spirited music professor named Primrose Trent arrives to the village of Chilbury. There, she decides to set up an all-women’s choir, which goes against the edict of the Vicar. Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury’s Ladies’ Choir”, the women of this small village use their voices and songs to bring hope to themselves and their community, as the war tears through their lives.

This was an enjoyable read that lived up to its reputation of being inspiring and uplifting. It is told from the perspective of many people in the village, through a medium of journals and letters and announcements. I quite liked that the author chose to do it this way rather than having a single narrator; it produced such a well-rounded story with a great deal of depth and charm. The author introduces us to a whole host of characters, each unique and equipped with different skills to deal with the changes that are happening in their lives because of the war. Each character was beautifully created with a perfect balance of skills and imperfections; it was a delight to watch them grow and change throughout the course of the novel and its events. Spoiled children mature and become selfless, righteous women learn to let go of prejudices, and ugly personalities reveal themselves. Each character has their own little subplot going on, and yet the author manages to tie everything together beautifully – and I can imagine that this must have been a very difficult task to orchestrate! The effect was wonderful, with a poignant, cohesive, charming story emerging. If my previous remarks haven’t been obvious enough, this novel is a character-driven story and it is done remarkably well. At various different time points, I felt a kinship with almost all of the characters. This is definitely one of my favorite books on WWII, and it shows the strength that women can have in uniting a community, facing their own internal fears, and being a source of comfort to those around them during times of distress.

Thank you to NetGalley, Blogging for Books, and Crown Publishing for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Happy reading ~