MINI REVIEWS: The War Outside & Dark Triumph

The War Outside

Title: The War Outside
Author: Monica Hesse
Pages: 336

Released: September 25 2018
Publisher: The Novl
Format: Hardcover

Genre: Historical Fiction
Goodreads Rating: 3.81 (of 360 ratings)


Title: Dark Triumph
Author: Robin LaFevers
Pages: 385

Released: April 2nd 2013
Publisher: HMH Teen
Format: Paperback

Genre: Fantasy
Goodreads Rating: 4.14 (of 34,068 ratings)

**ignore the errors that we up here earlier – something got lost in formatting and saving and apparently I was reviewing The Hate U Give and All of This is True**

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It’s 1944, and World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific. The war seemed far away from Margot in Iowa and Haruko in Colorado–until they were uprooted to dusty Texas, all because of the places their parents once called home: Germany and Japan.

Haruko and Margot meet at the high school in Crystal City, a “family internment camp” for those accused of colluding with the enemy. The teens discover that they are polar opposites in so many ways, except for one that seems to override all the others: the camp is changing them, day by day, and piece by piece. Haruko finds herself consumed by fear for her soldier brother and distrust of her father, who she knows is keeping something from her. And Margot is doing everything she can to keep her family whole as her mother’s health deteriorates and her rational, patriotic father becomes a man who distrusts America and fraternizes with Nazis.

With everything around them falling apart, Margot and Haruko find solace in their growing, secret friendship. But in a prison the government has deemed full of spies, can they trust anyone–even each other?


Monica Hesse is truly a name to look for in YA historical fiction. She has definitely found a way to immerse the reader into another era with captivating and mysterious characters and circumstances. I’ve noticed that historical fiction is often overlooked in YA, but Hesse certainly makes it come alive. I found I had a few issues with this particular one, but Hesse is still a name that you need to look for if you’re looking to expand your books into HF.

This story takes us into World War II, and what life is like for those that Japanese and Germans that had affiliations with the Nazi party. Margot sees Haruko on the first day of Haruko’s arrival to Crystal City, an internment camp that houses a few Germans and mostly Japanese, and instantly a spark of friendship/intrigue pops between them. As the story progresses, a relationship (both friendship and the beginning of a romantic one) blossoms between the two as well as tensions, trials, and intense family drama all while being stuck in Crystal City – a place that is much more a prison than a camp.

Hesse certainly shone with her atmosphere and mood. She consistently makes you feel immersed in the setting and the time period. I felt like I was back in the 40s, and could even feel the dust on my tongue from the dusty Texan town. She also brought the mystery. You always felt like there was something coming and felt on the edge of your seat on what was going to happen. And the big two twists at the end? Yeah, I SO didn’t see them coming, and I was super impressed with Hesse presenting two items that I totally didn’t see coming but still felt organic to the story.

My biggest issue with the story was pacing. Sometimes, things felt really rushed. I liked Haruko and Margot’s friendship, but honestly it felt like went from zero to 100 in no time. They felt into a deep relationship with making plans for the future when I was pretty sure that the only thing that happened between them was talking of Haruko’s flowers from her mom’s hat. The friendship was one of the most important parts of the story, but I wanted a little more lead up and depth to it before it got in so so deep. It detached me a little bit to the story and the characters at times, because I just wanted more explanation on how we got to this point so quickly.

Belle is not sure she was ready for that plot twist…although she handled dancing and singing cutlery in stride.

Also, for one of the big plot twists, I felt it really came out of nowhere. It was later explained a couple chapters later, which did make sense and I did feel like it was well done, but it literally made did an actual “what?” out loud because I didn’t understand the motivations and organic lead up. Then once explained, the book just promptly ended, and I left the book feeling unresolved.

That being said, there was a lot that I liked. Hesse worked in many great historical facts that are skimmed over in so much of America’s history. She told an emotional story with fascinating main characters who I certainly felt for and rooted for. I preferred Haruko’s voice to Margot’s, but both of their storylines were equally fascinating and intriguing. It’s also a super fast read.

Overall, it was a solid read. There was a lot to like, and Hesse definitely deserves her title as a HF powerhouse. I just wished there was a little more lead up on a few things. 3 crowns and a Belle rating!



The convent has returned Sybella to a life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?


So, if you know me, you know my ultimate love is Grave Mercy, which is the first book in this series. Sha and I both are ultimate fangirls, and I just can’t, okay??? This is the second book in the series, and we are introduced to Sybella, who we saw small snippets of in the first book who is quite a bit different than Ismae. This is her story. (*the sound of dun, dun plays in the background in an obvious Law & Order reference*)

This book is dark. Really dark. And I want to bring in some content warnings: rape, incest, violence, and suicidal thoughts. 

Robin Lafevers is easily one of the best writers in YA, and this book continues that. The characters are truly so well done. These characters are messy, complicated, and complex. They are much more morally grey than Ismae and Duval, but Sybella and Beast are never unlikable. Sybella is a character that comes from a dark and twisted past, and she shows such much emotional, physical, and mental strength. She’s incredibly brave, and she embraces the darkness she has inside her. She has blood lust, and she’s not afraid to embrace it. She is quite relatable in her struggles with her faith – even for being a nun assassin.

Beast is just a big fluffy murdering solider, and okay, like, imagine if Hagrid was a crazy, loyal killing machine on the battlefield, and you have Beast. They were both so easy to root for and love, and I had a whole new appreciation for reading them now that I’m older in reading this. Other side characters were either fantastic in their loving ways or terrible in their vileness. Both most are wholly fleshed out and given motivations and dynamic characteristics.

This story focuses on Sybella’s journey – both physically and mentally. In the last book, we’re thrown into a new issues for the duchess of Brittany, and this story continues it. I don’t want to say much for spoilers and it might not make as much sense if you haven’t read the first one. This story brings our main heroine, though, through a lot of events to protect the duchess but also to find herself.

Ariel is not so sure about the darkness. She’s all about the cheese.

The writing is great as always. There are a lot of twists and turns, and you feel invested in all of them. Whether it’s focusing on the internal struggles or the more external ones, each of them have you hanging on the edge of your seat. I will say that it did lose a bit of steam in the last, like, 1/16 of the book, but otherwise, it really kept me going hard.

I did like romance, but at times, it did feel a bit much. Beast and Sybella really do bring out the beauty in each other, but it felt a bit like instalove? And I really don’t think this story needed a romance. I mean, I liked them together and it was a beautiful love story, but it did feel a bit rushed and unneeded in parts. I wouldn’t have minded them kicking ass with each other without the feels.

Overall, Lafevers still brings all the epicness. This was far better than I remember it, and tbh, I don’t think I could appreciate it as much in my younger years reading this. The writing and characters are easily some of the most well done in YA, and I strongly encourage you to pick up this series. However, this is a super dark book, and I really do want to stress those content warnings.4 crowns and an Ariel rating!


What do you think? Have you read either of these? How do you feel about second books in the series? Let’s discuss in the comments below!


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