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#Book Review #Deprivation by Roy Freirich

After a mysterious, silent child is found abandoned on the beach clutching a handheld video game, residents and tourists alike find themselves utterly unable to sleep. Exhaustion impairs judgment, delusions become hysteria, and mob rule explodes into shocking violence. Told from three perspectives: Chief of Police Mays tries to keep order, teenaged tourist Cort and her friends compete in a dangerous social media contest for the most hours awake, while local physician and former Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Sam Carlson battles his guilt over a student’s suicide and the blurriness of his own insomnia, to try to treat the sleepless—until he and the child must flee the violent mob that blames the child for the epidemic.

(From the blurb)

****

Image by Engin_Akyurt from Pixabay

My thoughts:

A word of warning- don’t read this thriller if you are experiencing sleep deprivation yourself. This book is so good in describing this state all too familiar to parents with young children that you will recognize its torture and empathize immediately. The story covers eight days, and although it is written in short chapters, I chose to read each day in its entirety and they seemed endless…

On a little touristy island of Carratuck a group of teenagers are playing a game: they are trying to stay sleepless for 48 hours. The participants send tweets every 15 minutes to let others know that they are still awake. Meanwhile an eight-year-old boy is found alone on the beach. He is obviously scared and refuses to talk. The local police chief Sam Mays suspects it is a misunderstanding and one of his divorced or separated parents is going to turn up and claim the child. He knows from experience that calling Child Services too early can turn out to be a legal nightmare for everybody involved. He asks the local doctor Sam Carlson give him a hand talking to and caring after the child. Just for a day. Sam used to be a famous psychiatrist in a different life before Garratuck, before he failed to save his patient from suicide. Everybody in this story has secrets of their own and feels guilty about something.

Garratuck is a holiday resort with bars and discos and plenty of noise. A sleepless night or even two is something people can easily explain, but when it becomes clear that nobody can sleep, Dr Sam’s clinic is suddenly full of people asking for pills, and there is no way to explain this epidemic. Sam is convinced this is a case of rare mass hysteria and sooner or later it will pass and sleep will come back, but not everybody agrees. Some people blame the Boy. After all, his appearance on the beach coincided with the beginning of the Great Sleeplessness. What if he is the reason while they all caught it?


The book is extremely visual and cinematographic in its nature. The premise of an insomnia epidemic is fascinating and plays on a very common experience and a very common fear of society collapse in the aftermath of a disease outbreak. Although I didn’t particularly feel close to any of the characters, I could relate to their growing tiredness and despair. The insomnia causes them behave in different ways, some angry and selfish, others kind and altruistic, as any serous life-threatening experience would.

Deprivation deals brilliantly with the topic of fear and mass psychology. It also shows how we are all interconnected and how much we influence each other with our words, actions, and gestures. So let them be kind with no exception.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Meerkat Press for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay
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#Book Review #Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA meets CLUELESS in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease

Summer love…gone so fast.

Ollie and Will were meant to be a summer fling—casual, fun, and done. But when Ollie’s aunt’s health takes a turn for the worse and his family decides to stay in North Carolina to take care of her, Ollie lets himself hope this fling can grow to something more. Dreams that are crushed when he sees Will at a school party and finds that the sweet and affectionate (and comfortably queer) guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High.

Will is more than a little shocked to see Ollie the evening of that first day of school. While his summer was spent being very much himself, back at school he’s simply known as one of the varsity basketball guys. Now Will is faced with the biggest challenge of his life: follow his heart and risk his friendships, or stay firmly in the closet and lose what he loves most.

(The Blurb)

****

My thoughts:

Ollie Di Fiore is happy and secure in his sexuality. As his favourite Aunt Linda points out he has a supportive family, great friends, and a wonderful school. Ollie doesn’t even know how easy his coming out was compared to other people’s. He and his family spend their summer at a lake in North Carolina, and this is where he meets and falls in love with Will- ‘sweet, thoughtful, and respectful’ Will. Then suddenly Will starts ignoring Ollie’s texts and it’s clear whatever undefined relationship they had is over.


Aunt Linda’s health gets worse, and she can definitely do with her family support and Ollie’s babysitting while she is doing her chemotherapy. Ollie’s parents decide to move to North Carolina for a year and Ollie has to start a new school. Daunting as it is, it has its advantages. He can make new friends, or enemies, he can be anything he wants to be– self-assured, confident, relaxed. When he meets cool and super-friendly Juliette, Lara, and Niamh, Ollie quickly finds himself sharing confidences with them, including the story of his summer fling, only to find out that they do know Will better than he could have imagined, because Will is the vice-captain of their school basketball team.


A happy coincidence? More likely a recipe for heartbreak when you take into consideration that Will isn’t out and even worse likes to share a homophobic joke or two with his jock friends. And yes, he keeps ignoring Ollie, until one afternoon he drags Ollie into a closet to have a face-to-face talk to clear the things out.


I really liked lovely, considerate, thoughtful Ollie. The situation he is in is actually very relatable, if you’ve ever been in love with somebody who needs to work their feelings out at their own pace or anybody who was somehow unavailable. It is easy to get blinded by heartbreak, embarrassment, or anger, and sometimes it is healthier to walk away. Self-respect is very important and I really liked the way Ollie stood up for himself without disregarding other people’s feelings.


Ollie goes through extremely difficult time in this book, realising his mortality, and looking at the world with a different pair of eyes and seeing everything on a different scale. At the end of the day he is right- we need to cherish people around us because we might not have much time with them, which doesn’t cancel our happy, loving experiences.


Entertaining, moving, and even heart-breaking at times, Only Mostly Devastated is a sweet story with interesting characters and relatable emotional dilemmas.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Wednesday Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read Only Mostly Devastated or is it on your tbr?
  • Do you like Grease? What is the secret of its enduring popularity?
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#Book Review #Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little

An egomaniacal movie director, an isolated island, and a decades-old murder–the addictive new novel from the bestselling author of Dear Daughter

Marissa Dahl, a shy but successful film editor, travels to a small island off the coast of Delaware to work with the legendary–and legendarily demanding–director Tony Rees on a feature film with a familiar logline.

Some girl dies.

It’s not much to go on, but the specifics don’t concern Marissa. Whatever the script is, her job is the same. She’ll spend her days in the editing room, doing what she does best: turning pictures into stories.

But she soon discovers that on this set, nothing is as it’s supposed to be–or as it seems. There are rumors of accidents and indiscretions, of burgeoning scandals and perilous schemes. Half the crew has been fired. The other half wants to quit. Even the actors have figured out something is wrong. And no one seems to know what happened to the editor she was hired to replace.

Then she meets the intrepid and incorrigible teenage girls who are determined to solve the real-life murder that is the movie’s central subject, and before long, Marissa is drawn into the investigation herself.

The only problem is, the killer may still be on the loose. And he might not be finished.

A wickedly funny exploration of our cultural addiction to tales of murder and mayhem and a thrilling, behind-the-scenes whodunit, Pretty as a Picture is a captivating page-turner from one of the most distinctive voices in crime fiction.

(From the book blurb)

*****

My thoughts:

It’s the same world as yours. I just notice it differently.

Meet Marissa Dahl, an endearing film editor, who might be perceiving the world slightly differently from you – she is clearly on the spectrum and has to work very hard to survive in this world of human interactions, body language, smiles, jokes, irony, meaningful looks and silences. Marissa is also brilliant at what she does. She lives, feels and breathes movies. She thinks in movie scenes .They are her anchor in this ever changing mysterious world.

Give me a movie and I’ll find the meaning; I’ll find the truth; I’ll find the story. Sometimes I’ll find all three.

When Marissa perceives Amy, her best friend / film director she has been working close for a very long time with/ flatmate needs some time and space for her relationship with Josh, Marissa with her characteristic sensitivity moves out. Now she needs to get a job as soon as possible and she can’t be choosy. Her agent arranges an interview during which Marissa is shown a still and is asked to analyse it. Marissa correctly guesses it is from a true crime movie and is hired on the spot. Normally she would ask for a script, but the director is so well-known that she is willing to put up with a few eccentricities. She is whisked away onto an isolated island where the actual crime occured. The murder has remained unsolved. Everything about this production feels wrong. There is an ex-SEAL who is providing security, nobody would talk about why the previous film editor was fired, and there are also weird accidents and mishaps. Marissa starts investigating.

My mind has a way of latching on to questions, like a dog with a bone. A wagon with a star. A Kardashian with a revenue stream. The only thing that’ll work it loose is an answer.

I fell in love with Marissa and her quirky sense of humour. The events are narrated from her point of view, so we get to know this kind and selfless character really well. There are also excerpts from a hilarious ‘true crime podcast‘ which features interviews with secondary characters. The podcast was created by Grace and Suzy – two courageous and extremely creative teenage girls. These aspiring detectives, who happen to be children of cooks working in the hotel/production set, managed to do things even an experienced security professional couldn’t have imagined were possible. I love the way Marissa always behaved as a mature and responsible adult with them. There are other fantastic secondary characters you will enjoy reading about, including the above mentioned ex-SEAL.

The book is full of names and movie references, which I didn’t mind at all. To be honest, I had to look up a few of them. For me, in a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) and ironic way, it mirrored the way Marissa navigates the world that keeps throwing information at her which everybody seems to know about  and understand, while she needs to study it carefully before she can determine its relevance and significance.

Without giving away too much of the story, it is also a brilliant exploration of authenticity and its role in our culture.

Well-written, fast-paced, extremely entertaining, but also deep and thought-provoking, Pretty as a Picture was a delight to read. I will be looking forward to reading any future book written by Elizabeth Little and I wish this one all the success it deserves.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Viking for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

I would like to give you a hug, but I also want to respect your bodily integrity. Because it’s totally okay if you don’t like hugs’ Grace says, coming over. Suzy nods. ‘Never forget you’re the boss of your own body’.

I should let them. I really should. I should gather them close and reflect on the ease of their affection, the astonishing breadth of their compassion, and I should resolve, from this point forward, to set aside my fear and discomfort and displeasure, and embrace, literally and figuratively, mankind’s limitless capacity for love. I can almost hear it now: the satisfying plunk of a character arc slotting into place.

But maybe this arc isn’t an arc. Maybe it’s a loop, emphatically closed. Maybe I shouldn’t have to change: a radical thought.

Too radical for me, I think. Because I don’t want them to feel unappreciated or worry they’re unlovable or think I’m wrong- or think they’re wrong.

So I open my arms and beckon them near…

Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little
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Thriller Thursday #Book Review #The Sun Down Motel by Simone St.James

The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…

(From the book blurb)

*****

My thoughts:

I loved this book! It is probably going to be one of my favourite reads for the year. I know it is only February, but this atmospheric thriller is that good.


This was my first book by Simone St.James, and the description was vague enough for me to miss that there might be a paranormal element in it. Scary as it was (I think the scene where Betty tells Viv to run is the best ghost scene I’ve ever read), there is so much more to this book.

There are two very well-balanced timelines.

In 1982 we meet Viv Delaney, a twenty year old young woman who wanted to leave home and do something with her life, something that would get her out of the oppressive atmosphere of her home town and overbearing demands for perfect behaviour from her newly divorced mother. Viv never makes it to New York as she gets stuck in a little town of Fell with a very creepy motel, The Sun Down Motel, and Viv happens to land the job of the night clerk in it. Smart girl as she is, Viv observes and notices not only the strange customers any motel of this kind is bound to have (drug dealers, prostitutes, travelling salesmen, people with secrets), but also strange smells, noises and paranormal occurences. We know from the beginning that something will make her dispppear, but what will it be?

In 2017, Carly Kirk, a student and a true crime buff, is mourning the death of her mother and is venturing on a little research trip. To Fell, Upstate New York. The place where her mother’s sister, Viv Delaney, vanished into thin air 35 years ago. Once she is there, she quickly finds a place to live with an odd but very friendly flatmate, and a job of the night clerk in The Sun Down Motel. The same job her Aunt Viv held. Carly starts investigating and discovers that around the same time Viv disappeared several young women were murdered. Was her Aunt Viv another victim of the same serial killer? and did she see and hear the same strange things Carly notices around the motel? Could it be haunted?

The voices of Viv and Carly were distinct, equally well-written and engaging. Viv’s reality was very different. Not only because there was no Internet or DNA databases to facilitate police investigations. There was only one female police officer in Fell and she definitely faced a lot of discrimination.

“You think I did thirty years on nights by choice? That was the only shift they would give me. It was either take it or quit. And boy, were they mad when I worked it instead of quitting.

I was lucky to be able to get a credit card in those days without a husband.”

“If I ever get a time machine, remind me not to go back to the seventies”.

“It wasn’t so bad. We had Burt Reynolds and no Internet and no AIDS. We didn’t know how much fun we were having until the eighties came and it started go dry up.”

Viv’s flatmate Jenny dreams of getting married as a solution to all her life problems, while Viv… she is independent, smart, kind, loyal, determined, resourceful, and full of empathy towards those less fortunate than her. Once she figures out the mystery, she does everything possible to prevent the next crime from occuring. The link between the victims is so generic and unfair, that it sends chills down your spine.

Carly’s motivation to retrace Viv’s steps is different. Whether it is curiosity or desire for a closure that families of missing never get, Carly is as driven and determined as her aunt was.


There are some fantastic secondary characters as well- Alma Trent, Marnie, Heather, Nick- all unique and well-developed. Great portrayal of friendships and female solidarity as well as a slow-burn romance.

Intriguing, compelling, and eery, The Sun Down Motel by Simone St.James is a great thriller with paranormal elements. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley Publishing for the ARc provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

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#Book Review #All the Best Lies by Joanna Schaffhausen

FBI agent Reed Markham is haunted by one painful unsolved mystery: who murdered his mother? Camilla was brutally stabbed to death more than forty years ago while baby Reed lay in his crib mere steps away. The trail went so cold that the Las Vegas Police Department has given up hope of solving the case. But then a shattering family secret changes everything Reed knows about his origins, his murdered mother, and his powerful adoptive father, state senator Angus Markham. Now Reed has to wonder if his mother’s killer is uncomfortably close to home.

Unable to trust his family with the details of his personal investigation, Reed enlists his friend, suspended cop Ellery Hathaway, to join his quest in Vegas. Ellery has experience with both troubled families and diabolical murderers, having narrowly escaped from each of them. She’s eager to skip town, too, because her own father, who abandoned her years ago, is suddenly desperate to get back in contact. He also has a secret that could change her life forever, if Ellery will let him close enough to hear it.

Far from home and relying only on each other, Reed and Ellery discover young Camilla had snared the attention of dangerous men, any of whom might have wanted to shut her up for good. They start tracing his twisted family history, knowing the path leads back to a vicious killer—one who has been hiding in plain sight for forty years and isn’t about to give up now.

(From the Book Blurb)

*****

My thoughts:

Although this is book 3 in Ellery Hathaway series by Joanna Schaffhausen, this thriller/police procedural works perfectly fine as a standalone. There is enough information and background, both factual and emotional, to understand both the past and the present of the protagonists. The previous books are The Vanishing Season and No Mercy.


In All the Best Lies FBI Agent Reed Markham makes an accidental discovery about his family that makes him question his relationship to his parents and his siblings. It also makes him re-visit a 40-year-old cold case of a brutal murder of Camilla Flores who died of multiple stabbing wounds while her baby was nearby in his crib. Baby Joe Flores was adopted by Virginian Senator Angus Markham, became Reed Markham, and grew up in a loving family that provided the best possible care and opportunities privilege can buy.


Ellery Hathaway couldn’t have come from a more different background. Her father left his wife and two children and stopped answering his messages. When Ellery was abducted by a serial killer Francis Coben, John Hathaway chose to stay away. When Ellery’s brother Daniel died of leukaemia, John even come to his funeral. Now he is desperately trying to get in contact with Ellery who is keen to avoid seeing him at all costs. Ellery doesn’t think twice. She is going to help Reed try to discover who exactly killed his mother, and she is going to stand by him, because the case is bound to be impossibly hard to investigate.


The plot is intriguing and although I had my suspicions as far as the identity of the killer was concerned, there were some twists I didn’t anticipate. Joanna Schaffhausen’s writing is superb. She created complex, well-rounded characters who keep evolving as they face new life challenges and make new choices.


The relationship between Reed and Ellery is complicated. He keeps thinking about the moment when he found fourteen-year-old Ellery and knows in some respects he was too late. ‘He’d re-entered her life expecting gratitude and instead found himself hoping for forgiveness’. Ellery and Reed’s understanding of each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities and their desire to be there for each other is so powerful and rare.


Joanna Schaffhausen explores thorny topics family relationships, lies, secrets, and choices to hide the truth. She also gives her characters plenty of second chances and opportunities for healing and building a new life.


I am very glad to have discovered this compelling series with its fascinating characters. Highly recommended for all lovers of mystery/crime genre.


Thank you to Edelweiss and Minotaur Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read All the Best Lies or is it on your tbr list?
  • What new crime series have you recently discovered?
  • Do you prefer reading series or standalones?

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#Book Review #A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff – Book1 in a new epic fantasy series ‘The Nine Realms’

Debut author Sarah Kozloff offers a breathtaking and cinematic epic fantasy of a ruler coming of age in A Queen in Hiding, and all four books will be published within a month of each other, so you can binge your favorite new fantasy series.

Orphaned, exiled and hunted, Cérulia, Princess of Weirandale, must master the magic that is her birthright, become a ruthless guerilla fighter, and transform into the queen she is destined to be.

But to do it she must win the favor of the spirits who play in mortal affairs, assemble an unlikely group of rebels, and wrest the throne from a corrupt aristocracy whose rot has spread throughout her kingdom. (From the book blurb)

****

My thoughts:

Epic fantasy books require a special mindset, focus and time to get into. With this one, the writing was so engaging that I was hooked straightaway.


As you would expect with book number one in a series the worldbuilding in Queen in Hiding is very thorough. Unexpectedly it appeared almost effortless. You are in the middle of events at the Nargiz castle, home of Weirandale queens, and yet, I was not confused or baffled for a single moment. I trusted the author to provide the necessary background information at the right moment. Sarah Kozloff lets you experience this complex world as if it is your own and when an explanation comes it’s just a piece of a puzzle that fits in the overall picture. E.g. hair colour shows old distinctions between various lands, and we get our first glimpse of this particularity through observing the members of the Queen Council. One of them has amber hair. Whenever a brown hair shows up, she asks gets her maid pluck it out. So we know this is something the court lady is ashamed of. Later through a child song sung by Princella Cerulia to her mother we learn that brown hair is characteristic of common folks, that all tiny kingdoms(lands) in this fantasy world used to have their own distinct shade of skin and hair, that there was a lot of intermarriage, trade and travelling. We see that old prejudices may run deep in this society, but judging by what the Queen says to her daughter, she is a person who would like to promote unity and peace and so on.


The characterization is absolutely fantastic, and let me tell you, there is a large cast. The author pays attention to give every character- main or secondary their own distinct voice, appearance and personality. There is also depth that comes with the additional background and showing the characters’ motivations.

We meet Princella Cerulia at the age of eight when the elders are trying to define her special talent (all previous queens possessed one). It is blatantly obvious to us that it is communicating with animals and that like it was the case with her mother, Cerulia’s talent will develop in future and will manifest itself at the times of need. Then we are plunged into the world of court intrigue. Queen Cressa is surrounded by treacherous nobles, one of whom Councellor Matwyck stages a coup to kill the queen in order to rule the country as a regent. Betrayed by her Council, Queen Cressa fears for her own life and life of Cerulia and is forced into an exile. Cerulia is disguised and given a new identity as a commoner. Gradually she will master her own magic abilities and grow into a strong and intelligent contender, ready to reclaim the throne for her family.


There is an original magic system based on elements, but the book is so well-researched and well-written that the magic aspect feels secondary to the realistic descriptions of court politics and everyday life.


I am very glad that the books are being released over four months (January 21, February 18, March 17, April 21), as I am really looking forward to reading the second instalment of this fast-paced fascinating epic series.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Tor for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read A Queen in Hiding or is it on your tbr?
  • Do you like fantasy books? If yes, what’s your favourite series?
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#Book Review #The Absolution by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

The Absolution is the third installment in Queen of Icelandic crime fiction Yrsa Sigurdard�ttir’s series about the psychologist Freyja and the police officer Huldar.

The police find out about the crime the way everyone does: on Snapchat. The video shows a terrified young woman begging for forgiveness. When her body is found, it is marked with a number “2”.

Detective Huldar joins the investigation, bringing child psychologist Freyja on board to help question the murdered teenager’s friends. Soon, they uncover that Stella was far from the angel people claim, but who could have hated her enough to kill?

Then another teenager goes missing, more clips are sent to social media, and the body with a “3” is found. Freyja and Huldar can agree on two things at least: the truth is far from simple. The killer is not done yet. And is there an undiscovered body carrying the number “1” out there?

****

My thoughts:

Content/Trigger warnings: bullying, cyberbullying, suicide attempts.


Sixteen-year-old Stella has just finished her shift working in the cinema. She lets her workmates know her boyfriend is coming to drive her home and they happily leave her in their hurry to catch their bus home. While Stella is waiting alone and refreshing herself in the bathroom, she receives a snapchat image of herself from a stranger, and then she hears footsteps… A tall broad-shouldered man wearing a Darth Vader mask makes a video of terrified Stella who he forces to repeat ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry’, begging for mercy, and sends it to all her contacts.

When the police hear from Stella’s frantic boyfriend who was late by ten minutes and also received the videos, they start looking for Stella. The footage from the CCTV cameras leaves them little hope she’ll be found alive. Among other witnesses, the police hear from Stella’s close friends and it becomes clear that the girls are hiding something.

The series has two protagonists: Detective Huldar, smart, good-looking, messed-up, and a child psychologist Freyja who works in Children’s Home and is used to dealing with traumatised children and adolescents. Freyja notices a girl, Stellas’ classmate, who seems to have a different reaction to the news of Stella’s murder. It turns out the girl was severely bullied by the angelic Stella and her clique. When Freyja suggests checking out this angle, the police are not convinced. Stella’s body is found lying in a car park and there is a piece of paper with number 2 underneath. Does it mean there is Victim Number 1 whose body is lying somewhere? and where is Egill, another teenager whose abduction was accompanied by harrowing Snapchat videos?

One of my favourite books of all time is ‘Cat’s eye’ by Margaret Atwood. Among other brilliantly explored topics, it deals with the psychology of a bully, possible reasons and consequences of becoming one. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir focuses on a different aspect: the effect bullying has on the victims’ parents. In her attempts to help the investigation, Freyja reaches to her own childhood and adolescence experience of being bullied and the effort it took to pull through that period of her life. She knows getting qualified professional help is vital, but how often schools do not look too closely into suspicious incidents, hoping the children ‘will work their differences out’? how often tired and overworked teachers do not know how to deal with the situation or inadvertedly miss the signals until the situation becomes desperate? We live in the world where technology has given bullies more ways to harass and abuse weaker ones. It is important to be aware of cyberbullying and do everything possible to report and stop it.



Yrsa Sigurðardóttir rightly (and necessarily) points out, nobody (even the worst kind of bully) deserves to become a victim of horrific violence and murder described in the book, and the perpetrators need to be brought to justice, but it isn’t easy to break the vicious circle which changes and scars everybody involved. A bully may become bullied and vice versa, as the brilliant ending to this gripping novel shows. There is also help and understanding you can reach for in people like Freyja who know how to listen and care to act.

This is my first book by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, but it won’t be the last. The topic of this well-plotted and well-written police procedural was dark and painful, and this is why I included possible trigger warnings at the beginning of this review. Still, it was an absorbing and thought-provoking read, and I will be looking forward to future books written by this talented author.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Minotaur Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read The Absolution or any other books by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir?
  • Do you like reading Nordic Noir? If yes, who are your favourite authors?

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#Teen Tonic #Book Review of The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch. (From the book blurb)

***

My thoughts:

Cal Lewis is a seventeen-year-old aspiring journalist and news reporter. He has been working very hard on building his account and follower base on a social media site. Cal is passionate about his videos with news updates because he believes people do not just want gossip – they want facts and real information that can help them make choices. Cal is also a planner. He has a schedule for his news updates, he knows what he is going to do in summer ( his internship), next year, and how he is going to build his career. All of this comes to a screeching halt when his Dad announces he has just been selected for a NASA program as a potential astronaut on a mission to Mars. Cal’s family are to move to Texas in …a few days. The worst part is that Cal won’t be able to post any more videos as all filming rights are controlled by StarWatch Reality Show that has an exclusive contract with NASA. Once in Texas, Cal meets another astro-family with two perfect teens, one of whom becomes his love interest.

Cal comes across as a bit self-centred, especialy if you consider his interactions with Deb, his best friend/ex-girlfriend who has much more serious problems and is nothing but supportive of Cal. Having said this, there’s so much energy in his character, self-confidence and so much drama! I really liked the social media career angle, and sympathized when he felt his carefully laid-out life plans were thwarted. Of course, his Dad was entitled to making HIS dream of becoming an astronaut come true, but a bit more attention to how the change was going to affect the rest of the family was surely needed.


Cal’s relationship with Leon was a bit too fast, and Leon himself seems to stay out of limelight all the time. The book has the most romantic lines I have read in a very long time, but I would still categorize it under a coming-of-age novel, not romance, because there is only one point of view- Cal’s. Great rep for mental illness – Cal’s Mom’s anxiety and Leon’s burnout and depression. These are important topics that require a lot of sensitivity, and Phil Stamper did a really good job here.

Overall, an original and upbeat coming-of-age novel dealing with topics of family relationships, first love, following one’s dreams, authenticity in journalism and social media and many others.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Bloomsbury YA for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

I want to tell him I’m here, that he can talk to me if he needs to. Or I can sit here, inches from him, listening to him breathe. In, and out. I want him to know how remarkable it is that, of the billions of people in the world, I am the one who’s sitting next to him, under stars and the champaigne’s gaze.

I want him to know the improbability of two people meeting like this. That it’s astounding, no matter how inconsequential it is. Sure, strangers meet all the time. It’s the universe’s way to say we don’t matter. None of this matters.

Our eyes meet. And it’s clear that sometimes, the universe is just wrong.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper
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#Book Review #Golden in Death by J.D.Robb

In the latest thriller in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, homicide detective Eve Dallas investigates a murder with a mysterious motive―and a terrifying weapon.

Pediatrician Kent Abner received the package on a beautiful April morning. Inside was a cheap trinket, a golden egg that could be opened into two halves. When he pried it apart, highly toxic airborne fumes entered his body―and killed him.

After Eve Dallas calls the hazmat team―and undergoes testing to reassure both her and her husband that she hasn’t been exposed―it’s time to look into Dr. Abner’s past and relationships. Not every victim Eve encounters is an angel, but it seems that Abner came pretty close―though he did ruffle some feathers over the years by taking stands for the weak and defenseless. While the lab tries to identify the deadly toxin, Eve hunts for the sender. But when someone else dies in the same grisly manner, it becomes clear that she’s dealing with either a madman―or someone who has a hidden and elusive connection to both victims.

(From the blurb)

****

My thoughts:

This is my mom’s favourite series, so I have been following it for years. Every single book in it can be read as a standalone, although I have yet to meet anybody who read one and didn’t decide to go back and start from the beginning.


Golden in Death is as entertaining and creative as its predecessors. It begins with the death of a kind and distinguished pediatrician Dr Kent Abner who opened a package with a golden egg, made of cheap plastic (somebody’s idea of a present or a joke?), and was poisoned by toxic fumes within minutes. Leutenant Eve Dallas and Detective Delia Peabody call the hazmat team to investigate the unknown substance and its harmful effects. The murderer used a poison which doesn’t spread beyond a few feet and clears itself in little time. A mad scientist striking random victims? or more likely, somebody who had a grudge against Dr Abner?

However thorough the initial investigation is, it fails to produce anything but a few dead ends. Everybody loved Dr Abner. I could feel Eve’s frustration, as she was getting nowhere with her inquieries, until… the second victim is struck. She was as lovely and innocent as Dr Abner. An only daughter of a bookstore owner, mother of two teenage boys and wife of a Columbia University professor, Elisa Duran was about to host a book club meeting, when a package with another golden egg was delivered. Leutenant Dallas and Detective Peabody quickly find the link between the two victims and uncover the identity of the evil murder mastermind.


As usual, I enjoyed the thorough police procedure and method employed by Eve and Peabody. If you have been following the series, I don’t need to tell you it is set in the future, April 2061, to be precise. The futuristic elements, however entertaining they might be, are there only to provide a background to solid investigative work and detective skills. This 50th mystery is not an exception.


Eve’s technology-savy multi-billionaire husband Roarke is still there, dependable as rock. He makes his wife coffee, calls her darling, chooses a stylish outfit that will make the right kind of impression, makes sure she has enough pocket money, never interferes or asks for attention- swoon, swoon, swoon…but isn’t he getting a bit too tame?


A great addition to the series that never fails to deliver.


Thank you to Edelweiss and St.Martin’s Press for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

Golden in Death is out on February, 4th, 2020.

  • Have you read Golden in Death or is it on your tbr? Are you a fan of the series?
  • What’s your favourite detective series?

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#Book Review #The Last Real Cowboy by Caitlin Crews

In Cold River, sometimes forbidden love is the sweetest of them all…

Perennial good girl Amanda Kittredge knows that her longtime crush on Brady Everett was never really supposed to go anywhere. But when Brady comes home to Cold River during Amanda’s first attempt at independence, well, who better to teach her about rebellion than her older brother’s bad-boy best friend?

Brady’s plans did not include being forced to work the family homestead for a year–and yet, here he is. And, to make matters worse, his best friend’s innocent little sister is making a menace of herself in the most grown-up, tempting ways. When Amanda begs Brady to teach her about men, he knows he should refuse. But could Brady’s greatest temptation be his salvation?

(From the book blurb)

****

My thoughts:

This is book three in the Cold River Ranch series which focuses on the lives of Gray, Ty, and Brady Everett after their abusive alcoholic father dies. All books in this series can be read as standalones, so I will try to avoid giving any spoilers, apart from this one: the last one is the best!


Like his older brothers, Brady Everett had a very unhapy childhood. His mother Bettina left with no explanation and planted a seed of doubt deep in his soul. Was it something he did? Was he so unworthy of his mother’s love? What kind of woman leaves her children to fend off the emotional abuse of their mean and manipulative father? When Brady got a full college scholarship, he just laughed it off in contempt. When Brady sent checks to help financially, his father tore them in pieces. It was as if Brady didn’t merit his love or attention. Not surprisingly, Brady decided to stay in Denver after graduation and make his life there. When Amos died and Gray and Ty needed Brady’s help, he came back home running. This was what he had been waiting for for years, but it isn’t easy to change attitudes and relationships that have been ingrained for such long time. The brothers continue treating Brady as a teenager and dismiss his ideas on how to modernize the ranch to ensure its future prosperity.


Brady’s best friend and neighbour Riley Kittredge asks to keep an eye on his 22-year-old sister Amanda to make sure she doesn’t attract wrong kind of attention or get in trouble in the dodgy bar where she has just started working as a barmaid. It does seem like a reasonable request. After all, Brady and Riley once changed Amanda’s diapers. The only problem is Amanda has grown into a very attractive young woman and suddenly Brady is aware of it.


Amanda is the baby of her family. The youngest child and the only girl in her family, she has been sheltered and protected…and denied any kind of independent experience. Tired of everybody thinking she is a twelve-year-old, Amanda gets a job which comes with a little apartment and moves out. Imagine her brothers’ dismay! Amanda wants to live her own life and make her own mistakes, and that includes falling in love and dating. The man she has her sights on is her brother’s best friend…Brady. Charming, reliable, good-looking, and safe. A perfect man to teach her things she only heard of.

Brady’s dilemma is clear. Amanda is his best friend’s little sister, so by definition she is off-limits…unless his intentions are serious. But Brady himself isn’t sure whether he is going to stay or leave for Denver.


Despite Amanda and Brady’s ten year age difference, they do have something in common – both have an eerily similar experience of being ignored and undervalued by their older siblings. Brady knows he needs to work out his feelings towards his father, the ranch and his brothers- his character is very well-rounded. But Amanda just comes across as very young and naive for a twenty-two year old, even taking into account the fact that her brothers are indeed overbearing and patronizing.


I loved the advice Amanda gets from her friends, including Abby and Hannah Everett on the many factors to take in consideration in romantic matters. What Amanda really wants is to make her own choices, whether they turn out right or wrong. But is Brady the right man for her, will their relationship, based on chemistry and sexual attraction, become a solid foundation for anything more than just a fling? Will their age difference and different levels of maturity become a problem in the long run or will Brady and Amanda complement each other?


I loved the small town setting and all the descriptions of nature and people who live and work in harmony with it. A very satisfying conclusion to a great romantic series with unique characters and complex family dynamics. I will be looking forward to reading any future novels written by Caitlin Crews.

Thank you to Edelweiss and St.Martin’s paperbacks for the review copy provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read The Last Real Cowboy or is it on your tbr?
  • Have you read any other books by Caitlin Crews?
  • How do you feel about ‘the forbidden love’ trope?

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#Teen Tonic Book Review of Diamond City by Francesca Flores

Fierce and ambitious, Aina Solís as sharp as her blade and as mysterious as the blood magic she protects. After the murder of her parents, Aina takes a job as an assassin to survive and finds a new family in those like her: the unwanted and forgotten.

Her boss is brutal and cold, with a questionable sense of morality, but he provides a place for people with nowhere else to go. And makes sure they stay there.

DIAMOND CITY: built by magic, ruled by tyrants, and in desperate need of saving. It is a world full of dark forces and hidden agendas, old rivalries and lethal new enemies.

To claim a future for herself in a world that doesn’t want her to survive, Aina will have to win a game of murder and conspiracy—and risk losing everything.

Full of action, romance and dark magic, book one of Francesca Flores’ breathtaking fantasy duology will leave readers eager for more!

(From the book blurb)

My thoughts:

The world created by Francesca Flores is full of violent gangs, ruthless assassins, orphans and spies. The religion is based on blood magic and can be used to either save lives and create shelter in case of need or to kill in the most horrible manner. This forbidden religion uses rough diamonds to focus the magic and has been outlawed by Steels, people who own technology and industry (we are talking about electricity, steel plants and factories, not computers or spaceships).
The protagonist of the book, Aina Solis was orphaned at the age of eight, when her parents were shot while practising their religion. Aina survived on the streets for four years and then was rescued by Kohl Pavel, the Blood King, who turned her into a trained assassin. He also brainwashed her into believing that ‘good things do not happen to girls who come from nothing’, instilled a fear of falling from her dubious grace and taught her to think of herself as a weapon, part of a service, not somebody responsible for taking away lives. When Kohl offers her an extremely dangerous job to do, almost a suicide mission, all she thinks about is not the person who is going to die, but the money she is going to earn and her freedom to open her own tradehouse.


Aina isn’t exactly a likeable character, although you can see straighaway she is going to change and see the error of her ways. She is too confused, too mistrustful, too insecure. I had less trouble warming up to other characters: Teo who felt a life of crime was the only way to buy medicine for his dying mother, gentle Ryuu, almost too ready to understand and see the situation from the other person’s point of view, even Tannis, another ‘Blade’ (Assassin) in Kohl’s group of misfits and protegees.


The book is action-packed, although the pace is a bit uneven. There are also flashbacks to Aina’s past to help the reader understand how she got to be what she is and her relationship with Kohl. I felt that some things were a bit repetitive and could have been edited to make the book shorter and more focused. Having said it, I read the book quite quickly and put aside other novels, because it does have that addictive quality that makes it difficult to put it down. Will be looking forward to reading the second part of this duology to see if Aina manages to save her dark world.


Thank you to Edelweiss and Wednesday Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

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#Teen Tonic #Book Review of A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier

A Castle in the Clouds follows a girl as she navigates secrets, romance, and danger in an aging grand hotel.

Way up in the Swiss mountains, there’s an old grand hotel steeped in tradition and faded splendor. Once a year, when the famous New Year’s Eve Ball takes place and guests from all over the world arrive, excitement returns to the vast hallways.

Sophie, who works at the hotel as an intern, is busy making sure that everything goes according to plan. But unexpected problems keep arising, and some of the guests are not who they pretend to be. Very soon, Sophie finds herself right in the middle of a perilous adventure–and at risk of losing not only her job, but also her heart. (From the book blurb)

My thoughts:

This was a perfect winter read! The book is set in a beautiful hotel up in the Swiss Alps, while the main events take place between Christmas and New Year’s Day, so I couldn’t have asked for a more atmospheric YA book.

Seventeen year old Sophie Spark is a high school dropout who is working as an intern in a luxury hotel. She is trying to find her own place in the world, however different it might be from her mother expectations and her friends’ chosen lifepaths. Sophie is learning various jobs and tasks hotel staff do: she has been a chambermaid, learnt ins and outs of running the laundry room equipment, worked as the hotel spa assistant and baby-sitter. Sophie’s a lovely girl with her own particular brand of humour. She’s always smiling (maybe a bit too much) and has even occasionally burst into a song in the laundry room. She also gives milkroll crumbs to seven little jackdaws who coo outside the window of her tiny room. Sophie’s also very independent and doesn’t give in to peer pressure.
Ben Monfort is the only son of one of the hotel owners and is also working there for free during his winter holidays. Ben still needs to figure out his feelings towards the old hotel. On one hand, he has grown up in it and has known most of the staff since he was a toddler. On the other hand, he feels he will never be free to make his own choices in life. If you are not a fan of love triangles, I’ve got bad news for you, as not only Ben, but also another mysterious, but utterly gorgeous hotel guest falls in love with Sophie.


There is a huge cast of characters. Some of them are nice and warm-hearted (or rather that’s what Sophie thinks) or…the opposite. Sophie might be a bit quick to judge people, but perhaps it is just the prerogative of her age to find out that not everybody is what they seem to be at a first glance. There is a Russian oligarch travelling incognito, a PI following the trail of a criminal, a group of thieves, a famous writer… the list goes on. One of the guests pretends to be nice and meek, although deep down they are cruel and heartless, while another one who doesn’t seem to have a kind bone in their body, turns out to be not so bad.

There is money laundering, kidnapping and jewellery theft, so the book is action-packed, although there are also a few very romantic scenes, including several almost-kisses and a spellbinding waltz on the hotel roof.


Hotels have this special liminal quality that makes you believe anything can happen there, however strange, improbable or downright scary (picture Shining or even Psycho in your mind). You are also allowed to be anything or anybody you want (within reasonable limits) and that includes acting heroically to save somebody’s life. I won’t say more as I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of reading this book.

Overall, entertaining, unusual, sentimental, A Castle in the Clouds has a lot to go for it. Not least, it has a cozy atmosphere, quirky characters, squeeky clean romance, and a feel-good-happy-ending.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read A Castle in the Clouds or is it on your tbr?
  • Have you read any other books by Kerstin Gier?
  • Can you think of other books set in a liminal space that you would recommend?
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#Book Review # Wife After Wife by Olivia Hayfield


A wickedly entertaining and utterly absorbing modern take on the life and marriages of Henry VIII…if he were a twenty-first-century womanizing media mogul rather than the king of England.

Master of the universe Harry Rose is head of the Rose Corporation, number eighteen on the Forbes rich list, and recently married to wife number six. But in 2018, his perfect world is about to come crashing to the ground. His business is in the spotlight–and not in a good way–and his love life is under scrutiny. Because behind a glittering curtain of lavish parties, gorgeous homes, and a media empire is a tale worthy of any tabloid. And Harry has a lot to account for. (From the book blurb)

***

My thoughts:

Olivia Hayfield takes on the challenge of retelling the lifestory of one of the most powerful and notorious English monarchs- that of Henry VIII and his six wives. We’ve all heard about their fate: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, but what would these marriages have beeen like if Henry Tudor was somehow reincarnated in our times?  Would he have been able to get away with the way he treated the women in his life or would he have got his comeuppance?

There is no doubt the book is well-researched. Olivia Hayfield names Antonia Frazer and Alison Weir as well as a number of history websites among her sources of inspiration. There are also numerous pop culture references that help the reader get immersed in London in the 1980s and 1990s. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into how to translate the historical context to make it both entertaining and relevant. For example, Henry’s obsession with begetting a male child and an heir to his kingdom or Henry beheading two of his spouses is impossible to recreate, so the author uses other plot devices: Katie Paragon (Catherine of Aragon) overcomes her severe depression exacerbated by miscarriages and stillbirths and becomes a fertility therapist; stylish Ana Lyebon (Ann Boleyn) is all about ambition and climbing the career ladder… Anki from Cleveland (Anne of Cleves) – I won’t spoil it for you, because the way Olivia Hayfield represented the fourth marriage is ingenious.

The charm of this book lies in discovering how the author reimagines the historical figures and what modern life circumstances she endows them with. Having said that, isn’t it why we love re-tellings in general? Safe in our knowledge of the general direction the story is going to take and the ending, we focus all our attention on the familiar characters in their new environment to see if they will follow their bookish /real life historical destiny or carve their own path. There is a fine line between staying too close to the original with the risk of being called unimaginative and veering so far that the story becomes unrecognizable.

The book is quite long with its 430 pages, but we are talking about a lifetime here, coupled with a very large cast of characters, so the length is quite justified. Similarly, the pace is a bit slow at times, picking up at others. Again, we have to remember that in real life the first marriage of Henry VIII lasted for twenty four years, while the following five marriages happened over fourteen years and ranged in length from three and a half years to six months.

Paradoxically, Henry VIII in his youth was considered handsome, intelligent and charismatic and only later became a ruthless tyrant and philanderer. Olivia Hayfield sets out to investigate why and whether things could have played out differently for him. The real life references the book abounds in extend to much further than just pop music and technology. They also include politics, economics (unemployment rate, the financial crisis of 2008, business asset stripping policies that devastated the north of England and many, many more). All of them mirror the external pressures Henry VIII must have faced in his times.

Olivia Hayfield gives her protagonist a chance for redemption, a chance to become a fair businessman and a doting father who values and cherishes all his children, male or female, and welcomes #MeToo movement.Whether he takes it or not, you can find out by reading Wife after Wife.

Overall, enjoyable, entertaining, recommended for fans of historical romantic fiction in general and Tudor times in particular.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Do you enjoy modern day retellings of fairy-tales or famous historical events? What is the last one you read and really enjoyed?
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#Teen Tonic #Book Review of Ricochet by Kathryn Berla

When seventeen-year-old Tati sends a saliva sample to a DNA ancestry testing site her results come back inconclusive. What’s wrong with her DNA? And what does it have to do with her unexplained seizures and the beckoning tunnel she sees during them?

What Tati discovers is more than she could have ever imagined possible. Parallel universes exist and her abnormal DNA compels and condemns Tati and her other selves—shy Ana—privileged Tatyana—and on-the-run Tanya, to a lifetime of ricocheting between their parallel lives in the multiverse.

With knowledge of their existence a deadly threat in every universe, the only chance all four have to survive is to work together to take down the scientist responsible: their father (From the Book Blurb)

My thoughts:

I love science-fiction in general and the idea of multiverse in particular. So when I read the blurb for Ricochet by Kathryn Berla I didn’t hesitate, grabbed the book and started reading straightaway.


There are four points of view, so it took me a bit of time to get used to the four narrators: Tati, Ana, Tanya, and Tatiana. The author clearly put a lot of effort into differentiating their worlds and their voices. In fact, I quickly found myself relating more to one of them than to the others! Two of the protagonists live in the USA, having been adopted by American parents, although they do know that their origin is Russian. Overall, their life circumstances are fairly similar and you can concentrate on how the differences came about. The other two are much more connected to Russia. You can say that the task of following the four different stories was slightly reduced by this narrative device.

The ‘science’ idea the plot is based on is… Wait a second, this is a spoiler! You might want to skip the section between the following two images:

……

The ‘science’ bit the plot is built around is based on the most famous cat in the history of humankind. Yes, it’s Schrodinger’s cat. An electron can exist in more than one state simultaneously i.e. a wavelike state and a particle state, but when it is observed, it loses its duality. Once you open the box, the cat is either dead or alive, but not both at the same time. This theory gave rise to the idea of parallel universes, infinite versions of our life that would collapse the moment we tried to observe them. In this book Tatyana’s father, the proverbial mad scientist and megalomaniac, finds a way to alter the genetic code of the embryo of his own child to provide portals to three other parallel universes. The portals would allow the four girls to travel and observe the other universes. Imagine Schroedinger’s cat looking at itself – dead, half-dead or three-quarters dead. So, it’s a multiverse limited to four ‘states’/’identities’. This ‘genetic modification’ resulted in periodic seisure-like fits (which doctors could not explain or find any remedy for) when one of the girls tried to approach and observe herself in one of the other three worlds through a thin membrane. It was also the reason why the DNA tests run on the girls were inconclusive. With time, the girls’ genes began ‘healing’ themselves which would lead to complete disappearance/closure of the portals and total separation of the four protagonists’ worlds. In other words, the cat was able to periodically observe itself for 18 years.

……

After this brief digression we are back to the original spoiler-free zone!


The story also touched on teenager-parent relationships (e.g. Should you try to stop your parent from leading an unhealthy lifestyle that might lead to serious medical problems later or should you let them continue making their choices because they are an adult and your intervention would mean a strange role reversal), first love, trust issues, and setting boundaries between friends when one of them doesn’t want to change the nature of their relationship.

At some point the pace became really fast and the story started bearing similarity to an action thriller with lots of chases and narrow escapes. This was the bit where I got confused and started wishing for fewer secondary characters. I’m still not sure about the ending– I think if it had been told from the point of view of another protagonist, the one who was the most attached to the girls’ father, it would have carried more emotional significance. The way it was it felt almost too detached.


The cover is really beautiful and deserves a special mention. Overall, a quick read with varied characters and a lot of action, recommended for fans of sci-fi (who do not mind bending a few physics rules for the sake of an interesting plot) and fast-paced thrillers.

  • Have you read any books by Kathryn Berla? if yes, any you would recommend?
  • Do you like reading about the multiverse? If yes, what’s your favourite book that explores this idea?
  • Do you like multiple points of view? What is the number of POVs you feel most comfortable with?

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#Book review # Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies? (From the Book Blurb)

*****

My thoughts:

This was my first book by Diane Chamberlain and what a compulsive read it turned out to be! As soon as I finish this review I’m off to see if I can borrow any other books by this fabulous writer.

Big lies in a small town alternates between two timelines, both of which I found equally compelling. In 2018 a former art student Morgan Christopher is serving a prison sentence for a crime she didn’t commit. When Lisa Williams, daughter of a famous, recently deceased painter Jesse Williams, and Andrea Fuller, a successful lawyer, make her an offer to restore an old mural in exchange for being released from the the prison, Morgan is extremely surprised. Jesse Williams was known for helping young people who found themselves on the wrong side of the law or in other difficult circumstances to find a way out and get again on their feet, but all his previous ‘protegees’ were Afro-American, and Morgan isn’t. Neither does she know anything about art restoration, but she’s been threatened, cut and severely beaten in the prison, and this is her only chance to get to if not freedom, at least to relative safety. She will just have to learn as quickly as possible and do her best to bring the damaged painting back to life. The mural was supposed to hang in the post office of a small town of Edenton, North Carolina, but something happened to the artist Anna Dale and it was never installed.
In 1940 twenty-two year old Anna Dale wins an art competion and is commisioned to paint a mural. Only she won’t be able to use her preliminary sketch, because it will depict the history and essence of a completely different town, town she has never been to, and that is Edenton, North Carolina. Anna decided she needs a research trip, but when she meets the town ‘movers and shakers’, local political and business elite, they tell her that a local male artist also participated in the competition and they would have preferred him and not a young and inexperienced girl wo doesn’t know anything about the town and has no connection to it. Having recently lost her beloved mother, Anna has no one who would care for her presence in New Jersey, so she is easily persuaded to stay and work in Edenton. Very soon she begins to realize how hard it will be to complete her mural amidst pernicious prejudices, blatant misogyny, secrets and lies that will lead to tragic events.

The narrative moved easily between the two timelines and soon it was impossible to put the book down until I found out why Jesse Williams had chosen Morgan to restore the mural and how the two protagonists were connected. There is a mystery element, of course, but the issues the book deals with go way beyond it – racism, prejudice, gender equality, alcoholism, family ties, mental illness, love and forgiveness are all explored in this beautifully-written story. Both protagonists are young, vulnerable women who face a lot of adversity and show a lot of inner strength and integrity.

Big lies in a small town is a powerful and thought-provoking story which I highly recommend to all lovers of general fiction, and, in particular, those who like strong female leads.

Thank you to Edelweiss and St.Martin’s Press for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read Big Lies in a Small Town or is it on your tbr? If you’ve read the book, which timeline did you find more interesting?
  • Have you read any other books by Diane Chamberlain?
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#Teen Tonic #Book Review of Oasis by Katya de Becerra

The oasis saved them. But who will save them from the oasis?

Alif had exciting summer plans: working on her father’s archaeological dig site in the desert with four close friends . . . and a very cute research assistant. Then the sandstorm hit.

With their camp wiped away, Alif and the others find themselves lost on the sands, seemingly doomed . . . until they find the oasis. It has everything they need: food, water, shade—and mysterious ruins that hide a deadly secret. As reality begins to shift around them, they question what’s real and what’s a mirage.

The answers turn Alif and her friends against one another, and they begin to wonder if they’ve truly been saved. And while it was easy to walk into the oasis, it may be impossible to leave . . .

Katya de Becerra’s new supernatural thriller hides a mystery in plain sight, and will keep you guessing right up to its terrifying conclusion.

(From the Book Blurb)

My thoughts:

What an exciting thriller this book proved to be! Although set in an entirely different context, this book made me think about two of my favourite reads from long time ago – Solaris by Stanslaw Lem and The Roadside Picnic by brothers Strugatsky (both belong to the classic science-fiction genre).

Alif Scholl’s parents are archeologists, so she has grown up around various digs and actually enjoys the task of washing and labelling archeological finds. She is thrilled to spend her summer at her father’s current dig near Dubai. Alif’s friends- Minh, Lori, Rowen and Luke- are joining her. There’s also Tommy Ortiz, Alif’s father’s student and assistant. On their way to the site Alif reads a blog post about the site which claims that there is a kind of curse on it. She brushes it off as a publicity trick, but later Tommy tell her that there was indeed a strange accident in which two people were hurt. Another strange event happens when a young exhausted and severely dehydrated French tourist wanders into the camp and whispers the name of a Messopotamian deity. Alif manages to get a few more sentences from him before he is taken away to a hospital.


The friends are beginning to get the hang of the site routine, when a terrible sandstorm hits. When it passes and Alif comes round, she sees no sign of the camp. Her friends and Tommy have to get back to civilisation, but they have no idea what their current location is. When the situation begins to seem desperate, they reach an oasis with crystal clear water and abundance of fruit. But can they trust the oasis and can they trust each other?

Soon strange dreams begin…

Alif and her five friends are all flawed characters with their own distinct personalities (something that becomes significant at the end of the book). The group dynamics was quite complex, but we only get Alif’s perspective and as the book progresses, it becomes clear that she is an unreliable narrator.

I really enjoyed Katya de Berrera’s seemingly effortless writing style and the way she kept my attention throughout the book. I did wonder quite often whether the events were just a hallucination brought by the gruelling journey through the desert under the unforgiving sun or whether the (post)-oasis events are manifestations of PTSD and then … the author surpassed all my expectations by giving us a mind-bending explanation.

I had a bit of trouble trying to categorize this book in terms of its genre: a thriller? a horror? fantasy? science fiction? Oasis is a gripping genre-bending story that will be appreciated by those who like a good adventure book set in a fascinating location.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Imprint Macmillan for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

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#Teen Tonic #Book Review of How To Speak Boy by Tiana Smith

Quinn and Grayson have been fierce speech and debate rivals for years. They can’t stand one another, either in competition or in real life.

But when their AP Government teacher returns their school assignments to the wrong cubbies, they begin exchanging anonymous notes without knowing who the other is.

Despite their differences, the two come together through their letters and find themselves unknowingly falling for the competition. Before the state tournament, the two of them need to figure out what they want out of life, or risk their own future happiness. After all, what’s the point of speech and debate if you can’t say what’s in your heart? (From the Book blurb)

My thoughts:


This unexpectedly sweet and delightful teen rom-com introduced me to the super competitive world of Speech and Debate Tournaments. I never realised how interesting this extra-curricular activity can be and how much preparation goes into being able to deliver one’s arguments smoothly and effectively.


Quinn and Grayson, the protagonists of the book, are both successful debaters. When they become co-captains of their school team, so they have to work together to help the others improve their perfomances. The problem is they do not really get along. At least, this is what Quinn thinks. While she has to work extremely hard on every single aspect of her life (and that includes memorising her speeches), Grayson seems to win it all hands down. He is gorgeous, charming, smart, comes from a well-off family, and is a straight A  student. Quinn, on the other hand, is about to fail her AP Government.

One day the AP Government teacher puts a wrong assignment in her locker. Quinn leaves it in the right one and adds a note. Her notes gets a response and so begins a fascinating exchange, where both teens remain anonymous, but gradually open up to each other and speak about their everyday problems, worries as well as bigger dreams and aspirations.


The story may be predictable (although the author throws a few spanners in the works), but it is very entertaining and easy to read. I loved the way neither Quinn, nor Grayson are perfect. Quinn is overthinking everything, but she is also feisty and witty. Grayson’s charm grows on you as you continue reading and by the end of the book you will become his fan. He has his share of worries. Being a politician’s son, he doesn’t feel he is free to choose his career path because of his family expectations. Speaking of families, I loved Quinn’s relationship with her mother and how invested she was into making her mother’s website and helping her achieve success. Grayson’s family especially his Dad and his younger siblings are also adorable in their own way.


I thought the anonymous note exchange part was fun, although it did make me think about our digital world where we form relationships and friendships with people we’ve never met in real life. Sometimes we open up and share our innermost thoughts and get great advice from people who are not blinded by their knowledge of what we look like or sound like, or all the cute and embarrassing things they remember us doing.


There was a very strange love triangle /triangles in this story (the protagonists of the story and the anonymous note-writer) and before you sigh ‘Oh no, not again!’ I want to say that liking several people and having to work out your feelings is also a part of high school experience.


Lighthearted, clean, and entertaining. Recommended for all romantics looking for a quick and enjoyable read.


Thank you to Edelweiss and Swoon Reads for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read How to Speak Boy or any other books by Tiana Smith?What are your favourite high school rom-coms?
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#Book Review #Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both (from the Book Blurb)

*****

My thoughts:

A great debut book that explores such difficult questions as race, class, privilege, and human relationships with unusual sensitivity and subtlety.


Emira Tucker, a 25year old babysitter for a white family, gets a call at ten in the evening. There is an emergency situation in the Chamberlain household and Alix, the mother, would like Emira to take three year old Briar shopping to keep her away from home while the parents are interviewd by the police. A security guard at the grocery store sees a young black woman (dressed for her best friend’s birthday party, not for babysitting) with a white toddler and gets suspicious. Other shoppers seem to take sides and one of them even films the whole scene. Emira calls Peter Chamberlain who promptly arrives and sorts the situation. Kelley Copeland, the bystander who made the video, urges Emira to keep it in case she decides to sue the guard or the store. Emira would like to forget this humiliating experience, but there is something she doesn’t know about Alix Chamberlain, her employer. Alix is a woman who writes letters to companies and institutions to get what she wants. She even started her own movement #LetHerSpeak and teaches women to become confident and demand things they want. Alix isn’t going to forget the store incident, she is going to stand by Emira and ‘make it right’ the way she understands it. There is something else Emira doesn’t know about Alix and that is that she used to date Kelley in her senior year of high school, and that their relationship ended in a series of embarrassing events for Alix.


The book is well-written and easy to read. I found it impossible to put down, as I kept thinking about the strange ways in which the lives of the protagonists were interconnected. The story is multi-layered, complex and thought-provoking without being heavy-handed or preachey. The characters are well-developed. I really liked the addition of their inner thoughts and the contrast between what they thought and what they chose to say or not to say. Call me lazy, as in real life we do not get the benefit or drawback of this information. Emira was the character I liked the most in all her ‘undecidedness’ or honest desire to hold on and explore life with its endless opportunities. Emira’s relationship with Briar is touching and revealing of what a deep and loyal person she is.


I will definitely be looking forward to reading more books written by Kiley Reid as this was one of the most remarkable debut novels I have read this year.
Thank you to Edelweiss and G.P.Putnam’s sons for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read Such a Fun Age or is it on your tbr? If yes, what did you think?

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#Book Review #No, We Can’t Be Friends by Sophie Ranald

From the book blurb:

Everyone knows a girl like Sloane. She was always The Single One. She never brought a plus-one to weddings. She was the woman you’d set up with your single cousin. She joined ballroom dancing classes to meet men and was the queen of online dating.

But then she met Myles. Perfect Myles, with denim-blue eyes and a dazzling smile that melted her insides. She’d finally found The One.

Except she didn’t imagine that Myles’s idea of Happy Ever After would include Sloane battling an overflowing laundry basket, buying birthday cards for his family, and ironing his Calvin Klein underpants.

Then Sloane finds out that Myles has a secret.

The fairy tale is well and truly over. Her heart is blown to smithereens. Eating her weight in Ben & Jerry’s and large Meat Feast pizzas can only get Sloane so far before she has to make a decision… Can she learn to love herself more than she loved the love of her life?

No, We Can’t Be Friends is a brilliantly relatable, hilarious and feel-good novel that every woman with a waste-of-space ex HAS to read! If you’re a fan of romantic comedies by Sophie Kinsella and Lindsey Kelk, and TV shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin, pick up this laugh-out-loud book – you won’t regret it.

My thoughts:

  I don’t know whether to put it in the category of contemporary women’s fiction, humour, or romance. With a slightly older protagonist, it doesn’t seem to fit neatly into the chick-lit category, although it is written in a light-hearted, easy style. ‘No, We Can’t Be Friends’ is a life story, honest and relatable. It is also entertaining (although not exactly laugh out loud) and hard to put down.

Sloane Cassidy is a successful professional- she is a co-owner of a PR/ talent agency. She has been married for five years to Myles, whom she loves deeply, and is thinking of starting family. As their dream house renovation work continues, little cracks begin to appear in her marriage. Sloane doesn’t exactly brush them off, she just wants to double her efforts to be the best wife possible. After all, ‘she’s in it to win it’. Gradually, Sloane discovers her husband might not be the man she has always imagined him to be. Oh, he can still make her laugh, and her body might still crave the warmth of his body in their bed, but how do you reconcile this with the secret text message sent to a mutual ‘friend’ ‘I have never loved her’? How do you learn to see your relationship with the new eyes of knowing it was based on lies? How do you take off those rose-tinted glasses we all wear when we look at our One and Only? What do you do with your hopes for future which seemed already written somewhere? How do you give up your wish to become a mother when you are 35 and are facing a divorce?

Sloane is a fantastic character, a girl I would love to have as a friend in real life. She is kind and strong, sensible and realistic. She doesn’t complain or wallow (maybe just a bit, but then we all need somebody to make us a strong cup of tea at the right moment and take care of us just for a day to let us get on our feet). She genuinely wants to re-build her life and understands that it will take time.


Sloane is not alone, of course, and that is not surprising. She cares about people around her and sees the best in them, and they stand by her when her own life seems to crumble.
I really loved her relationship with Megan (the other co-owner of the agency) and the way Sloane turns up at the right moment to help the brand-new mother- sometimes it is all you need: a shower and 20 minutes to yourself and a conversation with an adult about anything not baby-related!


I hope I’m not going to spoil the story by saying that there is also a new man in her life, but the romance is so secondary, so in the background, that there is no doubt- this novel focuses on Sloane and her divorce, rather than anything or anybody else. Actually, I would have liked to see a more developed male character ( friend or foe) in this book, as they all seemed a bit one-dimensional.

Sophie Ranald wrote a very relatable story as any of us who have gone through a long-term relationship breakup or a divorce will vouch for. It is also uplifting and heart-warming. At the end of the day, it is people in our lives (friends, family, co-workers, kind strangers) that matter, not houses or fancy decor. And we can make our own if not HEA, at least HFN, if we take our life decisions in our own hands.

Thank you to NetGalley and Boukouture for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

Expected Publication Date: 10th of January 2020.

  • Have you read ‘No, We Can’t Be Friends’ or any other books by Sophie Ranald?
  • What’s the best book dealing with post-separation /post-divorce topic have you read?
  • Where does ‘chick-lit’ end and ‘Women’s fiction’ begin for you?
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#Book Review #A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh welcomes you to a remote town on the edge of the world where even the blinding brightness of the sun can’t mask the darkness that lies deep within a killer…

On the rugged West Coast of New Zealand, Golden Cove is more than just a town where people live. The adults are more than neighbors; the children, more than schoolmates.

That is until one fateful summer—and several vanished bodies—shatters the trust holding Golden Cove together. All that’s left are whispers behind closed doors, broken friendships, and a silent agreement not to look back. But they can’t run from the past forever.

Eight years later, a beautiful young woman disappears without a trace, and the residents of Golden Cove wonder if their home shelters something far more dangerous than an unforgiving landscape.

It’s not long before the dark past collides with the haunting present and deadly secrets come to light.

(From the book blurb)

******

My thoughts:

This is my first book by this incredibly talented writer, so I had very few, if any, expectations. I was swept away by the beauty of descriptions of the West Coast of New Zealand:

.…She stood on a jagged cliff looking out over the crashing sea below as fog wove through the treetops, a light misty rain falling and dissipating before it ever got to her...

Nature plays such a prominent role in this novel that it is impossible not to mention how it foreshadows the events in the book and amplifies already strong emotions. It is ‘primal and untamed‘, it is one of the protagonists of this masterfully-crafted mystery and thriller.

Anahera Spenser-Ashby Rawiri returns to her home town of Golden Cove after eight years of absence, a successful career as a classical pianist and the death of her handsome, elegant and cheating husband. The first lines were shocking and memorable, and set the tone of the whole story:

She returned home two hundred and seventeen days after burying her husband while his pregnant mistress sobbed so hard that she made herself sick. Anahera stood stone-faced, staring down at the gleaming mahogany coffin…

Anahera, whose name means ‘Angel’ in Maori, is a fascinating character and you gradually discover how her strength and hardness are the result of tragic experiences in her childhood and adolescence. You also discover that she is fiercely loyal, kind, and proud of her Maori heritage.

Will is a decorated police officer who got sent away from Christchurch and is now serving as the one and only policeman in Golden Cove. He takes his job seriously and is liked by the locals, although it will take a long time for the people of Golden Cove to accept him and stop treating him as an outsider. The ghost of a little boy he promised to protect and failed to save from the fire set by his violent and abusive father is haunting Will and making sure he won’t leave a stone unturned when a local girl goes missing.

Nineteen year old Miriama is slender, graceful and radiantly beautiful. It is always difficult to write a character destined to become a victim of the crime that drives the plot. Make him/her too likeable and the reader’s heart is going to be broken. Make them too generic, and the reader isn’t going to feel invested in the story. Miri is blessed with her looks and is admired and courted by many men, both local and passing tourists. Her mother died of an overdose and the little girl grew up with her aunt Matilda, who, unfortunately, has the worst taste possible in men. Miri is repeatedly described as sunshine, full of life, and aroha (love), but her story is not a happy one.

When Miri goes for a run, wearing bright running clothes, and fails to come back home, Will leads first the search party and then the police investigation and finally solves the mystery, not only of Miriama’s death, but also the cold case of three female hikers who disappeared fifteen years ago in a similar way.


There are plenty of suspects, as well as plenty of secrets that run ‘like a thick tide of lava beneath the surface‘. At some point, it seemed that almost any man in the town could have committed this crime, but Will, who is ‘relenless, like water on rock‘, is added by Anahera’s insight into the past and present life of the locals, as well as her empathy and ability to talk to people who share their secrets with her, safe in the knowledge she will always be on their side.

There is romance between the two hard, life-beaten protagonists, but mostly A Madness of Sunshine is a mystery, trying to piece together what exactly happened to crush the young and innocent life of Miriama.

Whether you are a fan of Nalini Singh or new to this author, and are just looking for a thriller set in New Zealand, this unique story has a lot to offer.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley for the review copy provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Haveyou read A Madness of Sunshine or is it on your tbr?
  • Have you read any other books by Nalini Singh?
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# Can’t-Wait Wednesday #Night Swim by Megan Goldin

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine. If you’re continuing with WOW, feel free to link those up as well! Find out more here.

The book I am waiting for this Wednesday comes from Megan Goldin, the author of ‘The Escape Room’ which was one of the most gripping thrillers I read in summer.

The new book is also a psychological thriller/suspense:

From Goodreads:

In this new thriller from the author of The Escape Room, a podcast host covering a controversial trial in a small town becomes obsessed with a brutal crime that took place there years before.

After the first season of her true crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall is now a household name―and the last hope for thousands of people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The small town of Neapolis is being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. The town’s golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping a high school student, the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into interviewing and investigating―but the mysterious letters keep showing up in unexpected places. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insists she was murdered―and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody seems to want to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.

Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?

***************

Expected publication date: August 4th, 2020

Publisher: St.Martin’s Press

Genre: Fiction/ Thriller/ Psychological

No of pages: 352

  • Have you read ‘The Escape Room’? if yes, would you be interested in this new book from Megan Goldin?
  • Do you read ‘True Crime’ books? Have you ever listened to a podcast with this theme?

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#Book Review #Trace of Evil by Alice Blanchard

A riveting mystery that introduces a bold and audacious rookie detective assigned to hunt for a killer who is haunted by the past in this gripping murder case…

Natalie Lockhart always knew she was going to be a cop. A rookie detective on the Burning Lake police force, she was raised on the wisdom of her chief-of-police father. These cases will haunt you if you let them. Grief doesn’t come with instructions.

But the one thing her father couldn’t teach her was how to handle loss. Natalie’s beloved sister was viciously murdered as a teenager, and she carries the scars deep in her heart. Although the killer was locked up, the trace evidence never added up, and Natalie can’t help wondering―is the past really behind her?

As the newest member on the force, Natalie is tasked with finding nine missing persons who’ve vanished off the face of the earth, dubbed “the Missing Nine.” One night, while following up on a new lead, she comes across a savage crime that will change everything.

Daisy Buckner―a popular schoolteacher, wife to a cop, and newly pregnant―lies dead on her kitchen floor. As Natalie hunts for Daisy’s killer in the wake of the town’s shock, her search leads to a string of strange clues―about the Missing Nine, about Daisy’s secret life, and reviving fresh doubts about her sister’s murder.

As the investigation deepens, Natalie’s every move risks far-reaching consequences―for the victims, for the town of Burning Lake, and for herself.

Spellbinding and gripping, Trace of Evil is a novel of twisting suspense that will leave you breathless.

(From the official synopsis)

*****

My thoughts:

In order to get to understand Natalie Lockhart you need to know two things about her: where she comes from and her family.
Burning Lake is a small town in upstate New York, mostly famous for the stunning beauty of autumn trees and the burning of three innocent women convicted of witchcraft which happened in 1712. Their accusers later admitted it had all been made up. For years this event remained buried in town history until a book about the witch trials came out and put the town on the map. Hundreds of tourists come to visit its occult shops selling magic kits, spellbooks and souvenir cauldrons. ‘Dabbling in witchcraft was something of a rite of passage in Burning Lake’ and Natalie herself went through ‘a witchy phase’.

Another thing you need to know about Natalie is that she is the youngest of three sisters, and her oldest sister Willow Lockhart was brutally murdered twenty years ago at the age of 18, stabbed 27 times. The perpetrator was quickly arrested and sentenced for life, although he continues to maintain his innocence. The tragedy marked the remaining two sisters and their parents. Their mother never wanted to have more than one child, so having lost her favourite daughter destroyed her world and her will for living. Natalie’s father was more even in his affections. He was a police officer and often left little puzzles and mysteries for Natalie to solve. He noticed she had an inquisitive mind and a stubborn streak, and tried to teach her everything he knew about his work and life.

A secret is like a magic mirror, with endless layers of illusion. What you assume to be a fact isn’t always real.

Trace of Evil focuses on two interwoven cases. The first one is called The Missing Nine and is a group of cold cases that involved mysterious disappearings of transients, homeless people and troubled teenagers over a long period of time. Any new detective in BLPD is asked to give these files a fresh look, although nobody expects a major breakthrough: there is too little reliable information to go on. The second case is the murder of  a school teacher and Natalie’s sister’s best friend Daisy Buckner, who also happened to be the wife of one of the detectives in BLPD.
I’m not going to give away the story. Suffice it to say, the story kept me on the edge of my seat and the ending was quite unexpected. There is also a touch of burgeoning romance with an old childhood friend, which is, I hope, going to develop in the following books.

I liked Natalie for her tenacity and her courage, which I define as acting in spite of fear. She is a kind person, respectful of other people’s boundaries and need for autonomy, and a fantastically supportive sister and aunt. The cases in this book were very personal for Natalie for a variety of reasons, but I would like to see how Natalie’s character evolves in the light of other experiences.

The writing was absolutely compelling, there was depth and beauty in the descriptions, which made it really difficult for me to put down the book – I needed to read it from cover to cover.

My only regret is that I did not read this book in October- with it’s dark and slightly creepy atmosphere, it would have made an excellent choice for the Halloween month.
I will definitely be looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Minotaur books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read Trace of Evil or is it on your tbr?

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#Teen Tonic # Book Review #Eight will fall by Sarah Harian

In a land where magic is outlawed, eight criminals led by seventeen-year-old Larkin are sent on a mission to kill an ancient evil that plagues their kingdom. Descending into an underground realm full of unspeakable horrors, Larkin and her party must use their forbidden magic to survive what lies in wait, teeth sharp and jaws deadly.

As she fights for her life, Larkin finds a light in Amias, a fellow outlaw with a notorious past. Soon Larkin and Amias realize their fates are entwined. The eight of them were chosen for a reason.

But as the dangers multiply and her band of felons are picked off one by one, Larkin must confront a terrible truth: They were never meant to return.

(From the book blurb)

*****

My thoughts:

Seventeen year old Larkin is a miner who comes from a family of Empaths, magic users who can channel other people’s emotions and use them to create or destroy things. Not that they get a lot of practice doing that. Magic is absolutely forbidden by the law. Empaths are all but enslaved by non-magic users and their queen Melay, who can break their families by sending some members to farms while others earn meager wages mining luminite, a rare mineral that suppresses the Emapath magic by blocking their ability to sense other people’s emotions.

Empaths have no surnames and are not allowed to learn to read. Larkin knows her wages and her brother Garran’s keep her family from starvation, yet when humiliated and provoked by a shopkeeper’s disdain, she uses a tiny bit of destruction magic to create a diversion that allows her to steal a bit of food. Very soon she and Garran are arrested and taken to the Queen’s dungeons. Larkin would give anything to fix the situation and protect her brother’s life. Even draw the Queen’s attention to herself when Melay appears to be choosing several inmates for a dangerous mission. There are eight of them: six Empath teenagers, an Empath soldier (a rarity in itself), and a non-Empath scholar. The Queen tells them that dark destruction magic is being used by unknown forces and there have been multiple disappearances from the farms. She sent her soldiers to investigate the underground area called the Reach where a thousand of years ago seven rebel Empaths were imprisoned together with their leader Kyran. Old legends say the darkness will rise. Could the mysterious disappearances and the fact that the soldiers never made their way back to the surface have something to do with this ancient lore?


As the Queen holds Garran and and the families of the other six Empaths as her leverage, Larkin and her party must descend into the Reach with one week worth of food and water, find and kill Kyran. The good news is that luminite is a surface mineral, so they will be able to protect themselves by using their forbidden magic. The bad news is that since it has been outlawed for such long time, they haven’t had much practice.

The magic system is very clear and interesting in this book. We often read about mind-readers, but what about emotion-readers? Wouldn’t it be fascinating to be able to read and use the mood of other people to be able to create various objects or destroy obstacles? In Larkin’s world it is impossible to live alone- you wouldn’t be able to feel the calm and joy that comes from other people’s company, even fear, rage and anxiety have their usefulness- they just have to be acknowledged and controlled.

Larkin is a strong character and I am always on a lookout for great female leads. The blurb might have led you to think that there will be multiple points of view in the book. There is only one POV, Larkin’s, and while it certainly helped to flesh out her character, at least half of the others remain less developed, especially the ones who die closer to the beginning of their horrifying adventure.

The book was conceived as a duology and then was re-written as a standalone. On plus side, we still get great worldbuilding and action starts early in the book. On the other hand, some things we learn from the characters talking about old legends, while we could have been shown, not told. For example, I am still not clear about the reasons for the conflict between the original non-magic Queen Ilona and Kyran. I would have also preferred to meet the other disciples in their sectors of the Reach. The ending also seemed a bit rushed. As I read I could almost envisage which parts would have been developped in the second book of the duology.

I would define the genre of this book as horror/ dark fantasy. There is definitely enough blood and gore, so it is better to go in the book expecting these elements. I am a bit claustrophobic, so there was one particluar scene that made me feel for poor Larkin and her companions. This book would make an excellent read for a Halloween readathon or a book club for slightly older teenagers who enjoy this kind of stories.

Finally, I just loved the cover. It is dark and beautiful, and perfectly matches the mood of this book.


Thank you to Edelweiss and Henry Holt for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Do you enjoy reading YA fantasy books? What’s your definition of ‘dark fantasy’?
  • Have you read ‘Eight will fall’ or is it on your tbr?

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#Can’t-Wait-Wednesday # In a Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine. If you’re continuing with WOW, feel free to link those up as well! Find out more here.

The Book I am presenting today is A good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler.

Synopsis:

In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door―an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he’s made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn’t want to live in Oak Knoll? With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

Told from multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today―What does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye?―as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.

What happens when you try to do the right thing but it all goes wrong?

*****

Publisher: St.Martin’s Press

Expected Publication Date: February 4th 2020

Genre: Fiction / Family Life

320 Pages

*****

  • Have you read this book or is it on your tbr?
  • Have you read any other books by Therese Anne Fowler?
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#Teen Tonic #Book Review #Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

Book synopsis:

How much does the internet know about YOU? A thought-provoking near future YA thriller that could not be more timely as it explores issues of online privacy, artificial intelligence, and the power and perils of social networks.

Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet—a social media site where users upload cat pictures—a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I.

When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and ChesireCat’s existence is discovered by outsiders, it’s up to Steph and her friends, both online and IRL, to save her.

Catfishing on CatNet is a surprising, heartfelt near-future YA thriller by award-winning author Naomi Kritzer, whose short story “Cat Pictures Please” won the Hugo Award and Locus Award and was a finalist for the Nebula.

My thoughts:

As promised by the blurb, the story does go to some extent into thought-provoking questions on how much information about us is available to any serious hacker or an AI and how trusting we are of the good intentions of those who have become a member of our social network closer circle. But it isn’t all dark and gloomy, quite the opposite. It is more about our fundamental desire to make friendships and find people we belong with.

Steph Taylor has changed six high schools. Her slightly paranoid mother keeps moving every couple of months and Steph hasn’t even worked out what triggers these frequent moves. Mom says Steph’s father is a psychopath and convicted arsonist and the only way to keep safe is to keep a low profile and run at the first sign of danger. Steph would do anything to keep her mom happy, but their lifestyle choice also means she has never had time to make any real friends or develop a crush. The only permanent feature in Steph’s life is CatNet a social network site where cat (or any other animal picture at a pinch) pictures serve as a currency and where everybody is put in big chat groups called Clowders. Steph (or Little Brown Bat /LBB) feels her Clowder are the only people who can understand and relate to her. To be fair, they are supportive and respectful of each other. Then, she notices that one of the members of the group is always online. A few days later a strange event involving a hacked package delivery drone makes her think that somebody in her Clowder may be not telling the whole truth.

The story is told from three points of view: Steph, her Clowder chat, and an AI being (if you’ve read the blurb you already know that they are the admin of the site). The events move forward quickly and there is never a dull moment as Steph makes new real-life friends in her new town, re-programs a sex ed robot with the help of her online friends, and escapes her father- the homicidal maniac/ wannabe world dictator.

The characters are very sweet, especially the AI/Cheshire Cat who does grapple with serious ethical questions in a very human way. There isn’t really anything dark or scary about this book, apart from Stephanie and her mom’s life of perpetual nomads. On the other hand, Steph seemed to act quite selfishly, so it is up to the reader to decide whether they like her character, are annoyed by her, or simply accept her as a typical teenager with her own set of flaws. There is diversity in characters and LGBTQIA representation, which makes the story stand out of the usual coming of age YA novels. I also liked the way it is stressed that nobody should be rushed into a romantic relationship, especially if they need time to work out their feelings.

Some of the things in the plot are far-fetched, and I still think everything works out a bit too neatly in the end. The events may appear just one big rollercoaster of adventure, but I hope the serious issues of how new technology is redefining privacy or how the differences between virtual and real-life friendships are getting blurred are also going to be noticed by the readers of this entertaining novel.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Tor for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

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#Book Review # The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

The first rule of book club:
You don’t talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott’s marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him. 

Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.

Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville’s top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it’ll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.

( From the synopsis)

My thoughts:

Heart-warming… It’s great to know, or rather have a bookish confirmation of something I have always believed in, there are good men out there, who care about their families, wives and children, to the extent of doing whatever it takes to make their marriage work. Even if it is reading a Regency romance book.

I absolutely adored the characters in this sweet rom-com. Gavin is a professional baseball player who spends a lot of time travelling for work. Thea, his wife of three years, is understandably upset about the situation. She put her career on hold and has done her best to blend in and become a worthy member of WAGs – wives and girlfriends of the players of her husband’s baseball team. Thea feels she is losing herself and is forgetting the dynamic, non-conformist, independent, artistic, fun girl she used to be. Then, one night, after her husband’s greatest sports triumph, the big secret is out: Thea has been faking her orgasms, and Gavin refuses to speak to her for a month. Thea asks him to leave, which he does, adding fuel to her childhood fear of being abandoned by people she loves the most.

  Gavin is distraught and ready to do anything for Thea to give him a second chance. His teammates approach him with quite an unusual solution. Gavin is to become the newest member of a secret book club for alpha male athletes who try to understand the mysterious language of women by reading and discussing romance novels. The bros already have the right book in mind: Courting the Countess, a cute Regency number that perfectly matches Thea and Gavin’s situation.

The Book club scenes were absolutely hilarious, with their witty retorts and serious deliberations on the merits of pumpkin spice lattes and the dangerous message of The Little Mermaid where the main character ‘has to literally change from one species to another in order to be with a man’. All the laughs aside, these men meet together and try to help each other learn to save their marriages and relationships by listening and communicating with their loved ones. A few times in the book, Gavin is surprised to find out things about Thea, and she asks ‘How come you didn’t know that?” Because I’m not a mind reader’. He keeps saying ‘Talk to me. Tell me what you feel , tell me what is important for you, help me to understand what I can DO to show my love’.

Gavin is such a wonderful mixture of sweetness, determination, willingness to learn and strength. Thea got pregnant very soon into their relationship, and although their twin girls are absolutely adorable and mean the whole world to them, becoming parents is a huge step in any marriage, and a big change in a couple dynamics. It helps if you have already addressed (or at least are aware of ) your issues with your parents’ dysfunctional marriage. It also helps to trust your partner to put your family and your relationship first, above anything else.

The Bromance Book club may be a sweet and entertaining rom-com, but there is certain depth to it, as it is also a very relatable tale of second chances and family dynamics. The second book in the series is going to focus on Liv, Thea’s little sister, who was fiercely (and annoyingly at times) loyal to Thea, and surely deserves her own Good Man. Will the Bromance Book Club help Gavin’s mate Mack win Liv’s ever-cautious heart and lead them to their own HEA?

Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley for the review copy provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read The Bromance Book Club or is it on your tbr?
  • Do you think having children necessarily destroys the early days romance?


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#Book Review # What Rose forgot by Nevada Barr

In New York Times bestselling author Nevada Barr’s gripping standalone, a grandmother in her sixties emerges from a mental fog to find she’s trapped in her worst nightmare

Rose Dennis wakes up in a hospital gown, her brain in a fog, only to discover that she’s been committed to an Alzheimer’s Unit in a nursing home. With no memory of how she ended up in this position, Rose is sure that something is very wrong. When she overhears one of the administrators saying about her that she’s “not making it through the week,” Rose is convinced that if she’s to survive, she has to get out of the nursing home. She avoids taking her medication, putting on a show for the aides, then stages her escape.

The only problem is—how does she convince anyone that she’s not actually demented? Her relatives were the ones to commit her, all the legal papers were drawn up, the authorities are on the side of the nursing home, and even she isn’t sure she sounds completely sane. But any lingering doubt Rose herself might have had is erased when a would-be killer shows up in her house in the middle of the night. Now Rose knows that someone is determined to get rid of her.

With the help of her computer hacker/recluse sister Marion, thirteen-year old granddaughter Mel, and Mel’s friend Royal, Rose begins to gather her strength and fight back—to find out who is after her and take back control of her own life. But someone out there is still determined to kill Rose, and they’re holding all the cards.

(from the Book Blurb)

My thoughts:

What Rose Forgot is an extremely entertaining action-packed mystery. I fell in love with Rose’s dry self-deprecating sense of humour from the very first scene. Rose wakes up in a wood and has no idea how she ended up in the place. has there been an accident? Then why is she wearing a hospital gown, and most importantly, why is she struggling to clear her mind from its foggy state? Two teenage boys find and report Rose to a nursing home nearby and we quickly understand that not everything is as innocent as it seems to be. The orderlies drag the poor lady, the relatives (whose names escape Rose) seem to be really angry, to say nothing of the home managers. Rose cannot remember being committed to this secure unit and she doesn’t believe herself demented. Could she have been drugged? Rose pretends to take her medication and then hides her daily dose stash in a drawer of her cabinet. Slowly and painfully, the fog begins to clear away, while she is continuing to behave as if nothing has changed. When she hears two voices saying that she won’t last this week, Rose knows her life is in imminent danger and hatches an ingenious escape plan. Once out, Rose can count on very few people, partly because she still doesn’t know who exactly wishes her harm to the extent of hiring a hitman, and partly because the kind soul she is, she doesn’t want to risk the lives or freedom of people she loves.


The character of Rose is absolutely adorable. I might forget the exact details of this intricate plot, but I definitely won’t forget its feisty protagonist, an eccentric artist, a Buddhist and a doting grandmother. Rose and her sidekicks- her recluse sister/ hacker Marion, wonderfully practical and elusive, and Mel, Rose’s thirteen-year-old granddaughter, make an excellent team.


I believe the charm of this book lies in Rose’s attitude to the events . The comments and opinions she voices in her head are hilarious. She is both humble and resilient, and won’t go down without a good fight.


The pace is really fast and the author makes sure there is never a dull moment. The events are, of course, far-fetched, but the book is well-written and the protagonist is so endearing in all her kookiness, that you will readily suspend your belief and keep turning pages.


The big issues touched in the book- ageism and extended family relationships- are serious and need to be discussed more often. This light and funny read is quite insightful, without losing its entertainment value.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Minotaur/ St.Martin’s Press for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read What Rose forgot or is it on your tbr list? Have you read other books by Nevada Barr?
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#Book Review # The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

The human heart has hidden treasures,

In secret kept , in silence sealed; –

The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,

Whose charms were broken if revealed.

‘Evening Solace’ by Charlotte Brontë

Bella Ellis’s charming historical mystery is set in Haworth Parsonage and its neighbouring villages, Yorkshire, summer of 1845. All four surviving children of Reverend Patrick Brontë are back home. Charlotte‘s heart is full of unrequited love for Monsier Héger. She and Emily were employed in his boarding school in Brussels, although Emily returned to look after their dying aunt Branwell. Branwell left his empoyment in Thorp Green Hall under a cloud, following his passionate and forbidden affair with his employer’s wife. Unfortunately, this also meant that his younger sister Anne, a kind and meek soul, had to resign her position. Now that all four Brontë siblings are under their father’s roof, they spend their time walking in the beautiful Yorkshire moors, re-visiting their childhood creation of the fantasy land of Gondal, reading books and perusing newspapers to keep themselves abreast with society news or in case of Branwell- drinking and gambling in local pubs.

Meanwhile, not far from their parsonage, a young woman Elizabeth Chester, by all accounts a devoted mother and stepmother of two young children and a wife of a local land owner, disappears from her room in Chester Grange. There is so much blood left behind that there is little doubt she came to a grave harm. When the Brontë sisters hear of this strange occurence in their neighbourhood, they decide to try to solve the mystery by putting their education, curiosity, deductive powers, social skills and sense of justice in use and become ‘detectors’, no doubt following the example of the first officers in the newly established Police force in London.

This novel is a real treat for all admirers of Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë. It is written with so much admiration and appreciation for these wonderful authors. In a series like this, you are walking a fine line between providing too much background information and not enough. The book is obviously well-researched, and will be much enjoyed by people who already love the Brontë sisters and are familiar with their tragic life story. Bella Ellis brings alive three very different characters: sensible and serious Charlotte, curious and intrepid animal lover Emily, mild, meek and religious angelic looking Anne who despite being the youngest often acts as the most grown up and socially adjusted among the siblings. The secondary characters are also interesting and add to the colour of the story: Mattie French, the governess in Chester Grange, Mrs Crawley, the housekeeper, Tabby (Tabitha), Brontës’ faithful servant and source of fairy-tales and legends, Celia, who in our modern society would have been a surgeon, but is instead limited to being her husband’s keeper of virtue and occasional assistant.

With these three independent, creative sisters in charge of the investigation, the plight of women in that historic period becomes much more than a mere backdrop of the story:

Well, in this world where men might beat their wives, might force themselves upon them, and, yes, might even kill them and go unpunished, where society and the law see women as little more than property, it seems as though someone should be trying to do something about it…

You will, no doubt, see numerous allusions to Emily, Charlotte, and Anne’s works. After all, the novel is set before Jane Eyre, Wurthering Heights and The Tenant were written, and we get a glimpse into what might have inspired or influenced the sisters. It is also a story in its own, a story of a woman, trapped in a loveless marriage, who does not want to reconcile herself to being her husband’s property or her father’s means for elevating his social status. There are twists and turns, as in any good mystery, and whenever I thought I had it figured out, a new element was discovered by our amateur sleuths that completely changed my understanding of what happened to Elizabeth Chester.

As this is the first part of a new series, I will definitely be looking forward to the next instament. In fact, I already have my favourite ‘detector’ among the three, and I can’t wait to see what she is going to get up to in the second book.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

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# Book Review # Rewind by Catherine Ryan Howard

The Book Blurb:

From the bestselling, multiple prize-shortlisted novelist Catherine Ryan Howard comes an explosive story about a twisted voyeur and a terrible crime…

PLAY
Andrew, the manager of Shanamore Holiday Cottages, watches his only guest via a hidden camera in her room. One night the unthinkable happens: a shadowy figure emerges onscreen, kills her and destroys the camera. But who is the murderer? How did they know about the camera? And how will Andrew live with himself?

PAUSE
Natalie wishes she’d stayed at home as soon as she arrives in the wintry isolation of Shanamore. There’s something creepy about the manager. She wants to leave, but she can’t – not until she’s found what she’s looking for…

REWIND
This is an explosive story about a murder caught on camera. You’ve already missed the start. To get the full picture you must rewind the tape and play it through to the end, no matter how shocking…

‘Catherine Ryan Howard is a gift to crime writing. Her characters are credible, her stories are original and her plotting is ingenious. Every book is a treat to look forward to.’ Liz Nugent

My thoughts:

Natalie O’Connor-Kerr, a lifestyle blogger and a rising Instagram star, a woman with a dream job, a dream house in an expensive area of Dublin, and a dream husband, takes a bus to the middle of nowhere, a half-deserted village of Shanamore on the coast of Ireland. She has a reservation for one of the strange-looking cottages, supervised by a young man Andrew, who immediately gives her if not creeps, at least a strange vibe. Once in her cottage, Natalie starts looking through the drawers until she finds a poetry book with a blue cover and an expensive bookplate. You see, inside the book there is a dedication ‘For my M’ in Natalie’s handwriting. This is the book she gave her husband on their honeymoon in Rome. Natalie has never been to Shanamore and her husband Mike denies ever setting his foot in the place. So how would you explain the book being there? And how would you explain an entry on Mike’s credit card bill that corresponds to a receipt Natalie somebody put in their mail box? The receipt that was printed out in Shanamore Cottages.

If you read the blurb, you know what follows. A woman is brutally attacked in one of the cottages and stabbed to death. This gruesome scene is captured on video by one of the cameras instaled all over the cottage. As the manager watches in horror at what is happening, the killer, wearing a balaclava and black clothes, calmly walks towards the bedstand and switches off the camera. Who could have known Andrew’s little dirty secret and what is going to happen next?

It is quite difficult to discuss the plot without giving major spoilers. The way the story is narrated is quite original. There are several points of view (at least five, by my count), but the characters are very distinct and get more and more fleshed out as the story progresses. The narrattive is not linear, so we also get flashbacks/rewinds that explain the events and show us why the character ended up leading their life the way they do or why they made this or that particular choice. We also get pause scenes and fast forwards that show the consequences of their actions. All this might sound confusing, but Catherine Ryan Howard’s writing skill makes the story hold together in an effortless way.

I was totally fascinated by the characters, both primary and secondary, the victim, the investigators and the villains, every single one of them has their unique voice and is well-developed. Some of them you will like or at least understand/relate to, while the others are really creepy, and no amount of background could make me understand their mentality and their propensities. I loved the way the author painted the life in this remote village with a few masterful strokes- a friendly waitress, with her collage of Instagram photos, a corner shop with old-fashioned plastic phones and eery silence as soon as a stranger comes in, the village pub where the owner stubbornly refuses make any changes and serves three dishes only – stew, soup and sandwishes – and only between noon and three o’clock with no exceptions, the tiny Garda station (Police) manned by one man only…

As the narrative is quite complicated, it helps that the setting is limited to Dublin and Shanamore. We get a glimpse into what Irish life is like after the downturn of the economy destroyed many illusions nurtured by the phenomenon of the Celtic Tiger. We see it in the description of Audrey, a graduate struggling to keep her badly-paid job in the Entertainment section of an online paper, a ‘click factory’, and Carla, Natalie’s best friend, who feels left behind and a bit bitter towards the people like Natalie, people who found their social media niche and are cashing on it. It does come at a price, of course. We all know that the price is privacy and personal safety, although Mike and Natalie seem to think that the way she posts is going to allow her to keep their family life separate.

Look, Nat values her privacy, okay? I know that seems like a weird thing for someone in her position to claim, but she does. Everything that goes up online is carefully chosen. Than pink suitcase? That’s not even hers. Not the one she uses, anyway. She points out the things to people that she wants them to see and she keeps everything else for herself. For us. We live a private life, ironically.

If you are like me, you might find yourself thinking about parallels with a few iconic films. Psycho and Memento are just two that spring to my mind. The reason for this is that the writing is smart and full of vivid images, and you have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to work out the story of the woman on the tape. A clever whodunnit, told in an unusual but compelling way, Rewind will keep you glued to the pages until the end.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Blackstone Publishing for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read Rewind or is it on your tbr list? If yes, what did you think of it? Did you find any of the characters likeable/relatable?
  • How do you feel about non-linear narratives?
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#Book review #Well Met by Jen DeLuca


Emily is used to putting other people’s needs before her own. She dropped out of college to put her boyfriend through his expensive law school. He was supposed to help her after the graduation, but as soon as he got his new and shiny degree, he decided to break up with her and cancelled their flat lease. As Emily was desperately trying to sort her life out, her older sister April had a car accident and, of course, Emily rushed to Willow Creek, Maryland, to help out for a few months, until April is able to drive and work again. Emily’s niece Caitlin would love to participate in the local Renaissance Faire, however, the adult who accompanies her is also required to volunteer and become a part of the cast …and this is how Emily takes on the role of a tavern wench for six weeks. She quickly discovers that despite being hard work, this is something that makes her feel competent and appreciated in this friendly little community. She also discovers that the sulky and uptight organiser Simon Graham changes and behaves in a very different way, once he dons a pirate costume. His character Captain Ian Blackthorne likes the tavern wench Emma (Emily’s character) to the point of agreeing to undergo a beautifully romantic ceremony of binding, a kind of temporary betrothal for a year and a day, after which the couple may decide to part and go their separate ways or…declare a different kind of imtentions.

The book was so much fun. Emily is friendly, hard-working and helpful. She might be at the crossroads with her own future, but rest assured she will work it out. A lovely character, very easy to relate to and root for. Simon..well…If his character of a pirate doesn’t do it for you, how about a quiet, responsible, and loyal teacher of English who is willing to woo his girl, and most importantly knows that she deserves to be the most important thing in his life, even if he has to let go of his past and make a lot of changes. The secondary characters are also kind and positive.

I loved the special atmosphere of a small town, where people not only would make casseroles for a neighbour in need, but would also go out of their way to change the schedule of their book club to give you an opportunity to join. If you want to…And if you don’t, they won’t hold it against you.

The book is charming in the best possible way, if you like this genre. The pace is just right- the romance is neither too hurried, nor too slow to develop. It takes time to become a part of a community, but the feeling of belonging is worth it, that’s why Emily’s story is so sweet.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

From the book blurb:

All’s faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author, Jen DeLuca.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

  • Do you like contemporary romance? Have you read Well Met or is it on your tbr list?
  • Do you like books set in a small community? What’s the most interesting one you’ve read recently?
  • Have you ever participated in a Renaissance Fair or taken part in an amateur production of a Shakespeare play? Did you enjoy the experience?
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Book Review The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames

Make new friends, but keep the old

One is silver and the other’s gold

*****

From the book synopsis:

An insightful and sparkling novel that opens on a college campus and follows the friendship of four women across life-defining turning points

Assigned to the same suite during their freshman year at Quincy-Hawthorne College, Lainey, Ji Sun, Alice, and Margaret quickly become inseparable. The leafy green campus they move through together, the idyllic window seat they share in their suite, and the passion and ferocity that school and independence awakens in them ignites an all-encompassing love with one another. But they soon find their bonds–forged in joy, and fused by fear–must weather threats that originate from beyond the dark forests of their childhoods, and come at them from institutions, from one another, and ultimately, from within themselves.

The Other’s Gold follows the four friends as each makes a terrible mistake, moving from their wild college days to their more feral days as new parents. With one part devoted to each mistake–the Accident, the Accusation, the Kiss, and the Bite–this complex yet compulsively readable debut interrogates the way that growing up forces our friendships to evolve as the women discover what they and their loved ones are capable of, and capable of forgiving. A joyful, big-hearted book that perfectly evokes the bittersweet experience of falling in love with friendship, the experiences of Lainey, Ji Sun, Alice, and Margaret are at once achingly familiar and yet shine with a brilliance and depth all their own.

My thoughts:

You’re either going to love this book or hate it. If you fall in love with its compelling, engaging writing style and care for Alice, Margaret, Ji Sun and Lainey as they move from adolescence of their freshman year in college to adulthood, you will not want the book to end, or at very least hope for regular updates in future to know how they are doing. If you don’t connect with the book, the story is going to seem long and unnecessarily detailed. Life on paper…

The four girls were assigned the same suite with a window seat on their first day of college. They thought that they were placed together based on the fact that all of them were second daughters and only later noticed that their last names started with an R, an S and two Ts. As Elizabeth Ames spells her story you see the magic of becoming friends as powerful (if not more) as falling in love. There are people around them: boyfriends, acquaintances, professors, parents, siblings, some of them more important than others, some failing to make anything but a very fleeting impression. It is clear, though, that for Alice, Margaret ,Ji Sun and Lainey, their friendship is in part something that defines them. Perhaps, even more than their families, because it might have begun as a random decision of a housing officer, but it continued by choice, which is evident in how they continued to love and care for each other despite their worst deeds, their shameful mistakes.

We are told at the very beginning when the mistakes were made: Alice’s before the college, when she was twelve, Ji Sun’s in the sophomore year, Margaret’s after the graduation and Lainey’s already as a mother to her own child. Four mistakes, four parts of the book, one life that led to that moment and one life in which to make sense of what happened and live it down however much it changes you and people around you.

Don’t think you are not going to judge them- you will. Because, to be honest, they are really inexcusable, those deeds. But you will judge them not as a stranger, but as an invisible friend, trying to see all the reasons and circumstances that led to their lapse of judgement. Reasons they might not be aware of themselves.

No one knows everything about anyone. Not even themselves. Maybe least of all themselves.

Are the characters relatable? yes, they are. I could see bits of myself and my own friends in the girls. The characters are unique and wonderfully complex, and go through intense changes moving from one part of the book to another. You know, you feel it in your bones, they will continue evolving long after the book because this is life, and what we’ve just read is just a glimpse.

The issues the book discusses are not the easiest. Don’t go into the book thinking it will be a light summer read: infertility, sexual harrassment and abuse, miscarriage, depression, adoption are all here, among the other curveballs life throws the four friends to deal with. But the way the author talks about them is both painfully honest and sensitive.

A wonderful debut novel, lyrical, beautifully-written and emotional.



Thank you to Edelweiss and Viking (Penguin Publishing Group) for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion. 

  • Have you read TheOther’s Gold or is it on your tbr?
  • What’s the best book about a lifelong friendship you have read recently?
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#Book review #The Passengers by John Marrs

The premise of this clever and well-written sci-fi thriller, set in the UK in a very near future, is fascinating. The AI that controls eight driverless cars moving to their different destinations is hacked, the destinations are reprogrammed, as the passengers become a hostage to a mysterious and seemingly omniscient Hacker who informs them that in 2 1/2 hours they are going to die.

The story alternates between showing what happens to the people in the cars (who come from all walks of life: a pregnant young woman, an aging actress, and a mother of five trying to escape her abusive husband, an immigrant whose appeal for asylum has been refused, a married couple with two children, a decorated war veteran and a suicidal new man) and a car incident inquest jury. The people on the jury are told they can save one passenger only, while the rest are going to die. As the Car Hack is broadcast live all over the world, the public is also given one vote to decide which passenger they want to save. One by one, the passengers plead their cases, trying to make the best impression of themselves, only to have the Hacker reveal additional information about them that completely changes the picture. Is there anyone truly innocent among these people? Who will survive the imminent collision? and why is the Hacker doing it ?

The story is a real page-turner with numerous twists and turns. John Marrs masterfully shows how dangerous and misleading incomplete information is when a vital decision is to be taken. The main moral dilemma is whether one person’s life is more valuable than the other’s, although there are other equally serious issues discussed, including racism, gender discrimination, honesty, unscrupulous politicians, and mob mentality in the age of social media.
The book is well-researched, and the topic is timely, as the ethical issues raised by the author in such an entertaining way are serious and pertinent to the technological advances our society is making. The aspect that was the most thought-provoking for me wasn’t our over-reliance on technology that isn’t infallible, but the amount of data about us that is being collected, used and potentially abused. Another moment which horrified me was the ease with which the public opinion could be manipulated by presenting incomplete information.

The characters created by John Marrs are diverse, complex and multi-faceted. As the book progresses, your opinions will be revised, as things are rarely black and white, and the more you get to know the people in the book, the more difficult you will find to judge them.

Exciting, fast-paced, entertaining to the point of being addictive, The Passengers is a must read not only for sci-fi fans, but for anybody who enjoys a well-written, thought-provoking thriller.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read The Passengers?
  • If yes, what was the most thought-provoking aspect for you? which character did you find the most fascinating?
  • If no, does the book sound like something you would like to add to your tbr?
  • Have you read any other books by John Marrs?

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#First Line Fridays # The Last Ocean by Nicci Gerrard

This is the first time I am using this meme which is originally hosted by Hoarding Books. The idea is to share the first few lines of a book you are reading or have recently read and then present it.

The first lines:

The year before my father died, he came with us to Sweden for the summer. He had been living with his dementia for over ten years by then, and – mildly, sweetly, uncomplainingly – he was gradually disappearing, memories falling away, words going, recognition fading, in the great unravelling.

The book is The Last Ocean: a journey through memory and forgetting by Nicci Gerrard.

Synopsis from the publisher:

From the award-winning journalist and author, a lyrical, raw and humane investigation of dementia that explores both the journeys of the people who live with the condition and those of their loved ones

After a diagnosis of dementia, Nicci Gerrard’s father, John, continued to live life on his own terms, alongside the disease. But when an isolating hospital stay precipitated a dramatic turn for the worse, Gerrard, an award-winning journalist and author, recognized that it was not just the disease, but misguided protocol and harmful practices that cause such pain at the end of life. Gerrard was inspired to seek a better course for all who suffer because of the disease.

The Last Ocean is Gerrard’s investigation into what dementia does to both the person who lives with the condition and to their caregivers. Dementia is now one of the leading causes of death in the West, and this necessary book will offer both comfort and a map to those walking through it. While she begins with her father’s long slip into forgetting, Gerrard expands to examine dementia writ large. Gerrard gives raw but literary shape both to the unimaginable loss of one’s own faculties, as well as to the pain of their loved ones. Her lens is unflinching, but Gerrard honors her subjects and finds the beauty and the humanity in their seemingly diminished states.

In so doing, she examines the philosophy of what it means to have a self, as well as how we can offer dignity and peace to those who suffer with this terrible disease. Not only will it aid those walking with dementia patients, The Last Ocean will prompt all of us to think on the nature of a life well lived.

He was very happy on that holiday. he was a man who had a deep love for the natural world and felt at home in it; he knew the names of English birds and insects, wildflowers and trees.

When I was a child, I remember him taking me to listen to the dawn chorus in the woods near our house. Standing under the canopy of trees in the bright wash of sound, he would tell me which song was the mistle thrush and which the blackbird.

At least, I think I remember this, but perhaps I make it up as a story to tell myself when I am sad.

The Last Ocean is poignant and tender, and like many amazing non-fiction books may go unnoticed, although it is extremely pertinent in our aging world.

  • Have you read this book or is it on your tbr? Do you read a lot of non-fiction?
  • Are you familiar with Nicci Gerrard’s work?
  • What is the best book (fiction or non-fiction) dealing with the topic of aging you have read recently?
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# Book review #Middle Grade/YA #Fledgling by Molly Harper # Sorcery and Society 2

The second book in The Sorcery and Society series makes us revisit the wonderful magic world of Sarah Smith (a.k.a Cassandra Reed) and her friends, brought to us by ever so entertaining Molly Harper.


If you haven’t read the first book of the series, it is probably better to go back and start from the beginning (Changeling). Having said this, I think the author does a great job of easing the reader into this fascinating world, reminiscent of the Regency Era (if you’re a fan of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, you’ll find yourself quite at home). We learn how the magic people, called the Guardians, took over the running of human society to prevent the non-magic Snipes from using the power of newly emerging technology to invent weapons capable of destroying life on Earth. Unfortunately, the Guardians or the Upper Class have all but enslaved the lower classes and turned them into their servants. Sarah, born into a Snipe family, is not only gifted with magic, but is also a Translator, a rare person who can understand the spells revealed by the Mother Book, full of encoded ancient spells. Sarah’s family decide to hide her unusual nature and give her magic suppressors which cause Sarah grow smaller and weaker than other children. Sarah accidentally outs herself in front of the Lady of the House- powerful Mrs Winter, who decides to help the little Changeling by passing her for a distant relative of hers and sending her to Miss Castwell’s, a magic school for young ladies from Guardian families. Sarah makes fantastic friends, bravely faces adversity and destroys a formidable enemy. She even manages to procure attentions of a smart and gorgeous boy, Gavin McCray.

The second book takes us straight into one of the classes at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladie, where Sarah/Cassandra shows a great presence of mind in fighting an evil kind of unicorn. I bet you didn’t know that there existed a malevolent carnivorous version of these magic animals- hollowhorns, which was, I’m afraid to say, summoned by the girls’ appaling lack of grace in ritual dancing and regrettable use of wrong tempo…

Molly Harper’s wit and amazing skill of creating a spellbinding story was what attracted me to the book in the first place and I was not disappointed. Great worldbuilding, sense of humour that permeates every scene and well-developed characters– everything I like in a fantasy book. I enjoyed reading about Ivy and Alicia, Sarah’s loyal friends and their witty banter as well as other more secondary characters: Owen Winter, Gavin, Wallace, the girls from Sarah’s remedial study group. And I did love the Art of Healing class, despite Nurse Waxwing’s unorthodox teaching manner.

It is difficult to be original in this genre. Yes, the book is going to remind you of Harry Potter, Charmed and even His Dark Materials. Yes, it is aimed at female audience. Still, the mix is delightful and I will be looking forward to reading the next part to find out if Sarah and her friends manage to overhaul the unjust system their society is based on and defeat their powerful and resourceful enemy.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

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#Book Review # Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Some books leave you feeling better about the world and people in it. Either because their main message is that of love, hope, and forgiveness, or because they have amazing characters: strong, calm, caring. They put your feet a bit more firmly on the ground, because you recognize they are rooted in reality, and uplift you, help you raise your head and notice that, despite everpresent tragedy and suffering, our world is full of beautiful souls, ready to lend a helping hand.
This is one of these books…

26 year old Cassie Hanwell is a person you would like to have next to you in an emergency. She doesn’t get scared (and if she does, she continues doing her job), she never panics– in fact, the opposite happens, when everybody else is freaking out, she gets calmer and more alert. Above all, Cassie lives to help and save oher people. All of this makes her one hell of a firefighter. One of the best and she knows it.

That’s why I didn’t wind up an ER doc. You don’t want me just after the emergency. You want me during the emergency. I am at my very best when things are at their very worst.

When Cassie commits a potential career suicide by standing up for herself in front of a hundred person crowd during an award giving ceremony, she is given a choice: apologize to the despicable politician she had this very public ‘interpersonal conflict’ with and get a deserved promotion to a leutenant or have her contract with Austin Fire Department terminated. Only she can’t do either of these things. Her job is ‘her whole identity’. Cassie finds a third option – move to Rockport, near Boston to help her half-blind estranged mother with groceries and house chores, find a temporary position in a firehouse near her mother’s house and, slowly, work her way up again. Her captain puts in a good word for her leaving until the very end ‘the bad news’ of Cassie being a woman. The new boss is desperate for anybody to fill the position, although he has a deep mistrust female-firefighters and won’t make it easy for Cassie to start it all over at the new place. Cassie’s brave and wise captain, knowing that Cassie has always been welcome and eased in all her firefighting jobs so far and doesn’t know what discrimination and hostility is, gives a few pieces of advice:

No makeup, perfume or lady-scented deodorant, no jewelry. Cut your hair off-or keep it back. Make them less aware you’re a girl whenever possible. If you make eye contact, make it straight on, like a predator. Don’t ask questions. Go above and beyond at every chance. Don’t ever act afraid. Don’t ever hesitate. Don’t ever admit it when you don’t understand- figure it out like a man. If you go up against anybody, make sure to win. No fear! If your hands start shaking, sit on them. Never admit to being hurt. Pain is for the weak.

They will ignore you. They will exclude you. They will resent you. Working hard won’t matter. Just by your very presence there, you are attacking them, trying to steal something that’s rightfully theirs, trying to infiltrate and dismantle their brotherhood.

Do’nt have feelings. Don’t talk about them, don’t explore them, and for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t cry…Do not sleep with firefighters. Because there’s no faster way for you to go down in flames than to screw one of the guys.

My best advice to you ? Find one person you can count on. Just one.

Cassie is going to follow every single point on this long list, but for one. Unexpectedly for her, she is going to find that after years and years of loneliness and thinking that love was for the weak, she did need human connection, however much gutwrenching courage it took.


She gradually re-establishes and re-defines her relationship with Diana, her mother, and finds out that not everything she believed about her mother abandoning Cassie and her Dad was true.

By the time we reached each other, the resentment I’d been feeling had mixed with so many other feelings and impulses- sorrow, regret, loneliness, protectiveness, admiration, affection- that it became something else completely.
Complicated.

Diana teaches her something extremely valuable, something that will help Cassie not only survive, but actually live- forgiveness. I have to give Cassie credit. It isn’t easy, and a lot of people would just close their mind to these words, and never face the hard task of trying to forgive your own gullible, naive 16 year old self. Cassie does try the three steps, described by her mother: acknowledge to yourself that someone hurt you and accept that. Accept that the person who hurt you is flawed, and try to understand them better. Look at what happened afterwards and find the positive things that came about, not just the hurt. Yes, you can laugh at Cassie’s reply that the upside of her abandonment (and the other tragedy that happened on the same day) was getting freakishly good at basketball.

But the truth is what happened that Cassie became herself: calm, professional, attuned to other people, good at seeing what is true and what is fake, being able to stand up for herself and others, good at learning from whatever life threw at her. Also, knowing when to risk everything because the person you are risking it for is worth it. Like the Rookie, Owen Callaghan, her amazingly good-looking, smiley, kind-hearted, forbidden crush, her road to learning what true courage is.

Telling you more would be giving the story away, and I don’t want to rob you of this heartwarming experience. You probably know by now that I’m in love with the author’s ability to create strong, complex, believable  characters. I’m also in love with her writing style and sense of humour. Anybody who can give their lead character a childhood ambition of becoming the Tooth Fairy deserves a special mention. That and making a seasoned firefighter join a Crotchet Club…

There’s also wonderful storytelling– there are twists and turns that will tug at your heartstrings, as well as other calmer scenes that show the stuff everyday life is made of. My favourite ones show the firefighters both at work and rest, including practical jokes well-meaning colleagues played on Cassie and the Rookie. I loved the way Cassie acknoweledged the differences between her progressive, well-equipped firehouse in Austin and the new situation, and quietly set out to find a way to improve it, including getting super-expensive cyanide antidote kits. If it was a fantasy book, I’d give it five stars for the worldbuilding. As it isn’t, I’ll just acknowledge how fascinating it was to get a glimpse into what living this kind of life would be.


I loved every minute of this book and was sorry to turn the last page. A wonderful, humorous story of love and forgiveness with a strong and endearing main lead, ‘Things you save in a fire’ is a book you won’t forget.

Thank you to Edelweiss and St.Martin’s for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

‘Things you save in a fire’ by Katherine Center is out on the 13th of August 2019.

  • Have you read Things that You Save in a Fire or is it on your tbr? If you have read it, what did you think of the ending? Did you like Diana?
  • Have you read any other books by Katherine Center? This is my first one, and I would appreciate your recommendations


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# Sunday Morning for Kids #The way to Treasure Island by Lizzy Stewart

Is it possible to be best friends with a member of your family? Do you think it is easier to be friends with somebody who is similar to you in character or is your opposite?

# Sunday Morning for Kids is a variation on the meme started by Rae Longest at Powerful Women Readers.

I have recently discovered a wonderful blog Ragamuffin Books (All Things Children’s Literature) with book reviews and tips on how to write children’s fiction. I really encourage you to check out her posts on the importance of reading to children to help them develop their creativity, empathy and confidence at school.

The book I spent this Sunday morning reading to my little ones is The way to Treasure Island by Lizzy Stewart.

This is a sweet story of a girl and her Dad trying to find a treasure island and having a fun day together.

Matilda and her Dad are very different. In fact, in many ways they are the opposites -she is tidy, he is messy; she is fast, he is slow; she is quiet, he is loud. Naturally, they don’t always agree on how to do things. Despite this, they are best friends and have a lot of patience for each other. They complement one another: without Matilda’s ability to lead and pay attention to detail, her Dad would be lost, without Dad’s ability to notice exciting things, Matilda’s life would be so boring.

One day, they decide to spend a day at the beach. Matilda has a special map, but in order to follow it you can’t get distracted. They find a boat and set off on an exciting adventure. Although they do things their own way, in the end, they do discover the most wonderful treasure at all, that of each other’s company.


A delightful book with beautiful illustrations, this little book provides an example of a great father-daughter relationship.

Thank you to NetGalley and Frances Lincoln Children’s Books /Quarto Publishing Group for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

Title: The way to Treasure Island
Author: Lizzy Stewart
Published by: Frances Lincoln Children’s books
Expected publication Date: 4th of June, 2019

  • Have you read The Way to Trasure Island? if yes, did you like it?
  • Is this the kind of book your little readers might be interested in?

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‘Books live your life while you live theirs’ # ‘Reading quirks’ by the Wild Detectives

What is the strangest thing you’ve done for the love of reading?

I once read a book… half an hour at a time, 20-30 pages at most, for two weeks…in a bookshop! I’d come, read a bit, sigh at how expensive it was and leave… After two weeks somebody bought the book. Can you imagine my despair? I had almost finished it. Luckily, two things happened the following day: a new copy arrived and my pay check got through.

I just adored ‘ Reading Quirks’ by Javier García del Moral, Andrés de la Casa Huertas and Laura Pacheco and couldn’t help sharing this discovery with my bookloving tribe.

This is a series of vignettes on strange things we do for the love of books. The characters are cute and come from all walks of life. You are bound to find the situations described in this collection all too familiar:

Have you ever…

  • waxed lyrical about the merits of a book to a total stranger who might or might not have been interested?
  • been desperate because you lost a book you were just about to finish?
  • found irresistible the smell of a new book?
  • packed way too many books in a suitcase (and left out most clothes)?
  • liked the book so much that you felt sad that you were about to finish it?
  • realized you love somebody because they get your reading habits?

For some of them I thought: No, surely not. Actually, let me think…Yes, I have done that.

I know some of my friends are going to find these pictures irreverent. I love you for the respect you pay to your books and the way you treat reading not as a pastime, but almost as a religion.

My favourite vignette?

Have a great Friday and happy reading!

Thank you to Edelweiss and Deep Vellum Publishing for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

Title: Reading quirks
Authors: Javier García del Moral, Andrés de la Casa Huertas, Laura Pacheco (illustrations)
Publisher: Deep Vellum Publishing
Expected date: October 8th 2019

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# Teen Tonic Tuesday # Just for Clicks by Kara McDowell

Twin sisters Claire and Poppy are rising Internet stars thanks to their Mum blogging about their lives since they were born. Imagine all those cute but so embarrassing details open to strangers’ scrutiny just a click away.

One day their Mum sets up a Youtube channel for them and off they go making their own name and building up their own brand. While Poppy loves it and sees the fame as a way of gaining power, Claire, the geeky web designer part of the duo, hates the pervasive lack of privacy brought by their stardom.

When she meets a new boy during the school lunch hour, she can’t believe he doesn’t know who she is. For the first time in her life Claire has a clean slate and can finally satisfy her ‘craving for freedom and anonymity’.

I loved the way this book touches on many issues relevant to teenagers.

First, there is the issue of identity. People who read the blog think they know who Poppy and Claire are, but Claire is conscious of the fact that the image, the brand, is carefully constructed. So, she rightfully questions ‘If I am not that, then who am I?’

We are so much more than a mere sum of other people’s opinions and images of us.

Then, there is the issue of privacy and consent. Claire’s mother chose to tell her story in her blog because it was her life, but she also involved her children and imposed her choice on them.

Thirdly, the issue of family: how do I stand out? How do I fit in? Does my Mum prefer my sibling to me? and if yes, should I feel resentful? Am I being selfish if helping my sister achieve her dream makes me feel miserable? Is family more about shared genetics or years of shared life? Despite the dark secret and evident lack of communication, family relationships in this book do ring true.

There were quite a few twists in the story which made this book so gripping.
I loved the slow-burn romance: the getting-to-know-you-as-well-as-myself’ part opening oneself up to rejection and the sweetest delight of being really listened to and understood.

Although I did feel the ending was a bit rushed, and some of the secondary characters were flat and sketchy, this did not take away from my enjoyment of the book.
I found this book refreshing and original and would definitely recommend it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Amberjack publishing for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

How do you feel about parenting blogs and parents sharing their children’s lives on social media?


#Book Review #Hope deferred: an Amish Romance by Linda Byler

Will David and Anna be able to reconcile their faith struggles and their love for each other? Beloved Amish novelist Linda Byler once again writes a compelling and surprising love story, showing that even the Plain People struggle with complex feelings, questions, and relationships.

David Stolzfus and Anna Fisher have been best friends as long as they can remember. Sure, it was a bit unusual in the Amish community for a boy and a girl to be so close, but nobody questions it with David and Anna—it has just always been that way. They live on neighboring farms in Lancaster County, they walk to school together (with all their siblings) every day, and when David learns to drive a pony, Anna is the first one to ride with him. Their lives are intertwined, the way the borders of their properties are joined by the Pequea Creek.

As they approach their teen years, David and Anna’s friendship turns quickly to deep love and attraction. But David is headstrong and full of an insatiable hunger for knowledge and new experiences. When Anna’s conservative parents require that he join the church before the two can begin dating, he rebels, eventually taking off to Australia for the adventure of a lifetime, leaving Anna to sort through her feelings alone.

When Anna receives a letter from Leon Beiler, a young man she can’t deny she has feelings for, everything changes again. How can she reconcile a lifetime of love for David with this new potential romance? And what will happen when David returns home?

****

My thoughts:

This was a very complex book. First of all, there are no good or bad characters in it, and everybody develops in their way, by making difficult decisions and questioning their rightness. Secondly, the time flow was very unusual. It is a real saga that spans several decades, although the time flow is very uneven with some events described in a lot of detail (David’s Australian adventure)and others given a cummulative summary. And thirdly, the reader is free to draw their own conclusions, based on their own convictions and life experience.

David Stolzfus is the youngest child in his numerous family. His parents are considered quite liberal in their community, perhaps more liberal than their neighbours, Fishers, woud like them to be. David has a quick temper which isn’t checked by his tired mother and his father who believes in letting children learn things by making their own mistakes. David is an unusually intelligent child who loves reading and is hungry for knowledge. He falls in love with sweet Anna Fisher, who appears to be his exact opposite. She is quiet and thoughtful. Most importantly, her family life and her upbringing is quite different. Anna’s parents are good Christians. They set firm, but fair rules, and follow modern child-rearing advice. Unfortunately for David, Anna’s parents disapprove of him and his family and do not believe he’d make a suitable life partner for their daughter. Anna is caught between David’s unhappiness and refusal to join the church just to placate Anna’s overbearing family, her own strong feelings for David, and her need and desire to be obedient to her parents. Dating should be the sweetest, most tender time of their lives, but for Anna and David it appears to be fraught with inner conflicts and struggle.

Do parents always know the best, even if they mean to guide their child towards the best life choices? Is it possible for two people coming from different backgounds be happy in love and marriage, or will their differences sooner or later cause bitter disappointment? Linda Byler explores this very relatable theme again and again throughout the story, although she doesn’t give you clear-cut, black-and-white answers readers tend to expect from the genre, but rather makes you think and empathize with the characters and their difficult life choices.

I don’t want to give away the story. The ending might surprise some readers, but I believe it shows the characters’ deep acceptance of God’s will in their life, and the strength of their faith. When I read in the afterword that Linda Byler is Amish herself, and is an active member of the church, I was not surprised.
There was just one thing that puzzled me and this was the way the author drew attention towards David’s mother’s weight issues. As the book progressed, her character became more complex, but at the beginning Rachel’s lack of energy and bigger size seemed to be a device to render her inability to set firmer boundaries with her children and provide more spiritual guidance for them.

Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher (GoodBooks) for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

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