ARC REVIEW: Trance – by Adam Southward

Title: Trance
Author: Adam Southward
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: July 1st 2019
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: July 4th 2019
Pages: 332

“We understand so much, yet so little. Delving into people’s minds is an immature science, even for those of us who have studied it for years.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I admit it was hook, line and sinker when I saw the cover of Trance and read the blurb. The promise of a dangerous character with the ability to control minds sounded absolutely fantastic, and there was no way I was going to be able to resist reading it. It might have been that I had set my expectations too high, because unfortunately I can’t say I was convinced by the story itself and I ended up having mixed thoughts. I still think the premise of this story is absolutely engrossing and probably the strongest aspect of this book. The suspect of this story, Victor Lazar, is a fascinatingly disturbing character; his mental ability makes this story step on the border of science fiction and paranormal activity and without doubt gives Trance a unique touch. As a result, it is hard to place Trance into a single genre and box, and instead we have an interesting mix of elements and storylines. It was especially fascinating to read more about Victor’s past and everything that happened in Romania. It might not be all that credible, but if you keep your mind open and don’t mind a sci-fi feel, you will find it to be an intriguing angle.

Now we arrive at one of the problems I had with Trance: the main character Alex Madison. On its own, I could really appreciate the psychology angle of this story. Instead of focusing on the crime and detective elements, Trance is more about trying to understand Victor Lazam and using psychology to analyze what goes on in his mind. The thing is… Alex basically is a spineless and despicable person; a pathetic whiner who is addicted to Xanax and an adulterer at that. I found the characters in general to be unlikeable, but my aversion to Alex made it very hard to keep invested in the story or care about what happened to them. Victor, disturbing as he was, at least made for an interesting character… Alex not so much. I also found part of the plot and character development to be rather unbelievable and this lack of credibility kind of put a damper on things. Things were too conveniently connected and the transition between different scenes and chapters wasn’t always all that fluid. I also struggled with the abrupt ending, and found the final scenes to be rather lacking. I still think the premise of Trance is simply captivating and the genre fluidity gave the story an unique touch, but sadly I ended up having mixed thoughts about the execution.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #107 – Two Boys Kissing & My Lovely Wife

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time two different genres, a backlist title and a new release… The first is Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, which I picked up both for Pride month and for the banned books prompt. Sadly, I wasn’t able to connect to the writing style at all though. New release My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing turned out to be a delightfully shocking read though.


Title: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: August 27th 2013
Publisher: Egmont UK
Finished reading: June 15th 2019
Pages: 239

“He has no idea how beautiful the ordinary becomes once it disappears.”


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I was browsing banned books for a challenge, came across Two Boys Kissing and thought it would be a perfect choice for Pride month as well. I was curious to see why this story ended up on the banned books list, although I already feared (correctly) that it would have to do with the LGBT element. Sadly, I ended up having mixed thoughts about Two Boys Kissing… It had nothing to do with the actual content, and I’m sad this story was put on the banned books list, but there was something else I really struggled with. What? While I loved the idea behind this story and the symbolism in general, I wasn’t a fan of the writing style at all. The whole second/third person POV was both alienating and extremely annoying and made me enjoy the story a lot less than I thought I would. It might be an original way of telling the story (I don’t deny that), but sadly I really didn’t get along with the writing style at all. I’m positive I would have rated this story a lot higher if we would have read about the main characters from their POV; dual or multiple would have been the same. Instead, we have the strange voice of ‘past unidentified LGBT persons’ and a whole bunch of random characters the story keeps switching between… It takes a long time to keep them apart, seeing how everyone fits and realize which is actually the main story; the fact that there were so many character/POV switches made it really hard to keep track of the story and stay invested. I can’t deny Two Boys Kissing has a strong LGBT message though, and I loved the idea of the record breaking and the background of each character. Two Boys Kissing wasn’t for me due to the writing style, but I can see why so many love it.


Title: My Lovely Wife
Author: Samantha Downing

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: March 26th 2019
Publisher: Berkley
Finished reading: June 16th 2019
Pages: 384

“Now I see my mistake. Focusing only on my family has left me isolated and alone, except for one old friend who can never know the truth.”


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My Lovely Wife has been everywhere these past couple of months and I finally found time to see what all the buzz is about. I admit I went in blind, thinking I was going to find a nice and docil domestic thriller despite the knife on the cover… I couldn’t have been more wrong. What a delightfully twisted and properly disturbing read! If you are, like me, strangely into serial killer stories, imagine finding not one, but TWO in one story… And a couple at that! As soon as I was hit with that mindblowing information, I was hooked. And not just ‘normal’ hooked; I literally read the whole thing in one sitting by candle light (not by choice though as we had a country wide power failure that day), not caring if I was basically ruining my eyes or if had other things to do. I just HAD to know how things would develop and how twisted things were going to get. Trust me, you will never guess just how crazy and disturbing My Lovely Wife is prepared to go for our reading entertainment. I’ve seen people questioning the credibility of it all, and they do have a point, but I was too busy devouring every single world of this twisted masterpiece to really care. A double dose of secret identities, two serial killers, a conspiracy plot, lots of twists and one heck of a shocking surprise as the story takes a turn you won’t see coming… If you haven’t read My Lovely Wife yet, make sure to clear your schedule before you start, because trust me, you will find yourself unable to stop reading.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #87 – Be Frank With Me & A Thousand Perfect Notes

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time a story that unfortunately disappointed me and another that completely blew me away. The only thing that saved me from DNFing Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson was the main character… While I enjoyed every single perfect second of A Thousand Perfect Notes by our fellow book blogger C.G. Drews.


Title: Be Frank With Me
Author: Julia Claiborne Johnson

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Humor
First published: February 2nd 2016
Publisher: William Morrow
Finished reading: February 25th 2019
Pages: 309

“Sometimes just explaining your predicament–to a bartender, a priest, the old woman in a shift and flip-flops cleaning the lint traps in the Laundromat dryers–is all it takes to see a way out of it.”


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I have been meaning to pick up Be Frank With Me for quite some time now, mostly because I love my quirky characters and Frank sounded like someone I just HAD to meet. My TBR jar thought it was about time I finally read it, and although my experience wasn’t all that positive there is one thing for sure: I’m glad I finally did get to know him. The premise behind this story on its own is quite interesting, with the reclusive writer being forced to write a few book after falling for a ponzi scheme. But M.M. Banning, also Mimi, doesn’t steal the show nor is the main character here. Not even the narrator of this story, Alice, seems to be in the true spotlight. Oh no, that place is reserved for the young Frank. He is the sole reason I made it to the final page, because there were things I unfortunately struggled with considerably… There was just something about the writing style in Be Frank With Me that made it hard for me to stay focused and the slow pace didn’t help either. The plot is pretty basic and I really felt the story dragged in parts. I wasn’t at all interested in what was happening in the Bel Air house in general or if Mimi would ever finish her book… Not a good feeling to start with. The many Hollywood references and Frank being Frank were what made me keep reading though. His character is both quirky and unique and is definitely what makes me give this story the benefit of the doubt.


Title: A Thousand Perfect Notes
Author: C.G. Drews

Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: June 7th 2018
Publisher: Orchard Books
Finished reading: March 3rd 2019
Pages: 288

“Music is nothing unless it fills your soul with colour and passion and dreams.”


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It’s always fantastic to see a fellow book blogger being published and I’m sure a lot of you now C.G. Drews for either her Paperfury book blog or gorgeous Instagram account (or both!). Her debut A Thousand Perfect Notes was published last year and I’m still kicking myself I didn’t pick it up sooner… Because the reviews are right: this is an absolutely fantastic and heartbreaking read! Well worth the 5 stars and without doubt one of my 2019 favorites. There is just something about the writing style that will draw you right in and I wasn’t able to let go until I reached the final page. I loved how big of a role music played throughout the story, the many musical references both relevant to the plot and enchanting at the same time. The power of A Thousand Perfect Notes is in its characters though. Both Beck, August and Joey are so easy to love; you will adopt them straight away and your heart will ache for them as the plot evolves. I love how the personality of Beck and August are completely contrary and balance each other that way. The Maestro is a horrible character and source of a few trigger warning worthy elements including abuse and violence. She is the perfect villian for this story though and I loved her background and the fact German words are incorporated in the text. A Thousand Perfect Notes will make you laugh and cry and the characters will stay with you for a long time. It’s a fantastic contemporary read which balances happy moments and a romantic interest with a thousand musical notes and a dark twist. If you like the genre and haven’t read this debut yet, you should definitely remedy that. I personally can’t wait until her new story comes out in April!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #84 – Half Lies & To Make Monsters Out Of Girls

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time two short reads I picked up to fit two BTB Epic Bingo prompts: the prequel novella Half Lies by Sally Green and the poetry bundle To Make Monsters Out Of Girls by Amanda Lovelace.


Title: Half Lies
(The Half Bad Trilogy #0.5)
Author: Sally Green

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Magic
First published: November 13th 2014
Publisher: Viking Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: February 9th 2019
Pages: 72

“Who would think that a drunken misery-guts like him could be so poetic? But then again maybe that’s what poets and artists are like. “


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I should have known after my less than satisfying experience with Half Bad last year, but since I already owned a copy of the prequel novella AND both sequels I’m giving the trilogy another chance. I’m having a feeling Half Lies wasn’t the best place to start… Novellas are always short and not having a well developed plot and characters is not that much of a surprise. Still, I found myself craving to know more about their past in France and I would have liked to see more focus on magic as well. Instead, Half Lies was basically a sappy forbidden love story where two quite cliche characters fall in love a la Romeo and Juliet. I liked the Giving details and the discovering of power bits, but like I said before those elements are mostly pushed into the background (except for Gabriel’s problems with his power). My biggest struggle was with the writing style. There is just something about the way this story is written that is a huge turn off for me… This might have had to do with the abuse of brackets or short sentences, although it might just have been the writing style as a whole as I remember having similar problems in Half Bad. All in all this prequel novella wasn’t really a success for me and the ending felt a bit abrupt… I’m hoping my experience with the sequel will be a better one.


Title: To Make Monsters Out Of Girls
(Things That H(a)unt #1)
Author: Amanda Lovelace

Genre: Poetry, Feminism
First published: September 18th 2018
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Finished reading: February 10th 2019
Pages: 168

“there was
no comfort

 

to be
found in

 

the
pages

 

that once
pulled me

 

through
it all.

 

– you took things i didn’t know you could take.”


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After reading and enjoying the Women Are Some Kind Of Magic poetry bundles, I decided to try Amanda Lovelace‘s other bundle To Make Monsters Out Of Girls as well. Her poems are easy to recognize and this was another excellent collection. It is true that the structure of the poems is simplistic and basically seems like hitting the space bar ever few words, but I personally think this simple style gives the words and message behind the poems even more power. Amanda Lovelace writes without fear and is fully open about her experience with abusive and toxic relationships in the past. She uses words to not only express feelings, but fight those monsters and free herself (and hopefully others) in the end. I’ve said it before, but these stories are very easy to relate to for anyone who has experienced a toxic relationship (or is still experiencing it) and will provide both comfort and and empowering message to let you know you are worthy and can beat that monster. It’s not the style, but the words and the emotions behind those words that make To Make Monsters Out Of Girls into such a success for me. Her poetry isn’t for everyone, but those who can connect to her words will be able to treasure it.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #81 – Two Can Keep A Secret & The Big Sleep

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a most-anticipated 2019 release and a classic I had never heard about before ‘finding’ a copy out in the wild. Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus turned out to be a success, while The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler failed to blow me away… Although I’m guessing I’m the wrong target group here despite my love for the genre.


Title: Two Can Keep A Secret
Author: Karen M. McManus

Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
First published: January 8th 2019
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Finished reading: January 30th 2019
Pages: 336

“There is something deeply, fundamentally satisfying about confronting a monster and escaping unscathed.”


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I have been looking forward to read more of Karen M. McManus ever since loving her debut in 2017. It’s easy to say that Two Can Keep A Secret was one of my most anticipated 2019 releases and this story definitely didn’t disappoint. While I think I found her debut to be slightly stronger, this doesn’t mean that I enjoyed this new story any less. I literally finished it in less than 24 hours and there is one thing for sure: she was able to surprise me completely with the ending. I had my suspicions, I had my doubts, but I’m so happy to admit I turned out to be wrong! I always love this feeling when it comes to murder mysteries, because it doesn’t happen all that often anymore. Two Can Keep A Secret is told from the POV of Ellery and Malcolm. Both play a key role in this story, the plot and the many twists, lies and secrets that surround Echo Ridge, and it has been interesting seeing their characters develop and react to the circumstances. Both characters are also easy to warm up to, along with Mia and Ezra as they try to figure out what is going on. The plot is well crafted and while a bit simple at times, I think the twists are well handled and work perfectly to put you on the wrong track. I had a blast reading this story and I can definitely recommend it to fans of the genre. Another bonus: the romance only plays a minimal role in Two Can Keep A Secret!


Title: The Big Sleep
(Philip Marlowe #1)
Author: Raymond Chandler

Genre: Classics, Mystery, Thriller
First published: February 6th 1939
Publisher: Penguin Books
Finished reading: January 31st 2019
Pages: 251

“Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.”


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Confession: I hadn’t heard of this author before and had no idea this was actually considered a noir classic when I first found my ‘abandoned book’ copy in Brussels during our Europe trip last year. But at least now I know right? I’ve been meaning to read more physical books and I decided to pick up The Big Sleep on a whim. Even though I’m a big crime and detective thriller fan, I do feel like I’m the wrong target group here. Why? I think Raymond Chandler‘s writing style and tone are mostly ment for the male audience and I wasn’t as charmed with it myself. The same goes for the sarcastic ‘humor’ used; I like my sarcasm, but in this case sadly it all fell flat for me. The slang and expressions are from the 1930s era and while it fits with the setting and the time The Big Sleep was written, it can get a bit tricky understanding every one of them for a non US English speaker. I can’t say I liked any of the characters and they lacked any real development for me. This story has a maffia/crime feel and there is a lot going on at once without anything happening at the same time. I know this sounds contradictive, but somehow it still applies here. I know I’m probably the wrong target group here and I know others have really enjoyed this classic, but I personally don’t think I will be meeting Philip Marlowe again any time soon.


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ARC REVIEW: We Told Six Lies – by Victoria Scott

Title: We Told Six Lies
Author: Victoria Scott
Genre: YA, Mystery, Romance
First published: February 5th 2019
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Finished reading: January 16th 2019
Pages: 352

“Ask for things. Small at first, and then larger. Return the favor. This, and face time, are what connect humans more than anything else.”

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

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There was just something about the cover and the blurb that drew my right in, and combined with the fact I’ve been neglecting my YA mysteries I knew I had to read We Told Six Lies immediately. It might have been that I had set my expectations too high or that I simply read too much of the mystery genre, but unfortunately I can’t say I was impressed by the story in the end. The first thing that stands out is that We Told Six Lies is in fact more of a romantic drama with an unreliable narrator rather than a proper mystery read. Sure, the mystery around Molly’s disappearance is there, but it isn’t what the story focuses on… No, We Told Six Lies is mostly about Molly and Cobain (what’s with all those strange names anyway?), their relationship both between them and with others and basically how messed up both seem to be. I don’t mind an unreliable narrator when it’s done well, but I felt the technique here mostly just gave us cliches and predictable twists rather than that suspense and intrigue I was hoping for. The fact that I couldn’t care less for the main characters didn’t really help either… The story starts out slow, stays that way during most of the plot and only in the end brings out the fireworks. Predictable or not (I did see most of the ending coming), at least it was more entertaining to read than having to deal with Molly, Cobain and the huge amount of sexy scenes this story has (too much for a YA story if you ask me). All in all not the experience I was hoping for, but I guess fans of more romantic mysteries who don’t mind cliches and unreliable characters will probably have a better time with We Told Six Lies.

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Cobain tries to keep to himself, knowing that bringing attention to himself will only make the bullies notice him. He was doing quite well being invisible, until the day Molly arrives at his school. Somehow, Molly does see him and doesn’t shy away as most others. He can’t stay away from her and it’s not long before they are together… Then something happens, and Molly disappeared. Has she run away or is something more sinister at play? And why are the cops only looking at Cobain?

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I had high hopes for We Told Six Lies, but sadly I can’t say this story lived up to expectations. Part of this feeling has to do with the fact I was expecting a mystery, not a romantic drama with two unlikeable main characters I couldn’t care less about. Sure, at least Molly wasn’t ment to be likeable in the first place, but it’s hard to stay invested in a story when you can’t stand the main characters. The amount of sexy scenes and (romantic) cliches were likewise a huge turn off. Sadly, the plot was quite predictable as well… The writing does flow well and the story reads superfast. The right person will probably enjoy We Told Six Lies better than I did.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #74 – Artemis & Beneath The Sugar Sky

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time two anticipated releases, one that turned out to be a disappointment and one that turned out to be a success. Artemis by Andy Weir sadly didn’t live up to expectations at all (although I was warned), something I had hoped wouldn’t happen since The Martian is one of my all time favorites. Beneath The Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire turned out to be a very strong third book and definitely just as good as the first one.


Title: Artemis
Author: Andy Weir

Genre: Science Fiction
First published: November 14th 2017
Publisher: Crown
Finished reading: January 7th 2019 
Pages: 322

“It’s a simple idiot-proofing scheme that’s very effective. But no idiot-proofing can overcome a determined idiot.”


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Part of me already knew this was going to happen, because people did warn me about Artemis before I started reading it… But even lowering my expectations didn’t prevent me from feeling very much disappointed by Artemis, especially since The Martian has a special place on my list of all time favorites. I know it’s not right to compare the two books and I won’t be don’t that here actively, but let’s see if I can put together just exactly why this story didn’t work for me. The first mayor problem has a lot to do with the main character Jazz. Let’s just start with saying I had no clue the main character was actually female until she was referred to in that way. And that was one heck of an unpleasant surprise… Because while Mark Watney’s personality really worked for him in The Martian, having a very much similar attitude and personality implanted in an Islamic young woman REALLY gives off the wrong vibe. I don’t mind sassy, I don’t mind attitude, but what is with the constant sexism, adult jokes and sex references? And why do other treat her that way, talk to her in that way, and think that it’s okay to do so? Not only did it feel unnatural, but I also found it offensive. In short, both Jazz and the way others reacted to her really ruined the story for me. It seems that this personality that was once successful just doesn’t work for a different gender or a situation where a lot more characters are involved. The writing on its own isn’t bad and I do like part of the dry humor (when it’s not sexist); the worldbuilding is also quite interesting and I liked the idea behind the plot. This story could have worked really well, but sadly went in the wrong direction for me… As for the credibility: well, it IS a story set on the moon and sci-fi at that, but I couldn’t help start wondering about how Jazz and only a few others were supposed to do all that without getting killed in the process. Or blowing up the moon. This was only minor compared to my problems with Jazz and what she represented though, and I’m really sad to be feeling this way about what I had hoped would be a new favorite. Oh well, at least now I know for sure…


Title: Beneath The Sugar Sky
(Wayward Children #3)
Author: Seanan McGuire

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Magic
First published: January 9th 2018
Publisher: Tor
Finished reading: January 8th 2019
Pages: 157

“There is kindness in the world, if we know how to look for it. If we never start denying it the door.”


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I fell in love with the worldbuilding and writing in Every Heart A Doorway last year, and have been looking forward to read more about the different worlds and doors ever since. Don’t let the shortness of these little gems fool you, because there is a lot to love in each story and the only downside is that it will leave you wanting for more. Beneath The Sugar Sky is already book number three and bumped straight to the top of this series favorites along with the first book. I think part of this has to do with the fact that we go back to the ‘real’ world temporarily and meet a lot of the characters mentioned in the first book again. This mixture of reality and a healthy dose of a glimpse of not one but multiple magical worlds made the story really stand out for me. Old and new characters are mixed naturally and I love just how diverse Seanan McGuire is able to make her characters without them becoming a cliche. I could really appreciate the focus on the whole body image issue through the eyes of Cora… There is so much truth in her experience and it’s sad the real world has to be this way. That said, I loved the whimsical, nonsense and basically impossible quest the main characters find themselves on in Beneath The Sugar Sky and I’m already curious about what the next story will bring us.


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