YVO’S SHORTIES #64: An Officer And A Spy (DNF) & Educated

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two books that didn’t manage to convince me. The first, An Officer And A Spy by Robbert Harris, sadly a DNF, something that rarely happens. And I had high hopes for Educated by Tara Westover after so many glowing reviews, but I guess it’s unpopular opinion time again.


Title: An Officer And A Spy
Author: Robert Harris

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: September 26th 2013
Publisher: Knopf
Finished reading: November 12th 2018 
Pages: 429
DNF at 30% (129 pages)

“It seems to be a necessary part of the criminal mentality: to survive captivity, one must somehow convince oneself one is not guilty.”


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An Officer And A Spy is one of my TBR jar picks and a title I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I had been looking forward to it despite the mixed reviews, mostly because the setting sounded fascinating. I still think the setting on its own is very interesting and the general plot has a lot of potential. A possibly wrongly convicted officer, espionage, the threat of a war and other struggles definitely sound like a good recipe for a successful historical fiction read. Sadly, the execution of those elements in An Officer And A Spy just didn’t work for me. I have picked it up only to put it down again after only a few pages multiple times over the last few weeks. I’ve tried and tried to at least make it to the end to see if things improved later on, but in the end I decided to make the difficult decision to just DNF it. I hardly ever give up on a book, so it definitely makes me sad to do so… But between the superslow pace, writing style, too many descriptions and a lack of interest in both the plot and the characters, I think this was the right choice for me. An Officer And A Spy just never grabbed me and I was never able to stay interested in the story… It’s very possible this story simply wasn’t for me even though historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. A lot of readers did love it, so definitely don’t give up on it if you are thinking about reading it.


Title: Educated
Author: Tara Westover

Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir
First published: February 20th 2018
Publisher: Random House
Finished reading: November 14th 2018
Pages: 352

“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occured to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”


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It’s unpopular opinion time again… You’ve been warned. 

I have been looking forward to finally read Educated for months now, especially after reading so many glowing reviews. This is probably one of the reasons my expectations might have been too high, that and the fact that this memoir has been compared to The Glass Castle. The fact is: I was quite underwhelmed by all of it. This was not what I was expecting, and I feel sad for feeling this way, but it is what it is… I’m going to try and explain the reasons why. First of all, I know that I’m a skeptical person, and I don’t tend to believe things easily just because they are written down on paper. I also had a hard time believing Tara Westover‘s story as it was written down. Please don’t tell me I’m implying she is a liar, which I’m not. I do believe that she wrote Educated based on her memories, memories that can have gotten distorted over time especially if her early life has been such a struggle. And I really had to take her story with a whole lot of grains of salt to be able to continue reading. Like I said, I’m not saying she hasn’t had a tough life, or that her family didn’t do what they did, just that I didn’t find her story as told credible. I mean, for a survivalist family living in the mountains they sure have a lot of luxuries including at some point even a phone, TV and internet (not talking about the enormous mansion they seem to be having in the end). Her family life definitely wasn’t standard, with them not even having a birth certificate for a long time, not going to school and working in the junkyard etc etc. But I would rather call it eccentric for the most part instead. Also, at one point she describes her father as bipolar, something that is never confirmed as the same disease prevents him getting a medical diagnose. Still, I would have liked to have seen this angle developed further rather than just throwing the ‘bipolar’ word out and leave it at that. Another thing that bothered me were the many many serious accidents, a few life threatening, and somehow they are all healed with essential oils and other herbal cures? I do believe in holistic treatments along with medical care, but this is just getting too hard to believe. (I’m not saying they weren’t injured, just that the injuries maybe weren’t as bad as they remembered?) Anyhow, this reckless behavior and indifference towards general safety of others and the ‘miracle’ recoveries were just too much for the skeptical person in me to handle. Another thing I found hard to believe? Where all the money came from. First we are told they are poor, then money starts popping up everywhere somehow. I can get why her childhood chapters are a bit vague about money, but how on earth did she get the money together to get into a prestigious college and university? I know there are grants, but they don’t cover it all and it is a LOT of money we are talking about and very prestigious and expensive education. I mean, she goes to the UK and studies abroad for a long time? And then travels back and forth between the US and the UK multiple times? The flights alone cost a fortune, and surely aren’t covered by grants. A real mystery to me. There is also the question how she got into college in the first place, especially since she was never really educated at home in the first place. Somehow being able to get a superhigh score just by teaching herself advanced math and everything else in the test just doesn’t come over as credible to the skeptical me. Maybe she had a higher level of education than stated in the memoir before she started preparing herself for the test? I don’t know, but as it is Educated wasn’t at all credible to me. I’m not saying her being able to get her degrees isn’t admirable, and I’m sure she’s had a hard life especially with her despicable brother Shawn (I’m not even going into the abuse and her brother here, or we could still be talking tomorrow), but sadly her memoir wasn’t able to convince me.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #62 – The Burning World & Elevation

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two stories that ended up disappointing me unfortunately. The Warm Bodies sequel The Burning World by Isaac Marion and the ‘impossible to understand why this is horror’ Elevation by Stephen King.


Title: The Burning World
(Warm Bodies #2)
Author: Isaac Marion

Genre: YA, Dystopia, Science Fiction
First published: February 2nd 2017
Publisher: Atria
Finished reading: November 6th 2018 
Pages: 512

“There’s no bigger threat to the world than people who think they can improve it. “


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I confess I actually read the first book so long ago (three years) that I confused my feelings for the first book with another zombie read. Oops? It turns out I wasn’t convinced by the first book Warm Bodies, and sadly this sequel didn’t wow me either. The first thing you have to know before you start the series is that the zombies are not actually scary and they are in fact not the real enemy. That on its own isn’t a real problem, as the idea of having different kind of zombie states is actually quite interesting and original. What I didn’t expect is just how NOT scary either book is. And of course, the romance plays a big role in the story. While I appreciate the idea of a zombie and human being together and all (you can’t deny it’s a slightly disturbing but original idea), it doesn’t lend itself for the most exciting plot. And talking about plots, I found that The Burning World in general lacks a proper plot and that both plot and characters were mostly all over the place and running into random trouble instead of following a coherent line (although things might become clearer in the final book I guess). This wasn’t the only thing I struggled with though, as more importantly I wasn’t a fan of the writing style itself. Especially the WE chapters were frustratingly confusing and there were too many jumps and switches to make for a coherent story. The story was overlong for me with its 500+ pages and I sincerely hope my experience with the final book will be better.


Title: Elevation
Author: Stephen King

Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy, Science Fiction
First published: October 30th 2018
Publisher: Scribner
Finished reading: November 8th 2018
Pages: 160

“This was the same. Not a wind, not even a high, exactly, but an elevation. A sense that you had gone beyond yourself and could go farther still.”


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I was curious when I saw a new Stephen King was coming out, and I’m sure we can all admit that cover is gorgeous. Even though Elevation is a novella and I don’t read a lot of those, I was really looking forward to reading it. The first thing that stands out for me is that I have no clue whatsoever why this novella is marked as ‘horror’. Contemporary romance with a hint of sci-fi and even a far-fetched urban fantasy… Maybe. But horror? I don’t think anyone would find Elevation scary unless you are afraid of hights or stepping on the scale. That was the first thing that went wrong for me. The second thing had to do with the characters. I know it’s only a novella, but the characters just felt like one big cliche for me and didn’t add anything interesting to the story for me. A big problem, as the story is mostly focused on them. I did like the huge focus on the running, but overall there wasn’t really that much of a plot to talk about. Just a guy losing his pounds until he is closer and closer to zero… Not horror, not thrilling at all, and mostly a cliche contemporary story on how one person’s doom can bring other people together. And mostly just a meh story for me.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #57 – Sadie & Spell Bound

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two YA books that sadly didn’t hit the mark for me… The first an unpopular opinion review on Sadie by Courtney Summers, the second being me suffering from a romance and love triangle allergy and those ruining the series for me: Spell Bound by Rachel Hawkins.


Title: Sadie
Author: Courtney Summers

Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
First published: September 4th 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: October 23rd 2018
Pages: 378

“People don’t change. They just get better at hiding who they really are.”


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WARNING: Unpopular opinion review ahead.

Oh yes, the unpopular opinion curse has struck again… Sadie has been all over the place for a while now. I decided to pick up my copy on a whim, and I was fully expecting to love it: this story gives off all the right vibes, and I still think that the story itself was fascinating. But somehow, I didn’t actually enjoy reading Sadie all that much. I can’t put my finger exactly on the why, but I’ll try to explain anyway. First of all I have to say that the idea of the podcast is very cleverly done, mixing those chapters with Sadie’s POV. There were a lot of different minor characters and locations to keep track of though, which can be confusing… But overall I think the format was a success. The plot development, twists and level of suspense were quite well done as well. There is a lot of mystery around Sadie and her sister, and it’s interesting to slowly figure out more and more about the past. I wasn’t sure what to think of the ending though… I was left wanting for more. I also wasn’t able to connect properly to the characters, and I think that is part of the reason Sadie didn’t work for me in the end. The writing style didn’t click with me either (the same happened with All The Rage, so it might just be that her writing is not for me). Trigger warnings are in place for child abuse, addiction and violence. All in all sadly Sadie just didn’t do it for me, although I know I’m the exception and most people seem to love it. So definitely give it a chance if you haven’t read it yet!


Title: Spell Bound
(Hex Hall #3)
Author: Rachel Hawkins

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: March 13th 2012
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Finished reading: October 25th 2018
Pages: 337

“People are so rarely villains in their own minds.”


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I wasn’t so sure whether to read this one after my disaster experience with the sequel, but since I already had a copy and don’t like leaving series unfinished I decided to give it a go. Initially, Spell Bound went slightly better than the second book, and I started to enjoy the sarcastic kind of humor and writing style in general again. Then… BOOM! The annoying romance and frustrating love triangle was back to ruin the day again, and things went downhill from there. I hate that the romance has ruined a potentially excellent trilogy for me, especially since I really enjoyed the first book and thought it had so much potential. Sadly, the main focus is on the romantic scenes, pushing everything else into the background and making other aspects of the story suffer from lack of development. Potential not exploited for me… Although I’m having a feeling romance fans will react differently to both sequels. Oh well, at least I now know for sure what my reaction was to Spell Bound, and I won’t be left wondering. I guess we can’t like them all, can we? And I guess I’m kind of at least part of the problem here.


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ARC REVIEW: All This I Will Give To You – by Dolores Redondo

Title: All This I Will Give To You
Author: Dolores Redondo
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: November 3rd 2016
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Finished reading: September 30th 2018
Pages: 494
(Originally written in Spanish: ‘Todo Esto Te Daré’)

“He’d lied to the only being in this world entitled to know the truth: himself.”

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

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This might just be one of those cases where the problem is me, and not the book… So take this review with a grain of salt. I was actually looking forward to read All This I Will Give To You, since I love stories set in Spain and the blurb sounded fantastic. It might have been the translation, since I prefer reading Spanish books in the original language as the exuberant prose doesn’t always translate well… But the fact is that it didn’t turn out to be the reading experience I was hoping for. Overlong, with difficult to read prose and a writing style that makes it really hard to stay focused as you have to read some lines over and over again… Oh yes, it’s easy to say I really struggled with this story. The pace was superslow and the story felt halted; ever had car engine problems and tried to move the car with your whole body? That’s how I felt while I was trying to make it to the end of this story. Don’t get me wrong, I love detailed descriptions and the area described in All This I Will Give To You is a perfect excuse to do just so. I just think this story took it one step too far. I truly think this story would have benefited from a brutal editor cut and at least 150 pages less. Because there is no doubt that the idea behind this story and plot is fascinating as well as the many secrets of Alvaro’s family and history. It is just buried under so many unnecessary descriptions and overly baroque prose that the intrigue ends up being completely lost. Which is such a shame, because the complexity of the plot itself, with many twists and secrets to discover about the family, is excellent.

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The life of novelist Manuel Ortigosa changes forever when he learns one morning that his husband Alvaro has been killed in a car crash. Because that is not the only shock for Manuel, as it turns out Alvaro has been keeping secrets from him. He wasn’t in Barcelona as he told he was, instead Manuel had to travel to Galicia to the place where Alvaro died. It turns out that the man he married fifteen years ago wasn’t the man Manuel thought he was… And Manuel soon finds himself to be deeper and deeper involved in the secrets around both Alvaro’s life and death.

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There were things I did enjoy in All This I Will Give To You. The fact that the main character is a novelist. The detailed descriptions of the setting in Galicia. The general plot, suspense, plot twists and secrets. The complexity of the story. But. Sadly overall I mostly ended up struggling with All This I Will Give To You. Between the very slow and halted pace, the overdose of descriptions and an overly barque prose I had a hard time to keep myself going. I felt like a potentially excellent story was buried under a pile unnecessary words and pages that prevented it from reaching its full potential.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #52 – In A Dark, Dark Wood & Without Merit

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two popular authors and two different genres. I was really excited about In A Dark, Dark Wood, but sadly it mostly fell flat for me. And Without Merit was without doubt an entertaining read, although not my favorite CoHo book either.


Title: In A Dark, Dark Wood
Author: Ruth Ware

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: July 30th 2015
Publisher: Vintage Digital
Finished reading: September 27th 2018
Pages: 339

“You’d think people would be wary of spilling to a writer. You’d think they’d know that we’re essentially birds of carrion, picking over the corpses of dead affairs and forgotten arguments to recycle them in our work—zombie reincarnations of their former selves, stitched into a macabre new patchwork of our own devising.”


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I had my first experience with Ruth Ware‘s books last year with The Lying Game, and I’ve been meaning to pick up another of her titles ever since. So when I had the perfect excuse to do so, I decided to finally pick up my copy of her debut In A Dark, Dark Wood. I’ve heard mixed things about her work in general, so I decided to go in with low expectations… Discovering I did probably well by doing so. In A Dark, Dark Wood is by no means a bad read and is without doubt as dark and menacing as that glass house in the middle of the woods chosen as a setting. The writing is engaging and the suspense is mostly handled well. I had two significant problems with this book though. The first thing that stood out for me was the fact that none of the characters is easy to connect to; most are unlikeable and overall I can’t say I really cared about what would happen to them. And then I’m not even talking about the whole fact that Nora and Clare hadn’t seen each other for ten years and suddenly Clare invites Nora to her hen? And not telling about James before? And Nora stays even after all the things that happen? So not credible to me. And that is not the only thing that made me doubt the credibility of the plot and events. There were several eyebrow raising moments involved, and not in a good way. I also did see quite a few of the plot twists coming really early on, and I didn’t like how the amnesia angle was incorporated into the story. It wasn’t a bad read, but nothing like I hoped it would be either.


Title: Without Merit
Author: Colleen Hoover

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
First published: October 3rd 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
Finished reading: September 28th 2018
Pages: 385

“Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.”


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I seem to be having a love-hate relationship with Colleen Hoover‘s books… Somehow she is able to get strong emotions and opinions from me, positive or not. Without Merit ended up belonging somewhere in the middle. While not my favorite and a bit different than I’ve become used to, there is no doubt that it is still a good story and I can understand why so many love it. It felt more YA than NA to me, but that on it’s own wasn’t a problem for me. The romance was also doable for me, which is something I have become used to with CoHo… Somehow she manages to make me forget I’m not into the whole romance genre most of the time. There are a lot of things to love in Without Merit, and I think that this abundance of different elements actually worked against the story in the end. Depression, agoraphobia, the Syrian refugee situation, lgbt elements, Honor and her boyfriends, Wolfgang and the church, family problems… Those and other elements are all incorporated into the plot, making it almost feel crowded and I don’t think each of these get the attention it deserves. I would have preferred less topics and a more developed appearance during the story. As it is, some of the more important elements are just skimmed over (suicide, the Syrian refugee situations etc) and feel more like plot fillers rather than something important to talk about. I still enjoyed reading Without Merit though and especially Sagan won over my heart easily. I like that the characters are flawed and feel realistic despite their strange names. All in all an interesting read, although not perfect.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #47 – Hero At The Fall & Half Bad

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! Sadly this time around books which had beautiful covers, but the content didn’t match the outside. A first and last in a series as well… Hero At The Fall by Alwyn Hamilton was one of my most anticipated releases, but it was nowhere near as good as the first two books. Half Bad by Sally Green I’ve been meaning to pick up for ages, but unfortunately mostly turned out to be a disappointment.


Title: Hero At The Fall
(Rebel Of The Sands #3)
Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Genre: YA, Fantasy
First published: November 15th 2017
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Finished reading: September 11th 2018
Pages: 482

“I’d forgotten how powerful a story could be.”


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This was one of my most anticipated releases, as I loved the first two books and was dying to find out how things would end. It might have been that it has been eighteen months since I read the first two books and didn’t remember all the details, but the fact is that I can’t say I actually enjoyed Hero At The Fall. Trust me, I’m still shocked by this reaction myself. While I admire the author for not being afraid to kill off characters George R.R. Martin style, I do feel that some of the deaths were unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the plot other than yet another character to mourn. The plot and pace itself were rather slow, making it harder to keep myself invested into the story and it took longer than expected to reach that final page. Instead of being fully absorbed in the story like in the first two books, I had a hard time connecting to both the characters and the events in Hero At The Fall. Part of this feeling has to do with the negative attitude both seen in Amani and the story as a whole. The ‘hopeless’ situation, failing all the time and then that ending… It just didn’t do it for me. The fact that Amani really annoyed me with her whole ‘I’m not worthy’, ‘why should anyone listen to me’ and ‘I can’t do this’ attitude didn’t really help either. All in all not the firework ending of a series that started out as a favorite for me. Such a shame the series has to end this way…


Title: Half Bad
(The Half Bad Trilogy #1)
Author: Sally Green

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Magic
First published: March 4th 2014
Publisher: Penguin
Finished reading: September 14th 2018
Pages: 380

“The trick is not to mind.
Not to mind about it hurting.
Not to mind about anything.”


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I’ve had this series on my TBR for a long time, but somehow I never actually picked up my copy. Things changed when I was able to get beautiful physical copies of the first two books in Dutch during our Europe trip, and when I needed a foiled book for the readathon I grabbed my chance to finally start this series. I’ve heard mixed things about it over the years, and I can understand why now. I initially started reading Half Bad in Dutch, wanting to savour seeing that cover waiting for me near my reading chair. I have to say, I struggled a lot. First I thought it was the language, but I decided to switch to my English kindle version halfway through and I can confirm it wasn’t. There is just something about the writing style in Half Bad that really got on my nerves. There are a lot of short and halted sentences I just couldn’t grow used to, although I admit the writing style as a whole sadly just didn’t work for me. I struggled to keep reading as some parts of the story dragged, and I have to say that for a story this promising the plot kind of lacked action and more filling out in general. And then I’m not even talking about the main character, who is very very hard to like. I like the idea behind this book, the fact that there are two kinds of witches and the main character being mixed turns him into an outcast. The worldbuilding itself has potential as well, but lacked fleshing out for me. The whole star-crossed lovers angle bothered me as well… And unfortunately I wasn’t able to enjoy my experience with Half Bad. Which is a bummer, because I have a physical copy of the sequel as well… Oh well, at least they look pretty on my shelves.


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ARC REVIEW: The Girl Made Of Clay – by Nicole Meier

Title: The Girl Made Of Clay
Author: Nicole Meier
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
First published: September 25th 2018
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: September 12th 2018
Pages: 304

“For the majority of their lives, they were two lost souls twisting in the wind.”

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

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There were two things that instantly made me want to read The Girl Made Of Clay: the beautiful cover and the promise of an intriguing family drama with an artsy twist. There is no doubt that this story has a lot of potential, and I believe in this case the problem is me and not the story itself. I confess that family dramas are a bit out of my reading comfort zone and they can go either way for me. In this case, unfortunately my reading experience went down a negative road. It wasn’t because of the writing, which was solid and flowed. The Girl Made Of Clay is a mostly character-driven story where the focus is on Sarah and her father TR, but also on the failing relationship between Sarah and her husband. As always with a character-driven story, the connection to the main characters is extremely important and has a big influence in how you perceive a story. Sadly, in The Girl Made Of Clay, I was unable to make such connection. In fact, TR is horrible, Sarah frustratingly annoying and her husband is no good either… Little Sam is the only one that was able to bring a smile to my face. I’m not saying the character development is bad and having flawed characters makes the story that much more realistic. TR isn’t ment to be likeable, and the whole point of this book is that the relationship between Sarah and her father is broken. Still, my aversion towards the characters made it really hard to enjoy the story or to properly care about what would happen to them. I’m not sure about the credibility of some parts of the plot either… But like I said, the main problem for me was the lack of connection to the characters, which made it a struggle to stay focused and keep myself motivated to keep reading. I do think this was mostly me, and I think people who enjoy reading character-driven family dramas and don’t mind flawed and potentially frustrating characters will have a good time with The Girl Made Of Clay.

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Sarah hasn’t spoken with her father for decades, not since he left them all those years ago to live the celebrity lifeas a famous artist. But after Thomas ‘TR’ Harlow is badly injured in a house fire, it seems like he has no one else left to care for him… And suddenly Sarah is forced to care for a man who is basically a stranger to her. Being close to her father again not only brings back old painful memories, but also puts a strain on her already troubled marriage. Sarah is not so sure what to do with the situation, or if she will ever be able to forgive him…

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If you enjoy reading character-driven stories with flawed characters that are described in a realistic way, The Girl Made Of Clay is without doubt an interesting read. The pace is not the fastest, but the story captures quite well how the characters evolve over time. Did I think every aspect of the plot and behavior was credible? Not exactly. Did most of the characters annoy me and made me enjoy the story a lot less? Most definitely. But as one of the cliches goes: ‘it’s not you, it’s me…‘. And I really think that is what happened here.


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