ARC REVIEW: Remember Me – by Mario Escobar

Title: Remember Me
Author: Mario Escobar
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: October 1st 2019
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Finished reading: September 14th 2020
Pages: 384
(Originally published in Spanish: ‘Recuérdame’)

“I learned a long time ago that to see what’s right in front of us requires enormous effort, because there’s no man so blind as the one who doesn’t want to see.”

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

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I knew I just HAD to get a copy of Remember Me as soon as I saw that it was a Spanish Civil War novel. I’ve always had a special interest in Spain and its history, and I’ve studied the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath during my Uni years… I actually did hear of the Children Of Morelia already, although I had forgotten about the exact details and I thought this story would be the perfect way to refresh my memory as well as see those historical details combined into a historical fiction read. While I did end up having mixed feelings about this story, both the fact that it’s based on historical events and its incorporation into the plot were probably the strongest element of this story.

Remember Me has multiple international settings as we follow Marco Alcalde and his sisters on their journey. It all starts in Madrid, a city that has a special place in my heart after having lived and studied there for eight months… The mentions of different places within that city brought back memories of my time there and really made the setting come alive for me. I also enjoyed reading about their journey and their time in Mexico, and I loved the fact that I was able to improve my knowledge about this part of Spanish history in general.

The descriptions of the historical situation and escalating violence and struggles during the Spanish Civil War set the right tone for what should have been an emotionally devastating and heartbreaking read. And here is where things went wrong for me… I can’t deny that the events described and the struggles Marco and his family have to face are horrifying, and they do give you an accurate description of the hardships people had to face during and after the civil war. BUT. Sadly, I just couldn’t find any real character development or personality in any of the main characters. I couldn’t for the life of me describe any of the characters by their personality; it is as if they were just tools to describe what happened to the children of Morelia in general and they just lack any characteristics to make them feel unique and real. This made it extremely hard to connect to them and feel for their situation in particular. And I think that if I weren’t so interested in anything related to the Spanish Civil War, I probably would have struggled to make it to the final page. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad read, but it feels more like a summary of the historical events related to the Children of Morelia rather than a historical fiction novel with properly developed characters and emotions. While I feel sad that I wasn’t able to enjoy the story better, I’m still glad I read it for the things I learned about the Spanish Civil War alone though… So I guess Remember Me can go both ways for you depending on how much you care about properly developed and believable characters and/or if you prefer a focus on the historical details instead.


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AUDIO ARC REVIEW: Bad Parts – by Brandon McNulty #netgalleyaudio

Title: Bad Parts
(Dark Parts #1)

Author: Brandon McNulty
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Fantasy
First published: June 23rd 2020
Publisher: Midnight Point Press
Finished reading: August 4th 2020
Pages: 434

Duration audiobook 10 hours 10 minutes
Narrated by Ellie Gossage

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

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I basically decided to try this audiobook on a whim as I was browsing the ‘Listen Now’ catalog on Netgalley for something to listen to while painting. I know that I don’t often read supernatural thrillers, but I can really enjoy the genre if I know what I signed up for from the beginning (I only dislike the supernatural element when it comes as a surprise)… The blurb of Bad Parts also sounded particularly enticing with the music element and the creek demon. I was hoping for something entertaining to distract me from the daunting painting task, and I can now say that this audiobook definitely delivered just that.

As you might already know, I’m still pretty new with the whole audiobook experience… But I’m quickly becoming a fan. This audiobook is narrated by Ellie Gossage, and I think she did an excellent job giving both main character Ash Hudson and the other characters in play a voice. The fact that she changed her voice slightly whenever other characters are speaking made it a lot easier to keep them apart. The pace and flow of the story seemed solid, and I had no struggles keeping track of the story and plot developments. All in all the audio version makes for an enjoyable way to experience Bad Parts.

As for the story itself… There is no doubt that the premise of Bad Parts is fascinating, and if you like supernatural thrillers you will be in for a treat with the creek demon Snare. I liked how this element was developed into the story, with the ‘bad part’ trading and developments in the plot. The title doesn’t just reference to the trading though, as main character Ash Hudson is in a band with the same name. Music definitely plays a role in this story, and I liked the music references and overall vibe.

I do have to say that I found this story to be a tad too dragged out. I felt that the story could have been told in less pages and as a result the pace did slow down. I had that feeling about halfway down the audiobook that the story was about to finish, and I found myself to be quite surprised there was so much more story left… Overall it was still entertaining, but I think I would have liked less ‘clutter’ and more focus on the plot developments and supernatural vibe. I also wasn’t able to connect all that well to the cast of characters; they are not exactly likeable and I found some of their actions and decisions to be rather unbelievable. I’m not sure what to make of that ending either…

In short, if you are looking for an entertaining supernatural thriller and don’t mind unlikeable characters, a tad overlong plot and certain aspects not being credible, Bad Parts could be a great match.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #174 – Dear Martin & Broken Hearts, Fences And Other Things To Mend

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two YA reads… One turned out to be absolutely fantastic (Dear Martin), while the other sadly failed to hit the mark for me (Broken Hearts, Fences And Other Things To Mend).


Title: Dear Martin
(Dear Martin #1)
Author: Nic Stone
Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: October 17th 2017
Publisher: Crown Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: July 4th 2020
Pages: 226

“You can’t change how other people think and act, but you’re in full control of you. When it comes down to it, the only question that matters is this: If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?”

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I already knew Dear Martin was probably have an impact on me after all those raving reviews, but I was blown away by just how much it hit the mark and left me reeling. This is such an important, powerful and absolutely heartbreaking debut and helps educate us just how real the American race problematics are even to this date. In the light of recent events, Dear Martin is even more of an eye opener and I cannot thank the author enough for getting Justyce’s story out in the world. I’m not sure where to even start describing this true gem other than with the words that this story shattered my heart into a million pieces, bulldozered right over those pieces and then left me raging at the injustice of it all in its wake. Dear Martin is a short, but immensely powerful and captivating debut and I literally read it in one sitting. The characters, the writing, the tackling of social injustice and race discrimination, the plot, the letters written to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr… It makes for a real firecracker of a story everyone should read. Dear Martin and its characters will stay with me for a long time without a doubt!


Title: Broken Hearts, Fences, And Other Things To Mend
(Broken Hearts & Revenge #1)
Author: Katie Finn
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: February 14th 2014
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Finished reading: July 9th 2020
Pages: 353

“It seems that thinking ‘things can’t get worse’ is an invitation for things to get much, much worse.”

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I confess that I have been meaning to read this one for years, and even my TBR jar ended up thinking it was long overdue. I was in the mood for a cute contemporary, and really thought Broken Hearts, Fences And Other Things To Mend was going to be a perfect fit… But I guess things weren’t ment to be. Things started out well as Katie Finn has a very readable and engaging writing style that makes it easy to fly through the pages. I initially really enjoyed this story, and was looking forward to see what would happen that summer in the Hamptoms… BUT. Things started to get really frustrating, as it was so clear what was really going on and I really just can’t believe Gemma didn’t realize what was happening right under her nose. Being able to see this ‘twist’ from a mile away as a reader was a huge disappointment, and I really didn’t like how the story and characters developed after that. I had problems with the credibility of certain aspects of the plot and the supposed ‘twists’, and that open ending was kind of a letdown too. I know this is part of a trilogy and the story will continue in the sequels, but still I wasn’t impressed when I saw the story was left hanging like that. And as I didn’t enjoy the first book enough, I don’t see myself reading the sequels and I guess I will never find out how things end between them. Oh well… Fans of the YA contemporary romance genre who don’t mind a cliche or two and a predictable plot will probably have a better time with this story though.


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ARC REVIEW: Opium And Absinthe – by Lydia Kang

Title: Opium And Absinthe
Author: Lydia Kang
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Fantasy
First published: July 1st 2020
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: July 3rd 2020
Pages: 379

“A vampire was shackled, it seemed, to the lusts and needs of his body. Tillie, too, felt her world as a closed casket, always around her, always constricting her.”

*** 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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I admit that it was cover love at first sight when I saw Opium And Absinthe, but I was completely sold as soon as I read the blurb. I’ve enjoyed Lydia Kang‘s books, including The Impossible Girl, in the past, and another historical setting with a medical twist sounded simply fantastic. On top of that, Opium And Absinthe promises to present us with a fantasy/horror retelling element involving Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, which had me even more excited. I know I’m basically allergic to vampire stories, but I did actually enjoy the original Dracula classic and I have to say that I really liked how Lydia Kang decided to incorporate this element into her story. It definitely ended up being one of the things that stood out for me!

That said, despite having high expectations for this story, somehow it didn’t work as well as I thought it would for me. I’m struggling to point out exactly why, but I’ll try to explain below. Part of the reason probably has to do with the slow pace as well as a bit of a repetitive plot with surprisingly dull moments. The slower pace made it harder to stay focused, and the lack of surprises and dull moments didn’t help either of course. I know that the book is set in 1899 and things were different back then (I actually enjoyed those historical descriptions), but the plot was just too repetitive and dull for me and it didn’t manage to engage me as I thought it would.

I also struggled with the constant repetition of the opium, morphine and even heroin use as well as the focus on just how dependent the main character Tilly becomes on it as it starts taking over her life and actions. While in a way realistically portrayed, I felt like it was turned into too much of a cliche and I didn’t feel like I was able to get to know the character too well due to this focus on Tillie’s spiralling addiction and the other characters both reacting to and fomenting said addiction. The characters themselves are not likeable at all (with the exception of Ian maybe) and as a result I struggled to connect to them. The main focus is on Tillie, and I found her to be too frustrating to really care for her and once again I found the focus on her substance abuse to be too much of a cliche and it took away the focus from more interesting elements such as the investigation into Lucy’s death, the medical details and the vampire element.

I confess that I saw most of the plot twists coming from a mile away, although I did manage to stumble upon one or two surprises. This wasn’t enough to make up for the things that didn’t work for me though. I liked the historical setting, the Dracula element and the investigation into Lucy’s death as well as the medical details… But the slow pace, the repetitive and sometimes dull plot and constant focus on the substance abuse instead of a proper focus on character and plot development ended up being mostly a letdown for me.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #170 – Nothing Important Happened Today & Let Me Go #20BooksOfSummer

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a double dose of thriller sequels… Surprisingly, Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver didn’t work for me as well as I thought it would, especially since I was completely blown away by the first book. My last meeting with Archie and Gretchen in Let Me Go by Chelsea Cain was more successful though, although it’s once again not my favorite of the series.


Title: Nothing Important Happened Today
(Detective Sergeant Pace #2)
Author: Will Carver
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: September 14th 2019
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: June 15th 2020
Pages: 300

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have preferred to talk.”

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Right… I’m still not sure what happened here, but somehow I didn’t actually enjoy this one? Trust me, I’m still flabbergasted myself, because I recently read the first book and it blew me away completely… And I fully expected to have a repeat experience with the sequel. I still don’t understand how, but somehow the writing style this time around just didn’t do it for me. While I can’t deny Nothing Important Happened Today should be applauded for its sheer originality, and the plot itself is ingenious with its mix of third person, collective first person, the introduction manual and detective Pace’s POV, I sadly wasn’t able to connect to the writing style at all this time around. The short sentences, the constant switches in POV, the you, you, you, you… While I have to stress once again just how unique this book is, sadly unique this time around just wasn’t my cup of tea. Was it simply the wrong time for me to pick up this sequel? Maybe. But I’m having a feeling that at least part of the writing style wouldn’t have worked for me at any moment in time. And no, my less than positive reaction wasn’t due to the sheer twistedness of Nothing Important Happened Today, the mass suicide element nor the fact that this is basically partly a manual on how to start your own cult and kill as many people as possible. No, those elements my twisted mind actually did appreciate and a lot at that. It wasn’t the late and not as noticeable appearance of detective Pace either, as the main story itself will keep you more than busy and deserves the spotlight. I really do believe that the only reason this story didn’t work is simply that the writing style and me clashed horribly, which in a way I still don’t understand after my love for Good Samaritans. Fingers crossed this was a blip though and book three will manage to blow me away again!


Title: Let Me Go
(Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell #6)
Author: Chelsea Cain
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: August 13th 2020
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Finished reading: June 17th 2020
Pages: 368

“This was one of the things that Gretchen had taught him – his instincts, always so reliable when it came to crime, could fail him when it came to people.”

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This is already my final journey with Archie and Sheridan… After neglecting the series for years, I’ve finally stepped up my game and read the final four books in record time. I know that technically the author promised more books were yet to come, but as it’s been seven years since book six was published I don’t think that will happen any time soon. That said, while Let Me Go is not my favorite of the series and not as strong as the first books, it was without doubt still a thrilling read. I’ve grown close to the characters and it’s been great meeting up with them in what is without doubt another dangerous and shocking ride. What initially seems more like a mafia vibe kind of read, soon gives us another dose of that serial killer element and of course Gretchen will make her appearance once again. These books are engaging and if you don’t mind things getting dark, gory and sexual in points and love a good serial killer thriller with a twist, Let Me Go is without doubt another hit. I would definitely recommend reading these books in order though, because you will be missing out on the dynamics and history between the characters otherwise.


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ARC REVIEW: The Heatwave – by Katerina Diamond

Title: The Heatwave
Author: Katerina Diamond
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: June 25th 2020
Publisher: Avon
Finished reading: June 20th 2020
Pages: 400

“There are places I haven’t been yet because I am afraid. It’s not the places I fear though, it’s the memories that come with them.”

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

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I admit that I was curious about The Heatwave as soon as I first read the blurb, and after reading the first positive reviews I couldn’t resist requesting a copy. I still think that both the blurb and the premise of this story are rock solid, and The Heatwave is by no means a bad read… But somehow, even though I can’t put my finger exactly on the why, the story didn’t manage to convince me completely in the end. I’ll try to explain below why.

First of all I have to stress that a 3 star rating by no means turns this psychological thriller into a bad read, but rather represents my personal reaction to The Heatwave. It might just be that it’s time for me to take a little break from this kind of psychological thrillers, as I’m still not sure why I didn’t enjoy the story as much as I thought I would. The elements are definitely there, with an interesting premise, lots of secrets, plenty of lies and a missing girl cold case from 16 years ago. The story uses a dual storyline structure, where it switches between the present and flashbacks to 16 years ago to slowly discover more about what happened that summer. The past and present are linked both through the main characters and the two different missing girl cases… And it was interesting to see the two storylines collide and develop over time.

That said, I did found part of the plot to be quite cliche or at least nothing new, and especially the flashback chapters were slowgoing and could get pretty frustrating. Likewise, I didn’t like the present POV all that much either, as the main character was simply too frantic and mysterious about why she HAD to go back after 16 years away. I know the lack of explanation is used to try and add more suspense as well as increase the effects of the plot twists, but I failed to connect to the main character as a result and it made me enjoy the story less. I also thought that the final reveals were a bit over the top and they didn’t really match the pace and intensity of the rest of the story. Sure, they were shocking and mostly unexpected, but I didn’t really think it was a credible outcome to be honest…

I mentioned the main character and my lack of connection to her before, and this is basically what happened with every single character in play. I wasn’t sure about their development either, mostly because with more than one there were cliches involved and I wondered about the credibility of their actions and reactions to events. The whole seducing/grooming a minor in the flashback chapters left me with a bad taste in my mouth and overall the characters didn’t exactly make it easier to stay invested and properly enjoy The Heatwave.

In short, while I confess that still struggle to properly point out all of my issues, somehow I sadly wasn’t all that impressed by The Heatwave despite the promising premise. It might just be me having read too many similar psychological thrillers and needing a break from the genre, but it is what it is I guess.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Before I Die – by Jackie Morrissey #blogtour #damppebblesblogtour @damppebbles

Hello and welcome to my stop of the Before I Die blog tour! A huge thanks to Emma Welton for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I was intrigued by this story as soon as I read the blurb; a carer like Dolores would be anyone’s worst nightmare without a doubt! Want to know what my reaction was to this story? Please join me while I share my thoughts…


Title: Before I Die
Author: Jackie Morrissey
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: June 21st 2020
Publisher: Inkubator Books
Finished reading: June 9th 2020
Pages: ?

“A sense of unease ran through her, born of some instinctive recognition of threat.”

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

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I confess that Before I Die won me over as soon as I read the blurb. Dolores sounded absolutely fascinating as a character with that possible angel of death angle (nurse or carer turned serial killer). You all know how I can’t resist a good serial killer story, and it has been a while since I last read one with this angle. While the whole angel of death plot has been done before, I liked the direction the premise of Before I Die took and it’s without one of the strongest aspects of this story. It definitely helped adding a healthy dose of suspense as well as a hint of forboding! And this story is thoroughly creepy both for anyone depending on a carer as well as for those who have loved ones under care. Imagine having to deal with your own personal Dolores! Before I Die is a solid psychological thriller with a dark angle, and while it was slightly predictable in parts and not too credible in other areas, I still found it to be an entertaining read.

As for the characters… I mostly ended up having mixed thoughts about them. I did like how the story had multiple older characters as well as Dolores and the younger son of a friend with a heroin addiction, as it added a level of dept to the story. Their development in general is quite thorough and the colorful and diverse cast of characters made the story feel more complex, but they weren’t exactly likeable and not every action or reaction could be considered credible. I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe Maureen never stood up for herself; especially in the beginning when Dolores still doesn’t have a big influence on her. I can believe Dolores having the power to manipulate others so successfully, but Maureen letting her walk all over her straight away without putting up a fight just didn’t feel credible at all to me. I also wondered if the Spanish Dolores didn’t come over as too much of a stereotype. The story makes it seem like she left Spain long ago (or at least that is how I interpreted it after finishing this story and knowing all the facts), and somehow she still seems to speak all halted… I liked the added Spanish words in the text, but the sentence structure used to describe her dialogues felt a bit too much like building a foreigner stereotype cliche. This might just be a personal reaction to her character though.

The writing is easy on the eye and I managed to finish reading Before I Die in no time at all. The plot itself has a multiple POV structure which makes it easier to get to know the different characters in play… The same structure is of course also used to hide certain facts and secrets until they are ready to be revealed. The story will have a couple of surprises for you in store even though it’s a bit of a shame you can basically guess the truth about Dolores straight away. I had my doubts about the credibility in certain parts, and the ending felt a bit too over the top and intense after a slower psychological thriller vibe during most of the story… Still, it was intriguing to see the whole situation develop and find out how both Maureen and Dolores react to the things that happen. The story definitely turned out to be a lot darker than I thought it would be! I don’t think that is a bad thing though. If you like a good twisted psychological thriller with an angel of death angle, Before I Die is a solid choice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Morrissey lives in County Dublin and worked for many years in adult education. Her job took her into colleges and prisons all around Ireland, and introduced her to a range of interesting people. She loved the buzz of teaching, but came to hate the tyranny of correcting assignments. She has written throughout her adult life and has had many short stories published, one of which won the Molly Keane Short Story award. She has also been a regular contributor of short pieces for the Irish radio program Sunday Miscellany. About four years ago, she took the decision to write full time. The psychological thriller Before I Die is her first published novel.

PURCHASE LINKS

Amazon UK // Amazon US


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ARC REVIEW: What I Know – by Miranda Smith

Title: What I Know
Author: Miranda Smith
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: June 24th 2020
Publisher: Bookouture
Finished reading: June 3rd 2020
Pages: 285

“It’s wildly unfortunate we live in a society that waits for bad things to happen before doing anything.”

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

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I always love a good psychological thriller and I was intrigued by the blurb of What I Know, so I decided to request a copy on a whim. “My brother was thirteen the first time he tried to kill me.”: talk about one heck of an opening line! I’ve been looking forward to read this story ever since and had quite high expectations for this one, but somehow the actual story ended up falling a bit flat for me. I still can’t put my finger exactly on the why, but I will try to explain below what worked and didn’t work for me.

First of all, I have to say that I still love the premise of the story and the blurb is without doubt a corker. I also liked the dual storyline structure, where we get to see main character Della in the present with Zoey and follow her back to the past with her brother Brian. This structure is used to draw parallels between both characters as well as adding a healthy dose of suspense… And definitely took the story to the next level. You are initially kept in the dark about the true extent of Brian’s darkness, although it is quite easy to guess how far it would go after reading the blurb and catching the first few hints. That’s probably why the final reveals around his character in the past were a bit of an anticlimax to be honest… The present storyline focusing on Della and Zoe was a lot more successful at keeping you on your toes though.

While the writing flows and makes it really easy to keep reading, I wasn’t always sure about the pace. Certain plot twists were really easy to guess, and drawing out the reveal of those twists slowed the story down instead of adding suspense… Or at least that was the effect it had on me. I always like it when a story is able to mislead me and keep me guessing, and that was not what happened here as I somehow had the characters figured out really early on. The lack of surprises was a bit of a letdown for me, and I honestly felt that it was a bit too convenient that nobody but Della saw the truth behind certain characters. It didn’t feel credible and the same goes for certain parts of the plot as well as the ending.

As for the characters… I found them to be very hard to like, which made it more difficult to connect to the story in turn. Some were ment to be unlikeable of course, but I was never able to connect to Della either both due to her attitude and actions. Initially I thought both Della and Danny would be a perfect match for me, as you don’t see too many stories about childless couples who made the decision not to have any children… It’s something I can relate to personally as with my hubby we stand by the same decision (have been for years as we just don’t see ourselves with children, or at least not in the forseeable future). I was a bit miffed to be honest to have Della suddently being saddled with an unplanned pregnancy; both because of Danny’s reaction and people judging how she feels about it. I know this is a personal reaction, but still… It made me enjoy the story and characters considerably less.

In short, What I Know is a psychological thriller with a dark edge: using a dual storyline, it switches back between past and present and introduces us to two twisted minds… What I Know has without doubt a lot of potential, and while the story sadly fell flat for me, others do seem to enjoy it a lot better.


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ARC REVIEW: The Republic Of Birds – by Jessica Miller

Title: The Republic Of Birds
Author: Jessica Miller
Genre: MG, Fantasy, Magic
First published: March 3rd 2020
Publisher: Text Publishing
Finished reading: May 28th 2020
Pages: 304

“Am I glad to be here? I really can’t say. I guess I’m in what Great Names in Tsarish Cartography would describe as uncharted territory.”

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

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I know I don’t read a lot of middle grade stories to begin with, but I’m trying to change that and read at least 10 before the end of the year. I was mesmerized by The Republic Of Birds as soon as I saw the cover, and when I read the blurb and saw the mention of Russian folklore I thought this story would be a perfect fit. What I didn’t expect is that I would end up having mixed thoughts instead… I’ll try to explain why below.

First of all I have to say that I love the idea behind The Republic Of Birds. The winter setting in high fantasy Tsaretsvo, the Republic Of Birds, the discord between humans, birds and yagas, the Russian folklore references… It definitely set the right tone for this story and it was the perfect setting and backdrop for Olga’s story. BUT. I was kind of left wanting for more when it came to the worldbuilding as a whole. We get some descriptions, and we get glimpses of the different parts of Tsaretsvo, but I would have loved to have more as some parts seemed rushed while other parts were basically info-dumps and stopped the flow of the story. The second both applies to the excerpts of a history book included between chapters and certain scenes in the book (for example the whole Bleak Steppe setting). I really feel like the worldbuilding and story could have been so much more with a little more development, although I guess long books with more descriptions might not work as well with a middle grade audience…

As for the characters… I’m not sure what to make of them. While I really liked the idea of the magic behind the yagas as well as Olga’s magic, I would have loved to see it developed a little more. I felt like the short time in Bleak Steppe was used as an excuse to rush things and continue with Olga’s journey as quickly as possible, ignoring the potential of a slower route. I also found it a bit hard to connect to Olga in the first place. Sure, she is the true heroine of this story, and I could really appreciate her love of maps as well as her magic, but her character came over a bit flat and the solutions she found were a bit too convenient to be fully believable. The same goes for the other characters; most lacked more development and didn’t feel well rounded as a consequence. Like with the worldbuilding, I think this story would have benefitted greatly if it would have spent more time developing the characters and the magic in a credible way.

The Republic Of Birds is a middle grade high fantasy read, and as a consequence there is never true danger and things are wrapped up rather quickly. It’s a story about a girl trying to save her sister while also discovering herself and her hidden powers. If you are looking for an extensive and lush worldbuilding and lots of Russian folklore elements, you might end up feeling a bit disappointed… The story didn’t really flow as I hoped either, mostly due to the info-dumps, but I do think a middle grade audience might react better to the lack of details and seemingly quick solutions. It sure is a fast read though!


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ARC REVIEW: Saving Ruby King – by Catherine Adel West

Title: Saving Ruby King
Author: Catherine Adel West
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
First published: June 16th 2020
Publisher: Park Row
Finished reading: June 8th 2020
Pages: 352

“The world takes so much, sometimes words are all one can possess.”

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

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I was invited to read Saving Ruby King last month, and I found myself to be immediately intrigued by the blurb of this title. Especially considering recent events in the world… Because we can’t have enough own voices stories out there to help educate us more. That said, I have to say that I’m having a really hard time rating this book, and I ended up having mixed thoughts about the story as a whole. I’ll try to explain below what worked and didn’t work for me.

On one hand, Saving Ruby King is undeniably a very important and powerful read: an own voices debut set in both present and past Chicago that helps give us some insight in the race problematics and issues black people have to face even to this day. This element was the driving force behind this story and the main reason I kept reading. BUT. On the other hand, a big part of the story also focuses on religion. There is nothing wrong with that, but I personally have a huge aversion to stories that focus on religion, and even more if they start sounding preachy. This has nothing to do with the quality of this story, but instead is rather a personal reaction to an element I wasn’t expecting to be so present… But the fact remains that I struggled to keep reading every time religion came in focus, which was a lot.

Apart from my obvious issues with the focus on religion, Saving Ruby King is a fantastic debut. The writing, the complexity of the plot, the multiple POV structure, the character development, the mystery around and secrets of multiple characters, the race problematics, the story of abuse, the violence and also a note of hope… This story has so many elements and it makes for a multi-faceted and rich story. The plot follows multiple characters both in past and present, and it can be a bit of a juggle in the beginning to keep track of how they all fit together, but Saving Ruby King provides us with helpful family trees to make things easier. I also particularly liked the perspective of the church, which was both unique and gave us a more neutral insight in past events.

This is not an easy story to read, and will most likely make you feel uncomfortable. I applaude Catherine Adel West for the realistic development of the plot and characters, and for not being afraid to show the ugly truth and for the characters and elements to go dark and unsettling. This is a story about race problematics as well as a story of domestic violence, child abuse, self harm, murder as well as a spark of hope… Beautifully rendered, and if you are not bothered by the strong presence of religion in the story, you will be blown away by this story. Trust me, this book is worth reading for the black voices and focus on race problematics alone. I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes that stood out to me…

“We’re a minute blip on someone’s television. Sixty seconds and my friend is ruined, or ruined even more than she already was.”

“They know they won’t be held accountable for their actions. America doesn’t need ropes and trees anymore to kill us. They have cops.”

“It’s a melting pot jigsaw puzzle with very distinctive boundaries. And those invisible lines still carve up the city, separating black, brown and yellow from white, opportunity and a void of such things.”

“I’m black. That’s what matters. Cops cover for cops. Blue covers blue. Blue doesn’t cover black.”


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