ARC REVIEW: The Secret Child – by Caroline Mitchell

Title: The Secret Child
(DI Amy Winter #2)

Author: Caroline Mitchell
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Detective
First published: April 18th 2019
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: March 3rd 2019
Pages: 336

“We are all justified by our wants and needs. Who’s to say my reasons aren’t just as valid as yours?”

*** 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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As a thriller fan, every time I see Caroline Mitchell‘s name pop up my heart skips a beat. She has become one of my trusted thriller authors and her stories haven’t failed to entertain me yet… Last year I was able to meet a new detective with a fascinating past, DI Amy Winter, and it’s time for a second date in The Secret Child. I have a weird obsession with serial killer stories and the main character’s past is definitely one of the things that stands out most in this new detective thriller series. Things can be said about her difficult past and flawed personal life being quite cliche, but Lillian will get under your skin and will give Amy Winter an original twist. The writing is more than solid, draws you right in and will make you reach the final page before you know it. It’s something I’ve become used to with Caroline Mitchell‘s thrillers and one of the reasons I would pick up one of her titles without even reading the blurb first. The Secret Child has a fascinating premise though and I love that part of the plot is set in the past and in the Soviet Union at that. This international twist makes the plot all the more interesting and gives the story an original touch. Past and present are mixed in a way that adds maximum suspense and intrigue about what really happened to Luka and the other children all those years ago. There are quite a lot of different elements in the story, with the 1984-1985 flashbacks, the present kidnapping and Lillian Grimes… I did feel they were better balanced than in the first installment, and the story will definitely have some plot twist bombs and surprises for you in store. All in all I had a great time reading The Secret Child and I’m already looking forward to discover what will happen next.

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WARNING: Possible spoilers! Please don’t read this summary if you haven’t read the first book of this series yet. I’ll keep the summary super short but it’s impossible to keep it completely spoiler-free…

There are no solid leads after four-year-old Ellen was kidnapped from her very own bed at night. Until her mother Nicole receives a package with four phials and a message that will chill her to the bone. Suddenly her darkest fears have come true, and the past has come back to haunt her… Nicole is given a deadly challenge: one of the four phials is poisoned, and she has to drink one in order for the kidnapper to reveal Ellen’s location to the police. The kidnapper claims to be someone that is long dead… Is he telling the truth, and what does the past have to do with what is happening in the present? DI Amy Winter and her team will have to give it all in order for the truth to come out.

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If you, like me, enjoy fast-paced detective thrillers that aren’t afraid to go dark and twisty, you should definitely meet DI Amy Winter. Not only has she a serial killer connection, but she also isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in order to get things done. The Secret Child reads like a train and the flashbacks don’t slow down the pace at all… In fact, they only add extra dept and an original touch to the story. I’m really enjoying my time with DI Amy Winter so far and I’ll definitely be looking forward to meeting her again in the future.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #86 – Moon Over Soho & The Woman In The Window

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time a sequel I have been meaning to read ever since enjoying the first book last year and a 2018 hyped release I’ve been putting off but was also really curious about. Moon Over Soho turned out to be an excellent read, while The Woman In The Window failed to convince me completely.


Title: Moon Over Soho
(Peter Grant #2)
Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller
First published: April 21st 2011
Publisher: Gollancz
Finished reading: February 22nd 2019
Pages: 375

“For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.”


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I’ve been meaning to continue the Peter Grant series ever since I read the first book last year… With book number three ordered and currently on its way to my home, I thought it was about time I did. Not only do I love the covers of this series, but I really like the mix of different genres the stories represent. Moon Over Soho can be read as a stand-alone, although you do miss background information about the characters and magic… I suggest reading them in order anyway, since the stories are without doubt entertaining. Book two has a musical twist and includes the London jazz scene as one of the elements of the story. The focus of this story is on Grant and Nightingale again, and we have new supernatural beings to hunt. The writing style makes it easy to read the story and the sarcastic and dry humor was right up my alley. I liked the plot and the way the story follows two different cases at the same time. Part of the plot is solved by the time you reach the final page, but we have a new dangerous character still on the loose we will probably see more of in book three. I’m really enjoying my time with this series so far and I will be looking forward to the next book.


Title: The Woman In The Window
Author: A.J. Finn

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: January 2nd 2018
Publisher: William Morrow
Finished reading: February 24th 2019
Pages: 449

“My mind is a swamp, deep and brackish, the true and the false mingling and mixing.”


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Surprised I hadn’t read this one yet? With all the hype around The Woman In The Window last year and the mixed reviews out there I had decided to stay away… But curiosity took over and with the news of a movie on its way I decided to give in and give it a go. I ended up having mixed feelings about this story. In a way this is quite an entertaining psychological thriller with the typical unreliable narrator you understand right away can’t be trusted to tell you the truth. I appreciate the focus on agoraphobia, as this story might help people understand better what it is like to have to live with it. The writing flows and makes it easy to keep turning those pages, although I do admit the pace was slower than I would have expected and especially in the first half of the book. The Woman In The Window is mostly focused on the main character Anna and nothing much happens until you reach the final part. Another thing that was a huge turn off for me: I was able to guess almost every plot twist from a mile away. Especially the first big one was so easy to see through that I was really disappointed. Anna is not an easy character to like, and while I feel for her having to deal with her agoraphobia and nobody believing her, I was never able to warm up to her or the other characters for that matter. The plot itself was a bit weak and, as I said before, nothing much was happening during most of the story, which made the pace feel a tad slow and the story dragged in parts. It wasn’t all bad and there were certain aspects of this story I liked, but I wasn’t blown away by it either.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #83 – The Bitter Kingdom & Friend Request

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two completely different genres, but two books I ended up enjoying. The series conclusion The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson and the psychological thriller Friend Request by Laura Marshall.


Title: The Bitter Kingdom
(Fire And Thorns #3)
Author: Rae Carson

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: April 14th 2013
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Finished reading: February 6th 2019
Pages: 490

“It’s the highest art form, deceiving without lying. A word is the only thing in the world made more powerful by absence than existence.”


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WARNING: possible spoilers if you haven’t read the first two books yet. You’ve been warned…

I first started this series back in 2015, and it took me a long time before I finally continued it… Not because I didn’t enjoy the first book, but simply because other books got in the way. I finally read the novellas last year, and after reading the second book last month I was determined to read the third and final book ASAP so I could finish the series while memories were still fresh. I’m without doubt glad I picked up the final book, because The Bitter Kingdom definitely made this series end on a high note! I’m not sure if it is my new favorite, but I’m happy to say that all three Fire And Thorns books stay consistently strong and the final book doesn’t disappoint at all. Why was The Bitter Kingdom such a success for me? First of all, I could really appreciate the chapters from Hector’s POV. They were both refreshing and definitely a welcome addition to the story! I also liked how we finally get to learn more about Inverno and see more of that part of the world… The high fantasy worldbuilding is one of the best features of this series and it’s always great to see it expand. The writing is engaging and it makes it really easy to just keep turning the pages. The plot itself isn’t all that complicated, but offers enough action and a romance that will warm your heart instead of annoy you. The end did feel a bit too easy, but overall it does provide closure for this series and its character. I really enjoyed my time with this trilogy and can highly recommend it to fans of the genre.


Title: Friend Request
Author: Laura Marshall

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: August 9th 2017
Publisher: Sphere
Finished reading: February 9th 2019
Pages: 384

“I’m in a hall of mirrors, full of distorted reflections and false endings. I’ve lost track of which way I came in and I have no idea how to get out.”


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I recently bought a copy of Friend Request on a whim after remembering it being mentioned various times back when it was first published, and I couldn’t resist picking it up when I was in the mood for the genre. There is no doubt that Friend Request was a very entertaining psychological thriller with a few twists and turns I definitely didn’t see coming. The story starts slow and it takes a while for the pace to pick up. Basically, the first half has more of a character driven slower psychological thriller, while the second half is more of a suspenseful crime thriller with a fast pace and quite a lot of action. This made the story feel a bit unbalanced, but the second half made the story that much more thrilling. I mentioned twists I didn’t see coming, and this was definitely true, but I cannot help but wonder if some weren’t a bit too farfetched and dark compared to how the story first started? I do love my surprises though, so I’m a bit on the fence about how to feel about all this. I personally preferred the chapters set in 2016 over those in 1989, mostly because I’m not a real fan of high school drama and bullying. That said, both timelines seem well developed and help creating the suspense and intrigue around Maria and what is happening to Louise in the present. As for Louise: she can be quite annoying and I don’t understand some of her decisions, but her character with all its flaws does feel convincingly realistic. The mystery around what happened to Maria in 1989 and who is behind the messages in 2016 will definitely keep you intrigued until you find out the truth… And it will be hard to see that final twist coming. All in all Friend Request was still a very entertaining read despite the flaws I mentioned.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #82 – A Wrinkle In Time & What If It’s Us

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time a modern classic I somehow never read when I was younger and a new release I have been really excited about. Both turned out to be really good reads! A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine D’Engle and What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera.


Title: A Wrinkle In Time
(Time Quintet #1)
Author: Madeleine D’Engle

Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Classics
First published: 1962
Publisher: Yearling Books
Finished reading: February 1st 2019
Pages: 211

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.”


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Somehow, I’ve managed to grow up without ever reading this modern classic. Don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why, but I sure wish I would have been able to read it twenty years ago… Still, A Wrinkle In Time made a more than solid impression on me as an adult. I definitely understand the love for this story now! The writing style draws you right in and is very engaging and timeless. Even though the story was first published over 50 years ago, it will still be easy for children and adults alike to connect to this story. The plot itself is simple, but the setting in space and the time warps give the story a little something extra. The main characters are easy to like and all have their own personality. I also really liked how Mrs. Whatsit and her friends were represented not only with descriptions but also in the way they talked. The ending was a bit too abrupt, easy and ‘clean’ for me, but overall I had a great time discovering A Wrinkle In Time. I’m not sure if I will continue the series any time soon, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind for the future.


Title: What If It’s Us
Author: Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: October 9th 2018
Publisher: HarperTeen
Finished reading: February 4th 2019
Pages: 448

“I believe in love at first sight. Fate, the universe, all of it. But not how you’re thinking. I don’t mean it in the our souls were split and you’re my other half forever and ever sort of way. I just think you’re meant to meet some people. I think the universe nudges them into your path.”


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I’m a fan of both Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera’s books, so I have been eagerly awaiting this collaboration ever since I first heard about it. I already had that feeling I was probably going to enjoy What If It’s Us, and it turns out my instincts were absolutely right. This was such an adorable read! The writing, the main characters, the geeky elements (go The Sims and Harry Potter references among others!)… It was just all so cute and fluffy and I had a wonderful time reading it. The story is told in alternate chapters going between Ben and Arthur. Each has his own personality shining through in everything and also has his own set of companion characters that will slowly merge together as one big group. I really loved the idea of the missed connection, the search of the so-called needle in the hackstack and what happens afterwards. The characters are all well developed, feel realistic and I love that they not only represent the lgbt community but also minority groups in such a natural way. The plot itself does have its moments where credibility is in doubt and there were also cliches as well as a love triangle involved, but overall this minor flaws fade away compared to the rest of the story. My heart melted for these characters, and as a Harry Potter and The Sims fan I’m stoked to see references to both incorporated into the story. There are other fandoms included as well and I just LOVE that Ben writes his own story. There is a lot to love in this cute, adorkable and fluffy read and fans of the genre will adore What If It’s Us. Without doubt a winner!


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ARC REVIEW: An American Marriage – by Tayari Jones

Title: An American Marriage
Author: Tayari Jones
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
First published: January 29th 2018
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Finished reading: February 7th 2019
Pages: 320

“There are too many loose ends in the world in need of knots. You can’t attend to all of them, but you have to try.”

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

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There has been a lot of hype around An American Marriage ever since it first came out last year, so much that I decided I wanted to see how I would react to this story myself. I was definitely excited when I was approved for an ARC of this version with a new cover! Nothing can beat that other gorgeous blue cover for me, but I do love how well this new cover fits the story. The two main characters back to back, the handwritten letters as a background, the use of contrasting colors… Truly eyecatching. Now that I have finally had the chance to read An American Marriage, I can understand why it has been praised this much. Powerful, raw, moving, emotionally draining… This story will most definitely leave its mark. Let’s start with the fact that sadly having an innocent man going to prison is something that still happens even to this date. Prejudice and racial discrimination are two phenomenons we cannot seem to get rid of in society, and Southern US does have its history. The way this story is told and the different elements are introduced and incorporated into the plot is brilliant. An American Marriage proves to be an eye-opener as well as an emotional and heartbreaking story about two persons being ripped apart by a wrong conviction. The story is told from three different POVs, all three characters being key to this story. Celestial, Roy and Andre each have their own role in An American Marriage, each has their flaws and each is developed realistically and evolves during this story. Unfortunately for me, I was never able to fully warm up to them though, which is one of the things that prevented me connecting to the story fully. The pace was also considerably slow at points, which might be a turn off for some. These are only minor complaints compared to the wonderful writing style and the way this story is constructed though. I really like how we go from different POVs to letters written between Celestial and Roy during his stay in prison and back to regular prose afterwards. It’s a representation of how the characters were limited in their communication during this difficult time and it adds a little something extra to the story. The representation of the failed justice system and how screwed up things were this close to the present days is both shocking and a revelation. I’ve read stories about innocent men in prison before, and Tayari Jones’ voice is a welcome addition to the group. Could I have done without the love triangle? Yes. But I guess it does help showcasing just how far the consequences of that wrong conviction will go. It’s without doubt a powerful read I’m glad I finally had the chance to read.

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Celestial and Roy come from different backgrounds, but are both well on their way to success. Roy is a young executive and Celestial an artist with a promising career, and when they marry they see themselves with a wonderful future. They settle down in a routine that seems to work for both and everything seems to be right on track… Only for everything to be ripped away one fated night. Will they be able to overcome the obstacles put in their away and prove for once and for all they locked an innocent man behind bars?

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I already had some ideas about An American Marriage when I first started reading it, but I didn’t realize the full extent of this powerful and emotionally draining story until I was already in way too deep. While it is true that I failed to connect to the characters completely, I wasn’t happy with the love triangle and the pace was a bit slow at points, it was the story itself that made me forget about those minor complaints. An innocent man behind bars just because someone pointed their finger (basically), the struggle to prove the truth, the strain the situation has on a relationship and those close to Roy in general, the racial discrimination, the failed justice system, the family history… Powerful elements that have been excellently developed and executed and which turn this story into one well worth your time.


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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: The Mermaid’s Voice Returns In This One – by Amanda Lovelace

Title: The Mermaid’s Voice Returns In This One
(Women Are Some Kind Of Magic #3)
Author: Amanda Lovelace
Genre: Poetry, Feminism
First published: March 5th 2019
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Finished reading: February 2nd 2019
Pages: 208

“only now

 

am i

realizing

 

that is was

all make-believe”

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

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I enjoyed reading the first two poetry bundles last year, so it was an easy decision whether to read the third and final bundle of the Women Are Some Kind Of Magic series. Where Amanda Lovelace‘s poetry might lack in style, complexity and elaboration, it outshines other poetry with its overwhelming and powerful emotions and strong messages. It’s actually combination of the simplicity of the words and the overpowering message they are able to communicate that turns her work into something special for me. I admire her for being able to speak this openly about the past and what happened to her. The bundles talk about the three stages she had to go through (the princess, the witch and finally the mermaid) to be able to start healing herself and keep working on the future. As someone who has been in an abusive relationship herself, it’s really easy to relate to her words and those who have had or are having a more recent experience will find comfort. What made The Mermaid’s Voice Returns In This One stand out from the others is that Amanda Lovelace mixes fantasy with reality this time, using not only poems but also short paragraphs with odes to famous stories by other authors. And that is not all: in the final part of this bundle you can find thirteen guest poems by other poetry writers with a similar topic mixed in between her work. An original touch and something I could really appreciate. I think the second bundle is still my favorite, but The Mermaid’s Voice Returns In This One is without doubt a wonderful addition.


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