ARC (AUDIO) REVIEW: Secondhand Smoke – by M. Louis

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Title: Secondhand Smoke
(Jake Brand, PI #2)
Author: M. Louis

Genre: Mystery, Thriller
First published: October 15th 2015
Publisher: Palasides Publishing
Finished reading: November 24th 2016
Pages: 322
Rating 3,5qqq

*** A copy of this audiobook was kindly provided to me by Mindbuck Media Book Publicity in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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It’s just about time I finally had my very first audiobook experience! I’ve tried my hands at audiobooks in the past, but could never actually get into the voices that narrated the stories. When Mindbuck Media Book Publicity offered me a copy of Secondhand Smoke in exchange for a review, I thought it would be the perfect excuse to give audiobooks another chance. This book by M. Louis is actually the second book of a PI series, but can also be read as a stand-alone without missing out on too many details. The story itself is action-packed, full of plot twists and the characters are without doubt interesting. I have to admit it took a little while to adjust to the whole idea of listening instead of reading the story myself, but I ended up enjoying the whole experience a lot better than I thought I would. Secondhand Smoke has a fast pace and is mainly focused on the action, making it almost sound as if you were listening to the script of an action movie. Sure, it could have done without the romance and wasn’t sure about the ending, but overall it is without doubt a very entertaining story. It also worked perfectly as an audiobook and I was able to multitask while listening to it. I’m not sure I will switch to audiobooks any time soon, but one or two every once in a while have become way more tempting. And I can definitely recommend Secondhand Smoke to any detective/thriller fan.

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When a beautiful woman shows up at PI Jake Brand’s office pleading him to find her missing boyfriend, he would have never guessed the mess he would soon find himself in along with a few select persons close to him. Jake and his best friend and assistant Sara discover the couple is connected to a shady hacker, a corrupt copy and a few other potentially dangerous people. And as they try to find out what is really going on, it turns out they might actually already know too much… And their lives are in danger.

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If you are looking for a fast-paced and action-packed detective thriller that reads/sounds like a proper action movie, Secondhand Smoke is definitely a great choice. The story is mainly focused on the actions instead of the characters and it shows in the many many action scenes. The character development isn’t that extensive, but they are easy to connect to in general. The ending was a bit corny, but I liked the title reference and overall I had a great time listening to this story. Recommended!

BOOK REVIEW: Furthermore – by Tahereh Mafi

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Title: Furthermore
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Magic
First published: August 30th 2016
Publisher: Dutton Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: November 16th 2016
Pages: 416
Rating 3,5qqq

“Why must you look like the rest of us? Why do you have to be the one to change? Change the way we see. Don’t change the way you are.”

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I have been wanting to read Furthermore ever since I first heard about it. I admit I haven’t read Tahereh Mafi‘s popular Shatter Me series yet (mostly because of the mixed reviews I’ve seen out there), but this new story seems to be totally unrelated to it. Furthermore is a typical middle grade story that reads like a fairy tale and is full of adventures and a worldbuilding that is both creative and well executed. In fact, both the new world Tahereh Mafi created where color is currency and the plot itself are probably the strongest features of this book. The main characters are ok, although they did feel a bit underdeveloped at points. I loved the symbolism behind Alice though. As for the pace of the story: the beginning was quite slow and didn’t grab my attention right away, while the ending felt quite rushed. In other words, Furthermore lacked the right balance in pace and I would have liked to see a better ending. The story is well written though and I can see why middle graders would enjoy reading this story full of magical adventures. The chapters are not too long either, which makes it a great read to read out loud as well.

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Ferenwood is a world where color is currency and the sign of magic as well. The more colorful the inhabitants are, the more powerful they seem to be… And that’s why Alice Alexis Queensmeadow doesn’t seem to be popular at all. She was born all white from top to bottom, and even though she desperately wants to fit in, everybody seems to treat her indifferently. Well, everyone except for Father, but he disappeared three years ago and nobody knows where he went. Alice is determined to find Father, and one day she gets help from an unexpected source. It turns out she will have to travel through the mythical and dangerous Furthermore to find him, and it will take all her wits to fulfill her quest.

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Maybe my expectations were set too high, but while Furthermore was a very entertaining read I did have some minor problems with it. The biggest flaw might be the pace, which was too slow in the beginning and felt way too rushed in the end. The adventures itself were cute enough and I simply loved the worldbuilding and the idea of color as magic. I would have liked to see a bit more character development, but I liked Alice and I have no doubt it would be a big success in the target group.

BOOK REVIEW: The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer – by Mark Twain

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Title: The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer
Author: Mark Twain

Genre: Classics, Fiction, Middle Grade
First published: 1876
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Finished reading: October 20th 2016
Pages: 225
Rating 3qqq

“Can’t learn an old dog new tricks, as the saying is. But my goodness, he never plays them alike, two days, and how is a body to know what’s coming?”

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Like most people, I already knew most of the details around the life of Tom Sawyer and I think I might have seen a TV series at some point, but I’m ashamed to admit I had never actually read the original story as it was written by Mark Twain all that time ago. And since I needed to read more classics in the first place, I thought it was a great excuse to finally pick up my copy of The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer. Unfortunately I can’t say I fell in love with this classic. I’m not saying it is a bad read, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Part of the problem might be that I read it too late; I would probably have enjoyed this story a lot better fifteen to twenty years ago. That said, I did think there were too many religious references to my taste, although that can probably be explained by the fact that it was written back in 1876. But classic or not, I did have a hard time to get a proper feel for the story and it only started to get more exciting after their ‘graveyard adventure’.  Slow start and stronger ending; I guess it would still make a great middle grade, especially for boys.

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Tom Sawyer is not like most of the boys in the Mississippi River town where his lives. He doesn’t really feel like behaving and doing as it is told by the adults around him, and is always looking for a way to escape his tasks. Tom is without doubt very clever, and is able to convince the other boys of just about everything. From the fun in whitewashing a fence to the games they play and the things that happen at school, Tom Sawyer is always a busy boy that normally means he will ends up in trouble. Trouble that might be turning into a really dangerous situation after what happened at the graveyard… But even trouble and danger cannot make Tom to stay away from his adventures and the creativity of his own mind.

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I guess I either read this story at the wrong time or it just wasn’t for me, because I can’t say I was convinced by especially the first part of The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer. It’s not a bad read and I can see why especially younger readers would love this story, but I had a hard time getting into the story. The last part is a lot more exciting though, and the story is quite readable even though it’s written back in the 19th century.

BOOK REVIEW: Fallen Mangrove – by Wayne Stinnett

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Title: Fallen Mangrove
(Jesse McDermitt #4)
Author: Wayne Stinnett
Genre: Action, Thriller, Adventure
First published: September 28th  2014
Publisher: Down Island Press
Finished reading: September 1st 2016
Pages: 301
Rating 2,5qqq

“In a riddle, Charlie said as she came across the clearing, a subtle difference in wording is huge.”

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I got this title a long while back as a kindle freebie thinking it would be a historical fiction read about a treasure hunt. I should have read more carefully, because Fallen Mangrove has little to do with historical fiction apart from the first chapter or so. It’s actually a full blown action thriller that has a bit of a Rambo/Die Hard feeling going on. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing and I’m sure the right person would probably love this book. In fact, I think this is one of those cases where the problem most likely is me, and not the book… So I’m going to give Fallen Mangrove the benefit of the doubt. This fourth book in the Jesse McDermitt series can be read as a stand-alone; I’ve done so myself and only a few small background facts about the characters seem to be missing. It’s without doubt an action-packed story, but the many technical details did distract from the main plot and the ending felt a bit ‘weak’ after so many action scenes. I didn’t really find the plot credible either… But like I said, the right person would probably really enjoy this read.

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In September of 1566, a Spanish treasure ship is driven by a hurricane onto the rocky shoreline of Elbow Cay. A few of the crew members survived and managed to salvage most of the treasure. They decided to bury it on the island and leave a clue carved into a coconut that leads to the location of the treasure. Four-hundred and forty years later, Jesse McDermitt and his friends finally solve the riddle on the coconut and decide to look for it. But the Miami based Croatian mob learns about the treasure and want to get to it first no matter what it takes… And Jesse and his friends may be in grave danger.

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I think Fallen Mangrove is one of those books that probably works better for a male audience with all the action scenes and technical details. It sure reads like one of those popular action movies… The historical facts were interesting and I liked the idea of a treasure hunt, but I can’t say I found the plot all that credible in general. But like I said, in this case the fact that I didn’t like this read is probably my own fault. Some books just are not ment for everyone.

BOOK REVIEW: The Time Machine – by H.G. Wells

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Title: The Time Machine
Author: H.G. Wells
Genre: Classics, Science Fiction, Time Travel
First published: 1895
Finished reading: May 17th 2016
Pages: 104
Rating 3qqq

“We should strive to welcome change and challenges, because they are what help us grow. With out them we grow weak like the Eloi in comfort and security. We need to constantly be challenging ourselves in order to strengthen our character and increase our intelligence. ”

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I normally seem to be having a love/hate relationship when it comes to classics, but since I have been wanting to read The Time Machine for a while now and I needed more classics for a challenge I decided to give it a go anyway. This story set in the year 802.701 AD is without doubt a quick read and and has an interesting vision of the future, especially when you keep in mind the story was written in the 19th century. Still, I’m having mixed feelings about this time travel story. I felt the story was a bit too ‘communist’ to my taste. Why? It almost seemed like H.G. Wells was promoting communism by showing that the seemingly rich and priviledged Eloi are actually quite weak and the ‘lower’ Morlocks are more technically advanced because of the simple need to adapt to a complicated situation. The quote above shows this quite well… I’m not saying the political theme is necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t what I expected and I’m still not sure what to think of it. And I didn’t enjoy the descriptions of the part where he travels towards the final moments of the Earth as much as his first time travel adventure either. Still, I can’t deny the story in general reads fast and is quite entertaining if you can get past the political theme. The descriptions of this future are without doubt interesting!

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A Victorian scientist calls himself the Time Traveller as he tries to convince his friends that he was finally able to build a working time machine. They all seem a bit skeptic and don’t believe him, until the day that his time machine vanishes from sight. It seems like time travelling is indeed possible! He takes himself to the year 802.701 AD, and soon finds out life is completely different then. The Time Traveller has a hard time communicating with the inhabitants of this strange future, but he is happy to see that suffering has been replaced by beauty, contentment and peace. But soon enough he starts to discover that the Eloi people are not as advanced as they might seem and are in fact quite weak. The Eloi are afraid of the dark, and with reason, because beneath their paradise live the Morlocks hidden in the deep tunnels. They have evolved in order to survive under the complicated circumstances in the tunnel, and now hunt the very people that used to control them…

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While I liked the general descriptions of The Time Machine and it was interesting to read a vision of the future that was written over one hundred years ago, I still have mixed thoughts about this read. The main problem I had involves the political theme, which I thought distracted the attention from an otherwise entertaining sci-fi time travel story. I won’t be saying this classic is a must read, but it is an interesting enough read if you like these kind of stories and quite short as well.

BOOK REVIEW: A Gathering Of Shadows – by V.E. Schwab

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Title: A Gathering Of Shadows
(Shades Of Magic #2)
Author: V.E. Schwab
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Dystopia
First published: February 23rd 2016
Finished reading: April 27th 2016
Pages: 512
Rating 4,5qqq

“The world is neither fair nor right, but it has a way of balancing itself. Magic teaches us that much.”

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You know a book is good when you’ve been trying to write a review for the past two weeks and still can’t get anything constructive on paper that doesn’t sound like you’re just fangirling over the place. So don’t say I didn’t warn you… Because this is exactly what has been happening with the first two books in the Shades Of Magic series. Both A Darker Shade Of Magic and A Gathering Of Shadows are without doubt brilliant books and I still can’t believe it took me this long to discover V.E. Schwab‘s writing. This woman literally turns into gold anything she touches and I can’t wait to read more of her work… See, I told you this review was going to be a complete mess! Let’s see if I can finally say anything coherent about A Gathering Of Shadows…First of all, the prose and worldbuilding are just as excellent as the first book and it makes me wonder if she is able to write anything bad. If I have to pick a favorite, I think I liked the plot of the first book slightly better, but the tournament is still really entertaining to read about. And those plot twists! I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but there will be quite a few surprises waiting for you as you read this story. The ending is in one word painful; while the first book had a clearly marked ending of their adventure, A Gathering Of Shadows ends with an infamous cliffhanger. And with the expected publish date for the third book A Conjuring Of Light recently set in February 2017, it sure will be a long wait to find out what happens to my new favorite characters. The only thing I wasn’t so sure about and made me cut off half a star of the final rating was the appearance of a few romance scenes. I was kind of already expecting (read: dreading) it, but this series is no longer completely romance-free. I knew it was too good to be true… Still, this series is a must read for any fantasy fan.

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

It has been four months since Kell met Delilah Bard, had their adventures, saved the day and last saw each other. Kell had to give up his smuggling habit and his travels are limited to Grey London since White London is still too dangerous to visit. He feels like he is trapped inside a cage… Lila on the other had has been following her dream of freedom and owning her own ship one day and disappeared from the docks those four months ago. What Kell doesn’t know she has been on board of a certain pirate ship all along, and soon they will most likely meet again… Because Red London is preparing to host the Element Games; an international competition of magic both to entertain the masses and strenghten the ties between the neighboring countries. It seems like the competition will have two ‘unknown’ participants fighting as well, but will they be able to keep their true identity a secret? And what about the fates Black and White London?

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Those who follow my blog will already know how much I loved A Darker Shade Of Magic, and this sequel is just as good. The only reason I haven’t given A Gathering Of Shadows the full five stars as well is because I was slightly disappointed by the fact that the story was no longer romance free (even though I kind of wanted them to be together) and I liked the plot of the first book slightly better. The character development in A Gathering Of Shadows is a bit more complex though and the prose is just as brilliant as the first book. In short, if you enjoyed A Darker Shade Of Magic, you will love this book as well. And if you haven’t read this series yet, I strongly suggest you do!

BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade Of Magic – by V.E. Schwab

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Title: A Darker Shade Of Magic
(Shades Of Magic #1)
Author: V.E. Schwab
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Dystopia
First published: February 24th 2015
Finished reading: April 15th 2016
Pages: 400
Rating 5qqq

“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

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I know, I know, I should have listened to the numerous recommendations and raving reviews and picked up this series a lot sooner, because A Darker Shade Of Magic went straight to my list of all time favorites. This book is amazing! I have to say it has been hard to write a coherent review without fangirling all over the place… Because the first book of the Shades Of Magic without doubt deserves every last bit of the hype around it. Why? A Darker Shade Of Magic has an excellent worldbuilding, a simple but intriguing plot, a fast pace, well written prose, interesting characters I almost immediately connected to, no love triangle, almost no romance… In one word: BRILLIANT, or at least everything I want in a fantasy series. I loved the dynamics between the two seemingly so different characters Kell and Lila, especially since there is NO love interest whatsover between the two. The worldbuilding is really well done and together with the prose it immediately set the right atmosphere for this kind of dark and intriguing story. And even though A Darker Shade Of Magic doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, I still needed to read the sequel straight away. An excellent sign for a great story, right? I will stop fangirling now and leave you with these last two last facts: first of all, V.E. Schwab is without doubt one of my new favorite authors and secondly, if you haven’t read this series yet and like the genre, make sure to move it to the top of your TBR pile!

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Ever since disaster happened in Black London, the three remaining Londons have been separated and isolated in their parallel worlds. Grey London – dirty, boring and lacking magic, ruled by mad King George -, Red London – where life and magic managed to flourish with the Maresh Dynasty at the top – and White London – where people fight to control magic and whoever has murdered their way to the throne rules. Kell is one of the last Antari left with the rare powers to be able to travel between the worlds, and officially he is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London. It is his task to carry the monthly letters between the royals of each London, but that is not the only thing Kell takes with him on his travels between the parallel worlds.  His dangerous hobby of smuggling bits of a world they’ll never see to those willing to pay for it finally caught up with him and he is set up for treason… And while he flees into Grey London, someone seems to tag along even though Kell still believes he doesn’t need help.

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As you might have guessed from my rambles above, I really loved reading A Darker Shade Of Magic. This first book in the Shades Of Magic series has basically everything I want in a YA fantasy series all mashed together into one brilliant story, and this book made it straight to my list of all time favorites. I know it sounds a lot like fangirling and I admit I still find it hard to write a proper review even days after finishing it… But what I can say is that A Darker Shade Of Magic is one of those books that is truly worth the hype. Make sure to read it if you haven’t already; you won’t regret it!