ARC REVIEW: Among Friends – by Heather Murray

Title: Among Friends (Travels In Cuba)
Author: Heather Murray

Genre: Non Fiction, Travel, Memoir
First published: October 6th 2016
Finished reading: April 20th 2017
Pages: 298

“Ephemeral things are tragic because they are never repeated, but they are wonderful because they may be kept in memories in our brain, and they may be recollected as many times as we wish.”

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

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I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a lot during my early twenties and exploring different cultures/countries is still something I’m really passionate about. When I was contacted about Among Friends: Travels In Cuba I immediately knew I wanted to read this memoir, especially since one of my best friends actually went to Cuba for a month in January and I wanted to compare experiences. I admit my knowledge of Cuban history and culture is pretty basic, since my University courses mainly focused on South America… So I was looking forward to learn more about this country. One of the first things that stands out in this travel memoir written by Heather Murray is the lack of political talk, something I’m rather grateful for to be honest. Instead, the author focuses on her own experiences while visiting Cuba various times during the span of eight years; the last time being in 2015. I agree it’s really hard (maybe even impossible) to get a proper feel of a country as an outsider/foreigner, but I enjoyed reading her experiences while visiting Havana and various other destinations in Cuba. Her friendship with Julian and other Cubans definitely help to shed some light on how life really was lived by the Cubans during those years… And I liked how detailed the descriptions of the various places she visited were. The prose was easy to read and all in all it was an enjoyable travel memoir. Low on social-cultural and political details, but highly entertaining for those who enjoy the genre!

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Spread over a period of eight years, Heather Murray travels to Cuba various times to visit her friend Julian. What started out as two collegues writing letters grew into a friendship when she traveled to Cuba for the first time for a conference… The country and its people made a big impact and various visits followed afterwards. Both Havana and other provinced to the west and east are explored with the help of Julian and other Cubans; and the country definitely shows some changes over the years. This memoir is packed with personal experiences and many detailed descriptions of the various destinations in Cuba.

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If you are looking for a well written, entertaining and ‘light’ travel memoir that focuses on the travel and daily life of the locals rather than the more serious topics, Among Friends is without doubt an excellent choice. The descriptions of the various destinations and excursions are very well done and I could almost imagine being there myself as well. As stated in this memoir, it shows that Cuba has been through some changes in the last ten years and it shows… At least that is what my friend told as well. Recommended!


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ARC REVIEW: The Red Hunter – by Lisa Unger

Title: The Red Hunter
Author: Lisa Unger

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction
First published: April 25th 2017
Publisher: Touchstone
Finished reading: April 18th 2017
Pages: 368

“It was getting to me. I was vibrating, giving off the energy of the thing I tried to hide and harness. I had given it a name. A thing that lived inside of me. The Red Hunter. Rage.”

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

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Lisa Unger has been one of the (many) authors on my need-to-read-soon list for a long time, so it wasn’t just the breathtakingly beautiful cover that made me want to read The Red Hunter. It’s always great to get to know the work of authors who belong to one of my favorite genres, and now I’ve had a sample I’m definitely planning to pick up more of Lisa Unger‘s novels. The start of The Red Hunter was a bit slow and it took me some time to connect the different storylines, but as soon as the pace picked up: BAM! Instant pageturner. Each storyline adds something different to the story, and there is no doubt it’s a fascinating one. Trigger warnings for rape and violence, but nothing ‘too’ graphic. The Red Hunter basically focuses on the lives of two different completely different women. Confession: I wasn’t a big fan of Claudia Bishop, although it was interesting to see how she tried to deal with her rape trauma and I liked the whole house renovation subplot. Her daughter Raven is without doubt a very interesting character as well… But I found Zoey Drake’s chapters to be the most intriguing ones. She had without doubt a very traumatic childhood experience that scarred her for life, and her messed up character was fascinating. And once the pace picks up, the many many MANY plot twists will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page. I had my suspicions about certain things, but I didn’t guess the complete truth until the very end. And trust me, after reading so many psychological thrillers, that doesn’t happen often. Recommended for fans of the genre!

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Both Claudia and Zoe are traumatized by a horrific event in their past and scarred for life, although they each try to find a way to continue with their lives. Claudia Bishop had what she thought the perfect life until she was brutally assaulted and raped in her own home… Her marriage hasn’t survived, and she still doesn’t know who is the real father of the daughter that was born nine months after the attack. She is looking for a fresh start renovating an old house which she inherited from her father, blogging about her experience along the way.

Zoey Drake on the other hand has never recovered from the horrific home invasion when she was a teenager, an event that resulted in the murder of her parents and she almost died as well that night. None of the guys that were involved were ever caught, and years later Zoey is still looking for justice and/or revenge. She is no longer weak, having been trained in martial arts, but is she truly ready to face the demons of the past? And does Claudia realize what is the true history of the house she is trying to restore to its former glory?

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The Red Hunter is without doubt a fascinating read and even though it started out a bit slow, I ended up really enjoying it. Not every character is all that likeable, but they are all well developed and add something to the story. It’s also intriguing how the different characters try to deal with the traumas of their past, and all in all it is without doubt an worthy psychological thriller.


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ARC REVIEW: Castle Of Water – by Dane Huckelbridge

Title: Castle Of Water
Author: Dane Huckelbridge

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
First published: April 4th 2017
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press 
Finished reading: April 16th 2017
Pages: 288

“With his box-cutter knife in one hand and waterproof flashlight in the other, Barry felt, for the first time in his life, like a man. A terrified man on the verge of  wetting his loincloth, but a man nevertheless.”

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

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Sometimes (cover)love at first sight can lead to something extraordinary. When I first saw Dane Huckelbridge‘s debut novel Castle Of Water mentioned, I couldn’t stop staring at the cover. The color combination, the abstract sunset over the sea… Just gorgeous. Of course I had no other choice but to request a copy, especially since the story itself sounded really intriguing as well. And Castle Of Water is without doubt a little masterpiece. It’s a story about how two unlikely characters end up as castaways on a deserted island together and how they manage to survive… A modern ‘Robinson Crusoe‘ twist that captured my attention from the very first page. The characters are spot on and their development is brilliantly done. It’s really interesting to see how both Barry and Sophie react to the things that happen to them on the island and I love LOVE their bantering! I like that they represent different nationalities as well as personalities and it without doubt adds an original touch to an already excellent story and plot. The writing style really stands out as well; well written, enjoyable to read and even funny at points. I also loved the incorporation of many French elements/words, which were easy to understand and didn’t slow down the pace even though my French is pretty basic. I honestly couldn’t find something I didn’t like about this novel… So as you might have already guessed, I can more than recommend Castle Of Water if you enjoy the genre. You won’t be disappointed!

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Sophie Ducel and Barry Bleecker decided to travel to French Polynesia for very different reasons… Sophie wanted to visit the island home of her favorite singer, Jacques Brel, during her honeymoon with her new husband. Barry Bleecker decided to give up his job in Manhattan finance and chase his painting dreams instead; seeking creative inspiration in the place where his idol, Paul Gauguin, found it as well. The two didn’t know each other until they bordered the small plane sharing the same destination. And then their plane is downed in the middle of the Sout Pacific, and Sophie and Barry are the sole survivors. They find themselves stranded on a tiny island hundreds of miles from civilization… And they will have to learn to work together if they want to have any chance of survival and ever finding a way back home. Which might be more difficult than it sounds, because the two strangers couldn’t have been more different.

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While it was the beautiful cover that made me first want to pick up this novel, it was the story and writing style itself that managed to blow me away in the end. Castle Of Water is basically a modern castaway story with a twist, and I loved every single moment of it. The prose is just wonderful and combined with the well developed and loveable characters you are definitely in for a treat. An emotional rollercoaster, in the best possible way!


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ARC REVIEW: Life Sentence – by Lily Luchesi

Title: Life Sentence
(Paranormal Detectives #3)
Author: Lily Luchesi

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance
First published: July 31st 2017
Publisher: Vamptasy Publishing
Finished reading: April 15th 2017
Pages: ?

“Not all monsters are murderers. However, all hunters are. Your kind do not understand our ways. You have murdered my friends. You have murdered employees of mine. You have murdered werewolves who fight for king and country in the wars. All because you fear what you cannot understand.”

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

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I read the first book of this series back in January and the sequel earlier this month. Life Sentence is the third book in the Paranormal Detectives series and it will also be the last vampire book I will read. Why? I’m simply not a fan of vampires and I seem to be enjoying any story with the mention of these fanged creatures a lot less than others who don’t mind or even like them. It just doesn’t seem fair to the authors to keep reading a genre that doesn’t seem to be a good fit in the first place… So consider this review as my goodbye party to vampire stories. Only the ‘fake’ blood is missing!

Even though I seem to be allergic to vampires, I’v enjoyed this series a lot better than I thought I would. Like I’ve mentioned before, in Paranormal Detectives it’s not just about vampires: werewolves, witches and even demons make their appearance. This third book is an improvement of the second book as well, mostly because the annoying love triangle in book two is no longer in the picture. Once again the many flashbacks to the past were my favorite parts of this story and Danny’s psychic abilities are an interesting twist as well. There is a lot of action and the pace is fast; if you are looking for an entertaining supernatural read you will most likely enjoy this series!

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

After all what happened during their confrontation with Miranda, Angelica and Danny will have to adjust to the many changes in their lives… Both their personal life and at the Paranormal Investigative Division. The previous threat is still hanging above them and they will have to gather all their strength to be able to finally get rid of her forever. But will they adapt to the new reality of their lives? And can this kind of evil be beaten in the first place?

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What I like of this series is that it isn’t just another vampire story. There are a bunch of different supernatural creatures involved and they are actually dangerous like they are supposed to be. Another bonus is that there isn’t a lot of romance involved; the main focus is on the action and history of the main characters. If you like this kind of stories, you are definitely in for a treat!


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BOOK REVIEW: The Start Of Me And You – by Emery Lord

Title: The Start of Me And You
Author: Emery Lord

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: March 31st 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Finished reading: April 14th 2017
Pages: 376

“In books, sometimes the foreshadowing is so obvious that you know what’s going to happen. But knowing what happens isn’t the same as knowing how it happens. Getting there is the best part.”

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Confession: contemporary romance is not really my thing and I normally tend to avoid the genre… But I was in desperate need for a change of genre and I enjoyed Emery Lord‘s other story When We Collided, so I decided to give The Start Of Me And You a go. I didn’t read the blurb before I started and I thought it was going to be a ‘happy’ read, so it’s easy to say I was surprised when I was confronted with another case of grief instead. Although the sad part was mostly in the beginning. The writing style itself is very enjoyable to read and I literally flew through the pages. Like many YA contemporary romance novels I’ve read in the past, the plot of The Start Of Me And You is quite cheesy and predictable and unfortunately this is yet another story with one of the most annoying romance tropes possible: a love triangle. And quite a frustrating love triangle as well as the main character Paige is SO blind during most of the story! I had mixed thoughts about the characters (LOVED Max, wasn’t so sure of Paige for example), but I did enjoy all those little geeky elements that were included. Like I said before, about 90% of the story is way too cheesy for me and the plot was quite predictable, but I can see why fans of the genre would love The Start Of Me And You. I personally didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it better than I thought I would. Without doubt an easy, entertaining and fluffy read!

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Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident last year, and she is still struggling to get her life back on track. People still feel sorry for her and give her THAT LOOK all the time, but Paige has a plan this time for a fresh start at her high school. Five simple steps that should help her convince everyone she’s back to normal… Including finally getting her old crush Ryan Chase to date her. But that plan will not work out as she thought it would… And she might end up doing something completely different instead.

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If you are a fan of slightly cheesy, predictable but incredibly fluffy YA contemporary romance stories, you will probably end up loving The Start Of Me And You. Personally it was a little too sweet to my taste, but it was a rather welcome break from more ‘serious’ books… This story starts out a little sad, but is mostly about Paige trying to get her life back on track. It’s a cute read, but the love triangle did get quite annoying after a while (especially since Max is so adorkable!). All in all not the best I’ve read, but without doubt still satisfying.


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ARC REVIEW: What Doesn’t Kill You – by Ed James

Title: What Doesn’t Kill You
(DI Fenchurch #3)
Author: Ed James

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: April 20th 2017
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: April 12th 2017
Pages: 398

“Remind me why I do this job again?” “Because when you stop hitting your head against the brick wall, there’s a surge of relief.”

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

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I read the first two books of this detective series last year and enjoyed them, so it was an easy decision to request a copy of the third book as well. I was looking forward to another entertaining and intense ride, but found myself struggling to get a proper feel for the story instead. Like in the first two books, What Doesn’t Kill You starts right in the middle of the action, but I had a hard time connecting to the story this time. Part of the problem was the excessive use of ‘colorful’ language… I don’t mind a bit of swearing if it adds something to the story (in fact, it didn’t bother me in the first two books), but I felt the swearing crossed the line of tolerance in What Doesn’t Kill You. DI Fenchurch started to annoy me as well, even though the case itself is quite interesting. In the second half of this third book the pace picked up considerably and the story became a lot more intense and easier to enjoy. You will definitely have to prepare yourself for some very shocking plot twists! I’m not sure everything about the plot is exactly credible though, and it also felt like too much action and too many plot twists were squeezed together in the final part. Overall I guess I feel the ‘spark’ of the previous two books is missing. I’m not sure what I feel about the ending either, although at least it doesn’t end with a big cliffhanger this time.

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

When the body of a young lawyer is discovered on an East London building site, the investigation initially leads DI Simon Fenchurch to a driver employed by a new app-based cab company called Travis. The woman was assaulted and brutally murdered, and the team struggles to find something truly solid on the suspect. Then another woman is found murdered close to where she lives, and she turns out to be a Travis driver. Are the two cases connected? And what has Travis have to do with all of it? Something a lot bigger than just the two murders seems to be going on…

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I was looking forward to this third DI Fenchurch book, but I can’t say it exactly lived up to expectations. While I struggled to get a proper connection to the story in the first part, the second half of the story felt almost rushed at points and there was just too much going on. Sure, some very shocking revelations are made and there is no lack of action especially in the second half, but I don’t think What Doesn’t Kill You is actually as good as the first two books. Such a shame! I’m going to keep my fingers crossed book four will restore my faith in this series…


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BOOK REVIEW: Never Fade – by Alexandra Bracken

Title: Never Fade
(The Darkest Minds #2)
Author: Alexandra Bracken

Genre: YA, Dystopia, Paranormal
First published: October 15th 2013
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Finished reading: April 10th 2017
Pages: 507

“Sometimes you’re the one speeding along in a panic, doing too much, not paying attention, wrecking things you don’t mean to. And sometimes life just happens to you, and you can’t dodge it. It crashes into you because it wants to see what you’re made of.”

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After reading and enjoying the first book back in January, I made a promise to read both sequels as soon as possible. It took me a bit longer than expected, but I finally picked up book number two this month… And I have to say that unfortunately Never Fade doesn’t live up to the first book at all for me. While I enjoyed The Darkest Minds even though the plot isn’t all that original anymore, I found Never Fade to be overlong and at times even on the border of boring. The writing style was as good as ever, but it sure took me a lot longer than expected to finish this one… And that is probably due to the fact that both the plot felt a bit thin and some of the characters started to annoy me. Basically, the sequel is about Ruby trying to find someone and messing up along the way, with various people betraying her or not being what they seem to be. Which might still be interesting, but it mostly felt like a ‘copy-repeat’ plot to me instead. Warning: this feeling might also be caused by the fact that Ruby started to frustrate me with the whole ‘I’m dangerous/I can’t be around others/I need to be alone’ thing. It does have a pretty explosive ending though! All in all not what I was expecting at all and yet another series that suffers from the ‘weak-sequel-syndrome’… I will still be reading the final book some time soon though, and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed In The Afterlight will make me enjoy this series again.

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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…

Ruby never wanted her abilities in the first place and doesn’t like using them, but now she’s in the Children’s League she is forced to use them on a daily basis. She has to go on dangerous missions and get the truth out of their enemies, and she only agrees because it’s a way to keep the others safe. But then she finds out something that will change everything… And this new secret mission might just be the most dangerous one yet.

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I was really looking forward to this sequel, especially since I enjoyed The Darkest Minds that much. Unfortunately Never Fade turned out to be another case of ‘weak-sequel-syndrome’. I actually struggled to continue at points as the plot just felt too drawn out; I feel that a similar story could have been told with 150-200 pages less and would probably have been a lot more entertaining. This has nothing to do with the writing style itself though, because Never Fade is without doubt well written. It’s one of the reasons I’m still hopeful for the third book!


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