BOOK REVIEW: The Willow Woman – by Laurence Westwood #buddyread

Title: The Willow Woman
(Philip Ye #1)

Author: Laurence Westwood
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
First published: January 7th 2019
Publisher: Shikra Press
Finished reading: August 8th 2019
Pages: 440

“He plays the game very well. But anyone who thinks Philip Ye is not his own master is blind. As a friend I would never turn my back on him, as an enemy I would never underestimate him.”

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*** First of all I have to say thank you to Kelly for introducing me to The Willow Woman and hosting a giveaway a while back and to the author Laurence Westwood for sending me a wonderful signed copy!! ❤ This hasn’t influenced my opinion about this book. ***

It doesn’t matter that there is a whole ocean and thousands of kilometres between us, thanks to the wonder of Twitter Nicki (Jersey in the Channel Islands) and myself (Argentina) are always able to make our buddy reads work. With only a few hours time difference, it was easy to catch up, discuss what was happening in the story, guess what would happen next and of course share the necessary photos of both book and the obligatory dose of sugar we found ourselves needing occasionally. 😉 It was without doubt another successful buddy read!! Make sure to read Nicki’s review as well if you want to find out exactly why and if we felt the same about this story.

I was curious about The Willow Woman as soon as I first saw Kelly mention it on her blog. I’m always in for a good detective thriller and the fact that the story has a (for me) foreign setting is a huge bonus. I haven’t had the chance to read many stories set in China before, and The Willow Woman was therefore a little goldmine filled with local culture. Oh yes, this story will transport you right to Chengdu with excellently elaborated descriptions of both the setting and Chinese culture in general. Both the local culture as well as the spirituality play a very important role in the development of the plot and the plot twists you will encounter along the way. Especially the spirituality was a very interesting touch, with many references to the spirit world and main character Philip Ye actually asking the spirits of the deceased to help him with the case. His beliefs are then contrasted in Xu Ya, who seems more pragmatic and doesn’t seem to believe in the paranormal. The inclusion of both Chinese culture and the paranormal aspect without doubt gave this detective story an unique twist and made this story stand out for me.

Another thing you notice almost straight away is just how complex this story is, and in a good way. While it’s true that the sheer amount of characters can be intimidating in the beginning, The Willow Woman has a very helpful index to check who is who and how they are related when in doubt. Trust me, you will find the index very helpful especially in the first couple of chapters! It will make juggling all those different characters so much easier and allows you to properly enjoy the story from the beginning. This story isn’t just complex due to the amount of characters though. The Willow Woman has an abundance of storylines and different point of views to revel in. These are used to build the plot and plot twists brick by brick and help you keep guessing about what is really going on. While it’s true that I made certain predictions about for example the professor and the boy that ended up being true quiet early on, there were also a lot of twists I could have never guessed. The story was getting more intriguing, complicated and intense by the minute and we both had to ease the tension with a dose of sugar more than once… Never underestimate the power of cake!

As for the characters… While there are a lot of them, the ones that stood out most for me (and won over my heart almost straight away) were probably Philip Ye, Xu Ya, Fatty Deng, Ma and Mouse. Each is well developed and plays an important role in this story, although the role of some might not seem as important straight away. I’m not sure I agreed with certain decisions of some characters, including Xu’s actions towards the ending, but that was more me biting my nails and shouting ‘why would you do that?!‘ rather than a reason to enjoy the story less. You will have to ready yourself for some intense moments, especially towards the explosive ending! But I really liked how everything was wrapped up. I also really appreciated how references to the so-called Willow Woman were incorporated into the plot and how this element was ultimately explained.

In short, The Willow Woman is both excellently written and well constructed; the intricate plot, foreign setting with insights in Chinese culture and spirituality, abundance of characters and what you can roughly call a conspiracy angle making for a most fascinating read. If you are a fan of detective thrillers and are looking for a story with an unique twist, you should definitely schedule yourself a meeting with Philip Ye.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Pumilio Child – by Judy McInerney #randomthingstour

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the The Pumilio Child Random Things Tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. The Pumilio Child has first been published last year and has been put in the spotlight during the blog tour which started on February 25th and will continue until March 6th. Please join me while I share my thoughts on The Pumilio Child

Title: The Pumilio Child
Author: Judy McInerney
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: September 20th 2018
Publisher: Unbound Digital
Finished reading: February 23rd 2019
Pages: 405

“It is nature. And the will of the Divine. That’s how life is. Cruel and unfair. We may question the injustice, but we both know we are powerless against it.”

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

Ya Ling’s cultured life of privilege in Beijing is cruelly cut short when she is abducted and shipped to the slave market in Venice. When Mantegna sees her chained to a post, his initial intention is to paint her exotic beauty, but he soon he desires her company for pleasures of a more private nature. Ya Ling has two ambitions, to ruin Mantegna, then to escape back to her family in China. However, Mantegna’s latest commission, two huge frescos for the ruling Gonzaga family, make him invincible.

Will Ya Ling survive? And can she succeed?

Give me the promise of a historical fiction story with a foreign setting and other cultures to explore and I’m sold without needing to know more. This is exactly what happened when I first heard about The Pumilio Child and its mix of Chinese and Italian culture. The setting on its own is fascinating, and I loved the little glimpses of 15th century Mongol/Han culture in Beijing and life in the same period in Italy. The writing is quite engaging and includes lots of descriptions of both places. I did find the timelapses in especially the part set in Italy to be quite random and without warning though; sometimes days, months or even years passed between one sentence and the other just like that. This made the story feel less coherent and disturbed the flow of the plot. The ending was a bit abrupt; especially if you consider the fact that a lot of the plot was quite slow and the story dragged in parts.

As for the characters: I’m not completely positive Ya Ling is that credible as a character. She seems overconfident and able to overcome enormous obstacles so far from home even after such a shelted childhood in a completely different country and culture… The way she acted and some of the things she did just didn’t manage to convince me. I loved the details about the healing and different plants as well as the details about the Asian culture though. On the other side we have Mantegna. I confess I don’t know anything about the real Mantegna, so I wasn’t offended by the fact that he is supposedly nothing like the character as described in The Pumilio Child. He is absolutely despicable in the story, but I guess every story needs a villain… I loved the many descriptions of the art though. Trigger warnings are in place for (child) abuse, rape, discrimination and violence among other things. Then again, the story is set back in the 15th century, so we are all aware of the fac tthat women (and especially slaves) are not treated the same way back then.

There were things I liked in this story, including the foreign culture and many references to the healing abilities of Ya Ling and her family. There is a lot to say about the plot as well, with the various surprises it has in store and twists you probably won’t see coming. The story didn’t seem to flow all that well though, mainly due to the sudden timelapses and jumping in time. When you see a characters with lots of details about daily life and a really slow pace, only for them to suddenly be days/months/years in the future in a completely different situation, this can become a bit confusing. Also, after such a slow-paced and character driven start, the final part of The Pumilio Child (starting with their final time at the court) felt a bit rushed and the ending was too abrupt for me.

That said, The Pumilio Child is by no means a bad read and historical fiction fans who like character driven stories with a foreign setting will have a great time discovering all about Ya Ling’s unfortunate life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Judy McInerney has lived and worked in London for most of her professional life. Living in the Middle East, she managed to get lost in the desert, and to live through a military coup. After teaching in Abu Dhabi and starting her own business in Turkey, she returned to London and completed a creative writing course at Goldsmiths. Writing for food and travel guides has enabled her to justify travelling and eating out far too often

As a frequent traveller to China over the last thirty years she has seen the country undergo massive seismic changes, – from the times of Mao jackets and vast shoals of bicycles meandering along every hutong, to the present day, where Beijing is bigger than Belgium and has six million cars. She still travels in China each year to keep in close touch with family there. She also has a longstanding love affair with Italy, particularly the Renaissance cities of the north. Mantua is an undiscovered gem, both magical and macabre.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pumilio-Child-Judy-McInerney/


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YVO’S SHORTIES #78 – The Last Time I Lied & The Painted Veil

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a 2018 release I wasn’t able to get to last year and a classic I’ve been meaning to read for a while. The first, The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager, went better than I hoped and I ended up really enjoying it. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham sadly wasn’t really my cup of tea though.


Title: The Last Time I Lied
Author: Riley Sager

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: July 3rd 2018
Publisher: Dutton
Finished reading: January 19th 2019
Pages: 384

“Above all, I’m scared that if I keep digging, I might not like what I’ll find.”


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There has been a lot of hype around The Last Time I Lied, but after my experience with Final Girls I decided to stay away for a while before finally picking it up. I’m not sure if this tactic helped or if I found his second book to be simply better than his debut, but the fact is: no unpopular opinion review this time around. Oh yes, you can say I really enjoyed my time with The Last Time I Lied. (What’s with all those books with ‘lie’ in the title though?) The writing is strong and draws you right in; the descriptions of the art and surroundings are done in such a way that really makes them come alive. This story has a dual timeline, where we slowly learn more about what happened fifteen years ago, what is happenening at the camp right now and how the two relate… Using the unreliable narrator technique and a whole bunch of twists, secrets and lies, Riley Sager will be able to keep you guessing about what really happened all those years ago. And not only that, because things are happening in the present as well that make you wondering what is really going on and who is behind it all. The final twists were definitely a surprise! I’m not sure if Emma and the other characters are exactly likeable, but they feel well developed and the Lake Midnight setting is both eerie and fits the story. This feeling that something is off sets the right atmosphere for a story that will keep you engaged until you find out every last detail about that night the girls disappeared and how everything affects Emma and the others in the present. I can understand the love for The Last Time I Lied now!


Title: The Painted Veil
Author: W. Somerset Maugham

Genre: Classics, Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: April 1925
Publisher: Vintage
Finished reading: January 20th 2019
Pages: 280

“You know, my dear child, that one cannot find peace in work or in pleasure, in the world or in a convent, but only in one’s soul.”


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While I was browsing for something a little different to read, I stumbled upon my copy of The Painted Veil. I was looking forward to a historical fiction read and the promise of a foreign setting in the 1920s sounded great. Add the fact that reading it would mean crossing off my first classic of the year early, and I was fully convinced. What I didn’t expect is just how focused this story is on the romance, adultery and love triangle. This never goes well for me and I guess it’s part of the reason I’m guessing The Painted Veil simply wasn’t for me despite my love for historical fiction. I do have to say the setting was well developed and the many descriptions of especially the Meitan-Fu area were really detailed and made it come alive. The foreign culture is probably the most interesting aspect of this story, and it’s a shame there is not more focus on it. The Painted Veil is a character driven story with especially Kitty in the spotlight. You can guess that being unable to connect to her presented a big problem for me… Likewise, I can’t say I was charmed by the other characters either. I am very curious about the movie though, which I’ve heard lots of wonderful things about. But sadly the book didn’t manage to blow me away.


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ARC REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil – by Tim Symonds @ReadingAlley

Title: Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil
Author: Tim Symonds

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
First published: November 6th 2016
Publisher: MX Publishing
Finished reading: May 31st 2017
Pages: 233

“Chinese dragons don’t have wings but they can fly into the sky. They don’t breathe fire but can summon rain. And like the tiger, if they so wish they embody the spirit and drive to achieve and make progress.”

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

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I was in desperate need of a break from the books I was currently reading and needed something quite different, and that is when I stumbled across this story. I can always appreciate a good historical fiction story, especially when it’s set in a foreign culture… Add a healthy dose of mystery and murder plot and I was sold. Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil is, as you might have guessed from the title, a Sherlock Holmes retelling and a very well executed one as well. I’m sure most people are at least vaguely aware of the original characters and I for myself always enjoy a good retelling around these characters if it’s done right. Tim Symonds without doubt did an excellent job both in keeping true to the essence of the original characters; they felt authentic and I felt as if I were taken back straight to that era. The bantering between Holmes and Watson is perfectly portrayed! Furthermore, the descriptions of China, its customs, characters and other facts is very detailed and it shows that the author has researched the topic thoroughly. The plot is intriguing with quite a lot of twists, although I personally could guess who was behind it all quite early on. This didn’t take away from the reading pleasure though as I enjoyed following Holmes and Watson during their journey. Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon is a very well written historical fiction mystery and the Chinese setting is brilliantly executed. Perfect for fans of the genre!

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It’s the year 1906 and Sherlock Holmes’ skills might be needed once again… Although this time in the faraway Peking. There are rumors a deadly plot is hatching and it’s up to Holmes to discover whether such a plot exists and if so stop it before it’s too late. But who exactly is the intented target in the first place: the young and progressive Ch’ing Emperor or his aunt, the fearsome Empress Dowager Cixi? Either death could lead to a catastrophe and it’s up to Holmes and Watson to try to find and if so unravel everything in time.

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I can always enjoy a good Sherlock Holmes retelling when well executed and that is without doubt the case with Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil. Both the setting and the descriptions are very well done and made me feel as if I were in the room along with the main characters. The outcoming might not have been all that surprising, but the plot twists are still well executed and feel very much like ‘Holmes’. All in all without doubt a very satisfying read.


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