ARC REVIEW: How To Experience Death For Beginners – by Jessica Branton

Title: How To Experience Death For Beginners
Author: Jessica Branton
Genre: YA, Mystery, Paranormal
First published: February 14th 2019
Publisher: Charlie’s Port-FRINGE
Finished reading: January 26th 2019
Pages: 330

“I experienced death when I was seven years old. Ten years later, I found myself wondering if I would ever stop.”

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

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When I first heard about How To Experience Death For Beginners, I was immediately intrigued. A YA mystery with a paranormal angle? Yes please! I had really high hopes for this one, but sadly I cannot say those expectations were met. While the writing in general reads easily enough and the pace reads quite fast, I found myself struggle with the plot. Or should I say plot holes. The premise itself is fascinating, but I don’t think the execution is all that great… The plot is kind of all over the place and between plot holes and lack of credibility not the easiest foundation to build the story on. This brings me to the many many high school cliches, cliche gay best friend and the way cutting is handled in one of the principal characters. This all left me with a bad taste in my mouth and was a turn off for this story. The main characters themselves were also quite cliche, bland and lacked fleshing out. I also felt they read a bit young for high school seniors. The idea behind the paranormal aspect and so-called powers is fascinating, but lacked developing more since this is basically the book’s strongest feature and would have made it stand out from other stories. Instead, I didn’t find it credible how the paranormal was handled nor how others react to it… A shame, because the premise had all the signs of turning into an extraordinary story. Instead, we get a cliche high school drama with a bunch of cliches as main characters and a serial killer and paranormal powers both pushed into the background. One of those stories where the priorities were set wrong? Maybe. But the fact is that sadly How To Experience Death For Beginners didn’t hit the mark for me.

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When Casey and her twin sister lose their father in a car accident when they are seven, their lives change forever… And not only in the most conventional way. Ever since seeing those final moments of her father, Casey somehow can enter the minds of people just before they die. She has isolated herself for years trying to protect herself and keep her from harm, but she might not have a choice when a serial killer makes her small town his hunting ground. And this situation might escalate faster than she would think…

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I can’t deny that the idea behind this story is fascinating and shows a lot of promise, but I don’t think the execution lived up to expectations. The paranormal element of How To Experience Death For Beginners, by far the most interesting aspect of this story, lacked development for me as instead we get an uncomfortable mix of different and sometimes cliche elements that fail to combine into a coherent plot. The lack of credibility, the main characters, the way difficult topics were handled… Sadly this story just didn’t work for me.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #76 – The BFG & The Insect Farm

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a reread of a childhood favorite and a TBR jar pick. Roald Dahl is one of the very first authors I was able to read by myself back when I was tiny, and I’ve read his books over and over again since. It’s been a long time since I last read The BFG though, so I thought it was about time I did. Such a wonderful experience… The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble was a TBR jar pick, and not as good as I hoped.


Title: The BFG
Author: Roald Dahl

Genre: Children, Fiction, Fantasy
First published: 1982
Publisher: Puffin Books
Finished reading: January 11th 2019
Pages: 195

“The matter with human beans,” the BFG went on, “is that they is absolutely refusing to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it right in front of their own schnozzles.”


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Roald Dahl is one of the very first authors I was able to read on my own back when I was tiny, and I’ve read his books over and over again since. It’s been a long time since I last read The BFG though, so I thought it was about time I did. And boy, did I forget about a lot of the details of this story! I had a wonderful time revisiting this story and its illustrations. I had forgotten most things about the Big Friendly Giant and just how funny his speech is (especially when read out loud to children). The story itself is simple, easy to follow and is actually quite scary if you think about it… But the BFG and his dreams give the story a whimsical twist. It’s a great story for young and old and I will be looking forward to finally watch the movie adaptation so I can compare the two. Another successful Roald Dahl reread and a jump back in time!


Title: The Insect Farm
Author: Stuart Prebble

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Romance
First published: March 10th 2015
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Finished reading: January 13th 2019
Pages: 320

“In my mind, and what keeps coming back to me is that the insect farm has been a hidden player in so much that has happened – the continuing thread running behind so many of the milestones along the way.”


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The Insect Farm has been my TBR jar pick during the last two months, and it took me way longer to finally pick it up despite the fact I was looking forward to it. The blurb was quite interesting and I was looking forward to discover more about the mystery and what the insect farm had to do with it all. What I didn’t expect to find was that The Insect Farm is basically a mix of a family drama and a romance story including a love triangle. The story has a character driven plot and a considerably slow pace, something I didn’t expect and it took me longer that expected to finally finish the story. As always with character driven stories, it’s important being able to connect to the main characters to ensure properly enjoying the story. Sadly, this was not the case here. While Roger is quite an interesting character and I would have loved to learn more about both him and his learning capacities, I felt he wasn’t developed as thoroughly and his character fell flat for me. As for Jonathan and Harriet: they did have a more thorough development as the main focus seems to be on them, but I can’t say I felt really invested in their story or what happened to them. The story wasn’t told in a linear way, and the actual ‘mystery’ is pushed into the background only to be revealed and rushed to finish at the end of The Insect Farm. Instead, it’s more of a romance story of how Jonathan and Harriet first met and how their lives progressed afterwards. It even has a love triangle! *shudders* All in all it wasn’t my cup of tea, but fans of slower character driven family dramas with a romantic focus and a hint of crime will probably have a better experience.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #72 – A Spark Of Light & Doll Bones

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around the final two books I managed to read in 2018. A Spark Of Light by Jodi Picoult turned out to be a powerful and thought provoking read that will stay with me for a long time… While Doll Bones by Holly Black mostly only managed to disappoint me.


Title: A Spark Of Light
Author: Jodi Picoult

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
First published: October 2nd 2018
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Finished reading: December 30th 2018
Pages: 352

“We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.”


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After my experiences with Jodi Picoult‘s recent novels, I couldn’t wait to read A Spark Of Light. There has been a lot of hype around this title, and I can understand why now. Abortion is actually quite a controversial and ‘hot’ topic right now in Argentina, so it definitely came at an interesting time for me… Disclaimer: I won’t be discussing pro-life or pro-choice politics here, just the story itself. I’ll start off with saying that abortion is a very tricky topic to write about, and I think Jodi Picoult did it splendidly. Her writing style is just as strong as ever and I also loved the reversed time chapter technique she used. I admit I was confused at first because I didn’t realize that straight away, but I think it adds a little something extra to the story. Why? It’s simply very intriguing to meet the characters at such a critical point in their lives and then slowly find out how they got there… I did see part of the final plot twist bombs coming, although not all. The ending was a bit abrupt for me, and I personally would have liked to see the main characters being followed up for a while longer. Still, I also understand why she decided to end it in that way, as the main event was over by then. A Spark Of Light brings a very controversial but important topic to light and while especially pro-life supporters might be offended by the story, I would still recommend reading it as it does show both sides (although not equally, which is a hard balance to obtain in the first place). For me it was one of the stronger books I read during 2018 and without doubt one that provoked strong emotions as well. A good way to finish the reading year!


Title: Doll Bones
Author: Holly Black

Genre: MG, Fantasy, Horror
First published: May 7th 2013
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderrly Books
Finished reading: December 31st 2018
Pages: 256

“He wondered whether growing up was learning that most stories turned out to be lies.”


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I was looking for a little something different to read as my last read of 2018 and when I came across this title on my kindle I decided to pick it up on a whim. Sadly, I can’t say I actually enjoyed reading Doll Bones. I can’t put my finger exactly on the why, but part of it had to do that I didn’t like the characters and I had a hard time connecting to the story. The story wasn’t exactly credible and not as scary as I would have thought either. This is more a coming of age story with Zach in the spotlight as he struggles with the consequences of growing up… And then we have Poppy who is the person behind the quest and most of the action even though she is not the main character, which throws off the balance of the story considerably. I felt Doll Bones lacked cohesion and a proper plot, although I did like the idea behind the three creating their own magical world where their toys go on adventures. The paranormal aspect of the story could have been interesting, but it just didn’t manage to convince me… And I had a lot of doubts about the credibility of it all. All in all not the experience I was expecting, but twelve-year-olds might enjoy the story better.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #71 – Big Little Lies & Outlander

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two books I have been meaning to read for a long time and finally decided to read in 2018. Both turned out to be more than pleasant surprises! Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.


Title: Big Little Lies
Author: Liane Moriarty

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery
First published: July 29th 2014
Publisher: Berkley
Finished reading: December 23rd 2018
Pages: 460

“They say it’s good to let your grudges go, but I don’t know, I’m quite fond of my grudge. I tend it like a little pet.”


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I’ve been meaning to read another Liane Moriarty book for a long time, and I’m probably the last person on earth to finally pick up Big Little Lies. I kind of picked it up on a whim while browsing my kindle, and I definitely not regret making that decision. There is no doubt that Liane Moriarty knows how to write an intriguing mystery that goes out with a huge bang. I liked how she kept what happened that fatal night a secret in such a way that you don’t have a clue about the who or why until the final bombshell is dropped. I definitely didn’t see the ending coming! The plot is both intricate and well constructed and part of the reason this story is such a success. I liked the idea of following the three main characters is the weeks before the incident, especially since they are mixed with those police interview bits to keep you intrigued and curious about what happened. You will be on the edge of your seat until you find out all the details! I wasn’t sure about every character, but their development is without doubt very well done. Each character has its own background and problems, and while there were a few cliches involved, I could really appreciate the abuse angle and the necessary attention it brings to the fact it ‘can happen to anyone’. There is a lot of drama and some of it was a bit farfetched, but the ending definitely makes up for it. All in all Big Little Lies was a success for me and I’ll be looking forward to watching the TV adaptation.


Title: Outlander
(Outlander #1)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Fantasy
First published: June 1st 1991
Publisher: Dell
Finished reading: December 28th 2018
Pages: 866

“Sometimes our best actions result in things that are most regrettable. And yet you could not have acted otherwise.”


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I have been meaning to read Outlander for years now, but both the sheer size of the books and the fact that I wasn’t sure the story would be for me made me hesitate for a long time. I don’t mind big books if they are good, but I feared there would be way too much romance involved for me to tolerate… But Outlander turned out to be the exception to that rule. Once I finally started reading and finished the first few chapters, I knew Outlander and me were going to get along just fine. All in all it took me about a week to finish it, which is not bad at all for such a beast of a book… And I had a surprisingly good time with it as well. Why surprisingly, would you say? Well, there are a lot of sexy scenes involved in Outlander, something that normally makes me drop a book like hot coals and discard it right away. They still made me cringe at points (adult content just isn’t for me ladies!), but the rest of the story was intriguing enough for me to tolerate them. The writing is excellent and the worldbuilding is sublime. I really felt like I were in Scotland myself along with the main characters; the descriptions of both the time period and surroundings extremely well done. The time travel aspect is also very interesting, especially since it comes back repeatedly in for example Claire’s profession as a nurse in the 20th century. I really liked Jamie as a character and while Claire can be exasperating at points, she does make for a good story. The story flowed well and managed to keep my attention all the way to the end. I’m definitely glad I finally give in and read Outlander, and I will be looking forward to read the sequel this year.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #66 – The Great Alone & Children Of Blood And Bone

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two highly popular books I’ve been a bit afraid to pick up, since hyped books and me don’t really get along… The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah turned out to be a huge success, while Children Of Blood And Bone by Tomi Adeyemi failed to blow me away completely.


Title: The Great Alone
Author: Kristin Hannah

Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: February 6th 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: November 20th 2018
Pages: 435

“All this time, Dad had taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was that the biggest danger of all was in her own home.”


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After enjoying her other story The Nightingale in the past, I had high hopes for this one as well. I’ve heard lots of wonderful things about The Great Alone over time, and I’m glad to say I’m another one to join the fan club. The Great Alone is without doubt one of the best historical fiction stories I’ve read so far this year. I already knew the writing was going to be good, but that doesn’t take away I was overwhelmed by just how emotional, challenging and harrowing this story was going to be. The Alaskan setting is brilliantly developed and well described, making it feel as if you were discovering the island along with the characters. This setting was definitely a huge bonus! I also loved how the development of the setting reflected a development in the characters as well. The story is set in three different years (1974,1978, 1986), where we follow the same characters as Alaska changes them and things happen. Warning: The Great Alone is not a happy story. It is a story of survivors, emotional and hard to read. Trigger warnings are in place for abuse and violence… The development of the characters is excellent and makes them both feel realistic and easy to connect to. Especially Leni won over my heart easily (and Matthew of course!). Domestic abuse is a very difficult topic to write and read about, but I think Kristin Hannah did an excellent job of portraying it realistically. Did I feel frustrated sometimes by some of their actions? Definitely. But that doesn’t take away that I feel their situation was very realistically developed. There are a lot of difficult, sad and harrowing moments involved in The Great Alone, and I definitely suggest keeping a box of tissues close. But it is also a very rewarding read and I’m sure fans of both historical fiction and family dramas will love reading about Leni’s journey.


Title: Children Of Blood And Bone
(Legacy Of Orïsha #1)
Author: Tomi Adeyemi

Genre: YA, Fantasy
First published: March 6th 2018
Publisher: Henry Holt And Co.
Finished reading: November 23rd 2018
Pages: 537

“You crushed us to build your monarchy on the backs of our blood and bone. Your mistake wasn’t keeping us alive. it was thinking we’d never fight back.”


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I wasn’t planning on reading this one at first. Hyped books and me don’t tend to get along, especially YA fantasy ones, and let’s face it: there has been a lot of hype around Children Of Blood And Bone. But there was just something about the cover and blurb that made me want to give it a go anyway. And while I do have to say that this first book of a new high fantasy series failed to blow me away completely, I can also understand the love for this story. In fact, I was going to give it an even higher rating before the appearance of the romance scenes… Which I felt were completely unnecessary and made me feel a little disappointed. The writing is good though, and I really like the idea behind Children Of Blood And Bone. While I did feel the many foreign sounding names and terms were a bit confusing in the beginning, they did add to the magical atmosphere. I admit I would have liked to see the worldbuilding a bit mor developed, with more details and sooner in the story to fully enjoy the setting. But the idea of the diviners and maji is fascinating as well as the different kinds of magic. The quest was a bit too simple to my taste, and the plot twists a bit too abrupt, but overall it was without doubt a very entertaining YA fantasy read with pleasant enough characters. They just didn’t really stand out for me.


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ARC REVIEW: A Woman Of War – by Mandy Robotham

Title: A Woman Of War
Author: Mandy Robotham
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: December 7th 2018
Publisher: Avon
Finished reading: November 30th 2018 
Pages: 352

“When you saw so much horror, destruction and inhumanity in one place, it was the simplest things that broke your resolve and reminded you of kindness in the world.”

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

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I always have a weak spot for WWII historical fiction… As soon as I recognized the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp entrance I was able to see with my own eyes a few months back on the cover, I just new I had to read A Woman Of War. Although I admit I was a bit disappointed to not see that particular camp featured, there is no doubt that the author has a very interesting premise here. The plot of A Woman Of War is a proper fictional one and more a what if? story than one based on true events. It also shows some pro-Nazi characters in a very positive light; something you don’t see often in historical fiction, but also something I’m not sure how I feel about. The writing style flows and makes it quite easy to read this story rapidly despite the sometimes heavy topics and more graphic scenes. It shows that the author is a midwife herself, as there are detailed descriptions about women in labor and birth itself. The main character Anke is a midwife and her role is key in A Woman Of War. It brings forth a very interesting ethical and moral question: either Anke helping one of Hitler’s inner circle’s women during her pregnancy and betraying her own beliefs, or her refusing and being responsible for the death of her family. Seeing pro-Nazi characters in a positive light makes me feel uncomfortable and I could have done without the romance, but overall it was quite an interesting read. Anke’s flashbacks of her life before working as a midwife and during her time as a prisoner in Ravensbrück were a good balance to the more ‘fictional’ present narrative. Fans of the genre will no doubtly find A Woman Of War an interesting read.

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Anke Hoff used to work as a midwife in Berlin, but she was caught helping a Jewish woman deliver her baby and sent to camp Ravensbrück as a political prisoner and enemy of the Reich. Then one day she is called with the request to serve as the midwife of one of Hitler’s inner circle, with a clear threat that if she refuses or doesn’t do her job, her family will die. Soon after her arrival at the Berghof she learns nothing is as it seems, and she finds herself torn between her duty as a midwife and her hatred for the regime.

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There is no doubt that A Woman Of War offers quite an original take on a what if? situation that could have changed everything. I’m not sure what to make of the way the pro-Nazi characters are portrayed, but it is definitely quite unique no matter how you feel about it. The writing was solid and I especially enjoyed Anke’s flashbacks even though the parts set in Ravensbrück were quite brutal. All in all an interesting although a bit unorthodox WWII historical fiction read.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #65 – The Cruel Prince & The Wife Between Us

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time two very hyped books that (I should have known) didn’t live up to the hype for me even though they weren’t bad reads. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black and The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks &Sarah Pekkanen


Title: The Cruel Prince
(The Folk Of The Air #1)
Author: Holly Black

Genre: YA, Fantasy
First published: January 2nd 2018
Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: November 17th 2018
Pages: 384

“Before, I never knew how far I would go. Now I believe I have the answer. I will go as far as there is to go. I will go way to far.”


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I have been hesitant, almost afraid to pick up The Cruel Prince for a long time. There has been such a hype around this book, and you all know how hyped books and me get along… But I figured I had waited enough to give it a try myself and see how I will react to the story. I was surprised when I saw just how well I reacted to the story initially. Of course I already knew I liked Holly Black‘s writing style, and this is part of the reason this story worked for me. And what a start! I like it when a YA fantasy story isn’t afraid to go dark and throw some blood and action at us. Things were going really well even though I’m not sure the plot itself is all that original. I would have liked to see the worldbuilding a little more developed and I think not enough attention was given to the description of the different characters. I mean, they are magical creatures and we only get so and so has a tail, that one has horns, that one has hooves etc? Without a more detailed description or more attention paid to the fact they are in fact not humans, I tended to forget about their special features completely after a few pages. The lack of sappy romance scenes in the beginning was a true relief though, although of course I should have had my hopes up. Of course the cliche romance scenes would come, and of course there would be another love triangle to deal with. Not talking about Locke, who I initially liked and came to despise. Jude is an interesting enough character though. While she in a way is just another typical strong female lead, I did enjoy reading about her development and how she would get themselves out of that mess. Did she lose points for the romance related actions in the second half? Most definitely yes. But I’m still intrigued enough to be looking forward to the second book. In short, while The Cruel Prince failed to blow me away completely, overall it was still a very entertaining read.


Title: The Wife Between Us
Author: Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: January 9th 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: November 19th 2018
Pages: 346

“We all layer them over our remembrances; the filters through which we want to see our lives.”


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In a way I’ve been hesitant to pick up The Wife Between Us due to the enormous hype around it earlier this year. I almost never react well to hyped books, but I was also curious about this title so I decided to give it a go. Now I’ve read it, I’m not sure what to make of it. I guess it’s unpopular opinion time again! I can’t put my finger exactly on the why, but part of the reason The Wife Between Us didn’t manage to convince me probably has to do with the fact I felt this book was simply trying to hard. Sure, there are a LOT of twists involved and a lot of things I couldn’t guess beforehand, but I’m not sure if I actually LIKE how these plot twists are presented or developed. Instead of being shocked and saying ‘wow, I definitely didn’t see that coming!’, I was mostly left confused and not in a good way. Let’s just say my eyebrows worked overtime with this one… I’m not denying some of the twists were very clever, but they just didn’t do it for me (mostly related to the feeling this story was trying too hard). The writing style itself was pleasant to read and the unreliable narrator technique well used. It’s by no means a bad read and I can understand the love for it, but sadly The Wife Between Us just didn’t hit the mark for me.


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