ARC REVIEW: Making Faces – by Amy Harmon

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Title: Making Faces
Author: Amy Harmon

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: October 12th 2013
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Finished reading: January 28th 2017
Pages: 405
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“I don’t think we get answers to every question. We don’t get all the whys. But I think when we look back to the end of our lives, if we do the best we can, and we will see that the things we begged God to take from us, the things we cursed him for, the things that made us turn our backs on him, are the things that were the biggest blessings, the biggest opportunities for growth.”

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

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It’s been over two weeks since I finished reading Making Faces and I still find it difficult to put my thoughts properly on paper. It doesn’t happen all that often, but Amy Harmon was able to give me another book hang over with this little masterpiece. I’m ashamed to admit I have only recently discovered her work, but I’ve already become addicted to her lovely prose and diverse plots. Making Faces is no exception. I had already heard great things about this book and I basically broke down the request button as soon as I saw it was available at Netgalley. All the raving reviews were absolutely right: this story is simply brilliant. I fell in love with both the characters, writing style and plot and this story will definitely stay with me for quite some time. Sure, some of it might be a little cheesy if you think about it critically. But if you have characters like Fern, Bailey and Ambrose, it is really easy to put those thoughts aside. I loved the war veteran elements as well; it’s such an important topic and definitely deserves more attention, especially as they are often misunderstood by society. As you might have guessed already, I simply adored Making Faces and I can definitely recommend it to any contemporary fan. I promise you that you will fall in love with the characters and their story! This new edition published by Spencer Hill Press later this month has some nifty bonus content as well.

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Ambrose Young’s looks and talent have made him really popular during his high school years. He isn’t just tall, muscular and good at sports, he also seems to have walked right off the cover of one of those romance novels. Fern Taylor should know, because she has been reading them since she was thirteen. Fern has had a crush on him for years, but she isn’t exactly the ‘prettiest’ girl in town and she doesn’t think Ambrose would ever look at her that way. But life isn’t just about physical attraction and works in funny ways. After the 9/11 attacks, Ambrose and his four friends decide to join the cause and were sent off to war. Only one comes back… And the whole town struggles to deal with the loss; each in their own way.

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I kind of feel I’m not doing the story justice with this summary, but I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot… This line in the blurb describes the general idea behind Making Faces beautifully though: “a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast where we discover that there is little beauty and a little beast in all of us“. It’s contemporary romance with a healthy dose of realistic fiction, a cup of tears and mixed with lovely characters and a very important topic. I basically loved everything about it and this story has confirmed Amy Harmon is one of my new favorite authors.


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BOOK REVIEW: After You – by Jojo Moyes

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Title: After You
(Me Before You #2)
Author: Jojo Moyes
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary
First published: September 23rd 2015
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Finished reading: December 29th 2016
Pages: 353
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“Sometimes I look at the lives of the people around me and I wonder if we aren’t all destined to leave a trail of damage.”

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I know, I know, I should have known not to read the sequel after I discovered that Me Before You didn’t really live up to my expectations last year. It’s not the first time I end up disappointed by hyped books, although I’m not saying the first book is a bad read either… After You however seemed to be a totally unnecessary sequel to what should have been a perfectly good and closed ending. I can understand why fans of the first book would be devastated to have its magic broken by such a mediocre and uninspiring follow-up. I picked up After You mostly because I already had a copy of it and it would mean one less series on my still-to-finish list. But to be honest, I kind of would have preferred not reading it at all. Unlike the first book, the plot in After You is rather weak, cliche and felt forced. Sure, it’s a fast read and the prose is easy to read, but I just felt something was missing… The fact that Lily is a completely obnoxious and highly annoying character doesn’t really help either. In short, would I suggest reading this sequel? I don’t think so, because I’ve heard a lot of actual fans feeling really disappointed by this sequel as well. Read at your own risk!

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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…

After the most recent events, Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. Her time with Will Traynor has transformed her, and she is struggling to continue her life without him. After she has a very serious accident in her new home in London, she is forced to return home to her family. There she is confronted again with her past and she feels she’s right back where she started… Louisa knows she needs to find a way to start living again, but that’s easier said than done. Will she be able to move on and create a new future for herself?

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I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the After You sequel in the past, and now I’ve read it I can join the crowd. I personally wasn’t blown away by Me Before You, but I can’t deny it was still a solid read and I understand why so many people love it. I have no such feelings for the sequel though. It felt the story was more build around the success of the first book rather than a proper plot, and the whole thing  simply felt unnecessary and forced. I can see why so many fans felt cheated by After You

BOOK REVIEW: It Ends With Us – by Colleen Hoover

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Title: It Ends With Us
Author: Colleen Hoover

Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First published: August 2nd 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Finished reading: November 12th 2016
Pages: 367
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“All humans make mistakes. What determines a person’s character aren’t the mistakes we make. It’s how we take those mistakes and turn them into lessons rather than excuses.”

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Colleen Hoover has done it again! Those who know me are already aware of my not-so-good relationship with the romance genre, but this author has convinced me yet again I can actually enjoy romance when it’s done right. I seem to be having a love-hate relationship with CoHo‘s work, but that doesn’t take away I did LOVE November 9 last year. I decided to give It Ends With Us a go after seeing nothing but raving reviews everywhere, and those reviews were absolutely right. This title just became the second 5 star CoHo book on my list, and that is no small achievement for a genre I normally tend to avoid. Why is It Ends With Us so brilliant that it deserves the highest rating? First of all, there is no denying the fact that Colleen Hoover is a master in creating realistic and believable characters that you can easily relate to. It Ends With Us is filled with strong characters, and on top of that it’s an exceptionally well written story with an intriguing plot. This novel isn’t just another fluffy contemporary romance story either. Instead it deals with a very important and probably very sensitive topic: (abuse). It’s not an easy topic to write about, but the author has done an excellent job of describing it realistically. Have I managed to convince you to read It Ends With Us yet? I certainly hope so, because it was hands down one of the best books I’ve read this year.

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Lily hasn’t always had an easy life, but that has never stopped her from trying to find a way to succeed in life. She managed to escape the small town in Main where she grew up in and after graduating from college she decided to move to Boston. She first started to work at a firm, but then someone inspired her to follow her dream to start her own business. And that is not the only positive thing that is happening in Lily’s life… When she feels a spark with the gorgeous neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid, everything seems almost too good to be true. Sure, he doesn’t do relationships and might be stubborn and even a bit arrogant. But Ryle seems to have a soft spot for Lily and she is having a hard time to resist… But is he really who Lily thinks he is?

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I’m having a hard time writing a proper review for this one without it sounding like I’m just blabbering all over the place, but It Ends With Us is just THAT good. Forget the fact that I’m normally not a fan of romance. Forget the fact that I normally detest love triangles. This book is simply brilliant! Realistic and strong characters (Lily is such an awesome character), extremely well written prose and intriguing plot… It Ends With Us just has it all.

ARC REVIEW: Faithful – by Alice Hoffman

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Title: Faithful
Author: Alice Hoffman

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
First published: November 1st 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Finished reading: October 20th 2016
Pages: 272
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“People say if you face your worst fear, the rest is easy, but those are people who are afraid of rattlesnakes or enclosed spaces, not of themselves and the horrible things they’ve done.”

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

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I’m probably not the only one who has fallen in love with that gorgeous cover. As soon as I saw Faithful mentioned I was sold, and I’m grateful I was given the opportunity to read this little gem before it was published. I know there have been a lot of mixed reviews so far, but for me this story turned out to be just as good as the stunning cover. Despite my initial doubts about the possible amount of drama, this new novel by Alice Hoffman turned out to be a really interesting read. I found the story to be especially well written and the prose has convinced me I need to pick up more of her work soon. The characters are well developed and realistic, which is a huge bonus for any book in this genre. And even though Shelby is not exactly likeable as a character, you grow to love her anyway. Sure, I can understand why some people might have a problem with the way she behaves and part of the plot in general, but it is without doubt an intriguing story on how grief and guilt can change a person and how hard it is to move on. Faithful is filled with raw emotions, beautiful prose and second chances; a moving and realistic contemporary read with a main character that you will manage to endear you, flaws and all.

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Shelby Richmond is just another ordinary girl with a seemingly perfect life along with her best friend Helene. Then one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate forever… A car accident destroys her best friend’s future and leaves Helene in a coma, while Shelby walks away practically unscratched. She almost drowns in her guilt, feeling that it should have been her instead. Shelby thinks she is paying her penance by stop living her own life and hiding in the basement, but some day she will have to start finding her way in the world again. She will have to fight her way back to her own future… And she will find out she isn’t as alone in the world as she might think.

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I wasn’t completely sure whether this book would be my cup of tea, but Alice Hoffman has convinced me I can enjoy a story with a healthy dose of drama in it. What really stands out in Faithful is the excellent character development and beautiful prose. Sure, the main character can be a bit of a tool and you might not find everything that happens to her in New York believable, but Shelby managed to win me over anyway. Give this book a chance if you like the genre!

ARC REVIEW: Who We Were Before – by Leah Mercer

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Title: Who We Were Before
Author: Leah Mercer

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Drama
First published: October 1st 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: October 9th 2016
Pages: 256
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“I spend a lot of time inside my head. I like it there, blanketed from the world.”

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

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I requested a copy of Who We Were Before on whim from Netgalley some time ago. I’m normally not really into drama, but the blurb sounded interesting enough and I decided to give it a go anyway. It seems like yet again my intuition didn’t fail me, because this novel by Leah Mercer turned out to be an easy and fast-paced contemporary read. The ‘present/Paris’ chapters weren’t as strong as the ones set in the past, and I’m not quite sure they were all that believable either. I mean, it sounds pretty farfetched that someone like the main character Zoe can just wander around in a strange country all day without any money, and on top of that isn’t able to find her husband. That said, I enjoyed reading the chapters set in the past and it was interesting to learn more about how the two main characters first met and how it all started to go wrong… Poor little kid. The character development of both characters is very well done and they seem realistic (except for the chapters set in Paris like I mentioned before). In short, Who We Were Before is without doubt a fast-paced and interesting read for any contemporary romance/drama fan.

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It’s been two years, but both Zoe and Edward are still haunted by that terrible tragedy. Edward knows they should find a way to take healing steps together, but Zoe always seems to shut him out and he is tired. Zoe knows that it wasn’t really her fault, but she still blames herself for not being able to stop the car that killed their little son. And she cannot forget Edward’s bitter words at the time of the accident either… A weekend in Paris might be their last hope for reconciliation, but mischance sees them separated before they have even left the train station Gare du Nord. Edward and Zoe now must try and find their way back to each other and the way back to the people they were before, but is that even possible?

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If you are looking for a fast-paced and entertaining contemporary read, I can definitely recommend Who We Were Before. It has a healthy dose of drama and the character development is both well done and realistic. The story is easy to read despite the drama and the chapters set in the past are excellent. I had some minor issues with the credibility of the Paris chapters, but all in all it’s still a great read.

BOOK REVIEW: The Girls – by Lisa Jewell

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Title: The Girls
Author: Lisa Jewell
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Contemporary
First published: July 2nd 2015
Publisher: Century
Finished reading: September 14th 2016
Pages: 407
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“With parenting there’s a long game and a short game. The aim of the short game is to make your children bearable to live with. Easy to transport. Well behaved in public places. In other words, to make your own life easier. And, yes, you can achieve that with punishments, with discipline, with a clip here and there. But the aim of the long game is to produce a good human being.”

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While I was browsing the English books section during my trip back in August, my eyes fell on a copy of The Girls. The cover triggered my memory of having it on my wishlist and the blurb sounded great, so I decided to just buy it. I was really looking forward to this novel by Lisa Jewell, but somehow it didn’t manage to grab my attention like I thought it would. It’s not exactly a bad read and I can see why other people might enjoy it better, but I personally wasn’t completely convinced. First of all, I had a hard time keeping track of all the different characters and their role in the story. That definitely slowed me down quite a bit… Also, the first half of The Girls felt a bit ‘weak’ compared to the last part of the story, which turned out to be a huge improvement. I can’t say I liked the main characters either; including Grace, what happened in the gardens and the whole deal with the sister’s father. It honestly felt like there was too much drama squeezed into a limited amount of pages. Like I said, it’s not necessarily a bad read, but it didn’t really stand out either.

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A mother and her two daughters move to a picturesque communal garden in urban London looking for a fresh start after what happened to their family. Their new home seems to be an oasis where children can run free and neighbors can be trusted since most have known each other for ages. You think children would be safe, but are they really? One day the past repeats itself and a thirteen-year-old girl is found unconscious in a dark corner of the garden square. What really happened to her and who is responsible? And has it anything to do with what happened in the past?

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It might just be that I don’t like too much drama in general, it might just be that I set my expectations too high, but I didn’t like The Girls as much as I thought I would. It’s not a bad read and the second half of the novel is a lot better, but still I felt like it was missing something. Unlikeable characters and too much drama lowered the rating considerably for me, but if you don’t mind those I can still recommend this read.

BOOK REVIEW: Leaving Time – by Jodi Picoult

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Title: Leaving Time
Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal
First published: October 14th 2014
Finished reading: May 13th 2016
Pages: 416
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“I think grief is like a really ugly couch. It never goes away. You can decorate around it; you can slap a doily on top of it; you can push it to the corner of the room—but eventually, you learn to live with it.”

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I personally hadn’t heard of this title before it was chosen as this month’s The Revolving Shelf book club read, but I wasn’t too worried about it since I really enjoyed reading Jodi Picoult‘s other novel The Storyteller last year. And while the plot of Leaving Time is completely different from that novel, I still very much enjoyed reading this story. The plot is basically a missing person (cold) case mixed with a dash of paranormal and a healthy dose of elephant facts. I have admired this stately animals ever since I was little, so I was very pleasantly surprised with the role they played throughout the story. Jenna’s mother Alice goes missing when she is little, and her mother’s study on elephant grief is relevant to both the elephants and human characters in the story. The chapters switch between the POV of different characters and are set both in the past and present. It takes a while to get a proper idea of what is really going on and it might slow down the pace quite a bit, but the ending is without doubt a surprise. The paranormal elements as well as the initial clash between two unlikely allies Virgil and Serenity make typical missing murder case a lot more interesting as well… In short Leaving Time is without doubt an interesting read and worth reading if you like the genre, although I still prefer her other novel The Storyteller.

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Jenna Metcalf’s mother Alice vanished when she was only three years old, and she has been trying to find out where her mother went ever since. Her grandmother doesn’t exactly encourage her, but that doesn’t stop Jenna from searching online, rereading her journals on studying grief among elephants and leaving no stone unturned. She decides it’s about time to take more drastic measures, and calls in the help of two unlikely allies. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic for missing people who seems to have lost her gift after a big case went wrong. Serenity doubts her gift, but Jenna is determined to get her help anyway. The other is Virgil Stanhope, a PI with a complicated background who originally investigated the case when Alice first went missing. Virgil isn’t sure how he can help the girl either, but the three slowly start putting together the pieces of the past anyway… With a very surprising outcome.

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While I didn’t love Leaving Time as much as I thought I would, I still quite enjoyed reading this story. Some of the plot might not be all that credible, but I liked the mix of paranormal elements and a typical mystery read. The elephant info was a huge bonus, although I can understand why some people might see the many facts as something potentially boring or even annoying. It is without doubt something that is an acquired taste… The story has quite a few plot twists though and it has an ending you definitely won’t see coming!