BOOK REVIEW: The Lion Tamer Who Lost – by Louise Beech #Orentober @Orendabooks

Title: The Lion Tamer Who Lost
Author: Louise Beech
Genre: Fiction, Romance
First published: July 15th 2018
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: October 19th 2019
Pages: 350

“He had nothing again. Nothing he knew, understood well, was familiar with.

But nothing is so much harder after you’ve briefly had something.”


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After reading Call Me Star Girl earlier this year, I had no other option but to add Louise Beech to my list of favorite authors immediately. I’ve been looking forward to read more of her work ever since, although I was also a tad worried as I wasn’t sure how anything could live up to expectations after such a brilliant first impression. I shouldn’t have doubted the power of the words of Louise Beech, because The Lion Tamer Who Lost once again blew me away. It’s been over a week since I finished this heartrending story, and I’m still struggling to put my thoughts together into a somewhat coherent review. I guess it seems to start becoming the standard when it comes to Orenda titles! That said, after many days of procrastinating, it’s time to finally force myself to sit down and get those words on paper.

So, The Lion Tamer Who Lost. I’ve thought long and hard about what my next Louise Beech read was going to be and even asked the opinion of fellow Orenda readers… This seemed to be the title that was mentioned most, and while contemporary romance isn’t exactly my favorite genre, I love stepping out of my comfort zone every once in a while and let a story surprise me. And surprise me it did! I can now add Louise Beech to the short list of authors who can actually make me enjoy the contemporary romance genre… Trust me, not a small feat. This is also a thing I love of her books: just how different and unique each story is! There are not many authors out there who can successfully tackle more than one genre; Louise Beech not only succeeds in that but takes your breath away in the process.

There are so many different elements to love in The Lion Tamer Who Lost, and I’m having a hard time figuring out where to start. But I guess that with such a title, an easy option is the fact that part of the story is set in a lion reserve in Zimbabwe. Talk about an original setting! The many detailed descriptions truly made the lion reserve come alive for me and I loved the fact that the lions play such a big role in the story. I have a special love for any member in the cat family, so seeing Lucy and the others being treated almost like extra characters was a wonderful bonus for me. Likewise, I really enjoyed reading about the lion reserve in general and the different volunteers being there at the same time as main character Ben. While the main focus of the story is of course on Ben and Andrew, I loved just how detailed the character development of the other characters involved was. It added even more dept to what was already a fantastic story!

I just mentioned Ben and Andrew, and they are definitely part of the reason this story works so well. I’m not a big romance fan in general, but I can make a wholehearted exception for my boys Ben and Andrew. I was drawn towards both characters from the very beginning, and I loved seeing both their characters and relationship evolve over time. They won over my heart, made me root for them and then pulled out that very same heart and made it shatter into a million little pieces… I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot to avoid spoilers, but while I didn’t actually cry (I almost never do, so that’s no surprise) I ended up with a huge lump in my throat and in need of an emergency baking session to soothe myself. Any story that is able to provoke such strong emotions is without doubt a little masterpiece to me! Especially one that is so beautifully written and simply both heartwarming and heartbreaking at that.

The Lion Tamer Who Lost also includes other intriguing and sometimes difficult elements such as the LGBT element and the struggle to come out and be accepted as you are, family issues and the battle against cancer. All elements are respectfully and realistically developed and successfully incorporated into what is a rich and intricate plot. Different point of views are used to let us learn more about both Andrew, Ben and even his father… Instead of confusing you, these switches only help enriching this story. I also loved that Andrew writes and hopes to become a successful writer, and that we get a glimpse of what this journey is like through his character. I also loved that little snippets of his story are shared at the beginning of the chapters. It really gave The Lion Tamer Who Lost another unique touch while also given the title an extra meaning. And I loved the idea behind Andrew’s wish box as well!

I can keep rambling about the things I loved in The Lion Tamer Who Lost, but I think it’s pretty obvious by now just how much I enjoyed this story. Whether contemporary romance and drama is your thing or not, you should simply give this story a chance as the words of Louise Beech are like magic and will fully mesmerize you before you finish the first chapter. Alluring, heartrending and simply irresistible… This story will give you all the feels as well as break your heart into a million pieces before you reach that final page!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #129 – Fever 1793 & The Museum Of Extraordinary Things (DNF)

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two historical fiction reads that I fully expected to love, but somehow failed to connect to. The historical aspect of Fever 1793 was brilliantly handled, but the characters fell a bit flat for me… And with a superslow pace and flat characters, I saw no other option but to DNF The Museum Of Extraordinary Things. Oh yes, sadly it’s time for a double dose of unpopular opinion reviews!


Title: Fever 1793
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
First published: September 1st 2000
Publisher: Aladdin
Finished reading: October 17th 2019
Pages: 252

“Life was a battle, and Mother a tired and bitter captain. The captain I had to obey.”


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WARNING: unpopular opinion ahead!

I was browsing for possible titles that are set in the 18th century to read for the final era for the When Are You Reading? challenge when I saw this title pop up. I enjoyed her other title Wintergirls when I read it earlier this year and the historical setting and plot sounded fascinating, so I immediately knew I wanted to read this title. I’m not sure if this was the wrong book at the wrong time for me, or if it’s just that I’m not that used to middle grade books in the first place… But the fact is that I couldn’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed by this story. First things first, and I have to say that the historical setting is well developed and detailed when it comes to the facts of 18th century Philadelphia and the yellow fever outbreak. It shows that the author has investigated historical facts thoroughly and the descriptions feel realistic and help teach the readers more about yellow fever and the impact of the outbreak back then. I could also appreciate the explanation of what was based on historical facts and what might have been changed in the story. That said, I struggled to connect to the story. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it has somewhat to do with the fact that I never felt a real connection with the main characters, making me feel mostly detached from  everything that happened to the main characters. In short, while the historical aspect of Fever 1793 was brilliantly handled, the characters somehow ended up falling a bit flat for me… I seem to be in the minority though, so if you haven’t tried this story yet and are intrigued by the blurb, you shouldn’t hesitate to try your luck.


Title: The Museum Of Extraordinary Things
Author: Alice Hoffman

Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
First published: February 18th 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Finished reading: October 21st 2019
Pages: 385
DNF at 38% (146 pages)

“Coney Island was, above all else, a place of dreams, with amusements like no others, rides that defied the rules of gravity, concerts and games of chance, ballrooms with so many electric lights they glowed as if on fire.”


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WARNING: unpopular opinion ahead!

I’ve been meaning to read this title for a long time, so I was excited when my TBR jar decided it was time to finally read it. The premise of The Museum Of Extraordinary Things sounds fantastic, so I fully expected to enjoy the story… Sadly, surprisingly enough it wasn’t ment to be. I’m not sure if it was just the wrong time for this story or if my book hangerover after finishing The Lion Tamer Who Lost the other day would have made me struggle with any book in the first place… But the fact is, I REALLY struggled with The Museum Of Extraordinary Things and I just couldn’t force myself to keep reading any longer. The pace is so so slow in general and the parts written in cursive are even slower… I had a hard time staying focused on the story and even started skimreading certain parts; definitely not a good sign. On top of that, I found the main characters to be quite flat and cliche… They lacked development for me to make them more rounded (at least in the part I read), and as The Museum Of Extraordinary Things seems to be a more character driven story, this became a real issue for me. I do have to say that the historical setting in early 20th century New York/Coney Island is absolutely fascinating and the historical references are probably the main reason I even made it this far. But as a whole, this story and me definitely didn’t get along.


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ARC REVIEW: The Dinner Party – by Richard Parker

Title: The Dinner Party
Author: R.J. Parker
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: October 18th 2019
Publisher: Harper Impulse and Killer Reads
Finished reading: October 7th 2019
Pages: 400 

“Ted felt as if everything was slowing down. He was on the verge of sliding back into unconsciousness.”

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


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I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of Richard Parker‘s books in the past, so as soon as I saw The Dinner Party I knew I had to add it to my shelves. I admit there was a moment of confusion when I added the title to my Goodreads shelves, as it is shelved under a different author with the same name, but I can now confirm it’s the same Richard Jay Parker that has multiple previous titles published by a different publisher (Bookouture) including favorites Hide And Seek and Keep Her Safe. I had quite high expectations for this story, but somehow I didn’t end up having the reaction I expected to have to this story…

If you are looking for a twisty, explosive and shocking thriller, The Dinner Party fits all those points and more. The story starts with a bang: you are dropped right in the middle of a life or death fight and what is basically a superintense and bloody scene. No introductions, no explanations… Just that scene to leave your jaw hanging on the floor and wondering how that situation came to be. This intense introduction chapter is contrasted by the following ‘mild’ chapters talking about a dinner party involving four couples. Do they have anything to do with that first chapter? Which of them could be involved? The tone of this story is definitely set with that brilliantly played first chapter.

The tension is build up slowly but steadily in the rest of the story, mixing secrets and twists with moments of action and suspense. I initially had a very good feeling about this story, but as the storyline continued and evolved, I started wondering about the credibility of it all. Sure, there is no doubt that if you are looking for adrenaline and action you will be in for a treat with the second half of The Dinner Party. But I myself found everything that happened to the four couples simply to be a tad too farfetched. I could accept the first thing that happened, the second too if I’m generous… But afterwards things really went out of control and my eyebrows started raising themselves more and more and more. On top of that, I didn’t really find the final reveal or explanation behind it all credible at all… Making the ending a bit of a disappointment for me. I did like how we came a full circle and saw the first chapter described again in its proper place in the story though.

As for the characters… Sadly, I can’t really say I liked them. Apart from the fact that I would have liked to see more development, as some fell flat for me and were a bit of a cliche, I didn’t find them likeable at all. I get the secrets and I get that they are hiding things to help generate those plot twists and reveals later on, but somehow they didn’t manage to grab my attention at all. Which is a shame, because between the credibility and characters I definitely ended up having a different reaction than I thought I would. If you like your thrillers fast, thrilling and shocking and don’t mind some lack of credibility and an ‘over the top’ plot, you will probably have a better time reading this story. The fascinating premise and promise of a great story is definitely there!


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ARC REVIEW: I Will Make You Pay – by Teresa Driscoll

Title: I Will Make You Pay
Author: Teresa Driscoll
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: October 10th 2019
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: September 21st 2019
Pages: 317

“We hope that no one is hurt, we wish no ill. And yet? We secretly want a story all the same.”

*** 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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!! Happy publication day !!

I’ve been meaning to try Teresa Driscoll‘s books for quite some time now, so when I saw I Will Make You Pay and read the blurb I just couldn’t resist. There is just something about the premise of this story and the stalker plot that made me want to read it straight away. And while I did ended up having some minor issues with it, overall it was without doubt a solid psychological thriller read.

I Will Make You Pay starts out as most regular psychological thrillers, but your attention is soon captured when the main character Alice receives the threatening phone call at the newspaper where she works as a journalist. This phone call marks the start of the so-called stalker plot and definitely takes the story to the next level. The story switches between past and present and gives us different POVs as well. On top of that, one of the storylines mentions a little boy and his grandmother without revealing how it all connects to the present situation, making you wonder how everything fits in. There are different layers as well as plot twists and secrets involved, all trying to throw you off the scent of the truth while they try to mislead you. I admit I guessed the ending quite early on though, but that might just be me reading too many books of the genre.

As for the main characters… Despite the fact that it should be easy to warm up to Alice and feel bad about what is happening to her, somehow I never really connected to her. I’m not sure exactly why, but there was just something about her actions and behavior that really irked me… Likewise, most of the other characters failed to charm me, with the exception of private investigator Matthew. I liked both his character and the different angle he provided to the story… Having a private investigator working on the stalking case while also working informally with the police definitely made the story more interesting. The whole journalist angle made for an interesting element as well, especially relating to the dangers behind sharing too much of your personal life and always being on the hunt for a good story seemingly no matter what the cost. The flashback chapters were intruiging enough, although they didn’t seem to be too relevant to the story at first… I’m still not sure what to feel about the ending though, as it felt a bit like an anticlimax. That said, psychological thriller fans will most likely have a good time reading I Will Make You Pay.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Birthday House – by Jill Treseder #RandomThingsTours #blogtour

Hello and welcome to my stop of the The Birthday House Random Things blog tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about the blurb of this novella that spoke to me and while I did end up having mixed thoughts, there is no doubt that the premise of this story is fascinating. Want to know why? Please join me while I share my thoughts!

Title: The Birthday House
Author: Jill Treseder
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: June 24th 2019
Publisher: SilverWood Books
Finished reading: September 14th 2019
Pages: 149

“Gossip is not interested in innocence. It will curdle innocence in the blink of a curious eye.”

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

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When I received the blog tour invitation a while back, there was just something about the blurb that caught my attention straight away. The psychological aspect as well as the past mixing with the present in the form of memories sounded fascinating, and I was also curious about the murder, its effects on Susan and the why and how behind it all. While I did end up having mixed thoughts about The Birthday House, I have to stress that this doesn’t mean it’s a bad read, and the 3 star rating reflects my personal experience with this story. I’ll tell you all about what worked and what didn’t for me below.

First of all I have to say I still feel the premise of The Birthday House is engrossing and it’s without doubt one of the strongest aspects of this novella. While initially the murder is only hinted at, it is the psychological effects of Josephine’s death and the events leading up to that dreaded day in 1955 that have the main focus. Flashbacks to the past play a very important role throughout this novella, as we try to decipher what went on in the Kennedy house and why things happened that way. It was intriguing to discover that the author based this story on an event that happened to her in the past and now uses this story almost as a form of therapy… She stresses that the events in The Birthday House do not reflect what really happened in the case that affected her personally, but it’s only a possible explanation of what could have gone wrong in a similar situation. I applaude the author for being brave enough to face past demons and put it all out in the open…  I can imagine it can’t have been easy digging all those memories up again and her personal experience does give this novella an authentic touch.

That said, there were also certain aspects of The Birthday House I ended up struggling with… I personally wasn’t convinced with the novella having so many different POVs. It felt a bit chaotic and disorganized having to jump between so many characters as well as the past and present, especially for such a short story. I felt I didn’t get to know each character well enough this way, although I do get why the author opted for multiple POVs as I imagine she was trying to show the mental state of and psychological effects on the different characters involved. Still, the story lacked cohesion for me and I personally would have liked to see less POVs (for example by leaving Mrs. Harrison, the housekeeper, out of the mix to name one). I also wasn’t a fan of the tone and writing; it didn’t feel natural and some of the dialogue and thoughts sometimes even felt a bit forced… Susan’s 1955 POV felt a tad too childish as well, and I also felt part of the plot and reasons behind the murder were simply too cliche. This is my personal reaction to this story though and if you are able to connect to the writing and don’t mind a few cliches and a lot of POV switches, The Birthday House does have a captivating premise.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I started writing in a red shiny exercise book when I was seven years old. But in that time and place it was an ‘invalid’ activity, was overlooked, but never went away. It was many years before I felt able to call myself ‘writer’.

But there came a day when the phrase ‘I am a writer’ no longer sounded pretentious, but legitimate, and even necessary. Was it because I had a writing room instead of the corner of a landing? Or because I spent more time writing? Or because I’d got better at it? Or because I get miserable and bad-tempered if I don’t write? Probably a combination of all of the above.

Writing is my third career. The first was as a social worker with children and families, a job I loved, but left because I could no longer cope with the system.

This led to a freelance career as an independent management consultant, helping people to handle emotions in the work context. I worked in the IT industry, in companies large and small, as well as public organisations. Later I became involved in research projects concerned with the multi-disciplinary approach to social problems such as child abuse. So, in a sense, I had come full-circle.

All these experiences feed into the process of writing fiction, while my non-fiction book The Wise Woman Within resulted indirectly from the consultancy work and my subsequent PhD thesis,‘Bridging Incommensurable Paradigms’, which is available from the School of Management at the University of Bath.

I live in Devon and visit Cornwall frequently and these land and seascapes are powerful influences which demand a presence in my writing.

Writers’ groups and workshops are a further invaluable source of inspiration and support and I attend various groups locally and sign up for creative courses in stunning locations whenever I can. I try doing writing practice at home but there is no substitute for the focus and discipline achieved among others in a group.

I have written some short stories and recently signed up for a short story writing course to explore this genre in more depth.

I live with my husband in South Devon and enjoy being involved in a lively local community.


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ARC REVIEW: Finding Henry Applebee – by Celia Reynolds

Title: Finding Henry Applebee
Author: Celia Reynolds
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Romance
First published: October 4th 2019
Publisher: One More Chapter
Finished reading: September 19th 2019
Pages: 427

“Because he’d learned by now that some moments in life are pivotal. And when they happen, you know things are never going to be the same again.”

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


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I always like mixing up genres and read a good contemporary every once in a while… As soon as I read the blurb of Finding Henry Applebee, I knew I was most likely going to enjoy this story. My instincts turned out to be right, because I had a great time getting to know the main characters and learning about their journey. It is without doubt a heartwarming and poignant read!

The power of Finding Henry Applebee is above all in its main characters. The story is told with the help of three different POVs: Henry, Ariel and Travis. What would one eighty-five-year-old man and two young characters have in common, would you say? That’s for you to discover as the plot and its twists are revealed in due course (I don’t want to spoil the surprises), but it all starts with a train ride from London to Edinburgh. Each character is thoroughly and realistically developed, and are very easy to connect to. First up we have the eighty-five-year-old Henry, the star of this story and one with a heartbreaking past and quest. We get a glimpse of his past through flashbacks set mostly in 1948 Blackpool, and the present chapters are wonderfully developed as well. Next is Ariel, a troubled teenager weighted down by grief and currently on a very important mission. I liked how her character was developed as well, and how we slowly learn a little more about her past as well as why she is currently on the train to Edinburgh. The last POV belongs to Travis, an American musician on his way to see his uncle. His character is very easy to like and brings a little light to balance the more heavy themes.

I really liked the idea of the train journey and the three characters meeting this way. I love travel themed stories and this was without doubt a nice touch! The train advancing can also been seen in the corresponding progress in the development of both the characters and the plot itself… The three different POVs and flashbacks are woven together into a coherent and moving story and the connection between the different storylines makes it really easy to just keep turning those pages. The main mystery is of course around Henry’s past and what happened to Francine, but we also have the question of the package Ariel was sent to deliver by her deceased mother. More heavy themes as the post-war era, regret, cancer and grief are contrasted with moments of lightness and even humor, turning Finding Henry Applebee into a well balanced read. There is some romance involved as well, but not distractingly so and I personally didn’t like a little dose of happiness added to the plot. This story will both make you laugh and make you cry before you reach the final page and is without doubt a beautifully written and poignant read.


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BOOK REVIEW: Snare – by Lilja Sigurðardóttir @Orendabooks #NordicNoir

Title: Snare
(Reykjavik Noir Trilogy #1)

Author: Lilja Sigurdardottir
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: October 15th 2015
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: September 18th 2019
Pages: 276
(Originally written in Icelandic: ‘Gildran’)

“There was no way out. She was still caught in the snare, and the vicious beast had her in its bloody jaws, ready to rip away the most important part of her.”


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Why o why didn’t I pick up this trilogy sooner?!?! I have always loved a foreign (to me) setting in my stories and 2019 is definitely the year I have rediscovered my love for the Nordic noir genre. There is just something about the combination of a darker and mysterious story and the cold and harsh weather often present in Nordic countries that really makes my heart beat faster and the setting often gives the perfect backdrop for a blood chilling read.

The first book of the Reykjavik Noir Trilogy is mostly set, as you might have guessed already from the title, in Iceland and was originally published in that language. A round of applause for the translator Quentin Bates for giving us the opportunity to meet Sonja, Bragi and the rest of the characters with the help of his translation! The description of the setting is detailed and also incorporates two events in recent Icelandic history most people will remember into the plot: the 2008-2009 banking crisis and the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruptions that caused chaos in Europe with so many canceled flights and stranded travellers (including myself, as I was just about to go on a trip to the day it started). Snare is set in 2010-2011 and makes references to both events, although the criminal investigation involving Agla and the other important bankers plays a far bigger role in the plot. I personally loved these flashes of real historical references mixed in with the fiction, as it made the story feel even more authentic.

But that is not what I loved most of Snare. That prize goes to main character Sonja, Bragi and the whole drugs smuggling and airport customs angle. I admit I went in blind and it was the most fantastic surprise to find such an original plot! Snare wins a lot of brownie points for the drugs smuggling angle alone, but the interesting, well developed and diverse characters also have a lot to do with the success behind this first book of a trilogy I already know will be a new favorite. Every single main character is thoroughly developed and evolves as the story continues… Each character has its flaws and that makes them feel so much more realistic: especially Sonja and Bragi won me over quickly and I can’t wait to see more of them in the sequel.

Snare is not just about drugs smuggling and the corruption investigation; it has so much more to offer… We have the broken family element, the heartbreaking Alzheimer situation with Bragi’s wife, a LGBT angle and a character struggling to come to terms with who she is… We have the danger of the drugs smuggling, the feeling of being trapped in a snare and being in a hopeless and dangerous situation impossible to escape from… On top of that, we have a box filled with plot twists ready to be dropped on you any time, and those twists are well crafted and most definitely will be able to surprise you. The plot is well developed as well and the ending definitely makes me even more excited to pick up the next book soon. The writing is simply a pleasure to the eye! Snare is without doubt an excellent start of a Nordic noir trilogy with a original, exciting and well crafted plot fans of the genre will love. Recommended!


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