ARC REVIEW: Bentwhistle The Dragon: A Threat From The Past – by Paul Cude

Title: Bentwhistle The Dragon: A Threat From The Past
Author: Paul Cude

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Adventure
First published: October 19th 2011
Finished reading: September 29th 2017
Pages: 486
DNF at 49% (238 pages)

“The valuable lesson you should have learned, was that evil comes in many guises, not always visible to everyone.”

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

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It’s easy to say I have a weak spot for any story involving dragons as they are my favorite of mythical creatures. This story had me at the title, because how could I resist a new fantasy series where dragons play such a big role? I was really looking forward to start reading Bentwhistle The Dragon, and even though it took me longer than planned to actually pick it up my initial excitement was still there. That’s why it’s such a shock I had to make the hard decision to DNF this story. Because let’s face it: that almost never happens… But honestly, I’ve tried. Really tried. I’m not saying the writing is bad and it truly shows just how much time is put into the detailed and extensive descriptions and worldbuilding in general. This attention to detail is what stands out in this story and I can always appreciate when this much time is dedicated to creating a believable and well developed fantasy world. BUT. The thing is, the pace is supersuperSUPER slow and I just couldn’t get myself to keep interest. I don’t mind a slower pace if I get detailed descriptions in return, but I think in the case of Bentwhistle The Dragon it was kind of a description overdose. One superlong and extensive description after the other kind of had the reverse effect on me and instead of finding myself intrigued by a story about my favorite mythical creature, I was actually rather bored by it all. Because I have to be honest and say that nothing much really happens during the first half of the story especially considering it has over 200 pages. I definitely would have expected a lot more action or at least some suspense… I don’t think the age group would be happy with so many descriptions or the lack of action either, and I felt the tone was off for a YA story (too ‘formal’?). All in all Bentwhistle The Dragon definitely wasn’t for me, and unfortunately I just couldn’t bring myself to keep reading all those extensive descriptions hoping something exciting would happen in the second half. Especially since I found the mystery and ‘dangerous’ situation not suspenseful at all and to be honest rather lacking for what is labeled as a fantasy adventure story… I’m sad to see this dragon story on my very short list of DNF reads.

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Dragons have walked among humans for a long time, and nobody seems to be aware of them… Because the dragons are disguised as humans and live among them, infiltrating the human world in key positions to guide and protect them. They can change forms at will, although dragons are always careful to not reveal their secrets. But something is off, and it might be up to three young dragons to put a stop to it before it’s too late… Will they be able to?

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I had really high hopes for Bentwhistle The Dragon, and that’s why it makes me extra sad I had to make the though decision to DNF it. This almost never happens, but I struggled so much with the endless descriptions and superslow pace that I just couldn’t get myself to read the second part as well. I was really surprised by the lack of action as well, especially since it’s labeled as a fantasy adventure story… The worldbuilding is excellent and extensive, but in this case it might have been too much detail and the balance between plot/action and description was lost. Such a shame! I really wanted to enjoy this one.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Lifeboat – by Charlotte Rogan

Title: The Lifeboat
Author: Charlotte Rogan

Genre: Historical Fiction, Survival
First published: March 29th 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Finished reading: September 26th 2017
Pages: 340

“It’s my experience that we can come up with five reasons why something might have happened, and the truth will always be the sixth.”

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I had a copy of this novel collecting dust on my shelves for over a year now and the other day I decided to pick it up on a whim. I mostly read on my kindle nowadays, but it’s good to have an actual physical copy in my hands every now and then… I admit The Lifeboat was a cover-love buy, although I was also intrigued by the 1914 historical setting. To be honest, I’m still on the fence about this one. The Lifeboat is a character-driven story predominantly set on a lifeboat, where the characters have to survive after their cruiseship sinks on the way to New York. The story is told mostly in diary form where one of the characters relates what happens during that time and some of the story is also dedicated to the aftermath. While I thought the historical setting and tone were well executed and even can be seen in the way the characters interact with each other, I also felt the pace was quite slow and this made it harder to properly enjoy the novel. Honestly, nothing much really happens during the story and it’s mostly about the interactions between the characters and how they react to being is such a dangerous situation. Character-driven stories can be fascinating, especially when the characters find themselves in such a dangerous situation, but I wasn’t convinced by The Lifeboat. Part of this feeling probably has to do with the fact I was never able to connect to the characters, making it harder to care for them or what would happen to them. Grace (the narrator) actually became irritating at one point. I liked how the aftermath and trial is also discussed and how difficult it is to judge people and their actions in such extreme situations though. All in all I ended up having mixed thoughts about The Lifeboat, but fans of character-driven historical fiction novels might have a better time reading this one.

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In the summer of 1914, Grace Winter is on her way back to New York with her new husband Henry on board of a cruiseship. Then the unthinkable happens and the ocean liner suffers a mysterious explosion, sinking the ship. Henry is able to find a place for Grace on one of the lifeboats just before that… Although the survivors on that particular boat soon realize that they are over capacity. If any of them want to survive, they will have to make some sacrifices… What will happen to them? And what about Henry and the others on the cruiseship?

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I had high hopes for this one despite the low rating, mostly because I was in the mood for a proper historical fiction read in the first place. The Lifeboat without doubt had the right historical feel that was even reflected in the way the characters interacted, but I also felt that special spark was missing. Nothing much really happens during the story despite the horrific situation the survivors find themselves in. The aftermath chapters did added something to the plot, although it was mostly talk and unfortunately rather dull. Combined with a slow pace and unlikeable character this wasn’t one of my favorite historical reads.


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BOOK REVIEW: Flowers For Algernon – by Daniel Keyes

Title: Flowers For Algernon
Author: Daniel Keyes

Genre: Classics, YA, Science Fiction
First published: 1966
Publisher: Mariner Books
Finished reading: September 21st 2017
Pages: 311

“How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibilty, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes—how such people think nothing of abusing a man with low intelligence.”

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I’ve had this modern classic on my TBR for a long time, although I admit I was completely clueless about the plot and didn’t even have a general idea of what the story was going to be about. Then again, I do like my surprises… And Flowers For Algernon turned out to be a very pleasant surprise at that. Because WOW. This is one powerful story that managed to break my heart completely by the time I reached the last page… I can definitely understand why this novel by Daniel Keyes has become a modern classic. Brilliant prose, intriguing plot, well developed characters… This story has it all. Flowers For Algernon is a science fiction read with a very interesting theme: intelligence enhancement with the help of a brain operation. This theme is very well developed with the help of the main character Charlie, showing both the before and after of this experimental operation. First of all I just loved how the writing itself was a very clear demonstration of Charlie’s mental state and how things change over time. I agree I was a bit surprised when I first encountered myself with the seemingly horrid spelling, but once you understand its significance and the fact that this story is told with the help of Charlie’s progress reports during the experiment, you will realize the brilliancy of it all. Charlie is the perfect character to help show the light on the prejudices around (the lack of) intelligence and how people treat others differently accordingly. You will become really invested in this story and will find your heart broken before the story ends. Flowers For Algernon will go straight to my list of favorite classics and I can highly recommend this one.

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Charlie is a mentally disabled man, but he has always wanted to improve his intelligence and be ‘normal’ as his mother always wanted. He participates in an experiment and undergoes a brain operation that will possibly increase his IQ and change his life. The experimental procedure starts to work and slowly Charlie’s intelligence starts to expand… But at what cost?

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up my copy of Flowers For Algernon, but I’m more than happy with what I found. The writing is simply brilliant, as both the progress reports and the prose itself give the perfect insight of what happens to Charlie during the experiment. The way others react to Charlie during different stages of the experiment is both intriguing and unfortunately very accurate as well. Hopefully an eye opener! Flowers For Algernon is able to provoke strong emotions and is utterly heartbreaking in the end.


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ARC REVIEW: Things I’m Seeing Without You – by Peter Bognanni

Title: Things I’m Seeing Without You
Author: Peter Bognanni

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fiction
First published: October 3rd 2017
Publisher: Dial Books
Finished reading: September 20th 2017
Pages: 336

“What I mean is that nothing ever happens the way itt’s supposed to. Everything is messed up. Everything is flawed. And if we didn’t have imperfection, I’m not sure what we would have left.”

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

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I confess: this was 100% a cover-love decision since I just couldn’t say no to such a stunning cover. Things I’m Seeing Without You is a YA contemporary read that mixes romance with more serious themes as death and grief and even has a dose of humor as well. There is no doubt that the writing style is very engaging and I was able to connect instantly to the story. I liked Tess’ sassy tone and took an instant liking to the writing, making Things I’m Seeing Without You a very enjoyable read. I do have to say that the main character’s sarcasm and humor are probably not for everyone, explaining the mixed reviews out there… But if you are able to connect, you are in for a treat. The whole funeral business definitely gives this story a unique touch and adds a little something to the plot as well. I’m not sure if everything is all that credible and I had a few eyebrow-raising moments here and there, especially concerning the credibility of the final part of Things I’m Seeing Without You. Somehow I just don’t think they would ever been able to do what they did or even get there in the first place… And it’s one of the reasons I had to lower the rating. I’m still on the fence when it comes to the main characters; I liked Tess even though she is a handful, but I never really did warm up to Daniel completely. But like I said before, the whole special funeral business added a little spark to the story and definitely managed to introduce some ‘light’ moments in what is otherwise mainly a sad story about death, loss and how to deal with it all. It’s a fast-paced and entertaining YA contemporary read I’m sure fans of the genre will be able to enjoy. The writing might not be everyone’s taste, but I personally felt an instant connection and Things I’m Seeing Without You is definitely worth the try.

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Seventeen-year-old Tess Fowler hasn’t been the same after the death of Jonah. Even though they only met once in real life, they have been talking over texts and long e-mails for months and were in love… And she never saw his suicide coming. She continues to write to Jonah as a way of dealing with her grief, and also decides to drop out of high school because she couldn’t deal with it any longer. She returns to her father’s home, where she discovers his newest business: an alternative funeral business with very special clients…

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Things I’m Seeing Without You is without doubt a fast-paced and entertaining YA contemporary read despite the more serious themes. The fact that death, loss and grief is mixed with humor as well is refreshing and the funeral business added a really unique touch to the story. I’m not sure about the credibility of certain part of the plot and the actions of the characters, but there is one thing for sure: you will fly through this read. I personally liked Tess with all her flaws and complicated personality; the sassy tone of the story definitely complements her character. This story might not be for everyone, but I can definitely suggest giving it a try!


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BOOK REVIEW: A Different Blue – by Amy Harmon

Title: A Different Blue
Author: Amy Harmon

Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First published: March 29th 2013
Finished reading: September 17th 2017
Pages: 322

“I keep wishing you had had a better life…a different life. But a different life would have made you a different Blue.” He looked at me then. “And that would be the biggest tragedy of all.”

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I became an instant fan of Amy Harmon‘s work after my first experience with one of her stories. And it’s definitely one of the main reasons I still decided to give A Different Blue a go despite my doubts about the fact it’s classified as a contemporary romance and wasn’t sure if it would be for me. I guess those who follow my blog are already aware of the fact I’m not a big fan of the romance genre in general and to be honest I was quite worried this story wouldn’t be a right fit. But Amy Harmon managed to do the impossible and made me enjoy another contemporary romance read. It did help that A Different Blue didn’t have as much romance as I expected initially in the first place. And even though this wasn’t my favorite story of the bunch I’ve read so far, I still very much enjoyed it. And this has a lot to do with the writing, which was excellent as always and had me hooked right from the beginning. There is no doubt that A Different Blue is a beautiful, raw, strong and emotional story! The plot is interesting and will have quite a few surprises in store… Both the plot and character development were done very realistically and this made it really easy to fully emerge myself into the story. Blue was a great character and even though she isn’t exactly easy to like, there is just something about her that makes you want to keep on reading. And I just love her art and what it symbolizes! I wasn’t a big fan of Darcy though and I could have done without the love triangle… His actions started to frustate me at times and he didn’t manage to charm me. There is no doubt this is still a very good read though and one of the few contemporary romance stories I have actually enjoyed over the years. And A Different Blue has both the wonderful writing and its main character Blue to thank for that.

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Blue Echohawk was abandoned when she was little and raised by a man without a real home. She doesn’t know her real name or when she was born; she simply feels she doesn’t know who she is. The fact that she didn’t attend school until she was ten years old slowed her down, with the consequence she is still just a high school senior at nineteen. Blue is what you call a troublemaker and uses her appearance and tough attitude as an armor. But the cracks are starting to show when a young British teacher decides he is up for the challenge and is determined to get through to her.

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Even though I didn’t LOVE love A Different Blue like the other Amy Harmon books I have picked up so far, there is no denying this is still a very good read. It might have just been the fact contemporary romance normally isn’t my thing in the first place, but the main reasons I couldn’t add the final star were my aversion to Darcy and some of the romance. The writing is flawless and the plot both intriguing, emotional, powerful and realistic. Blue is such a great character and even though she is hard to like, you grow attached to her anyway. Fans of the genre will enjoy this story!  Make sure to have some tissues ready, because you will find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster with this one.


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BOOK REVIEW: Beartown – by Fredrik Backman

Title: Beartown
(Björnstad #1)
Author: Fredrik Backman

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Sports
First published: April 25th 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Finished reading: September 15th 2017
Pages:432 
(Originally written in Swedish: ‘Björnstad’)

“The very worst events in life have that effect on a family: we always remember, more sharply than anything else, the last happy moments before everything fell apart.”

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Fredrik Backman managed to blow me completely away with his story A Man Called Ove last year, which turned out to be one of my new all time favorites. I’ve been wanting to read one of his other books ever since… So now I finally have more time to read my own books, I decided to pick up my copy of his newest story Beartown. Confession: I’m not a hockey fan at all, so I wasn’t sure if reading a book centered around this sport would work for me. Also, my love for A Man Called Ove is so great that I wasn’t sure if another book would be able to live up to that level of wonderfulness. And it turned out my fears were grounded, because I do think Beartown came nowhere close to reaching that level. BUT. It is also true that this is a completely different story and should be evaluated as such. Because don’t get me wrong, it was without doubt a very good story and it shows Fredrik Backman is a brilliant writer. That said, I wish I could rate both halves of this book separately, because I had a completely different experience for both. While I had my doubts about Beartown during the first half of this story, all of this faded into the background when I reached the second part. Because by the time I reached the final page I was left with a broken heart and my emotions all over the place. It’s impressive that just one book is able to provoke so many contradicting emotions… What started out as a story with a lot of potential, but something that wasn’t able to convince me yet, ended in something I could easy have given a full 5 star rating for. In the beginning, I found myself struggling with the amount of characters and POVs that made it quite hard to keep track of them all. The writing was good, but somehow didn’t manage to lure me in completely and all the hockey talk wasn’t for me either. I found myself not as invested and I was feeling quite disappointed since I LOVED the characters in A Man Called Ove and was hooked right from the first page. Beartown turned out to be a slowburner instead, and while it took me about half the book to get used to the huge cast of characters, writing and situation in Beartown, as soon as I did I was hooked. This story has a few trigger warnings for the more sensitive readers, but the themes discussed in this story and the way the characters react to different situations are both intriguing, messy, realistic and will provoke very powerful emotions. You will love them, hate them, want to yell at them, slap them, hug them, make their pain go away… And you will feel powerless as you turn page after page and see how things unfold. So if you, like me, aren’t immediately convinced by this story, struggle with the multiple POVs and aren’t a hockey fan, don’t discard this book. Beartown is one of those stories where things will most definitely get better; although better is an understatement for the brilliant and realistic execution of the second half.

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Beartown is a tiny community deep in the forest and a true hockey town. Some say Beartown is finished and things have been going downhill for a while. Their hockey team hasn’t shown any true potential in years and jobs have been disappearing as the forest slowly reclaims her territory. But the people in Beartown still believe tomorrow will be better than today, and their junior ice hockey team might be the key to that dream. They are about to compete in the national semi-finals; if they win, this could mean Beartown is back on the so-called hockey map. So all the hopes and dreams of the town now rest of the shoulders of a bunch of teenage boys… How will they react to the pressure? Will they be able to win the game? And what will this whole experience do to their young minds?

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I have called Beartown a slowburner before, and I think this is just the right term for my feelings for this book. It took me a while to warm up to this story and to be honest in the beginning I wasn’t convinced by the multiple POVs and the amount of characters introduced. I’m not a hockey fan and I wasn’t sure if I could handle the prominent role the sport has in the story… But all those worries disappeared as soon as I reached the second half and found myself fully invested. I don’t want to give away too much to avoid spoilers (since the original blurb had a few as well), but some things will happen that will provoke very strong emotions and these feelings won’t let you go until you reach the final page. The fact that there are so many conflicting emotions will leave you wrecked, but fully satisfied. The ending is quite interesting as well, and will make you wonder about how the story started. All in all recommended despite the not that convincing start!


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ARC REVIEW: The Dollmaker Of Krakow – by R.M. Romero

Title: The Dollmaker Of Krakow
Author: R.M. Romero

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: September 12th 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: September 13th 2017
Pages: 336

“You can destroy a person, Karolina, but destroying their story is far more difficult. No one is ever really lost as long as their story still exists.”

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

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I was drawn to this book as soon as I saw the stunning cover, and when I found out it was a story set during WWII I was sold. I know I don’t read a lot of middle grade novels, but I do like to mix things up a bit every once in a while and this sounded like the perfect book to do so. The Dollmaker Of Krakow has been compared to The Boy In The Striped Pajamas (one of my all time favorites) and not only has a stunning cover, but also a wonderful story. This middle grade story is not just another historical fiction read with a WWII setting. With The Dollmaker Of Krakow, R.M. Romero has created a truly unique story that is a perfectly balanced mix of historical facts and fantasy with a touch of magical realism and a fairytale-like feel. There is magic, there are talking dolls brought to life, but there is also the brutal reality of the war and what the Germans were doing to the Jews during that period. Innocence is mixed with a somber reality in a way that is truly moving and very beautifully crafted. It’s hard to properly label this story, but there is no doubt about the originality and uniqueness of The Dollmaker Of Krakow. I would recommend this story for the ages of ten and up due to the sensitive historical elements (holocaust references) included, but I am positive they will be completely charmed by this fairytale-like mix of fantasy and reality. The writing style reads like a dream and I really liked the contrast between Karolina’s world and the real one. The characters are also well developed and used perfectly to demostrate the situation of both Jews and the people close to them during the war. It will definitely help make the younger readers reflect in an innocent way and leave breadcrumbs of information that will stay with them without the story feeling like a history lesson. All in all definitely recommended!

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Karolina used to live in the Land of the Dolls as a seamstress, happy to work for her king and queen, but one day they are overthrown by Rats and the dolls are no longer safe. A strange wind spirits her away from her home and suddenly she finds herself in Krakow… Right in the middle of the shop of the Dollmaker, a man with an unusual power he didn’t know he had. They will soon find out they benefit mutually from their company, and they  even make new friends with a violin-playing father and his daughter. But the Nazi soldiers come to Krakow and Karolina and the Dollmaker soon realize their new Jewish friends are in danger…

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I was sold as soon as I saw the cover and blurb, and there is no doubt that the writing is just as beautiful as the stunning cover. The Dollmaker Of Krakow is a truly unique story that mixes historical events with a fairytale-like fantasy world and sometimes feels a lot like magical realism. This innocent way of approaching the holocaust is a truly fascinating angle and very well executed; the fantasy elements only add to the overal originality of the story.


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