YVO’S SHORTIES #125 – Muse Of Nightmares & Hope And Other Punchlines

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a YA edition: two most anticipated books that both lived up to expectations for me. Muse Of Nightmares  by Laini Taylor is the duology conclusion and I once again fell in love with the wonderful wonderful prose. I have loved Julie Buxbaum‘s books in the past, and while Hope And Other Punchlines isn’t my favorite of the bunch, it’s still an excellent read and the 9/11 element is well handled.


Title: Muse Of Nightmares
(Strange The Dreamer #2)
Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: October 2nd 2018
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Finished reading: September 15th 2019
Pages: 528

“Wishes don’t just come true. They’re only the target you paint around what you want. You still have to hit the bull’s-eye yourself.”

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I admit I’ve been afraid to pick up my copy of Muse Of Nightmares… After being blown away by the first book of this duology, I was afraid it was going to be almost impossible for the sequel to live up to expectations. But I shouldn’t have doubted the power of Laini Taylor‘s absolutely gorgeous prose! Like with Strange The Dreamer, I was absolutely mesmerized by the words she uses to describe both the high fantasy world, its characters and the plot itself. Things can be said about the fact that not all that much seems to be happening considering its 500+ pages, although I did feel there was more going on in the sequel. But personally I didn’t really care as long as I was going to be able to keep lapping up those gorgeous sentences. Muse Of Nightmares proves that the writing and characters truly can make up for a plot that is slightly bland in places and this story blew me away. I mentioned the characters, and they are definitely one of the reasons this duology is on my list of all time favorites. Lazlo, Sarai and the others won over my hard so fast and my heart really went out for them. I love that a lot of the characters are not either good or bad, walking that grey area instead of simply being described as monsters. The worldbuilding of this high fantasy world is again beautifully done and set the right tone for this sequel. I would definitely suggest reading these in order, as Muse Of Nightmares picks up right where the first book ended and you won’t be able to appreciate the sequel without the character and plot development in Strange The Dreamer. Then again, if you don’t mind a slower and more character driven YA fantasy, you will want to spend time devouring the stunning prose in both books anyway.


Title: Hope And Other Punchlines
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 7th 2019 
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Finished reading: September 26th 2019
Pages: 311

“I’m so, so tired of always worrying about our world splitting into a before and an after again.”

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Julie Buxbaum is one of the select group of authors who can make me enjoy the contemporary romance genre. After loving her first two YA books, it’s easy to say that my expectations were sky high for Hope And Other Punchlines. It might have been the wrong time to pick up this title, or it might have been that my expectations were a tad unrealistic, because while there is no doubt that this story is an excellent read, it didn’t blow me away as I thought it would. There is a lot to love in Hope And Other Punchlines though. First up is the 9/11 element, an event that has made a huge impact on countless of lives and I could really appreciate how Julie Buxbaum incorporated this into the plot. While both the town and the Baby Hope photo are fictional, I do feel they represent the aftermath of 9/11 realistically and show us just how devastating the impact of this single event is even all those years later. Then we have the main characters Abbi, Noah and Jack. While I had certain issues with some actions in the beginning (blackmailing!!!), it is still quite easy for these three characters to win over your heart. The dynamics between geeky Noah, Jack and Abbi will grow into something absolutely adorable and they are definitely part of the reason this book works. Abbi (Baby Hope) is a very interesting character and she makes you think about the impact one little photo can have on both the life of those portrayed and on many others as it becomes a symbol of hope. I personally adored the camp scenes and I thought the story was well balanced in general. Lighter moments are contrasted with not only 9/11 details, but also other heavy themes as Alzheimer and cancer. I finished this story in no time at all and while I do admit it’s not my favorite Julie Buxbaum, I can definitely recommend it to any fan of the contemporary romance genre looking for a story that is both adorable and heartbreaking.


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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: Sorry I Barfed On Your Bed Again – by Jeremy Greenberg

Title: Sorry I Barfed On Your Bed Again
Author: Jeremy Greenberg
Genre: Fiction, Humor, Cats
First published: October 8th 2019
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Finished reading: September 9th 2019
Pages: 64

“Unfortunately we can’t go to the vet at the moment because I’ve unexpectedly died. Yes, it’s very sad. But not that sad, considering I’ve got nine lives and spending one on getting out of going to the vet is a worthy sacrifice.”

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

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I stumbled across this title just when I was looking for a little something different to read… Sorry I Barfed On Your Bed Again really spoke to me, both because I love cats in general and it sounded like a fun read. I just couldn’t resist the combination of funny letters and cat photos, and I definitely agree with the blurb that this little book would make a perfect gift for cat lovers. Each page spread (or at least it seems that way in the ARC version) has alternately a cat photo and its corresponding letter; the cat ‘writing’ to its owner about something that can be related to the photo. Some of the letters were definitely very funny indeed and cat owners will definitely be able to relate to the different situations and cat behavior described in the letters. It’s a short but sweet read and a perfect way to escape a dreary day and have a laugh. I do hope the photos will be less dark in the printed version, because they appeared very dark in the protected-PDF version (the text pages looked fine so I assume it is a problem with the photos itself). Some details were lost that way and that is truly a shame, considering that the photos are part of the charm of Sorry I Barfed On Your Bed Again in the first place. That said, any cat lover will have a great time reading this collection of relatable letters.


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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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YVO’S SHORTIES #122 – The Old Man And The Sea & Stalking Jack The Ripper

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a classic I’ve been meaning to read for ages and a YA story that has been recommended to me multiple times. Both ended up surprising me… I wasn’t expecting to, but I actually really enjoyed my time with The Old Man And The Sea. And while I was fully expecting to love Stalking Jack The Ripper, the romance put a damper on things.


Title: The Old Man And The Sea
Author: Ernest Hemingway

Genre: Classics, Fiction
First published: September 1952
Publisher: Scribner
Finished reading: August 23rd 2019
Pages: 132

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”


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Confession: I don’t think I’ve ever read Ernest Hemingway‘s books before. *hides in a corner* I’ve been meaning to pick up The Old Man And The Sea for quite some time now, and to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m glad I thought of this title when I was browsing for short reads to fit one of the prompts for #NEWTsReadathon2019, because I ended up enjoying it so much more than I thought I would. The plot of this classic is very simple: basically it’s a very old man struggling to catch and bring home a huge fish. Not very interesting unless you love fishing, you might say, but I think the power of this story might just be in its simplicity. There are no distractions, just the man, the boat, the sea and the huge fish. The description of the struggle of the old man is thorough and detailed, and it was interesting to see his character evolve over time. You might wonder why on earth he would keep up the struggle for that long. You might wonder why he doesn’t just give up when the sharks come visiting, as he is basically risking his life to bring in some fish meat. Still, there was just something about this short classic that made me enjoyed the ride. And while I’ve heard that The Old Man And The Sea is by far the most entertaining of his books, I’ll be looking forward to try more of Ernest Hemingway‘s books in the future.


Title: Stalking Jack The Ripper
(Stalking Jack The Ripper #1)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Thriller
First published: September 20th 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Finished reading: August 24th 2019
Pages: 336

“Corpses kept him company most nights, like intriguing textbooks; he cherished dissecting them and discovering the secrets held between the pages of their skin and bones.”


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Warning: it’s unpopular opinion time again!

As soon as I first heard about this book I was completely intrigued. I mean, a Jack The Ripper inspired story set in the same time period and place? There was just no way on earth I was going to be resisting that. A lot of people have been recommending Stalking Jack The Ripper to me over the years, and I was really excited to finally get to it. The story started out strong for me and I had high hopes it would be a winner for me as well… But I guess it wasn’t ment to be in the end. First things first, and I have to say I loved the historical setting and how many historical references to the Jack The Ripper case are incorporated into the plot. Descriptions are thorough and I really felt like I was right there in 1888 along with the main characters. I can also appreciate the twist on the original Jack The Ripper case and his new identity. While I did guess the identity quite early on, it did bring an interesting twist to the story. The forensic medicine element is likewise an interesting touch. BUT. I didn’t see coming that there would be so much romance involved AT ALL. The whole enemy to lovers trope and the constant bantering really took away the attention from what was happening and as things continued I started to struggle to keep focused on the story. The fact that main character Audrey Rose REALLY wants you to know she is an empowering and intelligent young woman and deserves to be working with her Uncle really got on my nerves as well. Her superiority complex and arrogance made me enjoy the story considerably less than I thought I would, and I’m still not sure what to think of Thomas and his behavior either. In short, the characters and romance made me enjoy this story a lot less than I thought I would… That said, with the sequel having Vlad The Impaler references, I will most likely still give the sequel a go some time in the future.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #119 – The Dream Thieves & Darius The Great Is Not Okay

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a YA edition… The first a sequel that surprisingly enough ended up disappointing me: The Dream Thieves by  Maggie Stiefvater. Be warned for an upcoming unpopular opinion review! Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram turned out to be just as good as people kept promising though.


Title: The Dream Thieves
(The Raven Cycle #2)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: September 17th 2013
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Finished reading: August 7th 2019
Pages: 453

“All of us have secrets in our lives. We’re keepers or keptfrom, players or played. Secrets and cockroaches – that’s what will be left at the end of it all.”


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WARNING: it’s unpopular opinion time again!!

I should have known that the unpopular opinion curse wouldn’t stay away… Because even though I did enjoy the first book The Raven Boys back when I read it in December 2015, I can’t say I felt the same about The Dream Thieves. It’s true that I’ve heard people having mixed reactions to this sequel in general, and I fully understand why now. Unlike the first book, The Dream Thieves almost fully focuses on Ronan, and reactions to the sequel will most likely depend on your reaction to Ronan’s character in general. My reaction on Ronan’s character is actually surprisingly neutral; there are some things I like (including heritage and ‘powers’) and other aspects I found rather annoying (including his attitude), but overall I don’t mind him as a character. Having the focus mainly on Ronan in this story means that the magic of the first book is almost completely lost though… Because it’s the dynamics between the four raven boys and Blue that made that story into a success for me. Apart from the shifted focus, I also found The Dream Thieves to be rather overlong and quite boring in points… I actually caught myself skimreading certain parts, and that is never a good sign. I do have hopes for the final two books, as more than one fellow blogger has called this sequel the weakest link of the series, but I think I’m going to take a little break before I actually continue with The Raven Cycle. Maybe the unpopular opinion curse will get bored and will go away that way!


Title: Darius The Great Is Not Okay
Author: Adib Khorram

Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: August 28th 2018
Publisher: Dial Books
Finished reading: August 13th 2019
Pages: 320

“The thing is, I never had a friend like Sohrab before. One who understood me without even trying. Who knew what it was like to be stuck on the outside because of one little thing that set you apart.”


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This one has been recommended to me multiple times and I love foreign settings featuring places I’ve never been before, so it’s easy to see why I was really excited to finally pick up Darius The Great Is Not Okay. I have to say it didn’t disappoint at all. While it’s true that it took me a couple of pages before I fully connected to the characters and writing, once I did I was hooked. The power of this story is both in its characters and the descriptions of the setting in Iran and the local culture. Especially the second was thorough, detailed and well developed, making Iran and daily life in Yazd come fully alive for me and it really enhanced my reading experience. Adib Khorram is able to make you feel as if you are right beside Darius in Yazd, discovering more about his family and his roots. Darius made for a very interesting flawed character, his depression and issues with not feeling that he belongs making you think about what it is like to stand in his place and how difficult it can be to overcome a clash of cultures within your own family or even within yourself. Darius doesn’t feel American enough, but doesn’t think he belongs in Iran either, with him not speaking farsi and not knowing a lot about their culture… I really liked how the author developed this theme in what I think is a realistic way; as a Dutch person living in a quite different culture and country (Argentina), I found it really easy to relate to Darius and his struggles. I loved learning more about Iran and seeing the characters grow and develop over time in general…The ending made me kind of sad though. If you enjoy YA fiction with a foreign setting and both interesting and flawed characters, you should definitely read Darius The Great Is Not Okay.


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