ARC REVIEW: Mala Vida – by Marc Fernandez

Title: Mala Vida
Author: Marc Fernandez
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery
First published: October 1st 2015
Publisher: Arcade
Finished reading: January 5th 2019
Pages: 240
(Originally written in French: ‘Mala Vida’)

“Franco is dead, but not the evil he brought into the world.”

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

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I’ve had an interest in Spanish history and especially the Franco period even before I picked it as my thesis subject. It’s easy to say that when I came across Mala Vida and read the blurb I was sold immediately. A story partially set in one of my favorite European cities and one I know closely: check. An intriguing historical background and mystery: check. A healthy dose of crime fiction, suspense and plot twists: check. Oh yes, while Mala Vida is mostly a contemporary crime thriller, it also included a historical element and a very intriguing and devastating one at that. This story was originally written in French back in 2015, and will be available in English next week. The translation works splendidly and I had a great time reading this story. The writing style made it easy to keep myself invested in the story; there are flashbacks, different point of views and plot twists that will keep you on edge until you have everything figured out. The setting was a huge bonus for me and I liked the inclusion of cultural elements to make the setting feel more authentic. The historical case discussed in Mala Vida is fascinating and I liked how we get multiple views on the topic through the different characters. Diego’s character is very interesting and I liked that he is a journalist. The same goes for the other main characters: each has their own personality, background and adds a little something unique to the story. All in all a very successful read for me!

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The radical right has just won the election after twelve years of Socialist rule in Spain, and things are about to change drastically. As the country is preparing itself to retrace its steps to the past, there are other things happening as well. A series of murders is committed in various cities in Spain, and there are no clues found as to who is behind them or why they were killed. There seems to be no obvious connection between them, but isn’t there? And that is not all either, because a national scandal is about to be revealed as well…

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If you like stories with an international setting that can offer a little something different and outside the box, you should definitely consider Mala Vida. Part legal thriller, part historical, part mystery and part crime fiction, this story is a mix of a lot of different elements and very well executed at that. I personally loved the Spanish setting, the diversity of the main characters and the story as a whole. The historical element is both well executed and shocking and will definitely leave a mark… A very interesting read and one I’m very glad I came across.


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

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


Title: Big Little Lies
Author: Liane Moriarty

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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YVO’S SHORTIES #67 – Blue Blood & Girl With A Pearl Earring

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two older releases and two completely different genres. The first a detective thriller sequel of a Danish author: Blue Blood by Sara Blaedel. The second a historical fiction modern classic set in 1660s Delft: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Both were solid reads though.


Title: Blue Blood
(Louise Rick #2)
Author: Sara Blaedel

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: 2005
Publisher: Sphere
Finished reading: November 29th 2018
Pages: 448
(Originally written in Danish: ‘Kald Mig Prinsesse’)


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I always have a weak spot for detective thrillers, and I just couldn’t resist buying a copy of Blue Blood when I first saw it. I didn’t realize it was actually the second book of a series at the time, but thankfully the story can be read as a stand-alone as well. This translation from a Danish crime writer (also called Call Me Princess in some translations) was without doubt an entertaining ride. The writing style was easy to like, and I just loved the setting in Denmark. I was drawn to the story and plot straight away, and found myself literally flying through the pages… Trigger warnings are in place for rape and violence, but the subject is really well handled and reading more about the dangers of online dating is definitely intriguing. The main characters Louise Rick was quite easy to connect to, and I didn’t feel I was missing too much background information by not reading the first book (I’m not saying I don’t want to now though). I could have done without the cheating/romance subplot, but thankfully the main focus was on the case itself. I liked how things developed and even though I had some ideas about how things would end, Blue Blood also had some surprises in store. Fast, entertaining and just the right amount of suspense… I will definitely be reading more of Sara Blaedel‘s books.


Title: Girl With A Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: 2000
Publisher: Penguin Books
Finished reading: December 5th 2018
Pages: 233

“He saw things in a way that others did not, so that a city I had lived in all my life seemed a different place, so that a woman became beautiful with the light on her face.”


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I’ve been meaning to read this modern classic for ages, and the When Are You Reading? challenge turned out to be a perfect excuse to do so. I’ve seen the painting of the story with my own eyes quite some years ago, so I thought it would be interesting to read about the story behind it. Girl With A Pearl Earring turned out to be a very interesting story set in the 1660s in a Dutch city called Delft. The description of both the setting and era is very well done, and I like how the author stayed true to the Dutch names. The writing was solid and made it easy to follow Griet’s story as things develop. The fact that Griet’s father is a tile painter is interesting, as Delft is famous for its blue and white decorations… And Vermeer is a very famous painter of course as well. I liked reading about her experience as a maid in the house of a famous author. The dynamics of a girl without experience being thrown into a new job and a family not sure how to react to Griet were interesting. There were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way though. The first is the love triangle, which partly ruined the story for me. Is this seriously necessary?! I think I would have enjoyed the story a lot more without the appearance of that trope. I also wasn’t sure about the interactions between Griet and some of the Vermeer family members… I still think it was a solid read and I enjoyed reading it for the most part though.


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

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


Title: The Great Alone
Author: Kristin Hannah

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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ARC REVIEW: A Woman Of War – by Mandy Robotham

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

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

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

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

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

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


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ARC REVIEW: Heresy – by Melissa Lenhardt

Title: Heresy
Author: Melissa Lenhardt
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: October 2nd 2018
Publisher: Redhook
Finished reading: November 26th 2018
Pages: 384

“But you’ve always got choices, Grace. And every single choice you make ripples out through your life and every other person you meet.”

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

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I can’t even remember the last time I read a Western inspired historical fiction story, so I was really excited when I first saw Heresy. And it’s not just another historical setting with a Western vibe, because it follows a gange of female outlaws and that’s something you don’t exactly hear about every day. Unfortunately, somehow Heresy failed to grab me completely. I can’t put my finger exactly on the why, but the fact is that it took me a lot longer than expected to reach the final page, and I wasn’t enjoying myself as much as I thought I would. This slower pace made the story drag in parts, and this has a lot to do with the format of the story. Instead of a ‘simple’ storyline or even ‘simple’ POV switches, we have to learn the story about Margaret Parker through for example diaries, case notes and an interview with one of the gang members sixty years after the fact. In a way very interesting, but for me it didn’t really work in the end and it mostly made me feel that the story lacked proper cohesion. There were also facts being repeated and not everything was linear; again not a bad thing on its own, but it ended up bothering me. Don’t get me wrong, the story behind Heresy is fascinating and learning about a gang of female outlaws in the 1870s was a true pleasure. I just wasn’t completely convinced by the writing style or format, and with the story dragging in parts it wasn’t the easiest read. If you like slower paced stories and Western inspired historical fiction stories, you would probably enjoy Heresy though.

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Margaret Parker and Hattie LaCour never intended to be outlaws, but after they lose everything to a greedy neighbor their family is left without a penny. As women alone they only have a few choices, and they don’t see marriage or lying on their backs for money as an option. They opt for holding a gun. Together with a few others, they form the first and only all-female gang in the American West… And though the newspapers refuse to give them credit, their actions don’t go unnoticed. Will they finally have to face the consequences?

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The idea of a historical fiction read with a Western vibe about a gang of female outlaws sounded absolutely fascinating, so I’ve been looking forward to Heresy. While I still think the idea behind this story is fascinating, somehow I wasn’t able to enjoy the execution as much as I thought I would. Between the slower pace, lack of cohesion and parts that dragged, it took me a relatively long time to reach the final page. And while I rooted for Margaret and her gang, I also somehow just wanted to get it over with… And that’s never a good feeling. I do think this was mostly me though, so if you don’t mind a slower pace and an unusual format, you will probably enjoy this one.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #64: An Officer And A Spy (DNF) & Educated

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two books that didn’t manage to convince me. The first, An Officer And A Spy by Robbert Harris, sadly a DNF, something that rarely happens. And I had high hopes for Educated by Tara Westover after so many glowing reviews, but I guess it’s unpopular opinion time again.


Title: An Officer And A Spy
Author: Robert Harris

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: September 26th 2013
Publisher: Knopf
Finished reading: November 12th 2018 
Pages: 429
DNF at 30% (129 pages)

“It seems to be a necessary part of the criminal mentality: to survive captivity, one must somehow convince oneself one is not guilty.”


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An Officer And A Spy is one of my TBR jar picks and a title I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I had been looking forward to it despite the mixed reviews, mostly because the setting sounded fascinating. I still think the setting on its own is very interesting and the general plot has a lot of potential. A possibly wrongly convicted officer, espionage, the threat of a war and other struggles definitely sound like a good recipe for a successful historical fiction read. Sadly, the execution of those elements in An Officer And A Spy just didn’t work for me. I have picked it up only to put it down again after only a few pages multiple times over the last few weeks. I’ve tried and tried to at least make it to the end to see if things improved later on, but in the end I decided to make the difficult decision to just DNF it. I hardly ever give up on a book, so it definitely makes me sad to do so… But between the superslow pace, writing style, too many descriptions and a lack of interest in both the plot and the characters, I think this was the right choice for me. An Officer And A Spy just never grabbed me and I was never able to stay interested in the story… It’s very possible this story simply wasn’t for me even though historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. A lot of readers did love it, so definitely don’t give up on it if you are thinking about reading it.


Title: Educated
Author: Tara Westover

Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir
First published: February 20th 2018
Publisher: Random House
Finished reading: November 14th 2018
Pages: 352

“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occured to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”


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It’s unpopular opinion time again… You’ve been warned. 

I have been looking forward to finally read Educated for months now, especially after reading so many glowing reviews. This is probably one of the reasons my expectations might have been too high, that and the fact that this memoir has been compared to The Glass Castle. The fact is: I was quite underwhelmed by all of it. This was not what I was expecting, and I feel sad for feeling this way, but it is what it is… I’m going to try and explain the reasons why. First of all, I know that I’m a skeptical person, and I don’t tend to believe things easily just because they are written down on paper. I also had a hard time believing Tara Westover‘s story as it was written down. Please don’t tell me I’m implying she is a liar, which I’m not. I do believe that she wrote Educated based on her memories, memories that can have gotten distorted over time especially if her early life has been such a struggle. And I really had to take her story with a whole lot of grains of salt to be able to continue reading. Like I said, I’m not saying she hasn’t had a tough life, or that her family didn’t do what they did, just that I didn’t find her story as told credible. I mean, for a survivalist family living in the mountains they sure have a lot of luxuries including at some point even a phone, TV and internet (not talking about the enormous mansion they seem to be having in the end). Her family life definitely wasn’t standard, with them not even having a birth certificate for a long time, not going to school and working in the junkyard etc etc. But I would rather call it eccentric for the most part instead. Also, at one point she describes her father as bipolar, something that is never confirmed as the same disease prevents him getting a medical diagnose. Still, I would have liked to have seen this angle developed further rather than just throwing the ‘bipolar’ word out and leave it at that. Another thing that bothered me were the many many serious accidents, a few life threatening, and somehow they are all healed with essential oils and other herbal cures? I do believe in holistic treatments along with medical care, but this is just getting too hard to believe. (I’m not saying they weren’t injured, just that the injuries maybe weren’t as bad as they remembered?) Anyhow, this reckless behavior and indifference towards general safety of others and the ‘miracle’ recoveries were just too much for the skeptical person in me to handle. Another thing I found hard to believe? Where all the money came from. First we are told they are poor, then money starts popping up everywhere somehow. I can get why her childhood chapters are a bit vague about money, but how on earth did she get the money together to get into a prestigious college and university? I know there are grants, but they don’t cover it all and it is a LOT of money we are talking about and very prestigious and expensive education. I mean, she goes to the UK and studies abroad for a long time? And then travels back and forth between the US and the UK multiple times? The flights alone cost a fortune, and surely aren’t covered by grants. A real mystery to me. There is also the question how she got into college in the first place, especially since she was never really educated at home in the first place. Somehow being able to get a superhigh score just by teaching herself advanced math and everything else in the test just doesn’t come over as credible to the skeptical me. Maybe she had a higher level of education than stated in the memoir before she started preparing herself for the test? I don’t know, but as it is Educated wasn’t at all credible to me. I’m not saying her being able to get her degrees isn’t admirable, and I’m sure she’s had a hard life especially with her despicable brother Shawn (I’m not even going into the abuse and her brother here, or we could still be talking tomorrow), but sadly her memoir wasn’t able to convince me.


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