ARC REVIEW: Big Lies In A Small Town – by Diane Chamberlain

Title: Big Lies In A Small Town
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
First published: January 14th 2020
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: January 5th 2020
Pages: 400

“I stared at the signature a while longer, wondering how a life that had started with so much promise could now be shrouded in such mystery.”

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

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I’ve heard so many great things about Diane Chamberlain‘s stories over the years and I’m still not sure why it took me this long to finally pick up one of her titles. I must have more than one title waiting on my kindle, but somehow other books always got in the way… That’s why I thought having an ARC of her newest title, and therefore a deadline, would be the perfect little push I needed to finally remedy this. The fact that the blurb of Big Lies In A Small Town sounds absolutely fascinating definitely helped that decision… Now that I’ve had the chance to finally try her work, I will definitely come back for more soon!

What made Big Lies In A Small Town so successful for me? There were quite a few factors, but let’s start with the basics of the plot. The story is told with the help of a dual timeline and two POVs, something that can go either way for me as it is very hard to get the balance between past and present just right. I think Diane Chamberlain hit the nail on the head with this story though. I felt both Morgan in the present and Anna in the past were equally important, equally well developed and equally crucial to the plot. The dual timeline structure turned this story into a complex, rich and very much satisfying historical fiction read… The POV switches only adding to the suspense and the mystery around Anna and the mural instead of distracting you.

There are a lot of different elements in play in both past and present POVs. We have Morgan with elements including DUI, prison, alcoholism, feelings of guilt, art restoration work, family and even romance. Then we have Anna with elements including racism and the South, gender discrimination, abuse, rape, family, mental health, crime and art of course. That seems to be a lot to have on just one plate, but Diane Chamberlain somehow makes it work and the result is an abundant and lavish story that also has more than one hidden deeper meaning.

It was fascinating to learn that Big Lies In A Small Town was actually based on real events and that the small town Edenton, North Carolina, does actually exist… And so did Anna Dale. It shows that a lot of research went into making this story feel authentic, and the details and descriptions really took the story to the next level. Racism and related problems in the 1940 South play a very important role in this story, and I thought it was described realistically. Likewise, we have Morgan in the present with a different set of problems, which are likewise realistically described. This story proves just how important is to get the research right before starting a story based on true events!

As for the characters… While Morgan and Anna weren’t my favorite characters of their corresponding POVs, I can’t deny that their development in general is very well done and they both intrigued me. Favorites would probably be Oliver and Jesse, but each character put his or her own stamp on the story and they all played a role in representing the many different elements of Big Lies In A Small Town. The pace of this story might be a tad slow, as there are a lot of descriptions and their is a lot of focus on the characters as a whole. But there is also plenty of suspense, and the mystery around Anna and the strange elements on the mural will keep you on your toes as you try to discover the truth.

Big Lies In A Small Town is a historical fiction read that isn’t afraid to go big and throw a complex and wide-ranging plot with a deeper meaning at you; well researched and well developed, the result is an abundant story following two flawed but absolutely fascinating characters. Fans of the genre who don’t mind a slower pace will most likely devour this one!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #139 – The Shadow Cabinet & Next Year In Havana

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two books I read for the Magical Readathon Winter 2019 challenge… The first, The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, but the second, Next Year In Havana by Chanel Cleeton, turned out to be absolutely fantastic.


Title: The Shadow Cabinet
(Shades Of London #3)
Author: Maureen Johnson

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal 
First published: February 5th 2015
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Finished reading: December 15th 2019
Pages: 385

“We’re both broken right now. Something’s happened to us. But we can do this. We have to.”


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Say hello to another unpopular opinion ramble! I really enjoyed the first book of the Shades Of London series when I read it back in 2016… And even though I wasn’t as impressed by the sequel when I finally read it a few months back, when I discovered I had to read an urban fantasy for the Magical Readathon Winter 2019 challenge my thoughts went to this series almost immediately. I decided to give Rory another shot, and see if the third book would make me fall in love with the series again… Sadly, it wasn’t ment to be and The Shadow Cabinet turned out to be the weakest link of this series yet. I honestly start to believe Shades Of London would have worked better as a stand-alone, going out with a bang after the Jack The Ripper inspired case and just leave it at that… The plot in The Shadow Cabinet seems even more jumbled and farfetched than the sequel, and with many eyebrow raising moments and the characters being possibly even more annoying (Rory, I’m looking at you!) I’m still not sure why I even kept reading. I definitely didn’t enjoy reading about the direction this story seems to be taking, and to be honest I don’t really mind that there still isn’t any news about a possible book four? It’s truly a shame I ended up having this reaction after such a positive first experience with this series, but it is what it is I guess.


Title: Next Year In Havana
Author: Chanel Cleeton

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: February 6th 2018
Publisher: Berkley
Finished reading: December 18th 2019
Pages: 394

“You never know what’s to come. That’s the beauty of life. If everything happened the way we wished, the way we planned, we’d miss out on the best parts, the unexpected pleasures.”


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I have to say I’m still kicking myself for not picking up Next Year In Havana sooner… I’ve been wanting to read it ever since I first heard about it last year, and despite the glowing reviews it took me way longer than expected to actually do so. Say hello to another top read of 2019, just in time before the year is over! Oh yes, I loved every single minute of this story and it will without doubt stay with me for a long time… And I also can’t wait to read When We Left Cuba soon and learn more about Beatriz. First things first though, and let’s talk Next Year In Havana. I do love my historical fiction, and the 1958 Cuban setting was both absolutely fascinating, well researched and excellently described. Chanel Cleeton was able to truly make the setting come alive, using detailed descriptions to paint the perfect portrait of a complicated time in Cuban history. This is a story that will not only entertain, but also teaches you about both past and present. Facts are mixed with fiction in a seamless way, and the two complement each other flawlessly.

The story is told using a dual timeline and two different POVs: Elisa in 1958 and her granddaughter Marisol in 2017. Dual timelines can go both ways for me, as it is extremely hard to balance the two correctly and one normally tends to fall short for me. But not in this case. I absolutely loved both present and past chapters and both Elisa and Marisol are the perfect characters to help us understand more about Cuban life and its history. The characters are another big reason I can call this story a new favorite, and I was able to warm up to them almost instantly. Elisa and her sisters, Ana, Pablo, Marisol, Luis… There are so many characters I loved in this story, and they all play their role in teaching us more about Cuba as well. The plot itself is complex, multilayered and shows a thorough research into Cuban history as well as a wonderful romance story to counter the darker elements in Next Year In Havana. This story is an absolute must-read for historical fiction fans!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #136: The Fountains Of Silence & Recursion

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two Goodreads Choice Awards finalists both written by authors I’ve loved books of in the past… And this time around they turned out to be winners as well. The Fountains Of Silence is hands down my new favorite Ruta Sepetys and one of my top reads this year as well. Recursion by Blake Crouch also turned out to be a fascinating read.


Title: The Fountains Of Silence
Author: Ruta Sepetys

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
First published: October 1st 2019
Publisher: Philomel Books
Finished reading: November 27th 2019
Pages: 512

“What is the cost of silence? If she remains quiet about her suspicions, is she granting acceptance of what is happening?”


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I’ve been a fan of Ruta Sepetys‘ work ever since my first experience with her books, so I knew I HAD to read The Fountains Of Silence even before I discovered it was actually set in Spain during General Franco’s dictatorship. I’ve always had a special interest in Spain and its history, and the fact that this story is mostly set in a city I’ve had the pleasure to live in and love during my Erasmus student exchange made my expectations grow to a record hight. Even so, The Fountains Of Silence managed to completely blow me away and I was left without words to describe my feelings about this story as well as with a new all time favorite to add to my list. It shows that so much research has gone into this story and I bow to the author for her detailed descriptions and thorough information about what happened in that difficult time period in Spain. It’s true that there are quite a few different characters and POVs to deal with, but I personally didn’t mind as it only added to the richness to the plot. Each different character helps giving us some insight in different parts of life in Madrid under Franco’s dictatorship. These same characters will win over your heart almost instantly and your heart will go out for them as their story slowly evolves over time. Daniel and Ana are the stars of this story of course, but there are so many other characters I found myself rooting for and there were without doubt a quite a few heartbreaking moments. Make sure to keep your tissues closeby just to be safe! I loved The Fountains Of Silence from the very first page until the very last… If you are a historical fiction fan who appreciates a complex and rich plot with fantastic descriptions and brilliant character development, you are missing out if you haven’t tried this story yet.


Title: Recursion
Author: Blake Crouch

Genre: Science Fiction, Time Travel
First published: June 11th 2019
Publisher: Crown
Finished reading: November 29th 2019
Pages: 336

“We think we’re perceiving the world directly and immediately, but everything we experience is this carefully edited, tape-delayed reconstruction.”


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Dark Matter is on my list of all time favorites, so I’ve been curious about Recursion  ever since I first heard about it. The premise of this story sounds absolutely compelling, and now I’ve had the chance to read this story I can say that it definitely lived up to expectations. It’s true that I don’t read a lot of sci-fi as it’s not really my thing, but I can now officially say that I’m making an exception for Blake Crouch. The idea of time, memories, the memory chair and time travel in Recursion is absolutely fascinating. Using a dual POV, switching between main characters Barry and Helena, we slowly learn more about  Helena’s invention and how her work will change the world forever… I’m keeping this short as I want to avoid any spoilers, but I really liked how the plot was constructed and how the idea of memories and time being fluid plays such a key role in the story. Recursion introduces some fascinating concepts that will definitely make an impact on you. And even if you are not really a sci-fi fan, I can still recommend trying Recursion if you enjoy complex, thrilling and captivating stories.


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ARC REVIEW: The Secret Messenger – by Mandy Robotham

Title: The Secret Messenger
Author: Mandy Robotham
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: December 12th 2019
Publisher: Avon
Finished reading: December 12th 2019 
Pages: 400

“Whether or not they are dead and gone, history defines us. It makes us what we are.”

*** 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 was already swamped with pending ARCs when I received an invitation to read The Secret Messenger, but as I have a (probably already well known) weak spot for WWII historical fiction I just couldn’t resist adding this title to my TBR anyway. Especially since my reading experience with her debut A Woman Of War last year turned out to be a positive one, and I do love a lesser known WWII setting… Because let’s face it: Italy isn’t exactly the star of the show in most WWII historical fiction stories, and I don’t think I’ve read a WWII story before set in Venice. Which was probably one of the key reasons I was especially excited to pick up my copy of The Secret Messenger. Now I’ve had the chance to read The Secret Messenger, I’m not sure what to do with my thoughts. I was fully expecting to love this story, and there were definitely certain elements that managed to provoke that love, but there were also other elements that didn’t work all that well for me. In short: surprisingly enough, I ended up having mixed feelings about The Secret Messenger. I’ll try to explain why below…

First of all I have to say that the setting in Venice is without doubt the true star of this book. The descriptions are detailed, thorough and really made the magic of the city come alive for me… Both in the present and past. Sadly I haven’t been able to visit the city myself just yet, but Mandy Robotham made it feel as if you were right there along with the main characters. Venice is a truly magical city and I loved learning more about its history through the characters of this story. The Secret Messenger uses a dual timeline with two different POVs: Stella in 1943-1944 Venice and Luisa in 2017 UK and later Venice as well. Dual timelines are always tricky to get right, and sadly I don’t think this technique worked all that well in this case. I felt the balance of the two different timelines was off; there was a whole lot more of Stella and Luisa’s chapters fell mostly flat for me until those final chapters set in Venice. To be honest, I think The Secret Messenger would have been a stronger story if it would have been just Stella’s POV, as she is clearly the star of this story and already takes up so much space in the plot to begin with. Luisa’s chapters only distracted from the ones set in the past, and to be honest I never really liked her character all that much either.

I also have to say that the pace was considerably slow during most of the story, only picking up towards the ending as things are getting more intense especially in Stella’s chapters. This slow pace made it harder to stay invested in the story and it took me a lot longer than usual to finally reach that final page… And it mostly thanks to Stella, the Venice setting and its fantastic descriptions and history that I decided to keep on reading. The whole story of the war in Venice and how the resistance tried to do their thing was fascinating, and I truly wish the sole focus would have been on Stella and her story. Luisa didn’t really add much to the plot for me other than slowing down the pace considerably and I don’t think her character was fleshed out enough to be a true asset to the story.

In short, there were things I loved in The Secret Messenger, including the WWII setting in Venice, its history and the story of the resistance and Stella’s story as a whole. There were also things that didn’t work for me, incluiding the slow pace during most of the story, the dual timeline and Luisa’s POV in general. As a result, I ended up having mixed thoughts about The Secret Messenger despite the fact that this story should have been a perfect fit, but fans of the genre should definitely give it a go as most people seem to react a lot better to the elements that didn’t work for me personally. I guess it was unpopular opinion time once again?


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Pursuit Of William Abbey – by Claire North #blogtour @Tr4cyF3nt0n @OrbitBooks

Hello and welcome to my stop of the The Pursuit Of William Abbey blog tour! A huge thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I’ve been meaning to try Claire North‘s books for ages now and there was just no way on earth I was going to be able to resist that blurb. Today I’m interrupting my blogging break to talk about this most intriguing story… Please join me while I share my thoughts!

Title: The Pursuit Of William Abbey
Author: Claire North
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
First published: November 12th 2019
Publisher: Orbit Books
Finished reading: November 13th 2019
Pages: 432

“And whatever you love most is the thing the shadow kills. That is the first lesson of the curse that was laid upon me.”

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

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As soon as I started reading the blurb, The Pursuit Of William Abbey started ticking all the right boxes for me. A historical and international setting: check. A shocking event that changes the life of the main character forever: check. A curse and everything it entails: check. The promise of a lot of movement: check. That feeling of impending doom: check. Oh yes, the blurb alone already fully convinced me I was going to be in for a VERY interesting ride. And now I’ve had the chance to read The Pursuit Of William Abbey, I can state that this story has one of the most compelling and captivating premises I’ve had the chance to encounter this year.

There are quite a few different elements I loved in The Pursuit Of William Abbey. I’m struggling a bit to decide where to start, but I guess we’ll keep it simple and return to the core of this story. And there is just no way to describe the plot without calling the curse the key stone on which the rest of the story is build. I don’t want to give away too much, but as you might have guessed from reading the blurb, the main character William Abbey is cursed in the beginning of this story and his life changes forever after that. In the rest of the story, this curse is omnipresent and will determine every movement and even thought of William Abbey and those close to him. The curse gives The Pursuit Of William Abbey a touch of the mystical and what I personally would call magical realism. Why? This story isn’t full blown fantasy; instead it’s rather a work of literary fiction with a historical setting and a blurred line between the surreal and reality. This mix of genres is most fascinating and while it might not be for everyone, (historical) fiction fans will find it probably very easy to warm up to this story.

Another thing that stands out in The Pursuit Of William Abbey is both the international setting and diversity of different countries, local customs and politics incorporated into the plot. The nature of the curse alone forces William Abbey to travel a lot, and as the story develops he will have more than one reason to travel the globe. The many many references to different countries, local events and culture definitely made my travel heart happy and gives this story a complex, multifaceted and global feel. From Europe to Asia to Africa to the US; William Abbey never stops and as a consequence we never stop either.

The structure of the plot is also very intriguing. Basically, we start at the end, set in 1917, and then slowly learn more about the events in 1884 and the years after as William Abbey narrates his story through flashbacks. This way, his motivation for his actions in 1917 France are not clear for a long time, and this technique definitely helps you stay invested as you try to find all the answers. There are also quite a few characters in play, and this might be a bit of a juggle in the beginning, but my advice would be to just take your time with this story… This won’t be too difficult, as the pace in The Pursuit Of William Abbey is surprisingly slow in general despite the many different settings, events and quite some action. Part of this slower pace can be explained through the detailed descriptions that help this story come alive… If you are a fan of elaborate and thorough descriptions, you will definitely be in for a treat.

The slower pace in The Pursuit Of William Abbey can also be explained through the extensive character development, and the fact that this book can be considered a mainly character driven story. While the different international settings and events of course play a role, I felt the main focus was on William Abbey, the other key characters and their development. A lot of thought was put in both their descriptions and growth over time. It was also fascinating to see the different attitudes towards and reactions to the curse. The characters helped build the bridge that connects the surreal with the more worldly elements… And they are definitely the reason why this mix of different genres works so well.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot itself and the things that happen to William Abbey to avoid spoiling the fun of discovering it all on your own… But I can say this about The Pursuit Of William Abbey in general: if you are a fan of slower character driven (historical) fiction, don’t mind a hint of magical realism and love a multilayered international plot, you should definitely add this fascinating story to your wishlist.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Claire North is the pen name for the Carnegie-nominated Catherine Webb, who also writes under the name Kate Griffin. Her latest book, 84K has been shortlisted for the Brave New Words and Philip K. Dick Awards. Catherine currently works as a live music lighting designer, teaches women’s self-defense, and is a fan of big cities, long walks, Thai food and graffiti-spotting. She lives in London.


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DNF ARC REVIEW: The Noble Path – by Peter May

Title: The Noble Path
Author: Peter May
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
First published: May 31st 1992
Publisher: Quercus Books
Finished reading: October 27th 2019
Pages: 544
DNF at 35% (190 pages)

“Nothing was more difficult in life than coming to terms with your own limitations.”

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

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I have been meaning to try Peter May‘s books for a long time now… In fact, I have a physical copy of Entry Island waiting on my shelves, but somehow I haven’t been able to find time to read it yet. I was stoked when I received the email that my request for The Noble Path was approved a few months back, and after multiple fellow bloggers recommending his work, I fully expected to enjoy my time with this story. And I most definitely never would have guessed I would end up DNFing it instead!

First of all I have to say that this is most likely a case of ‘it’s not you, it’s me‘, especially since it has such a high rating on Goodreads and overall positive reviews. I’ve tried really hard to warm up to the story, giving it a second, third and fourth chance and even reading other books in between to see if a change of scenery would help me finally connect to The Noble Path afterwards. But no such luck, and after days of struggling and seeing myself starting to skimread just to try and turn those pages, I knew it was time to just throw in the towel and let this story be. I hardly ever DNF a story and I still feel mighty guilty about this, but it has become painfully clear that The Noble Path just isn’t the right story for me and I might just not have been the right target group to begin with.

I still think that the historical background and setting of The Noble Path is absolutely fascinating. 1978 is a turbulent, dark and bloody time for Cambodia, with the Khmer Rouge reign and devastating genocide. A very disturbing and heartbreaking backdrop for this story, and I do believe the author does a great job with his descriptions of both the Cambodian and Thai setting and the events related to that era in history. It shows a lot of work has gone into research of this period, and I can really appreciate that. That said, I’m just not sure if I’m the right target group for this story. The Noble Path has that Rambo/Die Hard typical action movie vibe with an overload of action, violence and bloody scenes; especially once Elliott is in Asia it almost feels like you reading about a  Rambo II spin-off… Not necessarily a bad thing, but not exactly my cup of tea and it made me struggle to connect to the story.

The Noble Path has quite a few different POVs, and it can be a challenge (especially in the beginning) juggling them as well as trying to connect them to get a full picture of what is going on. I wasn’t really a fan of how the different characters were described, and I once again felt like the wrong target group as the story seemed written for the typical white male audience with its sometimes sexist comments, excessive violence and graphic scenes. I by no means have a weak stomach and don’t mind things getting bloody,dark and violent, but the tone in The Noble Path really put me off. Once again, this is a personal reaction and I’m by no means saying this is a bad read, but it did prevent me from actually reaching that final page. I’m really sad my first encounter with Peter May‘s work ended on this negative note, but I still have hope for his other books… Although I confess that I’m going to take a little break for now.


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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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