ARC REVIEW: The Fourth Courier – by Timothy Jay Smith

Title: The Fourth Courier
Author: Timothy Jay Smith
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: April 2nd 2019
Publisher: Arcade
Finished reading: March 13th 2019
Pages: 320

“It’s not death that we fear but being erased by history if we leave nothing behind.”

*** 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 always have a weak spot for a good and honest historical thriller with an international setting, so of course I was immediately intrigued by the blurb of The Fourth Courier. It sounded like a fantastic read and I found myself really looking forward to dive into this story set in post-war Poland. Sadly, I can’t say that I was impressed with what I found. Firstly I have to say that I might be the wrong target group here as the writing style seems to be more focused on a so-called ‘white male’ audience. No offense ment here, but I found The Fourth Courier to be sexist and a lot of negative stereotypes and cliches were used, not only regarding the character’s sexual preference but also regarding their race and nationality. Some readers might be fine with that, but personally it was a huge turn off for me. For the same reason I wasn’t able to connect to the writing style at all. Both writing and plot felt chaotic and all over the place… There are inconsistencies in the plot and there are so many different characters and storylines that it’s too confusing and difficult to keep track of the who, what, where and when. You literally get lost in the chaos, and not in a good way. The idea behind The Fourth Courier on its own is interesting and does have a lot of promise. Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed the execution of this idea though and I had a really hard time reaching the final page. It could have been a case of a story that’s simply not for me, but I won’t go so far as recommending it to anyone else either. Oh well, we can’t like them all, can we?

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Set in 1992 Warsaw, Poland, the FBI is called in when a series of murders takes a dangerous turn. The locals suspect that the victims may have been couriers smuggling nuclear material from Russia to Poland, which means they might have to deal with a future nuclear treat. FBI agent Jay Porter is sent to investigate and stop those behind the murders before things escalate further. Things are quickly spinning out of control though…

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I really wanted to enjoy The Fourth Courier and it initially had all the signs I would. But between the chaotic plot, too many characters, sexist comments and negative stereotypes and cliches I ended up really disappointed by this story. I confess I probably would have DNFed if it wouldn’t have been an ARC… And I can’t say that reaching the final page was all that satisfying, with the forementioned negative comments and plot getting on my nerves every single page. Like I said before, I might have been the wrong target group here, so I suggest deciding for yourself if you want to give this story a try or not.


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ARC REVIEW: The Bird King – by G. Willow Wilson @groveatlantic

Title: The Bird King
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: March 12th 2019
Publisher: Grove Press
Finished reading: February 28th 2019
Pages: 440

“Once a story leaves the hands of its author, it belongs to the reader. And the reader may see any number of things, conflicting things, contradictory things.”

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

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I confess: the cover put me under its spell immediately and I knew I wanted to read this story even before I read the blurb. The premise of the story only enhanced my feelings though, as I’ve always had a special connection with Spain and its history. The mention of Granada alone, a city I’ve been lucky enough to visit myself and admire with my own eyes, would have been enough to make me jump up and down out of joy. Add the promise of a historical fiction setting with a focus on the last sultan of Muslim Spain, a setting right in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition and a fantasy twist, and I knew The Bird King was going to be something special. My instincts turned out to be right: this was such a stunning and absolutely fantastic read! It becomes clear from the beginning that the power of The Bird King is in the prose, attention to historical details and the hint of magical realism in part of the elements. The lines between fiction and fantasy are blurred and balanced in such a way that will surely mesmerize you before you reach the final page. The attention to detail and many descriptions really make the story and its characters come alive. We get a glimpse inside the Alhambra and its daily life under the last sultan and all things culture related. We also get an idea what the Spanish Inquisition was prepared to do in that time, although that is not the main focus of this story. Like I said before, the fantasy elements almost have a magical realism feel about them, something that really worked for me in this story. Each character is unique, well developed and easy to like… You will find yourself rooting for Fatima and Hassan and crossing your fingers they will be able to escape and find the mythical island where the bird king lives. People have complained about the slow pace, and while I agree the pace is indeed rather slow, it also makes it easier to fully savour the prose and all those wonderful descriptions and details. It helped me absorb every single detail all the better and I personally enjoyed every single minute of my time with The Bird King.

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Fatima has been part of the royal court of the last sultan of Muslim Spain ever since she was born, now a concubine to the sultan himself. She has been provided with everything she could wish for except for one thing: her freedom. Her closest friend Hassan is the palace mapmaker with a fascinating secret… He can draw maps of places he has never seen before in his life and even bend the shape of reality. This extraordinary gift is what will endanger his life when the representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender. His gift is seen as sorcery and they demand Hassan to be handed over to the Spanish Inquisition… But Fatima cannot bear to part with her only true friend and will try anything for the two to escape their fate.

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Yes, the story of The Bird King is without doubt just as beautiful as that stunning cover. It’s a perfect mix of historical fiction elements, a magical realism feel and fantasy elements… With different cultures coming together through the journey of Fatima, Hassan and the people they meet along the way. The historical setting, details and descriptions are perfectly elaborated with a gorgeous and magical prose you will cannot help but fall in love with. The pace of this story is slow, but it will make it that much easier to fully savour every single chapter and detail of their journey. Fans of slower-paced historical fiction stories who don’t mind a little fantasy mixed in will most likely enjoy this fantastic story as much as I did.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Pumilio Child – by Judy McInerney #randomthingstour

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the The Pumilio Child Random Things Tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. The Pumilio Child has first been published last year and has been put in the spotlight during the blog tour which started on February 25th and will continue until March 6th. Please join me while I share my thoughts on The Pumilio Child

Title: The Pumilio Child
Author: Judy McInerney
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: September 20th 2018
Publisher: Unbound Digital
Finished reading: February 23rd 2019
Pages: 405

“It is nature. And the will of the Divine. That’s how life is. Cruel and unfair. We may question the injustice, but we both know we are powerless against it.”

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

Ya Ling’s cultured life of privilege in Beijing is cruelly cut short when she is abducted and shipped to the slave market in Venice. When Mantegna sees her chained to a post, his initial intention is to paint her exotic beauty, but he soon he desires her company for pleasures of a more private nature. Ya Ling has two ambitions, to ruin Mantegna, then to escape back to her family in China. However, Mantegna’s latest commission, two huge frescos for the ruling Gonzaga family, make him invincible.

Will Ya Ling survive? And can she succeed?

Give me the promise of a historical fiction story with a foreign setting and other cultures to explore and I’m sold without needing to know more. This is exactly what happened when I first heard about The Pumilio Child and its mix of Chinese and Italian culture. The setting on its own is fascinating, and I loved the little glimpses of 15th century Mongol/Han culture in Beijing and life in the same period in Italy. The writing is quite engaging and includes lots of descriptions of both places. I did find the timelapses in especially the part set in Italy to be quite random and without warning though; sometimes days, months or even years passed between one sentence and the other just like that. This made the story feel less coherent and disturbed the flow of the plot. The ending was a bit abrupt; especially if you consider the fact that a lot of the plot was quite slow and the story dragged in parts.

As for the characters: I’m not completely positive Ya Ling is that credible as a character. She seems overconfident and able to overcome enormous obstacles so far from home even after such a shelted childhood in a completely different country and culture… The way she acted and some of the things she did just didn’t manage to convince me. I loved the details about the healing and different plants as well as the details about the Asian culture though. On the other side we have Mantegna. I confess I don’t know anything about the real Mantegna, so I wasn’t offended by the fact that he is supposedly nothing like the character as described in The Pumilio Child. He is absolutely despicable in the story, but I guess every story needs a villain… I loved the many descriptions of the art though. Trigger warnings are in place for (child) abuse, rape, discrimination and violence among other things. Then again, the story is set back in the 15th century, so we are all aware of the fac tthat women (and especially slaves) are not treated the same way back then.

There were things I liked in this story, including the foreign culture and many references to the healing abilities of Ya Ling and her family. There is a lot to say about the plot as well, with the various surprises it has in store and twists you probably won’t see coming. The story didn’t seem to flow all that well though, mainly due to the sudden timelapses and jumping in time. When you see a characters with lots of details about daily life and a really slow pace, only for them to suddenly be days/months/years in the future in a completely different situation, this can become a bit confusing. Also, after such a slow-paced and character driven start, the final part of The Pumilio Child (starting with their final time at the court) felt a bit rushed and the ending was too abrupt for me.

That said, The Pumilio Child is by no means a bad read and historical fiction fans who like character driven stories with a foreign setting will have a great time discovering all about Ya Ling’s unfortunate life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Judy McInerney has lived and worked in London for most of her professional life. Living in the Middle East, she managed to get lost in the desert, and to live through a military coup. After teaching in Abu Dhabi and starting her own business in Turkey, she returned to London and completed a creative writing course at Goldsmiths. Writing for food and travel guides has enabled her to justify travelling and eating out far too often

As a frequent traveller to China over the last thirty years she has seen the country undergo massive seismic changes, – from the times of Mao jackets and vast shoals of bicycles meandering along every hutong, to the present day, where Beijing is bigger than Belgium and has six million cars. She still travels in China each year to keep in close touch with family there. She also has a longstanding love affair with Italy, particularly the Renaissance cities of the north. Mantua is an undiscovered gem, both magical and macabre.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pumilio-Child-Judy-McInerney/


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ARC REVIEW: What The Wind Knows – by Amy Harmon @AmazonPub @aharmon_author

Title: What The Wind Knows
Author: Amy Harmon
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: March 1st 2019
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: February 2nd 2019
Pages: 411

“I told you. You told me. Only the wind knows which truly comes first.”

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

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I think everyone knows by now I’m a huge fan of Amy Harmon‘s books and I’m always over the moon when I find out there is a new story coming out. The year 2019 has without doubt started on a high note with the upcoming release of What The Wind Knows. It is simply impressive how different and unique each new story is, and this newest addition is no exception. What The Wind Knows is one of my new favorites with a fascinating historical setting in 1920s Ireland, a time travel twist and a romantic and family story you cannot help but fall in love with. Each element has been created and developed to ultimately form a perfect balance together and they result in a story that will appeal to historical fiction and romance fans alike. The writing and plot development are sublime. The writing style will have you under its spell from the very first page and the beautiful prose is one of the reasons I already know What The Wind Knows will appear on my list of 2019 favorites. The plot itself is fascinating, well constructed and gives us a real insight what it would have been like living in 1920s Ireland. The descriptions of the setting and characters are detailed and help set the perfect atmosphere for this story… The time travel element is fascinating touch without it being a turn off for those who normally don’t enjoy science fiction. I personally loved how past and present mingled and overlapped, the lines blurring until ‘only the wind knows which truly comes first‘. The chapters alternated between journal entries written by Thomas and Anne’s POV set both in past and present. The chapters not only connect past events, but also show the influence of both characters on each other and their surroundings. The journal entries are simply fascinating and help put together the full image of both their lives. What The Wind Knows is wonderful romance story with a time travel twist set in a turbulent time of Ireland history. Beautifully crafted and simply splendid!

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Although Anne Gallagher has never actually been in Ireland, she grew up with her grandfather’s stories about the country and its culture. When he dies, his last wish is for her to spread his ashes in the country he was born. Anne travels to his childhood home, where something happens she never thought possible. She is pulled into another time, and the transition hasn’t gone smoothly… Injured and confused, Anne is found in the lake and put under the care of Dr Thomas Smith. Both the doctor and the young boy who lives at his house seem oddly familiar, and Anne is able to connect the dots when she is mistaken for the boy’s long-lost mother. But how will she be able to survive in a time not her own and convince the others she is someone she knows nothing about?

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I’m honestly not all that surprised by my reaction to What The Wind Knows, because I have loved every Amy Harmon book I have picked up so far (both Making Faces and The Smallest Part also receiving the highest rating possible). It doesn’t matter whether you prefer reading historical fiction or a romantic family drama, because What The Wind Knows manages to deliver both in a perfect balance. The time travel element gives this story a unique touch and is well incorporated into the story and Irish cultural references. The writing, the setting, the descriptions, the characters… This story is absolutely fantastic and I can highly highly recommend it.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #79 – Bright We Burn & Exquisite

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time two completely different genres but two books that were winners for me. The trilogy conclusion Bright We Burn by Kiersten White and the psychological thriller Exquisite by Sarah Stovell.


Title: Bright We Burn
(The Conqueror’s Saga #3)
Author: Kiersten White

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
First published: July 10th 2018
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Finished reading: January 22nd 2019
Pages: 416

“His conflicted past, confusing present, and unknown future were all harsher and more difficult to breathe through than the blistering air inside.”


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WARNING: don’t read if you haven’t read the first two books yet… There might be spoilers.

After reading and loving the first two books of this trilogy back in 2017, I’ve been waiting impatiently for the final book to come out. But somehow, even though it was one of my most anticipated releases, I never actually managed to pick it up last year… I’m definitely glad I finally did pick it up, because I think Bright We Burn is my new favorite of the series. The historical setting, the references to Vlad The Impaler, the worldbuilding, the descriptions, the writing, the characters… There is so much to love here and I have enjoyed every single minute I spent emerged in this world. True, Kiersten White knows how to play with your emotions and stamp on your heart, but only in the best possible way… Because the fact that the twists have an effect on you means you care for the main characters and what happens to them. I personally loved all three main characters not despite, but because of their differences and personal struggles. The character development is very well done in general!  It was interesting to see how things were going to end (because I honestly wasn’t sure which road the author was going to take), and it was without doubt an interesting journey. The ending seemed fitting for this trilogy… It’s hard to compare books since it’s been too long since I read the first two, but what I can definitely say is that The Conqueror’s Saga ends stronger than ever.


Title: Exquisite
Author: Sarah Stovell

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: May 15th 2017
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: January 24th 2019
Pages: 300

“The future isn’t written in stone because of your past. You can change it.”


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I’ve had this story on my TBR for almost two years and I’m still not sure why it took me this long to finally read it. It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited about Exquisite; I mean, who wouldn’t be after reading so many wonderful reviews? I guess it’s just one of those titles that slipped between the cracks of my enormous TBR mountain, but I managed to rescue it in the end. I’m kicking myself for waiting this long now, because this book was most definitely brilliant. Or like the title already suggests: exquisite. It’s the story about two vulnerable women with a terrible past, one a successful writer and one a budding talent. In a way their lives are so so different, but they are also more alike than they realize… It was fascinating to see how their lives collide and sets both on a path that will change their lives forever. I loved that in the beginning you are completely unaware of the type of story you are about to read, only learning about the full extension of it all when things are already spinning out of control. The plot development and execution of plot twists and suspense are both sublime. Even though neither Bo nor Alice are exactly likeable, I found myself on the edge of my seat as I kept turning pages to find out what would happen to them. Exquisite is an excellent psychological thriller that will give you all the feels and will most definitely manage to shock you before you reach the final page. Simply exquisite and absolutely worth the read if you enjoy the genre!


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ARC REVIEW: The Familiars – by Stacey Halls

Title: The Familiars
Author: Stacey Halls
Genre: Historical Fiction, Paranormal
First published: February 19th 2019
Publisher: MIRA
Finished reading: January 26th 2019 
Pages: 352

“Rumour could spread faster than disease, and could be just as destructive.”

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

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I’m a sucker for a good historical fiction story and combine that with a gorgeous cover and I’m sold easily. There was just something about The Familiars that caught my eye immediately and I have been looking forward to finally reading it. While this story started out promising enough with a 1612 setting close to the famous witch trials, somehow my initial excitement for this story soon petered out and sadly I have to admit it failed to blow me away. The Familiars is a slow paced and character driven story where the main focus is on Fleetwood Shuttleworth and her household. Neither the witch trails, witches nor the familiars the story is named after play a big role in this story and are mostly pushed into the background as we have to read all about shallow and quite annoying Fleetwood and the things that happen to her. I was quite disappointed by this lack of focus on the supernatural; not what I was expecting with this title. As for Fleetwood: I know women in the 17th century are treated in a different way and have to be meek, humble and obey their husbands or men in general, but having such a bland main character in a very much character driven story makes it hard to stay invested. I’m not sure all actions were all that credible and the whole love triangle situation deeply annoyed me. The Familiars focuses mostly on both the relationship between Fleetwood and her husband, her widwife Alice and the fact that her unborn child might just be the death of her. The paranormal aspect could have been used to spice up this story, but instead was not developed to its potential and fell flat for me. It’s not a bad read though and fans of romantic historical fiction will probably have a better time than me.

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Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth is pregnant again after suffering three miscarriages. Her husband Richard is desperate for an heir, but so desperate he hides a terrible secret from her? Fleetwood discovers a doctor’s letter with the prediction she will not survive another birth. Not sure how to handle this situation, she finds herself relieved to meet Alice, who promises her she will help Fleetwood deliver a healthy baby. Then Alice is accused of witchcraft and sent to prision, and all hope crumbles… Fleetwood will have to find a way to save Alice in order to save herself.

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What seems to be a historical paranormal fiction story about witches, turns out to be a mostly historical and romantic family drama with only a hint of the supernatural. This lack of a role of the witches, familiars and the witch trials was rather a disappointment for me and not something I expected when I picked up my copy of The Familiars. The fact that Fleetwood was rather dull and lacked a proper personality didn’t really help either, as the story evolved around her and it was hard to keep myself invested in a story when I couldn’t care about the main characters. Having cheating and a love triangle involved didn’t really help either… But if you enjoy character driven and more romantic and family focused historical fiction stories, you will probably end up enjoying it better than I did.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #78 – The Last Time I Lied & The Painted Veil

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a 2018 release I wasn’t able to get to last year and a classic I’ve been meaning to read for a while. The first, The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager, went better than I hoped and I ended up really enjoying it. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham sadly wasn’t really my cup of tea though.


Title: The Last Time I Lied
Author: Riley Sager

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: July 3rd 2018
Publisher: Dutton
Finished reading: January 19th 2019
Pages: 384

“Above all, I’m scared that if I keep digging, I might not like what I’ll find.”


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There has been a lot of hype around The Last Time I Lied, but after my experience with Final Girls I decided to stay away for a while before finally picking it up. I’m not sure if this tactic helped or if I found his second book to be simply better than his debut, but the fact is: no unpopular opinion review this time around. Oh yes, you can say I really enjoyed my time with The Last Time I Lied. (What’s with all those books with ‘lie’ in the title though?) The writing is strong and draws you right in; the descriptions of the art and surroundings are done in such a way that really makes them come alive. This story has a dual timeline, where we slowly learn more about what happened fifteen years ago, what is happenening at the camp right now and how the two relate… Using the unreliable narrator technique and a whole bunch of twists, secrets and lies, Riley Sager will be able to keep you guessing about what really happened all those years ago. And not only that, because things are happening in the present as well that make you wondering what is really going on and who is behind it all. The final twists were definitely a surprise! I’m not sure if Emma and the other characters are exactly likeable, but they feel well developed and the Lake Midnight setting is both eerie and fits the story. This feeling that something is off sets the right atmosphere for a story that will keep you engaged until you find out every last detail about that night the girls disappeared and how everything affects Emma and the others in the present. I can understand the love for The Last Time I Lied now!


Title: The Painted Veil
Author: W. Somerset Maugham

Genre: Classics, Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: April 1925
Publisher: Vintage
Finished reading: January 20th 2019
Pages: 280

“You know, my dear child, that one cannot find peace in work or in pleasure, in the world or in a convent, but only in one’s soul.”


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While I was browsing for something a little different to read, I stumbled upon my copy of The Painted Veil. I was looking forward to a historical fiction read and the promise of a foreign setting in the 1920s sounded great. Add the fact that reading it would mean crossing off my first classic of the year early, and I was fully convinced. What I didn’t expect is just how focused this story is on the romance, adultery and love triangle. This never goes well for me and I guess it’s part of the reason I’m guessing The Painted Veil simply wasn’t for me despite my love for historical fiction. I do have to say the setting was well developed and the many descriptions of especially the Meitan-Fu area were really detailed and made it come alive. The foreign culture is probably the most interesting aspect of this story, and it’s a shame there is not more focus on it. The Painted Veil is a character driven story with especially Kitty in the spotlight. You can guess that being unable to connect to her presented a big problem for me… Likewise, I can’t say I was charmed by the other characters either. I am very curious about the movie though, which I’ve heard lots of wonderful things about. But sadly the book didn’t manage to blow me away.


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