ARC REVIEW: The Year Of The Snake – by M.J. Trow #buddyread

Title: The Year Of The Snake
Author: M.J. Trow & Maryanne Coleman
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
First published: July 1st 2018
Publisher: Endeavour Media
Finished reading: June 24th 2018
Pages: 313

“There comes a time when even the luckiest of charms runs out.”

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

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!! Happy Publication Day !!

This was actually a buddy read with the wonderful Nicki @ Secret Library Book Blog… I’m so happy she asked me to read this title together, because I’m not sure how I would have made it to the end otherwise. Oh yes, let’s just say my encounter with this story wasn’t an entirely positive one. I was initially drawn to both the cover of The Year Of The Snake and the promise of a story set in ancient Rome. I was already familiar with the general details around Emperor Nero and his reputation, and I had high hopes for this story connected to him. Sadly, The Year Of The Snake turned out to be quite a disappointment for me, and I found especially the first half of the story to be quite weak. The promise of a good story is there, with a murder mystery, a cult and the ruthless Emperor, but the execution for me was lacking. Why? The first thing that stood out for me were the formatting problems, which made it harder to read the story. I can forgive those since it’s an ARC and not a final version, but still. I wasn’t a fan of the writing style and tone in general (including crude language) and the many many POV switches every other page made it a lot harder to keep track of the story and the different characters. In fact, I found the plot itself quite weak and chaotic and would have preferred a more ordered storyline with a lot less switches and more time to get used to each character. This would have made the story and plot a lot stronger for me. It also would have helped connecting to the characters in a more solid way, which as it is I wasn’t really able to do. To be honest, I found most characters to be rather flat and lacking a more detailed description… But. I do have to say things improved considerably in the second half of the story, after the investigation of Nerva’s death intensifies and we see just what Nero and his mother are actually made of. This higher level of suspense and intrigue being incorporated into the plot saved the story for me, and the final twist was quite a good one as well. All in all, whiile the story behind The Year Of The Snake sounds really promising, the execution needs a lot of editing for me to really work.

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When Senator Gaius Lucius Nerva dies a few days after he had taken ill at a dinner party, the recently freed slave Calidus is the only one to suspect it wasn’t a natural death. And as he organizes the funeral ceremonies, he becomes more and more convinced that his former master was murdered. Calidus starts an investigation, which is harder than it seems with his status as a freedman. And he sure is stepping on a lot of important toes to get to the truth…

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I was really looking forward to this one since I can’t seem to find that much historical fiction reads with an ancient Rome setting, but sadly this one didn’t hit the mark for me. While the general idea behind The Year Of The Snake sounds promising and has a lot of potential, I ended up struggling considerably with the story itself. Thanks again Nicki for making this ride more bearable! The story wasn’t all bad and has it’s positive points, especially in the second half when things become more intense. But between the chaotic feel, lack of proper plot, too many POV switches, crude language and lack of connection to both the writing style AND characters, it definitely wasn’t an easy read for me.


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ARC REVIEW: The Unbinding Of Mary Reade – by Miriam McNamara

Title: The Unbinding Of Mary Reade
Author: Miriam McNamara
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: June 19th 2018
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Finished reading: June 11th 2018
Pages: 336

“All that water, bits of land – so many places she could be in this new world. But for all of Anne’s geography lessons, Mary was still hopeless at figuring out where exactly she might fit in it.”

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

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I love a good pirate story and the blurb of The Unbinding Of Mary Reade sounds just as fantastic as the gorgeous cover, so I’ve been really excited to finally read this one. And with its f/f romance, I thought it would be a perfect story to read during pride month as well. Alas it seems like it wasn’t ment to be. I didn’t check the reviews before starting this one, or at least I would have been warned… Because The Unbinding Of Mary Reade unfortunately turned out to be quite a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the idea behind this book, the possibilities of the setting, the f/f romance, the characters… But the execution was just completely off for me. I will try to explain why this book didn’t work for me below. First of all, I struggled with the writing style, which felt halted with dialogues that didn’t seem natural. The use of ‘bad grammar’ in the dialogues only distracted (aka annoyed) me instead of adding the right historical atmosphere. Also, the constant switching back and forth in time was really distracting and made it hard to stay focused on the main plot. Especially since the chapters set in London basically didn’t add anything substantial to the story and were extremely dull. In fact, I found the story in general quite boring, and how is that possible for a story with gay pirates in it?? For a book about pirates, there were almost no action scenes or even scenes on a boat included in the plot. And that was quite a disappointment, since there was basically nothing of note to fill this huge hole of lack of action. Ok, characters. The characters in general lacked development and were rather bland. Anne almost felt like a caricature and while Mary had all the potential of being a fascinating character, she mostly fell flat for me and I wasn’t able to believe either of their feelings or actions. This lack of credibility extends to the other characters as well. Also, trigger warnings are in place for homophobia, transphobia, (sexual) abuse and sexism in general. I get that we are talking about an 18th century setting, but this was just too much. In short, while I still love the idea behind this story, the execution was rather poorly and The Unbinding Of Mary Reade turned out to be a rather chaoticly written, dull and not credible love story. Did I expect this reaction? No, but unfortunately I can’t change the way I feel about this one.

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When Mary was really young, her mother saw no other way to keep their mouths fed than to disguise her little girl as a boy and pass her off as her dead child Mark. Mark has a wealthy granny that will take care of her only grandchild and heir… So there is no place for a girl in Mary’s world, and she has to be Mark at all time to not see her life fall apart. This gets harder as the years go on and she falls in love with her childhood friend Nat. And when she is discovered, she flees London with Nat and boards a Caribbean merchant ship as a sailor. But what will the future bring?

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I keep repeating: I still love the idea behind this story and I truly wish I could have enjoyed The Unbinding Of Mary Reade better. Unfortunately, I found the execution lacking in various ways, and I had a hard time finishing this one. Between the chaotic writing style that didn’t flow, a rather dull plot, bland characters, lack of action and a not so credible display of emotions, I can’t say I was impressed. Where were the pirates, were was the action? Why did we have to read so much about Mary’s past in London, if her life on the Caribbean Sea is what really counts for this story? Why wasn’t there more focus on Mary and Anne? Why the excessive amount of sexism, homophobia, transphobia and sexual assault? The tone for this supposedly YA rated story was completely off, especially since Mary felt younger than the age group during most of the story. All in all not the story I was hoping for.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #27: The Orphan’s Tale & Murder On The Orient Express

Another day and another round of Yvo’s Shorties! Bringing you more shortie reviews of books I read during my hiatus. The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff has been on my list for a long time, and turned out to be just as good as I thought it would be. And I have been meaning to read more of Agatha Christie‘s work for a long time, so accidently watching the Murder On The Orient Express movie turned out to be the perfect excuse to do so.


Title: The Orphan’s Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff

Genre: Historical Fiction, War
First published: February 21st 2017
Publisher: Mira Books
Finished reading: May 18th 2018
Pages: 353

“Sometimes our forever life does not last as long as we think.”


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After a very difficult but extraordinary visit to the Auschwitz camps, I wanted to read another historical fiction story set during WWII to commemorate. I was browsing my kindle and my eyes fell on The Orphan’s Tale, a title I have been meaning to pick up for a long time, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do so. While not exactly the story set in one of the camps I was looking for, this story shows the struggle and fear of the Jews trying to hide their true identity. The Orphan’s Tale has a wide variety of different characters and this diversity was one of the reasons this story worked. The circus setting with all its descriptions and opportunities for plot twists and new angles definitely was another key element. The writing is solid and makes it really easy to fully emerge yourself and keep reading to find out what will happen to the main characters. There comes the only minor flaw I experienced myself though: I didn’t agree with every decision of the characters and somehow it wasn’t as easy to get a proper feeling of some of them. This feeling of slight uneasiness and frustration made me lower the rating slightly, but overall The Orphan’s Tale is without doubt among the better WWII historical fiction stories I’ve read to this date.


Title: Murder On The Orient Express
(Hercule Poirot #10)
Author: Agatha Christie

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Classics
First published: 1926
Publisher: William Morrow
Finished reading: May 21st 2018
Pages: 256

“I know human nature, my friend, and I tell you that, suddenly confronted with the possibility of being tried for murder, the most innocent person will lose their head and do the most absurd things.”


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I’ve been meaning to pick up another Agatha Christie book ever since I finished And Then There Were None back in 2015, but somehow I never did. So I guess accidently watching the Murder On The Orient Express was a blessing in disguise, because since I normally never watch the movie before reading the book, of course I had to immediately remedy that. I had high hopes for the book, and even though I haven’t read the previous Hercule Poirot books yet, I was able to enjoy book number ten anyway. Because Agatha Christie writes in a way that will draw your attention from the start, and she gives just enough background of the main characters to be able to form an idea of their past without the previous books. I still want to read the other nine titles before this one as well of course, and the copies are on my list. But the fact is that Murder On The Orient Express can easily be read as a stand-alone as well and what a good story at that. From the main character to the development of the other characters, the mystery, the way Hercule Poirot conducts his investigation… There is just something about it that will fascinate you completely and any mystery/thriller fan will find themselves flying through it. I personally liked both movie and book equally, although I still wish I would have read the book first, because I had the actors stuck in my head and the descriptions of the characters in the book don’t really match. Thankfully the script itself follows the original plot closely; one of the reasons the adaptation was so successful to me. Murder On The Orient Express has shown me I really need to get copies of more of Agatha Christie‘s books soon, because I have truly been missing out by not reading them.


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ARC REVIEW: Sky In The Deep – by Adrienne Young @StMartinsPress

Title: Sky In The Deep
Author: Adrienne Young
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
First published: April 24th 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: April 19th 2018
Pages: 352

“You’ll find your own end before the snow melts because your pride and your anger are more importan to you than your own survival.”

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

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I admit I was sold as soon as I saw the cover and the mention of vikings. And maybe the fact that Sky In The Deep is called one of the most anticipated YA fantasy releases this year, although that also made me a bit afraid it won’t live up to the hype. But thankfully Sky In The Deep is actually worth all the praise it has been receiving. What a wonderful and well written debut! Although this story has no exact time setting and appears to be more fantasy than historical fiction, with the viking culture playing such a central role it is easy to deduct this story was set long ago (probably 800s?). Would I have liked a more detailed worldbuilding with more descriptions and facts? Yes, but I can also understand why the exact details have been kept vague, focusing instead on the characters and clan feud plot. I would have liked to have a glossary for the foreign words and phrases used, although most are easy to interpret from the context. These little things aside, I absolutely loved this story. The main character is the typical strong female lead, but Eelyn really came alive in the descriptions and dialogue and was easy to connect to. The different clans and the old feud between the two had me completely hooked, as well as for the plot twists that changed their future forever. Definitely the best viking-inspired story I’ve read to this date! I admit I could have done without the romance, but at least we were spared the dreaded love triangle. And I’m sure romance fans will love that little twist (although I saw it coming quite early on). In short, while not perfect, this debut still managed to completely blow me away and Eelyn’s story will stay with me for a long time. Vikings to the win!

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Seventeen-year-old Eelyn was raised to be a warrior and fights alongside her Aska clansmen against the Riki clan. The two have been enemies for a long time, fighting each other every five years in a ruthless battle. This year is no different and Eelyn is fighting on the battlefield when something strange happens: she sees her brother Iri, the same brother who she watched die five years ago. Following his ghost, she ends up in a very dangerous situation herself…One that will be both hard to accept and find a way out of.

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Despite a few minor details that made me lower the rating slightly, there is no doubt I absolutely loved this book. I have a weak spot for viking stories and Sky In The Deep has to be the best viking-inspired fantasy story I’ve read to this date. The writing is very engaging and made it really easy to like this story. The plot and clan feud turning into something else was an interesting one and while there were slow parts, you will get plently of viking fighting action as well. A little advice: don’t read the full blurb before you start reading it! This one is more fun going in completely blind. YA fantasy fans who like their stories having a dose of romance, well developed characters and a couple of pretty intense fighting scenes will love Sky In The Deep. A very powerful debut!


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ARC REVIEW: The Air Raid Killer – by Frank Goldammer

Title: The Air Raid Killer
(Max Heller, Dresden Detective #1)
Author: Frank Goldammer
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: September 23rd 2016
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Finished reading: April 12th 2018
Pages: 292
(Originally written in German: ‘Der Angstmann’)

“How does anyone really know what someone’s capable of?”

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

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I stumbled upon this title during my hunt for more international authors/translations and I was immediately intrigued both by the cover and the blurb. I admit I had forgotten about the exact content of the story when I started reading it and went in blind thinking it was going to be a historical fiction read. And while there is no doubt that The Air Raid Killer is a proper historical fiction read set in Dresden, Germany during the final part of WWII, I was pleasantly surprised to find out especially the first part reads more like a historical detective thriller. Two of my favorite genres combined? Definitely a bonus! The Air Raid Killer starts out strong and will be able to draw you in straight away. Historical descriptions are mixed with a most brutal murder scene that will definitely chill you to the bone. The main character of this German detective series Max Heller has the almost impossible task to try and find out what happened when nobody seems to care about one more body in a war with so many casualties. But detective Max Heller is determined to find out even when he meets resistance everywhere. Both the actual murders and the general situation in Dresden are not suited for the weak-hearted; combined they form a very explosive and sometimes shocking plot. The serial killer on the loose is without doubt brutal, and combined with the air raid attacks and the chaos during the end of the war you have a recipe for a very disturbing read. While the first part focuses on the thriller aspect of the plot, the second half of the story is more historical fiction focused. I think I would have preferred to have it just one way or the other and not both, although I do understand why the author made the choice to swap and include more historical details in the second half. The final reveals of the murder case do feel a bit rushed though, and I’m also wondering up to what point the methods of investigation used were actually available in that time period. Still, The Air Raid Killer was without doubt a very good historical thriller set during the end of WWII, and both detective thriller and historical fiction fans will be able to enjoy this one.

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In the final months of WWII, the inhabitants of the city of Dresden not only have to fear the air raid bombs that might destroy the city at any time. There are also rumors about the Fright Man, a twisted killer who uses the nighttime air raid siren to hunt the streets unseen and kill… Only to disappear into thin air afterwards. Detective Max Heller begins to investigate, but is is harder to ever to start a proper investigation. And soon after the Fright Man kills again… Will Max Heller be able to find any clues with his resources non-existent and a new boss who doesn’t want him to investigate further?

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Historical fiction is mixed with a classic detective thriller, as a serial killer and air raid bombs fight for the title of ‘most feared’ by the inhabitants of the city of Dresden. The writing style and initial plot make it really easy to get a proper feel for the story, and the first half of the story is without doubt the strongest part of the book. I would have preferred a continued focus on the detective thriller side of the story, which felt a bit rushed in the second half. But I also understand the switch and need for a focus on what happened in Dresden during those final days and after. While not perfect, The Air Raid Killer is without doubt a great read for anyone who wants to read a WWII story with a slightly different focus and angle.


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ARC REVIEW: The Letter For The King – by Tonke Dragt

Title: The Letter For The King
(The Letter For The King #1)
Author: Tonke Dragt
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical, Fantasy
First published: 1962
Publisher: Pushkin Children’s Books
Finished reading: April 9th 2018
Pages: 508
(Originally written in Dutch: ‘De Brief Voor De Koning´)

“It’s only when something’s threatened that you realize just how much you love it.”

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

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The Letter For The King was my very first MG read of the year and a translation of an older (1962) Dutch publication that is scheduled to be published later this year. And just look at that gorgeous cover! I thought I had read it in Dutch before when I was a kid, but apparently I was wrong because I didn’t recognize the story. That said, I think I probably would have enjoyed it a lot better back then. It’s not the fact that this is a middle grade read and ment for a younger public, because I have enjoyed books belonging to the age group before… And I can’t really put my finger on the why, but the fact is that I just couldn’t get used to the writing style and tone. I’m not saying the writing is bad at all, just that I was never able to get a proper feel for it. And unfortunately it took me ages to finally finish it. I felt the story itself was rather slow and dragged at points… The Letter For The King is over 500 pages long and I think it would have worked better with a faster pace and 200 pages less. The story itself is interesting as well as the quest the main character finds himself on; I liked the worldbuilding too. There was just something about the different kingdoms, the long ago setting with knights and quests that is truly enchanting. But overall it was just too slow for me. The right age-group will enjoy this story a lot better though, as long as they don’t have a short attention span.

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Sixteen-year-old Tiuri is about to become a knight when he is forced to abandon his vigil after a desperate call for help. He feels it is his duty to do as the old man says, but his task is becoming a lot more complicated than I initially thought. Suddenly, he finds himself on a mission both important and dangerous, where enemies will try to stop him from completing that mission. The future of an entire kingdom depends on him and his mission…

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There were things I really liked about The Letter For The King, including the long ago setting and worldbuilding full of knights, interesting kingdoms and quests. The rating above is my personal rating, but I do believe the right target group will enjoy this story a lot better. The main element I personally struggled with is a combination of a slow pace and a writing style I couldn’t become used to. I believe The Letter For The King would have worked better with a faster pace and less dialogue; with over 500 pages, I felt the story was a bit overlong. The adventure, intrigue and suspense are there, but it was kind of burried under a big pile of not that important dialogue… Still, especially younger boys will like following Tiuri on his mission.


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ARC REVIEW: Jilliand – by Clare Gutierrez

Title: Jilliand
Author: Clare Gutierrez
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: April 17th 2018
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Finished reading: April 3rd 2018
Pages: 298

“I keep my word. My word is all I have left to me.”

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

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I admit I was sold as soon as I saw the cover and mention of vikings. I’m a huge fan of the TV show Vikings and I don’t think I’ve ever read a story about vikings before, so I was really excited to be reading Jilliand. And it was by no means a bad read, just that it didn’t manage to blow me away. There was just something about the tone and writing style that felt a bit distant and made it harder to connect to the story. Also, I felt there were sudden changes between scenes and POV that either didn’t feel natural or simply didn’t connect with each other. More than once I found myself wondering suddenly what was happening, where they were or who the story was talking about… Not a good sign. This also happened more than once with sudden changes between a first and third person POV, although those might be solved in the final version. Still, these incoherences made it hard to concentrate on the story and slowed down the pace. I also felt the characters lacked some dept, and I was kept wanting for more when it comes to background and general character information. That said, it does show the author has investigated the time period and I realize it is hard to get solid information of a period there isn’t all that much ‘neutral’ information available of in the first place. The story follows two main characters in particular over a large span of time. While it was interesting to see the changes in both character and environment, I also thought there were almost too many things happening in the amount of pages available. This is probably why I felt a lack of dept as a consequence; long periods were sometimes skipped and other scenes were not as detailed as I would have liked. Still, Jilliand is quite an interesting read set in a time period that hasn’t been written about that frequently. It’s a story of survival, (forbidden) love, vikings, war and plundering… And although the ending came a bit sudden, I bet most will be able to appreciate it.

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Jilliand hasn’t had an easy life so far, losing her mother at birth and having to live with a father who wanted a son instead. She has been locked up and beaten for years, only barely surviving… Until one night she manages to escape her prison just in time with some help. But life outside is by no means easy either, and Jilliand is ill prepared for what is to come. And she definitely didn’t know how to act when Vikings start plundering the village she took refuge in.

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I really wanted to love Jilland, and I admit it was nice to see some similarities to the traditions and customs I’ve become used to after watching the Vikings TV Show. While Jilliand had an interesting premise and background story, using the forbidden love element to weave two different stories and cultures together, I almost felt there was too much going on at once, resulting in a lack of dept instead. There was just something about the writing style and tone that didn’t manage to grab me either, and all in all I didn’t end up enjoying it as much as I hoped I would. It’s not a bad read, but unfortunately didn’t manage to wow me either.


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