ARC REVIEW: The Lost Book Of The Grail – by Charlie Lovett

Title: The Lost Book Of The Grail
Author: Charlie Lovett

Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery
First published: February 28th 2017
Publisher: Viking
Finished reading: July 26th 2017 
Pages: 336

“The library smelled substantial; it smelled of both life and death. The air was stale and still and Arthur felt the atmosphere of the place envelop him. He was home.”

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

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I admit I have a weird obsession with any title that has the word ‘book’ in it, so one look at the cover of The Lost Book Of The Grail and I was sold. Any lover of books about books and historical mysteries will be intrigued by the blurb of this story by Charlie Lovett. Trust me, I was one of them… And I have been looking forward to read it for a while now. That’s why I was slightly disappointed to find myself having mixed feelings about The Lost Book Of The Grail instead. On one hand, there were quite a few things I did love about this book. First of all, there are many many bookish references, quotes and descriptions that will appeal to any bookworm. The smell of books, the library, the old manuscripts… I could just imagine being there in Barchester myself just by reading the detailed descriptions and I always love when that happens. I also really liked the idea behind this story and the mystery around the manuscript and the history of Barchester and its secrets is intriguing. BUT. Unfortunately, the pace is slower than a sleeping snail and I had a really hard time to stay focused and keep reading despite the fascinating history. In fact, the plot actually feels pretty chaotic with the unorganized flashbacks, guidebook quotes and random quotes from other books. I admit it does add an original touch, but it also slowed down the already slow pace even more and made the story flow considerably less and feel quite haltered. Another problem I encountered myself with were the characters. To be honest, I was never able to warm up to them and they mostly felt like cliches. The ‘old school’ Arthur and ‘modern’ Bethany have textbook clashing views on anything bookish and I didn’t feel they were inspiring. Also, I could have done without the romance…  It didn’t add anything substantial to the story and only managed to make me enjoy the final part of The Lost Book Of The Grail even less. Another thing I struggled with is that the story, for being about a lost manuscript and the hunt to unravel the mystery before it’s too late, was actually quite uneventful and lacked suspense. I was really surprised by this, because when I read the blurb I thought their quest was going to be a whole lot more exciting. Oh well, we can’t like them all, can we?

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Arthur Prescott works as an English professor in the modern buildings of the University of Barchester, but he feels more at home surrounded by the ancient books and manuscripts on the Barchester Cathedral library. He spends most of his free time there, researching his unfinished guidebook to the medieval cathedral… Although his secret obsession with the Holy Grail is never completely leaves his mind. When an American woman barges into his sanctuary with the task of digitizing the manuscripts, Arthur is appalled. But Bethany doesn’t seem to be what she appears to be and she turns out to be a fellow Grail fanatic… And soon she will join Arthur in a quest to find a missing manuscript with the story of the cathedral’s founder.

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I really wanted to like The Lost Book Of The Grail and there were certain elements I did enjoy very much. The history of Barchester and its secrets is fascinating and I’m sure many will appreciate the bookish quotes and references. The pace is incredibly slow though and the plot feels both a bit chaotic and lacks action. I also had problems connecting to the characters and felt they lacked character development or at least originality. Such a shame!


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ARC REVIEW: Court Of Lions – by Jane Johnson @HoZ_books

Title: Court Of Lions
Author: Jane Johnson

Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
First published: July 6th 2017
Publisher: Head Of Zeus
Finished reading: July 5th 2017
Pages: 416

“History was rather wasted on the young, who had yet to discover that looking back could sometimes be a lot more instructive than looking forward.”

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

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I always love a good historical fiction read and when I first heard about Court Of Lions the story just ticked al the right boxes for me. This novel by Jane Johnson is partly set in the 15th century, partly in the present and predominantly takes place in Granada. This Spanish city is hands down one of the favorite places I was able to visit during my stay in Spain eight years ago and Court Of Lions without doubt brought back great memories. When I started reading this novel I had really high expectations and I initially found myself enjoying both storylines despite them being completely different. Unfortunately this feeling didn’t last. While initially I found myself to be curious about Kate’s character and devoured the many descriptions of the Spanish city and the Alhambra in the contemporary chapters, I was suddenly put off by the arrival of a few very graphic scenes and adult content. Especially the second is always a huge turn off for me and instantly made me enjoy both the storyline and characters a lot less. Sure, Kate’s history is without doubt both terrifying and intriguing, but for me the storyline fell mostly flat for me and I wasn’t sure what to think of the chapters set in the UK either. The romance was also quite cliche and trigger warnings are in place for abuse and other sensitive themes. It is true that the pace is a lot faster in the contemporary chapters than the historical ones… But this doesn’t take away that I still wish Court Of Lions would have just focused on the chapters set in the 15th century. The historical storyline is both well developed, well researched and very interesting to read. Blessings is without doubt a fascinating character despite the fact that Blessings did do some things that bothered me at times… And the final reveal out Blessing’s secret came as a HUGE surprise. I loved reading about Momo and Blessings growing up and their relationship evolve and change. There were some cliches involved (love triangle!), but overall it’s impressive just how much these chapters stand out from the contemporary ones. I honestly believe the storylines would have worked out better as two completely different novels… There isn’t all that much connection between the two and both seem to have a different target group. It breaks my heart to give Blessings and Momo’s story just a 3 star rating, but Kate’s storyline did make me enjoy Court Of Lions considerably less than expected.

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It has been a year since Kate arrived in the city of Granada and she currently works as a waitress serving tourists in a bar. She pretends to be happy with her new life, but something dark is brewing under the surface… And she might be forced to deal with her past soon. It all starts when she finds a scrap of paper pressed into one of the Alhambra’s walls. A paper that has been there since the Fall of Granada and the expulsion of the last Sultan, although Kate doesn’t realize that when she finds it… And she doesn’t realize just how big of an effect this paper will have on her life.

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I was looking forward to read Court Of Lions as soon as I read the blurb. This novel seemed to combine two of my favorite things: historical fiction and Spain. I have wonderful memories of the city of Granada and this story without doubt triggered them. I enjoyed reading the many descriptions of the city and I loved the historical storyline and its characters. I probably would have given Court Of Lions a much higher rating if it would have been just that storyline… Because I wasn’t as charmed by the contemporary chapters. I couldn’t connect to Kate or the other characters, had a negative reaction to the adult content and wasn’t sure about the cliches either. Her history is without doubt both frightening and intriguing, but reading about it just didn’t work for me. Such a shame!


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BOOK REVIEW: Little Women – by Louisa May Alcott

Title: Little Women
(Little Women #1)
Author: Louisa May Alcott

Genre: Classics, YA, Contemporary
First published: September 30th 1868
Finished reading: June 30th 2017
Pages: 284

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

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Looks like it’s ‘unpopular opinion’ time again! I really wanted to love this classic, but I found myself not enjoying it nearly as much as I thought I would instead. After a little investigation (and help from fellow book bloggers), I now understand that Little Women actually has two different parts, the second part written one year after the original story and also published separately under the name Good Wives. The kindle version I have does include both parts, but after long deliberation I have decided not to continue with it. Why? Even though I really wanted to enjoy this classic, I had a hard time reading it and it took me ages just to finish the first part. I’m not saying Little Women is a bad read, just that it either wasn’t the right time or simply just not for me. And since I have read quite a few negative reviews about Good Wives in the first place, I’m just not up for another struggle. I can’t deny it’s a very well written story and I can see why so many people actually love it. I might actually have enjoyed Little Women a lot better if I would have read it 15-20 years ago… But right now the story unfortunately didn’t appeal to me. I was surprised I found myself unable to truly connect to the characters and it took me weeks and finally reading one chapter at the time just to make it to the end of Part One. This is most definitely me and not this classic, but still… Not a very pleasant reading experience. So I’m sorry to all of those who call this classic their favorite! Trust me, I’ve REALLY tried to love Little Women.

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Little Women is the story of four sisters trying to continue with their lives after their father has gone to war. Jo, Meg, Bath and Amy March are young ladies growing up and their different personalities clash at times, but they all want to do their best helping their mother to keep things running smoothly at home. It’s a coming of age story filled with daily situations, friendship, struggles and life lessons.

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Like I said before, I feel actually quite bad I wasn’t able to enjoy Little Women better. I had really high hopes for this classic, but I found myself struggling to continue instead. This is definitely me and not the story, because I could see Little Women was well written as well as its appeal to many readers. I guess I just wasn’t one of them in the end. I don’t think I will ever read the second part, but I’m glad I at least now know what everybody is talking about when they mention this classic.


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ARC REVIEW: Devastation Road – by Jason Hewitt

Title: Devastation Road
Author: Jason Hewitt

Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: July 3rd 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Finished reading: July 1st 2017
Pages: 384

“Strange how memories were breaking through as if he’d slipped under ice and now there were patches of it starting to melt so he could see snippets of the life he once had on the surface. Just when he thought his memory was improving, just when he thought he could retain the events of a day, something always disappeared in turn.”

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

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!! Happy Publication Day !!

This is going to be my third ‘unpopular opinion’ review in a row; what is happening to me?! I enjoy reading historical fiction in general and actually have a special interest in any story related to WWII. Devastation Road sounded particularly interesting due to the fact that the main character has amnesia and I found myself really looking forward to read this novel. Devastation Road has received a lot of praise so far and I was expecting to be adding another positive review to the mix myself, but unfortunately I didn’t have the same reading experience as most people. First of all I want to make clear that the idea behind this story is without doubt fascinating: an English soldier in 1945 who has amnesia and doesn’t remember that last four years nor can retain new memories. I could also really appreciate the many descriptions of the places the characters passed through, flashbacks and historical details in general. But. And there is where the tricky part comes in… I REALLY struggled with the writing style. Instead of luring me in, the first pages and chapters only managed to frustrate me and disconnect me from the story with the constant repeat of he, he, he in the sentences. Somehow the prose didn’t flow and I had a hard time figuring out what was going on… This is possibly ment to portray the main character and his amnesia, but it made it really hard for me to properly enjoy the story. That said, apart from the writing style I found it also extremely hard to connect to the characters AND plot itself. It’s not that the main character aren’t intriguing and each has their own history, but somehow I found myself mostly detached from them. And while I normally love the use of foreign languages in a story, I think in the case of Janeck it only made it more difficult to connect to him. I mentioned the flow of the writing style before, and I think I had the same problem with the plot itself. The story goes from memory to present to past and completely different scenes without warning and although this once again can be seen as a representation of amnesia, I found myself really struggling to keep track instead. Devastation Road had all the signs of being an excellent read and the problem might have been just me since so many seem to love this story, but unfortunately I struggled along with the characters to reach the final page. And I still feel kind of sad I wasn’t able to enjoy it more.

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In the final stretch of WWII, a man wakes up in a field in a country he doesn’t know. He is injured and can’t seem to remember how he got there in the first place… In fact, only flashes of memory come back to him and he only has a vague recollection of joining the war he is currently in the middle of. His name is Owen and he is trying to get back to England, although this isn’t easy with his amnesia. He finds help in unlikely places, although he is not sure why exactly they help him or what they want from him. Will his memory get better and will he make it to safety?

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I really wanted to enjoy Devastation Road, especially since it is a combination of two topics that fascinate me: WWII and amnesia. Unfortunately I found it extremely hard to connect to the writing style, characters AND plot… And honestly I think I would probably have opted for a DNF if this weren’t an ARC. I seem to be in the minority though since most reviews have been really positive, so give this one a chance if this sounds like your cup of tea!


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ARC REVIEW: The Merchant’s Pearl – by Amie O’Brien @merchantspearl

Title: The Merchant’s Pearl
(The Merchant’s Pearl Saga #1)
Author: Amie O’Brien

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: July 24th 2016
Publisher: BookBaby
Finished reading: June 23rd 2017
Pages: 466

“I just wish I understood what it all means sometimes—why one person rises while the other falls? Why one set of feet must be kissed while the other’s gets stepped upon?”

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

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I confess it took me longer than expected to finally pick up my copy of The Merchant’s Pearl. I had been saying I was going to pick it up for ages, but somehow I was afraid this historical fiction story was going to be way too heavy on the romance for me after rereading the blurb a while ago. Thankfully this was actually one of the few exceptions were I was wrong. There is no doubt that I ended up enjoying way better than I ever could have hoped for… I enjoy reading historical fiction in general and the Ottoman empire setting is without doubt well executed in The Merchant’s Pearl. The many descriptions of the palace, its surroundings and the things that happened there helped create a very vivid and rich image of how it would have been like living there as a concubine. I’m not sure if it all actually felt late 19th century, but I personally didn’t mind as those descriptions were more than enough to set the right atmosphere. I do have to say it took me a lot longer than expected to actually finish The Merchant’s Pearl. Part of it might have been me, part of it might have been the somewhat slower pace, but at 466 pages the story might possibly have felt a bit overlong… There is no doubt that I still very much enjoyed reading this story though. Especially the first half or so stood out for me, not only due to the lack of romance but also because of the dynamics between Leila and Emre. The second half had considerably more romance scenes, drama, jealousy and a few other cliches that made me enjoy the overall story slightly less than I expected after the first few chapters. Especially anything related to the drama between the concubines was a bit too much for me, although I guess this probably did happen all the time in a harem. I did like both Leila and Emre more in the first half though, as they started to get on my nerves sometimes later on in the story. Like I said, the second half had too much drama in it to my taste, but I still liked it and the descriptions stayed strong until the very end. All in all The Merchant’s Pearl is a very interesting historical fiction read that romance fans will appreciate even better than I did.

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Sarai grew up as a missionary’s daughter and lived a happy life up until the day her parents are murdered when she’s eleven. The people that took her in initially sold her to the palace, where she was to be a concubine-in-waiting for the Ottoman Sultan Aziz. Now called Leila, she tries to be invisible, but one of his sons, Prince Emre, has set her eyes on her and claims her for his own. Leila never wanted this life in the first place, but now she has to compete against the other girls in his harem… And one of them seems to be determined to make her life miserable. Will Leila ever adapt to her new life?

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My favorite part of The Merchant’s Pearl is hands down the existence of many detailed descriptions of the inner workings of the Ottoman palace and empire of that time. It was really interesting to see how things worked back then and how life was for a concubine… The pace was a bit slow, but the writing style was beautiful. I liked most of the characters as well, although some of their actions started to annoy me during the second half of the story. But that might just have been me and my aversion to anything too overly romance/drama in the first place. If you like historical fiction and romance, you will enjoy reading this one!


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ARC REVIEW: Can’t Buy Forever – by Susan Laffoon

Title: Can’t Buy Forever
Author: Susan Laffoon

Genre: YA, Romance, Mystery
First published: June 1st 2015
Publisher: Page Publishing
Finished reading: June 16th 2017
Pages: 218

“Coincidences don’t add up, choices do. We build our life one choice at a time for better or for worse.”

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

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I’ve had Can’t Buy Forever on my TBR for longer than intended, but the cover and promise of a 1950s setting kept calling to me and I finally picked it up a few days ago. I found myself looking forward to it despite the low rating, especially since I’ve been in the mood for historical fiction lately… But I ended up being far from impressed. Honestly, I don’t think I would have made it to the end if this wouldn’t have been an ARC; unfortunately it was a tough battle just making it to the last page. Part of the problem might have been me and others might enjoy this story better, but I will explain below why I ended up having to give Can’t Buy Forever such a low rating.

1. The supposedly 1950s setting is almost non existent except for a few mentions of a date or important event here and there. As a historical fiction fan I felt a bit disappointed by this, especially since the setting is especifically mentioned in the blurb. If you leave out those few time references, this story could have easily been set in the present as well… Such a shame, because a well developed historical setting would have added credibility and dept to the story.

2. I had a lot of problems with the main characters in general. I wasn’t able to connect to them and this made following the story a lot harder. Furthermore, Odessa acts a lot younger than the 18-year-old she is supposed to be… She cries all the time and her feelings for Nicholas are cheesy, not credible and it almost feels as if I were watching a ten-year-old having her first crush on a senior quarterback.

3. The crying. Seriously, how many times do Odessa and the other characters cry during this story?! Once it started to annoy me I just kept seeing those crocodile tears mentioned, and it really started to get on my nerves. It also made their feelings less credible and more cartoonish.

4. It has a love triangle. Or in fact various love triangles if I am more specific. And you all know now much I despise those… I can tolerate them if they are done right, but these examples were quite cringeworthy and the feelings just felt unnatural.

5. I don’t feel there really is a plot and the events themselves don’t really seem credible or make sense. I mean, Roark is supposed to get away with all he does?? And Odessa just accepts all what happens? And we as a reader just have to accept everything that happens as well without a proper explanation? The lack of plot or at least a proper idea of what is going on also made it a lot harder to follow; it just didn’t feel like a coherent story at all and almost like a delusional ramble of one of the main characters on their deathbed.

6. I wasn’t able to connect to the writing style at all. I don’t see the lack of grammar and mistakes mentiones in many reviews I saw on Goodreads, but the sentences don’t flow and it was really hard to keep track of the story and read more than a few pages at a time. The writing style was one of the reasons I considered a DNF various times during this story… And I’m still wondering if that would have been a better choice.

Enough of the negative… There were some interesting aspects about this story, especifically Nicholas’ history and the gypsy references. I can’t go into details without revealing too much, but a focus on those and further development of those elements would probably have improved the story considerably. Without a proper explanation, the credibility of it all was simply lost. I really wanted to like this story, but as you might have guessed of this rather lenghty (for me) list, unfortunately I just couldn’t.

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Odessa Drake decides to change her destiny and moves in with her widowed great aunt Flo in Mineville, New York. Her aunt owns a boarding house and Dessa spends her days helping her out, working to keep the house running when she isn’t at school. Then Nicholas shows up and he is given the attic for lack of other space; four years later, he is one of the few boarders still in the house. They have grown fond of each other despite the fact that Dessa really doesn’t know a lot about Nicholas… But Nicholas has a reason to keep the past buried, and things might become dangerous when he gets too close. What secrets does he keep and how do they affect Dessa?

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I was actually looking forward to Can’t Buy Forever as the blurb sounded quite interesting, but unfortunately I ended up having a completely different experience instead. I won’t repeat all the details I’ve mentioned above since I’ve already talked about each point extensively, but it does become clear it was far too easy to find things that didn’t work for me in the story. Was it just me or is the book to blame as well? I won’t be the judge to read the sentence, but at least I’ve put in my two cents.


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ARC REVIEW: The Book Of Whispers – by Kimberley Starr

Title: The Book Of Whispers
Author: Kimberley Starr

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: October 3rd 2016
Publisher: Text Publishing
Finished reading: June 15th 2017
Pages: 386

“I have a voice, I have words. I run to a future where there’s the possibility of using them.”

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

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I admit I have a weird obsession with any title that has the word ‘book’ or anything book-related in them, so combined with a stunning cover The Book Of Whispers was immediately on my radar. I requested a copy of this story mostly based on this obsession, and didn’t realize before I started reading it that it had such a low Goodreads rating OR the fact that demons play such a big role in the story. To be honest, now I reread the blurb I don’t understand how I could have missed that part… Because what I thought would be a historical (medieval) fiction about a mysterious book actually turned out to be more of a demon-infested fantasy read. Stories involving demons are always  a hit or miss for me, so I guess I have myself to blame for that part… It wasn’t just the demon overload that didn’t work for me though, but also the way they were incorporated into the story. Especially in the beginning this mix of historical and fantasy felt awkward and the many many descriptions of the demons and all their strange forms slowed down the pace considerably. Trust me, there were many many eyebrow raises before the story started to flow better! Luckily the book itself made its appearance quite early on; otherwise I’m not sure if I would have decided to continue this story. I liked the medieval setting and the crusade and the idea behind The Book Of Whispers is without doubt an interesting and original one. I appreciate what the author wanted to do by mixing a traditional crusade story with fantasy and its complexity when trying to balance those elements; I just didn’t enjoy actually reading it. Mind, this could have been just me and my aversion to demons… Although I had a hard time connecting to the writing style or characters as well. Apart from the awkward demon descriptions that slowed down the pace, the writing style in general didn’t flow and felt a bit like trying to drive a car that is running out of fuel. This haltered feel did fade away a bit towards the ending, but all in all I struggled considerably reaching the final page. As for the characters: like I said, I had a hard time connecting to them and some of them were quite annoying. I liked that the demons were connected to the seven sins, but some of the characters were basically caricatures of those sins and maybe not that credible. Also, the romance. Boy, did I struggle with that feature. I know I’m almost never a fan, but besides the fact that this story has a love triangle, I found the romance in general didn’t feel credible at all and mostly a cliche. I can’t go into details without spoilers, but insta-love and all those sappy and cliche descriptions and feelings? Definitely could have done without that. There were some twists though and I liked the historical elements. The ending was interesting enough as well I guess. And there is no doubt this book surprised me, although in my case not in a good way…

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Set in Tuscany, 1096 AD, Luca is the young heir to the title of Conte de Falconi. He has a problem though: he can see demons and has strange dreams that sometimes predict the future. Luca is forced to keep this a secret since people either don’t believe him or are afraid of him… But when he sees his father murdered in one of those dreams, he is determined to stop this vision from coming true. This means following him on the great pilgrimage to capture the Holy Lands against his wishes… But will also be complicated when his father gives him an ancient book that holds a lot of mysteries just before they leave.

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I like stories with a medieval setting and I was definitely looking forward to The Book Of Whispers, but in the end it just wasn’t for me and not just because of the demon overload. The writing style, the demon descriptions, the characters, the romance… There was a lot that unfortunately didn’t work for me and the historical setting couldn’t make up for this. The idea behind The Book Of Whispers is very original though and it must have been a lot of work to mix both elements. There is no doubt this story had a lot of potential…


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