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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ARC REVIEW: Now I Rise – by Kiersten White @kierstenwhite @DelacortePress

Title: Now I Rise
(The Conqueror’s Saga #2)
Author: Kiersten White

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: June 27th 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Finished reading: June 13th 2017
Pages: 496

“The world will destroy her in the end. Too much spark leads to explosions. But your sister will destroy as much as she can before she goes out. She will go down in flames and blood.”

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

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I admit I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to this series, but I was hooked as soon as I finished the first chapter of And I Darken. I had the privilege of receiving an ARC copy of the sequel early (trust me, I still can’t believe my request was actually approved!), and after finishing the first book I wanted to continue with the sequel right away. Now I Rise by no means suffers from the so-called ‘weak-sequel-syndrome’. This second book of The Conqueror’s Saga starts out strong and stays that way until the very end. The focus is slightly different than in the first book, mostly because it has two completely different storylines this time and the story switches between those POVs. I personally liked this change and it didn’t distract from the main plot at all, especially since there is still an obvious connection between the two storylines both through the characters and the plot itself. I also liked the glbt elements in the series in general, although I do have to say the love triangle bits did started to bother me as well as some of the decisions of the characters. This is probably the only negative thing I could find about this series though! Because there is no doubt I’m truly enjoying this Vlad The Impaler based series so far. Another thing that stood out for me is that there is more action and more fighting in Now I Rise, although it is balanced with further excellent character development and detailed descriptions of the worldbuilding and historical references that will make it feel as if you were back in the 15th century yourself. Because there is no doubt that Kiersten White‘s writing style is wonderful and will have you under its spell… Well written, beautiful, rich, engaging and highly addictive: Now I Rise will have you in its claws and won’t let you go until you reach the last page, leaving you wanting for more. Thankfully the sequel doesn’t end with that big of a cliffhanger, making the wait for book three a little more tolerable… Although it’s still going to be a long one.

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WARNING: Possible spoilers! Please don’t read this summary if you haven’t read the first  book yet. I’ll keep the summary super short but it’s impossible to keep it completely spoiler-free…

Lada Dracul decided to start fighting to fulfill her own dreams, but that will be more difficult than it seems. Because she has no allies and no throne: just herself and a handful of loyal men. She wasn’t able to secure the Wallachian throne as easily as was promised, but is determined to punish anyone who dares to stand in her way and prevent her from succeeding. On the other hand, Radu is still at Mehmed’s side with a completely different goal in mind. One that will ask even more from Radu than he has already given… What will happen to them and will they be able to succeed in their goals?

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After already enjoying And I Darken I had high hopes for the sequel, and Now I Rise definitely didn’t disappoint. There is a slightly different focus in the sequel, but I personally liked these changes and two different storylines each with a lot of action, intrigue and its own web of secrets and lies. The historical worldbuilding is very well done and sets the right atmosphere for what is already an excellent story. I wasn’t a fan of some of the romance and I didn’t agree with every decision made, but those are only minor complaints compared to my love for the writing style. I can’t wait to try more of Kiersten White‘s books in the future! And The Conqueror’s Saga book three is going straight to my list of most anticipated 2018 releases. Is it June 2018 yet?


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BOOK REVIEW: And I Darken – by Kiersten White

Title: And I Darken
(The Conqueror’s Saga #1)
Author: Kiersten White

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: June 28th 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Finished reading: June 8th 2017
Pages: 498

“There is power in stillness. There is power in watching, waiting, saying the right thing at the right time to the right person. There is power in being a woman – oh yes, power in these bodies you gaze upon with derision.”

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I’ve been wanting to read this book ever since I first heard about it last year, and not just because of the beautiful cover… Because the combination of medieval setting, potentially strong main character and intriguing plot just sounded to good to be true. Why didn’t I pick up And I Darken earlier, would you say? Part of the reason is most likely the enormous hype around this story, because hyped books and me don’t really go along in general. I’ve seen quite a few mixed reviews out there, making me feel a bit hesitant to pick it up… But I just couldn’t resist the historical setting and reference to Vlad the Impaler in the end. And while I had a few minor complaints that made me remove a star from what I initially thought would be a perfect rating, I ended up enjoying And I Darken so much better than I thought I would. It’s my first experience with Kiersten White‘s writing style (if you don’t count her short story in My True Love Gave To Me, which I LOVED), and it has been a very positive one. Her writing style is beautiful, rich and very engaging and made this story so much more enjoyable.  Both the worldbuilding and descriptions are extensive and well executed; it really felt as if I was transported back in time and fully merged into the world along with the main characters. The plot is very intriguing and full of twists, secrets and surprises. I could have done without the love triangle/ forbidden love parts, but I guess that is just me not liking romance in the first place. As for the characters: some of them are not exactly likeable, but I ended up being able to connect to most of them anyway. I found myself to be fully absorbed into this story and rooting for those characters I favored more… I didn’t approve of every decision they made, but the character development in general is without doubt excellent. In short I had a great time raeding And I Darken in general, and I can’t wait to continue with Now I Rise! If you like reading YA fantasy and find historical twists and retellings just as intriguing as I do, definitely give this series a go.

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Lada Dragwlya might have been born a girl, but she is by no means the weak and docile princess her father suspected her to be. There is a fire in her, something that seems to be missing in her gentle younger brother, Radu… But that didn’t stop him from abandoning them both to be raised in the Ottoman courts as a form for the sultan to control their father. Lada and Radu are now pawns in a vicious game and their lineage makes them both special and targets at the same time. Lada only really want to find a way back home to Wallachia and claim her birthright, but Radu only wants to find a place where he feels safe. Both seem impossible, but everything changes as they meet Mehmed, the son of the sultan… Things are never as they seem and feelings can change, but what will happen to them in the end?

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It took me a long time to finally pick up my copy of And I Darken, but I’m definitely glad I’ve done so. I’ve fallen in love with Kiersten White‘s writing style and her ability to create an extensive worldbuilding filled with excellent descriptions and an intriguing plot. And while it wasn’t the 5 star read I thought it would be after reading the first few chapters, there is no doubt a very much enjoyed reading Lada, Radu and Mehmed’s story and I can’t wait to find out what the future has in store.


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ARC REVIEW: The Mayfly – by James Hazel @JamesHazelBooks @BonnierZaffre

Title: The Mayfly
(Charlie Priest #1)
Author: Mystery, Thriller, Crime

Genre: James Hazel
First published: June 15th 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Finished reading: June 3rd 2017
Pages: 432

“I don’t know what history will remember me as. A murderer? A scientist? A revolutionalist? I suppose it depends who writes the textbook you’re reading. But history will remember me.”

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

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The cover is what first caught my attention, but it was the blurb that sealed the deal. I mean, a psychological thriller AND a connection to WWII? That’s basically combining two of my favorite genres and simply irresistible. This story mosty definitely didn’t disappoint. I actually didn’t know that The Mayfly is the first book of a new series, but now now I’ve finished this story I will be looking forward to see more of Charlie Priest in the future. The Mayfly reads almost like a private detective story, but Charlie Priest is actually a lawyer instead (and ex-cop). Charlie has a lot of flaws and a messed up personal life, but his character didn’t feel like a cliche at all. In fact, with a serial killer for a brother and his dissociative disorder Priest scores top marks for being an intriguing character. The plot itself is fascinating and I loved the chapters that went back to events set just after WWII. The references to the Holocaust add a whole different level to this story and really made The Mayfly stand out for me. There were quite a lot of twists and while I expected some things to happen, I didn’t guess the full truth until the very end. I could have done without the love triangle and romance scenes in general though, although it’s just the love triangle itself that didn’t add anything substantial to the plot. Also, some of the things that happen can make you doubt the credibility of it all… For example: how did they manage to go on for years without being catched? But those are only minor complaints about what is still essentially a highly entertaining rollercoaster ride.

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Charlie Priest used to be a DI, but is now a successful lawyer despite his flaws and has quite a few important clients. One day he is hired by the influential entrepeneur Kenneth Ellinder to investigate the murder of his son. Priest doesn’t want to take the case at first, but circumstances leave him no other option than to find out what is happening. People seem determined to keep Priest from discovering the truth though, and he might be in more danger than he thinks he is… And more importantly, he isn’t sure who he can trust in the first place.

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There is no doubt that The Mayfly is a fascinating story that will definitely appeal to psychological thriller fans. The flashbacks and connections to the Second World War added a whole different level to what was already an intriguing plot and definitely made me appreciate this story even more. I had a few minor doubts, but those are just that: minor. The writing style and pace turned The Mayfly into a superfast read and I will be looking forward to see more of Charlie Priest in the future!


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ARC REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil – by Tim Symonds @ReadingAlley

Title: Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil
Author: Tim Symonds

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
First published: November 6th 2016
Publisher: MX Publishing
Finished reading: May 31st 2017
Pages: 233

“Chinese dragons don’t have wings but they can fly into the sky. They don’t breathe fire but can summon rain. And like the tiger, if they so wish they embody the spirit and drive to achieve and make progress.”

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

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I was in desperate need of a break from the books I was currently reading and needed something quite different, and that is when I stumbled across this story. I can always appreciate a good historical fiction story, especially when it’s set in a foreign culture… Add a healthy dose of mystery and murder plot and I was sold. Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil is, as you might have guessed from the title, a Sherlock Holmes retelling and a very well executed one as well. I’m sure most people are at least vaguely aware of the original characters and I for myself always enjoy a good retelling around these characters if it’s done right. Tim Symonds without doubt did an excellent job both in keeping true to the essence of the original characters; they felt authentic and I felt as if I were taken back straight to that era. The bantering between Holmes and Watson is perfectly portrayed! Furthermore, the descriptions of China, its customs, characters and other facts is very detailed and it shows that the author has researched the topic thoroughly. The plot is intriguing with quite a lot of twists, although I personally could guess who was behind it all quite early on. This didn’t take away from the reading pleasure though as I enjoyed following Holmes and Watson during their journey. Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon is a very well written historical fiction mystery and the Chinese setting is brilliantly executed. Perfect for fans of the genre!

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It’s the year 1906 and Sherlock Holmes’ skills might be needed once again… Although this time in the faraway Peking. There are rumors a deadly plot is hatching and it’s up to Holmes to discover whether such a plot exists and if so stop it before it’s too late. But who exactly is the intented target in the first place: the young and progressive Ch’ing Emperor or his aunt, the fearsome Empress Dowager Cixi? Either death could lead to a catastrophe and it’s up to Holmes and Watson to try to find and if so unravel everything in time.

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I can always enjoy a good Sherlock Holmes retelling when well executed and that is without doubt the case with Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil. Both the setting and the descriptions are very well done and made me feel as if I were in the room along with the main characters. The outcoming might not have been all that surprising, but the plot twists are still well executed and feel very much like ‘Holmes’. All in all without doubt a very satisfying read.


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ARC REVIEW: The Last Valentine – by Felix Alexander @ReadingAlley

Title: The Last Valentine
Author: Felix Alexander

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Romance
First published: February 13th 2017
Publisher: ForeverPoetic
Finished reading: May 24th 2017
Pages: 241

“In their infinite wisdom they fail to realize that love keeps us young after youth has passed and is the only memory worth remembering when the shadows of forgetfulness linger on the horizon of old age.”

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

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I love stories with a different setting so the fact that The Last Valentine is set in Puerto Rico was a big selling point for me. Add the promise of the combination of a historical fiction and mystery read, and I just knew I had to read this story…And it has definitely turned out to be an enjoyable read. Both the 1930s setting in Puerto Rico and the whole mystery around the labyrinth of love letters stood out for me. The descriptions are well done and I found myself looking forward to discover more about both the characters and what would happen to them. The writing style is enjoyable and also very quotable. I loved the inclusion of various Spanish words in the prose; it made the story feel that much more authentic without slowing down the pace for those who don’t understand the language. The main plot of trying to unravel the mysteries around the labyrinth is intertwined with various love stories, secrets and conspiracies that will keep you interested until the very end. I did feel the dose of forbidden love, love triangles and romance in general was a bit too high for me and some of the characters started to annoy me because of it, but that might just have been me not liking those elements in general in the first place. It’s not just the romance between the characters though, because The Last Valentine also talks a lot about romance itself with the help of for example love letters, romance quotes etc. If you enjoy a well written romance novel with a dose of mystery and historical facts will probably enjoy it even better than I did!

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Olivia Villalobos is the daughter of a drunkard police investigator and never knew the truth behind the disappearance of her mother. One day she finds a bloodstained love letter in the hidden compartment of her father’s coat… she is convinced it belonged to the man recently found dead, and is determined to find the Labyrinth of Love Letters to deliver it before someone else takes it away. The labyrinth is believed to be an urban legend, but is that all there is to the mysterious place? Olivia starts her search with the help of her best friend Isaac Quintero and soon they realize they might find more than they were looking for…

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The Last Valentine isn’t just another historical romance novel. The 1930s setting in Puerto Rico is without doubt well executed and helped set the right atmosphere, but it is the whole mystery around the Labyrinth of Love Letters and other secrets and conspiracies that will keep you intrigued until the very end. The dose of (sappy) romance cliches was a bit too high for me, but I did appreciate the many quotable references to romance in general. Romance fans will most likely love this story!


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