BOOK REVIEW: The Lifeboat – by Charlotte Rogan

Title: The Lifeboat
Author: Charlotte Rogan

Genre: Historical Fiction, Survival
First published: March 29th 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Finished reading: September 26th 2017
Pages: 340

“It’s my experience that we can come up with five reasons why something might have happened, and the truth will always be the sixth.”

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I had a copy of this novel collecting dust on my shelves for over a year now and the other day I decided to pick it up on a whim. I mostly read on my kindle nowadays, but it’s good to have an actual physical copy in my hands every now and then… I admit The Lifeboat was a cover-love buy, although I was also intrigued by the 1914 historical setting. To be honest, I’m still on the fence about this one. The Lifeboat is a character-driven story predominantly set on a lifeboat, where the characters have to survive after their cruiseship sinks on the way to New York. The story is told mostly in diary form where one of the characters relates what happens during that time and some of the story is also dedicated to the aftermath. While I thought the historical setting and tone were well executed and even can be seen in the way the characters interact with each other, I also felt the pace was quite slow and this made it harder to properly enjoy the novel. Honestly, nothing much really happens during the story and it’s mostly about the interactions between the characters and how they react to being is such a dangerous situation. Character-driven stories can be fascinating, especially when the characters find themselves in such a dangerous situation, but I wasn’t convinced by The Lifeboat. Part of this feeling probably has to do with the fact I was never able to connect to the characters, making it harder to care for them or what would happen to them. Grace (the narrator) actually became irritating at one point. I liked how the aftermath and trial is also discussed and how difficult it is to judge people and their actions in such extreme situations though. All in all I ended up having mixed thoughts about The Lifeboat, but fans of character-driven historical fiction novels might have a better time reading this one.

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In the summer of 1914, Grace Winter is on her way back to New York with her new husband Henry on board of a cruiseship. Then the unthinkable happens and the ocean liner suffers a mysterious explosion, sinking the ship. Henry is able to find a place for Grace on one of the lifeboats just before that… Although the survivors on that particular boat soon realize that they are over capacity. If any of them want to survive, they will have to make some sacrifices… What will happen to them? And what about Henry and the others on the cruiseship?

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I had high hopes for this one despite the low rating, mostly because I was in the mood for a proper historical fiction read in the first place. The Lifeboat without doubt had the right historical feel that was even reflected in the way the characters interacted, but I also felt that special spark was missing. Nothing much really happens during the story despite the horrific situation the survivors find themselves in. The aftermath chapters did added something to the plot, although it was mostly talk and unfortunately rather dull. Combined with a slow pace and unlikeable character this wasn’t one of my favorite historical reads.


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ARC REVIEW: The Dollmaker Of Krakow – by R.M. Romero

Title: The Dollmaker Of Krakow
Author: R.M. Romero

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: September 12th 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: September 13th 2017
Pages: 336

“You can destroy a person, Karolina, but destroying their story is far more difficult. No one is ever really lost as long as their story still exists.”

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

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I was drawn to this book as soon as I saw the stunning cover, and when I found out it was a story set during WWII I was sold. I know I don’t read a lot of middle grade novels, but I do like to mix things up a bit every once in a while and this sounded like the perfect book to do so. The Dollmaker Of Krakow has been compared to The Boy In The Striped Pajamas (one of my all time favorites) and not only has a stunning cover, but also a wonderful story. This middle grade story is not just another historical fiction read with a WWII setting. With The Dollmaker Of Krakow, R.M. Romero has created a truly unique story that is a perfectly balanced mix of historical facts and fantasy with a touch of magical realism and a fairytale-like feel. There is magic, there are talking dolls brought to life, but there is also the brutal reality of the war and what the Germans were doing to the Jews during that period. Innocence is mixed with a somber reality in a way that is truly moving and very beautifully crafted. It’s hard to properly label this story, but there is no doubt about the originality and uniqueness of The Dollmaker Of Krakow. I would recommend this story for the ages of ten and up due to the sensitive historical elements (holocaust references) included, but I am positive they will be completely charmed by this fairytale-like mix of fantasy and reality. The writing style reads like a dream and I really liked the contrast between Karolina’s world and the real one. The characters are also well developed and used perfectly to demostrate the situation of both Jews and the people close to them during the war. It will definitely help make the younger readers reflect in an innocent way and leave breadcrumbs of information that will stay with them without the story feeling like a history lesson. All in all definitely recommended!

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Karolina used to live in the Land of the Dolls as a seamstress, happy to work for her king and queen, but one day they are overthrown by Rats and the dolls are no longer safe. A strange wind spirits her away from her home and suddenly she finds herself in Krakow… Right in the middle of the shop of the Dollmaker, a man with an unusual power he didn’t know he had. They will soon find out they benefit mutually from their company, and they  even make new friends with a violin-playing father and his daughter. But the Nazi soldiers come to Krakow and Karolina and the Dollmaker soon realize their new Jewish friends are in danger…

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I was sold as soon as I saw the cover and blurb, and there is no doubt that the writing is just as beautiful as the stunning cover. The Dollmaker Of Krakow is a truly unique story that mixes historical events with a fairytale-like fantasy world and sometimes feels a lot like magical realism. This innocent way of approaching the holocaust is a truly fascinating angle and very well executed; the fantasy elements only add to the overal originality of the story.


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ARC REVIEW: The Secret Of Heaven – by Felix Alexander @ReadingAlley

Title: The Secret Of Heaven
(Aiden Leonardo #1)
Author: Felix Alexander

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Adventure
First published: 2016
Publisher: ForeverPoetic
Finished reading: August 22nd 2017
Pages: 311

“The truth must be understood. Not solely for the purpose of being accepted, but for humanity as a whole to achieve enlightenment.”

*** 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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Every once in a while I like to change up genres and read something different. And while The Secret Of Heaven is partly a thriller, it was the promise of adventure and ancient mysteries that closed the deal for me. I love reading about conspiracy theories and secret societies so it is easy to say I was looking forward to this one, especially since I had previously enjoyed one of the author’s stories. Unfortunately things didn’t work out that way. I’m not sure if it just was me reading The Secret Of Heaven at the wrong time, but I really struggled to get a proper feel for this story. There are a lot of different characters involved and this makes it hard to keep up wih the what and who and how everything connects. More than once I had to stop reading and try to remember what the role of a certain character was and this slowed down the pace considerably. The plot also felt pretty chaotic and kept jumping back and forth between characters… Which took a while to get used to. I have to be honest here and say it took me a lot longer than expected to finish The Secret Of Heaven. The writing wasn’t bad and it really shows that the author has taken the time to investigate the historical details thoroughly. The (historical) descriptions are extensive and show just how important the so-called Lost Bible is… That said, those descriptions did also slow down the pace and while I normally love historical elements in a story, they didn’t manage to convince me in The Secret Of Heaven. As for the characters and their actions… I wasn’t really able to connect to them as there are simply too many characters in play in the first place; also, I’m not sure everything that happens in the plot is exactly credible. And while it kind of has that Dan Brown feel and sounds really promising, The Secret Of Heaven unfortunately didn’t manage to blow me away. Such a shame, because the story has a lot of potential!

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Professor of Biblical Studies Aiden Leonardo was the last person to see Lazzaro de Medici before he was murdered, so of course he instantly becomes the main suspect. The thing is: he cannot remember what happened the night before… Although he is certain he would never harm the man that took him in when his mother died. Something more complicated than just a simple murder seems to be at play though and Aiden soon finds himself right in the middle of a conspiracy, a hunt for a Lost Bible and a secret organization known as The Group. What will happen to Aiden and will they be able to find what they are looking for before it’s too late?

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I really thought I was going to enjoy this one and I’m still wondering if I picked it up at the wrong time, but the fact is that The Secret Of Heaven didn’t manage to convince me in the end. The writing isn’t bad and it shows that the historical elements are very well researched, but there were too many characters involved and the pace wasn’t as fast as I thought it would be with the extensive descriptions slowing it down. I normally love historical details so I was really surprised I wasn’t able to enjoy this story more!


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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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