ARC REVIEW: The Secret Messenger – by Mandy Robotham

Title: The Secret Messenger
Author: Mandy Robotham
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: December 12th 2019
Publisher: Avon
Finished reading: December 12th 2019 
Pages: 400

“Whether or not they are dead and gone, history defines us. It makes us what we are.”

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

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I was already swamped with pending ARCs when I received an invitation to read The Secret Messenger, but as I have a (probably already well known) weak spot for WWII historical fiction I just couldn’t resist adding this title to my TBR anyway. Especially since my reading experience with her debut A Woman Of War last year turned out to be a positive one, and I do love a lesser known WWII setting… Because let’s face it: Italy isn’t exactly the star of the show in most WWII historical fiction stories, and I don’t think I’ve read a WWII story before set in Venice. Which was probably one of the key reasons I was especially excited to pick up my copy of The Secret Messenger. Now I’ve had the chance to read The Secret Messenger, I’m not sure what to do with my thoughts. I was fully expecting to love this story, and there were definitely certain elements that managed to provoke that love, but there were also other elements that didn’t work all that well for me. In short: surprisingly enough, I ended up having mixed feelings about The Secret Messenger. I’ll try to explain why below…

First of all I have to say that the setting in Venice is without doubt the true star of this book. The descriptions are detailed, thorough and really made the magic of the city come alive for me… Both in the present and past. Sadly I haven’t been able to visit the city myself just yet, but Mandy Robotham made it feel as if you were right there along with the main characters. Venice is a truly magical city and I loved learning more about its history through the characters of this story. The Secret Messenger uses a dual timeline with two different POVs: Stella in 1943-1944 Venice and Luisa in 2017 UK and later Venice as well. Dual timelines are always tricky to get right, and sadly I don’t think this technique worked all that well in this case. I felt the balance of the two different timelines was off; there was a whole lot more of Stella and Luisa’s chapters fell mostly flat for me until those final chapters set in Venice. To be honest, I think The Secret Messenger would have been a stronger story if it would have been just Stella’s POV, as she is clearly the star of this story and already takes up so much space in the plot to begin with. Luisa’s chapters only distracted from the ones set in the past, and to be honest I never really liked her character all that much either.

I also have to say that the pace was considerably slow during most of the story, only picking up towards the ending as things are getting more intense especially in Stella’s chapters. This slow pace made it harder to stay invested in the story and it took me a lot longer than usual to finally reach that final page… And it mostly thanks to Stella, the Venice setting and its fantastic descriptions and history that I decided to keep on reading. The whole story of the war in Venice and how the resistance tried to do their thing was fascinating, and I truly wish the sole focus would have been on Stella and her story. Luisa didn’t really add much to the plot for me other than slowing down the pace considerably and I don’t think her character was fleshed out enough to be a true asset to the story.

In short, there were things I loved in The Secret Messenger, including the WWII setting in Venice, its history and the story of the resistance and Stella’s story as a whole. There were also things that didn’t work for me, incluiding the slow pace during most of the story, the dual timeline and Luisa’s POV in general. As a result, I ended up having mixed thoughts about The Secret Messenger despite the fact that this story should have been a perfect fit, but fans of the genre should definitely give it a go as most people seem to react a lot better to the elements that didn’t work for me personally. I guess it was unpopular opinion time once again?


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WWW Wednesdays #247 – December 18th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m finally reading Next Year In Havana by Chanel Cleeton for one of last week’s prompts for the Magical Readathon Winter 2019 challenge… And I’m also starting The Rules Of Murder by Rob Sinclair. I really enjoyed the first book a few months back, so I’m looking forward to meet up with main character Dani Stephens again! Also, you might remember I was starting Good Omens last week… I read the first few pages and couldn’t get into it, so I’ve decided to put it on hold for now and picked a different title for the readathon instead.

WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

1. The Secret Messenger by Mandy Robotham (3/5 stars) REVIEW 20/12
Tthere were things I loved in The Secret Messenger, including the WWII setting in Venice, its history and the story of the resistance and Stella’s story as a whole. There were also things that didn’t work for me, incluiding the slow pace during most of the story, the dual timeline and main character Luisa’s POV in general. As a result, I ended up having mixed thoughts about The Secret Messenger despite the fact that this story should have been a perfect fit, but fans of the genre should definitely give it a go as most people seem to react a lot better to the elements that didn’t work for me personally. I guess it was unpopular opinion time once again?

2. Snakes And Ladders by Victoria Selman (4,5/5 stars) REVIEW
As soon as I read the first line of the blurb on Netgalley I was sold. I mean: Psycho meets The Silence Of The Lambs… How on earth would I be able to resist that?! Add the promise of a serial killer and profiler angle, and I just HAD to add it to my shelves. I confess I wasn’t aware that Snakes And Ladders was actually the third book of a series when I requested a copy, but thankfully it turns out that this story works really well as a stand-alone as well. Fans of darker, complex and twisted serial killer thrillers who love a profiler and psychological angle will have a great time with this one!

3. The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson (2,5/5 stars) REVIEW 27/12
Even though I wasn’t as impressed by the sequel when I finally read it a few months back, when I discovered I had to read an urban fantasy for the Magical Readathon Winter 2019 challenge my thoughts went to this series almost immediately. I decided to give Rory another shot, and see if the third book would make me fall in love with the series again… Sadly, it wasn’t ment to be and The Shadow Cabinet turned out to be the weakest link of this series yet.

4. Bitter Falls by Rachel Caine (4/5 stars) REVIEW 20/01/2020
The first two books of this series are on my all time favorites list, and I still think this series is brilliant, but I’m starting to think that maybe it’s just better to leave things as it is? Don’t get me wrong, the writing is still brilliant and it is without doubt an intense, twisted and thrilling ride, but you can only have that much stuff happening to the main characters before it starts becoming REALLY unbelievable. Book four, like book three, misses some of that spark of the first two books… I still devoured every single page, but I also started looking a bit more critical at certain aspects of the plot and that is never a good sign. This story will have your heart racing though!

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

I don’t want to fall behind with the Magical Readathon Winter 2019 challenge, so I’m probably reading Palm Beach Finland by Antti Tuomainen next. When I saw the third chapter prompt mention a book with pink or purple cover, I KNEW I had to pick up my pink and fabulous copy of this one! Then it’s back to ARCs and I’m planning on reading two early January blog tour books: Are You Watching? by Vincent Ralph and A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone. I can’t wait to read both! My latest TBR jar pick is still Like This For Ever by Sharon Bolton, which I probably won’t be able to get to this year even though I’m looking forward to it…


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WWW Wednesdays #246 – December 11th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

Between pending DIY projects around the house and the superhot weather (I’m talking close to 40°C here; I’d swap for cold and snow any day), I haven’t been able to read as much as I had originally planned… I was expecting to be finished with The Secret Messenger by Mandy Robotham by now, but I guess it wasn’t ment to be. I’m hoping to finish it today though! I’m also currently reading Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett for one of this week’s prompts for the Magical Readathon Winter 2019 challenge I’ve decided to join again this month. I still can’t believe I haven’t read this one yet! Afterwards I’m starting Snakes And Ladders by Victoria Selman, a title I’ve been excited to read after all the buzz around it.

WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

1. The Missing Letters Of Mrs Bright by Beth Miller (3/5 stars) REVIEW 07/01/2020
There was just something about The Missing Letters Of Mrs. Bright that made me want to read it instantly. I think it was a combination of the blurb itself and the comparison to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and A Man Called Ove; two of my favorite books with characters I absolutely adored. I might have set my expectations a tad too high, because somehow I didn’t end up enjoying this story as much as I thought I would…

2. How The Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss (4,5/5 stars) REVIEW 23/12
I’m probably the last person on earth to pick up How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, but somehow Dr. Seuss just wasn’t all that known in the Netherlands back when I was little… Or at least I never came in contact with his books (and trust me, I basically raided the library on a weekly basis back then). I’ve seen the movie adaptation multiple times, so I was very familiar with the story already, but finally being able to read the original book was an absolute delight.

3. Nine Elms by Robert Bryndza (4,5/5 stars) REVIEW 14/12
I think a lot of you know by now I’m a huge fan of the Erika Foster series, so of course I just HAD to try his newest series ASAP. I was stoked when I received an ARC earlier this month, and I can now say that my first meeting with new main character Kate was an absolute success. What a read! I’m already having a feeling this series will be a new favorite…

4. The Blossom Twins by Carol Wyer (3,5/5 stars) REVIEW 12/12
I always enjoy Carol Wyer‘s books and I’ve been enjoying my time with Natalie Ward so far, so the decision whether to read book number five was a no-brainer. It’s without doubt another solid sequel with an ending that left me completely shocked, flabbergaster and simply destroyed… Although somehow there were some things that started to get on my nerves, including quite a lot of complaining and nagging going on in book five. Especially those moments related to Natalie’s personal life… The Blossom Twins wasn’t my favorite of the series, but the ending definitely left me desperate to find out what will happen next in Natalie’s life.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

Next up is my second book for the Magical Readathon Winter 2019 challenge: Next Year In Havana by Chanel Cleeton. I’ve been wanting to read this one for a long time so I’m happy I found an excuse to finally do so! Then it’s back to ARCs for a bit… First up is an most anticipated 2020 release: Bitter Falls by Rachel Caine. I can’t wait to dive into this series again! Afterwards, I’ll probably pick up The Rules Of Murder by Rob Sinclair… My latest TBR jar pick is still Like This For Ever by Sharon Bolton, which I’m hoping to read soon, but I’m not sure if I’ll actually get to it this year.


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WWW Wednesdays #245 – December 4th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m probably already finished with The Missing Letters Of Mrs Bright by Beth Miller by the time this WWW post goes live, as it is turning out to be a superfast read… It’s also the title for the contemporary read prompt I needed to read for the Magical Readathon Winter 2019 challenge I’ve decided to join again this month. I’m also starting Nine Elms by Robert Bryndza, one of my most anticipated 2019 releases I was stoked to be granted an ARC of the other day.

WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

Wow, it’s been a while since I last did a WWW post! I won’t be listing every book I read since October 30th (check out my Month In Review post that went live yesterday if you are interested in what I read during my break), but below are the five books that I managed to finish in the last week or so.

1. The Fountains Of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (5/5 stars) REVIEW 22/12
The Fountains Of Silence managed to completely blow me away and I was left without words to describe my feelings about this story as well as with a new all time favorite to add to my list. It shows that so much research has gone into this story and I bow to the author for her detailed descriptions and thorough information about what happened in that difficult time period in Spain. I loved The Fountains Of Silence from the very first page until the very last… If you are a historical fiction fan who appreciates a complex and rich plot with fantastic descriptions and brilliant character development, you are missing out if you haven’t tried this story yet.

2. Recursion by Blake Crouch (4/5 stars) REVIEW 22/12
Dark Matter is on my list of all time favorites, so I’ve been curious about Recursion  ever since I first heard about it. The premise of this story sounds absolutely compelling, and now I’ve had the chance to read this story I can say that it definitely lived up to expectations. Recursion introduces some fascinating concepts that will definitely make an impact on you. And even if you are not really a sci-fi fan, I can still recommend trying Recursion if you enjoy complex, thrilling and captivating stories.

3. The Family by Louise Jensen (4,5/5 stars) REVIEW 24/12
I’ve been a huge fan of her psychological thrillers since the beginning, and I can now say that Louise Jensen has done it again! The Family is definitely one of those psychological thrillers you will want to read in one sitting; between the plot, writing, character development, secrets and twists, you will find it a very easy job to do just so. It’s simply a brilliant read and an absolute must-read for fans of the genre!

4. A Curse So Dark And Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (4/5 stars) REVIEW 24/12
I haven’t read nearly enough YA high fantasy this year, and it turns out I was long overdue for a dose of the genre. I ended up enjoying A Curse So Dark And Lonely so much more than I hoped I would!

5. Down The Darkest Road by Kylie Brant (4/5 stars) REVIEW 09/12
I really enjoyed my first meeting with Cady Maddix last year, so of course I couldn’t resist requesting a copy of the sequel as soon as I saw it was available on Netgalley. While I think I enjoyed the first book a tiny bit more, there is no doubt that Down The Darkest Road is a superfast and entertaining thriller with a lot of action and suspense to keep you on edge. I’m not sure about the credibility of certain aspects of the plot, as certain details did become a bit too fantastical, but there is no denying that I had a great time reading this sequel despite this.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

I’m currently drowning in a huge pile of ARCs, so I’ll be reading mostly ARCs this month… First up is The Blossom Twins by Carol Wyer, a title I’ve been looking forward to. Then it’s a little break with my Christmas read of the year: How The Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. I can’t believe I’ve never read that one before! Afterwards it’s back to ARCs and next up is The Secret Messenger by Mandy Robotham. My latest TBR jar pick is still Like This For Ever by Sharon Bolton, which I’m hoping to read soon, but I’m not sure if I’ll actually get to it this year.


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ARC REVIEW: A Woman Of War – by Mandy Robotham

Title: A Woman Of War
Author: Mandy Robotham
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: December 7th 2018
Publisher: Avon
Finished reading: November 30th 2018 
Pages: 352

“When you saw so much horror, destruction and inhumanity in one place, it was the simplest things that broke your resolve and reminded you of kindness in the world.”

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

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I always have a weak spot for WWII historical fiction… As soon as I recognized the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp entrance I was able to see with my own eyes a few months back on the cover, I just new I had to read A Woman Of War. Although I admit I was a bit disappointed to not see that particular camp featured, there is no doubt that the author has a very interesting premise here. The plot of A Woman Of War is a proper fictional one and more a what if? story than one based on true events. It also shows some pro-Nazi characters in a very positive light; something you don’t see often in historical fiction, but also something I’m not sure how I feel about. The writing style flows and makes it quite easy to read this story rapidly despite the sometimes heavy topics and more graphic scenes. It shows that the author is a midwife herself, as there are detailed descriptions about women in labor and birth itself. The main character Anke is a midwife and her role is key in A Woman Of War. It brings forth a very interesting ethical and moral question: either Anke helping one of Hitler’s inner circle’s women during her pregnancy and betraying her own beliefs, or her refusing and being responsible for the death of her family. Seeing pro-Nazi characters in a positive light makes me feel uncomfortable and I could have done without the romance, but overall it was quite an interesting read. Anke’s flashbacks of her life before working as a midwife and during her time as a prisoner in Ravensbrück were a good balance to the more ‘fictional’ present narrative. Fans of the genre will no doubtly find A Woman Of War an interesting read.

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Anke Hoff used to work as a midwife in Berlin, but she was caught helping a Jewish woman deliver her baby and sent to camp Ravensbrück as a political prisoner and enemy of the Reich. Then one day she is called with the request to serve as the midwife of one of Hitler’s inner circle, with a clear threat that if she refuses or doesn’t do her job, her family will die. Soon after her arrival at the Berghof she learns nothing is as it seems, and she finds herself torn between her duty as a midwife and her hatred for the regime.

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There is no doubt that A Woman Of War offers quite an original take on a what if? situation that could have changed everything. I’m not sure what to make of the way the pro-Nazi characters are portrayed, but it is definitely quite unique no matter how you feel about it. The writing was solid and I especially enjoyed Anke’s flashbacks even though the parts set in Ravensbrück were quite brutal. All in all an interesting although a bit unorthodox WWII historical fiction read.


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WWW Wednesdays #199 – December 5th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m currently almost finished with Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, the final book for the When Are You Reading? challenge. I could have finished it days ago, but I’ve been busy prepping and painting walls, ceilings and other DIY stuff, leaving me without much free time to do other things… Including all things bookish. It also explains why I’ve been MIA lately… The fun part is that I’m still not finished either. xD I promise I will bloghop and answer all pending comments soon!

I’m also starting the ARC My Life In A Cat House by Gwen Cooper. How could I resist that cover? It sounds like an interesting read as well… And yes, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon finally appears on my currently reading list. I’m hoping to making a dent in the story as soon as I finish my other current reads.

WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

1. Blue Blood by Sara Blaedel (4/5 stars) REVIEW 13/12
This translation from a Danish crime writer (also called Call Me Princess in some translations) was without doubt an entertaining ride. The writing style was easy to like, and I just loved the setting in Denmark. I was drawn to the story and plot straight away, and found myself literally flying through the pages… Trigger warnings are in place for rape and violence, but the subject is really well handled and reading more about the dangers of online dating is definitely intriguing.

2. A Woman Of War by Mandy Robotham (3,5/5 stars) REVIEW 08/12
There is no doubt that A Woman Of War offers quite an original take on a what if? situation that could have changed everything. I’m not sure what to make of the way the pro-Nazi characters are portrayed, but it is definitely quite unique no matter how you feel about it. The writing was solid and I especially enjoyed Anke’s flashbacks even though the parts set in Ravensbrück were quite brutal. All in all an interesting although a bit unorthodox WWII historical fiction read.

3. Love Looks Pretty On You by Lang Leav (2,5/5 stars) REVIEW 11/12
Unfortunately, I can’t say Love Looks Pretty On You turned out to be an entirely positive experience. There was just something about the writing style and tone this time around that didn’t manage to convince me completely. I found that the poems in Love Looks Pretty On You lacked proper cohesion between them and there was no absolute theme and obvious connection between all of them. Instead of the positive tone I was expecting from the title, there were a lot of negative feelings portrayed in the poems. Not bad perse, but not what I expected and somehow I wasn’t able to connect to most of the poems.

4. The Songbird Girls by Richard Parker (4/5 stars) REVIEW 19/12
I always enjoy reading Richard Parker‘s thrillers, and this sequel to a new detective series is no exception. The writing style makes it easy to fully emerge yourself in the story, and the case detective Tom Fabian has to investigate this time around is without doubt fascinating. I love myself a good serial killer mystery! I did have my doubts about certain aspects of the credibility of it all and I was surprised to see this story was rather ‘mild’ compared to his other dark, twisted and nailbiting stories… But it was without doubt an entertaining and still thrilling read. And that ending! I’m definitely impatient to find out what will happen in the next one.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

Sorry Not Sorry by Sophie Ranald is one of my next pending ARCs, and it sounds like a superfun read at that. Just the change of genre I need! I also want to read A Spark Of Light by Jodi Picoult some time soon… And I need to read the ARC The Girl Without Skin by Mads Peder Nordbo soon as well. My newest TBR jar pick is still The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble.


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WWW Wednesdays #198 – November 28th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m currently reading two titles… The first a historical fiction ARC set during WWII: A Woman Of War by Mandy Robotham. The second one of the physical copies I got during our Europe trip and one I’ve been meaning to read: Blue Blood by Sara Blaedel. I totally didn’t realize this was the second book of a series, so fingers crossed it can be read as a stand-alone.

  • WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

1. Children Of Blood And bone by Tomi Adeyemi (3,5/5 stars) REVIEW 09/12
While I do have to say that this first book of a new high fantasy series failed to blow me away completely, I can also understand the love for this story. In fact, I was going to give it an even higher rating before the appearance of the romance scenes… Which I felt were completely unnecessary and made me feel a little disappointed. The writing is good though, and I really like the idea behind Children Of Blood And Bone. The quest was a bit too simple to my taste, and the plot twists a bit too abrupt, but overall it was without doubt a very entertaining YA fantasy read with pleasant enough characters.

2. Hunting Annabelle by Wendy Heard (3,5/5 stars) REVIEW
If you are looking for an interesting thriller read with an original touch, Hunting Annabelle is a good option. Set in 1986, this story doesn’t follow the typical thriller structure and plot and with the help of unreliable narrator Sean you will find yourself spinning in circles while you try to figure out what is happening. The final twists were a bit too farfetched and over the top to be credible for me, but it definitely isn’t something you will see coming… Dark, intriguing, a healthy dose of blood and serial killer and a very interesting mental health angle: Hunting Annabelle has it all.

3. Babel by Gaston Dorren (3/5 stars) REVIEW 04/12
Some of you might already know I’m actually a philologist and linguistics has always been one of my favorite areas of study. Therefore I thought Babel would be perfect for me… I mean, traveling the world through twenty languages that together can make you communicate with at least half of the world population? Sounds like pretty much a dream topic for philologists to me. Sadly, this book failed to hit the mark completely for me.

4. Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt (3/5 stars) REVIEW 05/12
The idea of a historical fiction read with a Western vibe about a gang of female outlaws sounded absolutely fascinating, so I’ve been looking forward to Heresy. While I still think the idea behind this story is fascinating, somehow I wasn’t able to enjoy the execution as much as I thought I would. Between the slower pace, lack of cohesion and parts that dragged, it took me a relatively long time to reach the final page. And while I rooted for Margaret and her gang, I also somehow just wanted to get it over with… And that’s never a good feeling. I do think this was mostly me though, so if you don’t mind a slower pace and an unusual format, you will probably enjoy this one.

5. PLUS+ by Bethany Rutter (4/5 stars) REVIEW 10/12
I know, I know, you are probably as surprised as I am to see this title pop up on my blog. PLUS+ isn’t just a little out of my comfort zone, it’s waaaaaay out. But, as someone who has struggled with her weight her whole life, there was just something about this title that drew me in.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

With only one month left in 2018, I really need to step up my goal game and finally read my 800+ pages book. So I’m going to start Outlander by Diana Gabaldon soon! I’ll probably read it in between other books depending on how much I like it. I also need to read a few more pending ARCs… The Songbird Girls by Richard Parker and Here And Now And Then by Mike Chen are probably next. My newest TBR jar pick is still The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble; I won’t be able to get to it this month, but I’m hoping to read it before the year is over.


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