YVO’S SHORTIES #139 – The Shadow Cabinet & Next Year In Havana

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two books I read for the Magical Readathon Winter 2019 challenge… The first, The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, but the second, Next Year In Havana by Chanel Cleeton, turned out to be absolutely fantastic.


Title: The Shadow Cabinet
(Shades Of London #3)
Author: Maureen Johnson

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal 
First published: February 5th 2015
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Finished reading: December 15th 2019
Pages: 385

“We’re both broken right now. Something’s happened to us. But we can do this. We have to.”


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Say hello to another unpopular opinion ramble! I really enjoyed the first book of the Shades Of London series when I read it back in 2016… And 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. I honestly start to believe Shades Of London would have worked better as a stand-alone, going out with a bang after the Jack The Ripper inspired case and just leave it at that… The plot in The Shadow Cabinet seems even more jumbled and farfetched than the sequel, and with many eyebrow raising moments and the characters being possibly even more annoying (Rory, I’m looking at you!) I’m still not sure why I even kept reading. I definitely didn’t enjoy reading about the direction this story seems to be taking, and to be honest I don’t really mind that there still isn’t any news about a possible book four? It’s truly a shame I ended up having this reaction after such a positive first experience with this series, but it is what it is I guess.


Title: Next Year In Havana
Author: Chanel Cleeton

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: February 6th 2018
Publisher: Berkley
Finished reading: December 18th 2019
Pages: 394

“You never know what’s to come. That’s the beauty of life. If everything happened the way we wished, the way we planned, we’d miss out on the best parts, the unexpected pleasures.”


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I have to say I’m still kicking myself for not picking up Next Year In Havana sooner… I’ve been wanting to read it ever since I first heard about it last year, and despite the glowing reviews it took me way longer than expected to actually do so. Say hello to another top read of 2019, just in time before the year is over! Oh yes, I loved every single minute of this story and it will without doubt stay with me for a long time… And I also can’t wait to read When We Left Cuba soon and learn more about Beatriz. First things first though, and let’s talk Next Year In Havana. I do love my historical fiction, and the 1958 Cuban setting was both absolutely fascinating, well researched and excellently described. Chanel Cleeton was able to truly make the setting come alive, using detailed descriptions to paint the perfect portrait of a complicated time in Cuban history. This is a story that will not only entertain, but also teaches you about both past and present. Facts are mixed with fiction in a seamless way, and the two complement each other flawlessly.

The story is told using a dual timeline and two different POVs: Elisa in 1958 and her granddaughter Marisol in 2017. Dual timelines can go both ways for me, as it is extremely hard to balance the two correctly and one normally tends to fall short for me. But not in this case. I absolutely loved both present and past chapters and both Elisa and Marisol are the perfect characters to help us understand more about Cuban life and its history. The characters are another big reason I can call this story a new favorite, and I was able to warm up to them almost instantly. Elisa and her sisters, Ana, Pablo, Marisol, Luis… There are so many characters I loved in this story, and they all play their role in teaching us more about Cuba as well. The plot itself is complex, multilayered and shows a thorough research into Cuban history as well as a wonderful romance story to counter the darker elements in Next Year In Havana. This story is an absolute must-read for historical fiction fans!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #130 – The Near Witch & The Whisper Man

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time two titles I’ve been highly anticipating, and both turned out to be solid reads. I still can’t believe I’ve left Victoria Schwab‘s books until last, but I’ve finally read it and I’ve now officially run out of Schwab books to read until next year. xD And I admit I’ve been afraid to actually pick up The Whisper Man because of all the hype around it, but it turned out to be a good one.


Title: The Near Witch
Author: Victoria Schwab

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: August 2nd 2011
Publisher: Titan Books
Finished reading: October 29th 2019
Pages: 320

“Sometimes people need something -someone- to blame. It gives them peace until they can find the real answers.”


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It’s not a secret that I’m a huge fan of Victoria Schwab‘s books, and I’ve been meaning to read her debut for ages now. I guess in a way I have been saving it, because now I’ve read it I have officially run out of Schwab books to read until new titles are published next year. Not a pleasant thought, although it might give me time to reread some of my favorites in the mean time? First things first though, and let’s talk about her debut. The Near Witch shows just how much she has grown as an author since this first story! I still loved my time with Lexi and Cole of course (then again, I might be a bit biased when it comes to her work), but the story reads a bit slower than usual and if you look at it objectively there isn’t really much going on in the plot. I really wasn’t expecting the pace to be this slow and the romance, while not that present thankfully, still kind of distracted from the fantasy elements in The Near Witch. It might just have been that somehow certain parts of Lexi’s personality started to bother me though, but I did like Cole’s character and what he represented. And the descriptions of the moor setting are simply glorious! Beautifully illustrated and it made the setting really come alive for me… The whole hint at the supernatural is spot on as well; the writing putting you under its spell from the very first chapter. It’s just like magic! I still wish I could have read this debut before her more recent work though, because those titles kind of outshined what is still a wonderful story.


Title: The Whisper Man
Author: Alex North

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: June 13th 2019
Publisher: Penguin
Finished reading: October 31st 2019
Pages: 400

“Some investigations stayed with you, sinking their claws in and hanging on, so that you would always have to drag them behind you no matter how hard you tried to dislodge them.”


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I think The Whisper Man is probably one of the most hyped thrillers released this year, and to be honest I’ve been a bit hesitant to pick it up exactly because of that hype. I decided to wait for a while, but I couldn’t resist reading it during Halloween month as more than one had recommended to me it would be perfect for the time of the year. And I definitely agree! The Whisper Man isn’t just another crime thriller, as it toes the line with the horror genre and has quite a few delightfully creepy scenes included. The eery and twisted atmosphere sets the right tone for this story, and I definitely enjoyed my time with The Whisper Man. And while it’s not among my absolute top thriller reads of the year, I can also see why so many people seemed to love it. I had some minor issues with the pace in points as well as the predictability of the plot… The basics behind the plot are not exactly all that original, but I do love the development and execution of that plot. The story definitely ends with a bang as well, although I’m still not sure what to think about how things ended… I did like how past and present were connected, the different POVs helped enriching the plot and it was interesting to see things slowly unfold through the eyes of the different characters. It’s without doubt a solid read and I will be looking forward to read more of his work in the future!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #128 – Infinity + One & Thin Air

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two backlist titles I’ve been looking forward to read, and both ended up being excellent reads. Amy Harmon is one of my favorite authors and Infinity + One was without doubt another great read. And I’ve been looking forward to pick up my beautiful copy of Thin Air ever since I bought it, and it was just the right story for the time of the year.


Title: Infinity + One
Author: Amy Harmon

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Music
First published: June 8th 2014
Finished reading: October 14th 2019
Pages: 350

“We weren’t so different, Finn and I. Cages come in lots of colors and shapes. Some are gilded, while others have a slamming door. But golden handcuffs are still handcuffs.”


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I think most will be aware of the fact that I adore Amy Harmon‘s books by now… I’ve decided to make the wait for her next story Where The Lost Wander a little less painful by tackling some of her backlist titles I still had pending. I was going to finally pick up The Bird And The Sword, but my heart screamed for a dose of contemporary romance and Infinity + One sounded perfect for the job. As soon as I realized this story was going to have references to the infamous Bonnie and Clyde couple, I was sold. I’m a huge sucker for historical crime references, and who hasn’t heard about the story of Bonnie and Clyde?! This element was definitely a huge bonus for me, and I loved how it played a role through the whole story in multiple ways. Bonnie and Finn are in many way opposites, but I loved how well their characters worked together in this story. The thorough development of both characters, giving them flaws and having them making mistakes, really makes them come alive for me and I was soon addicted to their story despite the fact it kind of has that insta-love vibe going on. But between the road trip feel of the plot, the dangerous angle, the Bonnie and Clyde references, the music and the spark between Bonnie and Finn among other things, there were many elements to make you forget about those few cliches. The writing is just as wonderful as I’ve come to expect of her work, and while Infinity + One isn’t my absolute favorite of her work, it’s undeniably an excellent read fans of the genre will love.


Title: Thin Air
Author: Michelle Paver

Genre: Historical Fiction, Paranormal
First published: October 6th 2016
Publisher: Orion
Finished reading: October 16th 2019
Pages: 240

“Up and up my eye climbs, past sweeping, dark-red precipices and glaring white ice, to those immaculate peaks, the highest trailing a banner of wind-blown snow across a sky so intensely blue that it’s almost black.

Kangchenjunga.”


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I admit this was initially a cover love buy for me, although as soon as I read the blurb I was convinced I made the right choice. Partly a historical adventure story set in the 1935 Himalayas, partly a ghost story, Thin Air turned out to have a very interesting mix of different elements and it’s a story perfect for this Halloween month. First up we have the historical fiction aspect, as this story is set in 1935… I think the author did a great job describing the historical elements and it gives us a good idea what it would have been like joining such a expedition back then. That brings us to the next element: the international setting in the Himalayas (India, Nepal), with the mountain Kangchenjunga being almost like another character. The descriptions of the setting really made the mountains come alive for me, and it’s part of the reason I enjoyed the story. Another thing that stands out is the paranormal aspect of this story. We learn about a past failed expedition and its tragic end… And with strange things happening to the main character Stephen, you definitely get that spooky vibe. But this story also almost reads like an adventure journal where you learn more about mountain climbing, what happens during this expedition as well as the other characters as Stephen sees them. Some are definitely not that likeable, but it was very interesting what the extreme experience and weather conditions do to a person. I had a great time reading this story and definitely didn’t see that ending coming! Thin Air is without doubt a great Halloween as well as a proper Winter read. It definitely makes you want to bundle up in a pile of blankets with a steaming mug of your favorite beverage closeby!


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#WesolowskiWednesdays – Hydra edition #Orentober #bookreview @Orendabooks

Today is Wednesday, which means it’s time for another dose of #WesolowskiWednesdays !! This time around it’s time for the second book of the Six Stories series, written by the talented Matt Wesolowski, to take the spotlight. All in the spirit of celebrating all things Orenda during #Orentober month! I admit I have been struggling a LOT to write reviews for this series. YES, the books are just THAT good! You can find my attempt at writing a somewhat coherent review about Hydra below…

Title: Hydra
(Six Stories #2)
Author: Matt Wesolowski
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: December 24th 2017
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: October 12th 2019
Pages: 320

“It’s like a hydra, Scott; every head you cut off, two more grow in their places. And we’re everywhere – hiding, waiting. You’ll never ever stop us.”


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Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Orenda Books titles, but they make me feel so SO incompetent as a blogger… Why? Let’s just say that each time I finish an Orenda title, I’m left a blubbering mess and completely lost for words. These feelings were no different when I finished Hydra, a story that blew my mind and left me lacking the skills to find those words to properly describe my thoughts. How on earth am I supposed to be able to review such a cracker of a book?! Should I just throw in the ‘just read the damn book‘ one liner and leave it at that? Or link to the glowing reviews of more competent fellow bloggers and let them convince you this series in general is an absolute must-read? Trust me, I’ve been seriously tempted to do both, but in the end I’ve decided to just throw in my two cents about what I already know will be a 2019 favorite.

So, Hydra. It’s been over a week since I finished this title and my mind is still blown and unable to string those sentences together. I already had a brilliant experience reading Six Stories earlier this year, but somehow Hydra did the unthinkable and managed to outshine that first experience. Lost for words and utterly flabbergasted… Oh yes, this book made a big impact. The podcast format, the premise, the characters, the paranormal and horror elements, the writing, the suspense and plot twists… I don’t even know where to start my review as everything was just pure magic. So please bear with me as I try to explain why you should read this series ASAP.

First of all, can we just admire that gorgeous cover for a moment? So dark, ominous and simply glorious and it definitely sets the right mood for the story. Because Hydra isn’t just a crime story where Scott King investigates an infamous murder case. Instead, it also flirts with the horror genre with the introduction of paranormal elements that will definitely give you goosebumps and chill you to the bone. The so-called black-eyed children are oh so creepy and definitely give Hydra an unique touch! The lines between facts and fiction are blurred and give this story almost a surreal sensation… If you are easily frightened, you should brace yourself before you start reading this story!

Another key element that makes this masterpiece unique is without doubt the format, which really makes the series stand out. Scott King is a very interesting character, because as the investigative journalist hosting the podcast he is both omnipresent while also mostly detached from the actual story. Like he says himself: the podcasts are not about him, but about the case he investigates. This provides for a very unique point of view! Hydra is once again told in six different podcast episodes with each episode featuring a different key character who might shed some light on what really happened during that brutal night known as the ‘Macleod Massacre’. We also get snippets of multiple audio files from Arla Macleod, recorded while she is a patient of Elmtree Manor Hosiptal, which give a little more insight as to what is going on in her head. I bet Hydra would make a fantastic audiobook as well, as both the podcast format and the audio files would really come alive that way.

The writing is flawless and I completely lost track of time while reading Hydra. The Macleod Massacre is an absolutely brutal case and I was hooked as soon as Scott King started dropping the first facts about that night in 2014. Arla’s motive might seem simple at first glance, but as the hints of the paranormal start popping up things are starting to get dark and tantalizing. Are the black-eyed children just the imagination of a mentally disturbed young woman? Or is something more sinister at play? This ominous feel will raise the hairs on the back of your neck and gives Hydra that spine-chilling vibe. The suspense is again build up slowly, but I do feel that this sequel is a lot more sinister than the first book. The paranormal elements definitely play a big role in this, which are expertly incorporated into what is already an excellent plot. Hydra will also have some excellent plot twists for you in store, and once again the final episode will punch you right in the gut and leave you dumbfounded. The cast of characters definitely made for a interesting bunch as well, and especially Arla was a fascinating character to learn more about. If you like your thrillers dark, unique and glorious, Hydra will be a perfect match!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #126 – Coraline & Tunnel Of Bones

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! October is Halloween month and this round of shorties features two Halloween inspired MG reads that are both excellent for getting you in the mood for Halloween. I’ve been meaning to read Coraline by Neil Gaiman for years now, and I’m happy to report it didn’t disappoint. And of course I couldn’t resist reading Victoria Schwab‘s newest title Tunnel Of Bones as it’s perfect for this month… This sequel is another brilliant read, but I didn’t expect any different.


Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Horror
First published: August 4th 2002
Publisher: William Morrow
Finished reading: October 1st 2019
Pages: 162

“I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn’t mean anything? What then?”


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I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman‘s work for a while now, but somehow I never actually read Coraline despite having seen the movie… Until now. I thought this little book would be the perfect title to mark the start of the Halloween month with, and is without doubt a story that gives off the exact right creepy vibe. I like how the story makes you go in blind, and only starts revealing details about the alternative fantasy world as you get further into the story. This way, you discover the facts only when the main character Coraline does, and I’m sure middle graders will be able to relate to her easier this way. The writing is of the same high quality I’ve become used to of Neil Gaiman, and while it’s not my favorite story of his, I definitely had a great time discovering the story of Coraline. And with its spooky and eery vibe, it’s a perfect choice if you are looking for a quick and fun Halloween read!


Title: Tunnel Of Bones
(City Of Ghosts #2)
Author: Victoria Schwab

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: September 3rd 2019
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Finished reading: October 3rd 2019
Pages: 304

“Calling the Tuileries a garden is like calling Hogwarts a school. It’s technically correct, but the word really doesn’t do either one justice.”


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I think everyone probably knows by now I’m a huge fan of Victoria Schwab’s books, and I’ve loved every single book I tried so far. This middle grade series is no exception, and even with high expectations Tunnel Of Bones was just as good as I was hoping for. If you are looking like a fun, quick and fabulous Halloween story, you have just found your next read! Both City Of Ghosts and Tunnel Of Bones are perfect reads for this time of the year. In this sequel main character Cass and her parents travel to Paris to find more ghost stories and film another episode of their TV show. I really enjoyed the premise in the first book, and this same recipe is used more than successfully in the sequel. The main descriptions of the French setting are executed perfectly and make it feel as if you are right in the middle of Paris along with the main characters. I like how reality is mixed with fantasy and the paranormal, and how the lines are blurred between the two. The TV show, her parents hunting ghost stories and Cass knowing ghosts actually exists is a very strong base to build a story on! The idea of her near-death-experience and her being able to enter the so-called Veil and interact with ghosts is fascinating, and I loved the new twist in Tunnel Of Bones. Cass has to battle something new in this sequel, and I really enjoyed seeing the plot evolve. You will find paranormal elements, humor, friendship, a dose of forboding and a hint of danger, all sprinkled with that French je ne sais quoi that makes you love every single page of this story. Is it too soon to ask about the next book yet? I’m seriously addicted to this series.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #124 – The Passengers & The Unbound

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a new release and a backlist title, both my favorite authors. The Passengers by John Marrs turned out to be an absolutely brilliant read and one of my 2019 favorites… And while I was surprised that I didn’t enjoy The Unbound as much as the first book, it was without doubt still a solid read.


Title: The Passengers
Author: John Marrs

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: April 1st 2019
Publisher: Berkley
Finished reading: August 31st 2019
Pages: 416

“Nothing disappears any more,’ shrugged Cadman. ‘Everything is somewhere. All that’s private becomes public in the end.”


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I’ve been excited to read The Passengers ever since I first read that first raving review a while back… I couldn’t wait for my pre-order to arrive, but somehow I didn’t pick it up straight away when it did… I’m kicking myself now, because the reviews were absolutely right: this is an absolutely brilliant read. I’ve read his work in the past and I already knew I was going to like it, but The Passengers simply blew me away. What a read! The writing, the plot, the near-future setting, the twists, the characters… I loved it all, found myself to be glued to my seat and couldn’t stop reading until I discovered how it would all end. Some scenes are pretty brutal, but only show just how dire the situation the characters find themselves in is. The development of the near future is excellently done and I feel they give us a (terrifying) glimpse of what the future could be. I’m personally not sure if I would want driverless cars or having my whole life available online; and especially not after finishing The Passengers… Both plot and character development are well executed and there are so many secrets and twists involved that you will never guess what is going on or who is behind it all… I liked how this story was divided into three different parts, and the ending was satisfying. The Passengers is an absolutely brilliant book and hands down one of my favorites of 2019… If you haven’t read this one, you definitely should give it a go!


Title: The Unbound
(The Archived #2)
Author: Victoria Schwab

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: January 28th 2014
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Finished reading: September 1st 2019
Pages: 368

“Doubt is not a crime, Agatha. It is only a tool to test our faith. It can break us, but it can also make us stronger.”


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I decided to pick up the sequel of this series while memories of the first book were still fresh for a change… I loved The Archived and have been looking forward to dive into the world again. And while I have to say I didn’t enjoy The Unbound as much as the first book, I can’t deny it was still a solid book. The worldbuilding is still strong, the urban fantasy feeling with a paranormal touch right there and center, and I really like the idea of the Narrows, the Archived and the Keepers and Crew using doors to move around and do their job. The writing is of the same high quality I’ve become used to with Schwab‘s books, and it was really easy to keep turning those pages. My main issue is with the new direction of this story and the focus shifting towards the ‘real’ world, including a lot of private school scenes, cliches and even a love triangle. I get that Mac is a mess after what happened to her in the first book, but I wasn’t a fan of how her character behaved in the sequel. I also guessed the big plot twist really early on, which kind of put a damper on things… This is by no means a happy read and I did have some minor issues with this sequel, but overall it is still a very solid read. I’m definitely looking forward to see if she will write a third The Archived book!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #123 – The Madness Underneath & The Hiding Place

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two reads that both turned out to be entertaining, but still not as good as I hoped they would be. The sequel The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson and The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor


Title: The Madness Underneath
(Shades Of London #2)
Author: Maureen Johnson

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: February 1st 2013
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Finished reading: August 28th 2019
Pages: 304

“They knew I would do a better job of berating myself for being an idiot than they ever could and that waiting for the punishment was much worse than the actual punishment.

 

The tick tick tick is much worse than the boom.”


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Fun fact: the first book of this series was a TBR jar pick as well, and while I really enjoyed it, it still took me three years and another nudge from my TBR jar to finally pick up the sequel. This ment I didn’t remember all the details about the events in the first book, but it was quite easy to get the gist after the first couple of chapters. I really like the idea behind the Shades Of London series. It’s YA paranormal fantasy and horror with a twist, the snarky humor giving you a break from the darker scenes. I do believe this sequel is not as strong as the first book though… This feeling has to do both with the plot itself, the characters and the romance involved. The plot, while interesting enough, did miss that spark of the first book. It might have been the simple fact that it’s hard to live up to the previous Jack The Ripper inspired plot, but I found certain parts of the plot quite slow and sometimes not all that credible. I also had issues with certain actions and the behavior of certain characters… Part of this feeling has to do with the fact that we have to deal with a considerable amount of romance and teen angst in this sequel; something I didn’t expect at all and definitely wasn’t my cup of tea. I still liked the writing though and the humor used was mostly spot on for me. The paranormal elements were likewise interesting and I liked the development of Rory’s special skills. And that mayor cliffhanger ending definitely makes me want to pick up the third book soon despite my reservations.


Title: The Hiding Place
Author: C.J. Tudor

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Horror
First published: February 5th 2019
Publisher: Crown
Finished reading: August 30th 2019
Pages: 288

“People say time is a great healer. They’re wrong. Time is simply a great eraser. It rolls on and on regardless, eroding our memories, chipping away at those great big boulders of misery until there’s nothing left but sharp little fragments, still painful but small enough to bear.”


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I really enjoyed The Chalk Man last year, and I’ve been looking forward to try C.J. Tudor‘s second book The Hiding Place ever since. It might have been that I set my expectations too high, but I ended up having mixed thoughts about this book. The first thing that stands out is that I underestimated just how dark this story was going to be… I personally didn’t mind, but I do believe The Hiding Place would be classified more accurately with a (paranormal) horror label rather than just a ‘regular’ thriller. Especially the paranormal aspect took me by surprise, as I have to be in the mood for those kind of stories and don’t always react to them positively. It really shows the author uses the work of Stephen King as her inspiration though; The Hiding Place definitely has that King feel with the horror elements, the bugs and the paranormal. Completely original or not, there is one thing for sure: C.J. Tudor sure knows how to write. I found myself flying through the pages, both shocked and entertained by what was happening. I liked the humor used, and while the characters are not exactly likeable, it somehow works for this story. And while I can’t deny I preferred The Chalk ManThe Hiding Place is without doubt still a very entertaining albeit darker than expected read.


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