BOOK REVIEW: A Dance With Dragons – by George R.R. Martin

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Title: A Dance With Dragons
(A Song Of Ice And Fire #5)
Author: George R.R. Martin
Genre: Fantasy
First published: July 12th 2011
Publisher: Bantam
Finished reading: August 30th 2016
Pages: 1.154
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“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

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I can’t believe I have finally finished this monster! It has been over two years since I finished book number four and I had my doubts whether to continue the series especially since I found the fourth book so disappointing. I now know what was the problem: all my favorite characters were missing. Because I think I have never finished a A Song Of Ice And Fire book as fast as I managed to read A Dance With Dragons. Blame it on my love for Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Arya, Daenerys and her dragons, but I’m pretty sure this has to be my new favorite ASOIAF book. I admit I don’t exactly remember my feelings for the first few books, mostly because it’s been quite some time since I’ve finished them. But as always the book is so much more intriguing than the TV series, and I’m glad I decided to read it before watching the latest season. And that ending! Now the long wait for the sixth book begins….

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

After a huge battle, Daenerys Targaryen rules with her three dragons as the queen of a city full of death and betrayal. She has thousands of enemies and many are determined to find and destroy her. And after what he did, Tyrion Lannister is also making his way east; fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head. He has new allies that might come in handy along the way… And in the frozen north, Jon Snow has to confront  both creatures from beyond the Wall and the powerful enemies within the Night’s Watch as well. Winter is coming, and people are getting more restless by the day. The dance for power begins…

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I have to be honest and say I didn’t even remember I disliked the fourth book that much, that’s how long it has been since I finished it. A Dance With Dragons has to be my new favorite of the series and I managed to finish it in record time. It definitely had all my favorite characters in them as well… The ending was shocking even though I kind of already knew what was going to happen. But then again George R.R. Martin does love to kill off his characters in general.

BOOK REVIEW: Daughter Of Smoke & Bone – by Laini Taylor

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Title: Daughter Of Smoke & Bone
(Daughter Of Smoke & Bone #1)
Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: September 27th 2011
Finished reading: May 8th 2016
Pages: 418
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“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”

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Warning: unpopular opinion ahead. I think I have lost count of the times this series has been recommended to me ever since I first started my blog. I’ve had a copy of Daughter Of Smoke & Bone on my TBR pile for a long time, and the main reason I finally decided to pick it up was that it came out as the winner of the which series should I read next? poll. One of the things of starting such a popular series is that it can both ways; and I kind of have an ‘unpopular opinion’ reputation when it comes to hyped books in the first place. And guess what? Daughter Of Smoke & Bone turned out to be one of them. And trust me, I feel I have been nice with the rating, because I had a STRONG dislike for the second half of this book and even thought about just DNFing it. Why? First of all, let me make it clear that I loved the first part of the story. The worldbuilding is great and I simply loved Laini Taylor‘s prose and descriptions of both the different cities and the magical elements. Karou starts out like such an interesting character as well; it’s so easy to connect to her and really made the first part into something special. But then Akiva showed up… And just as I already was afraid of, he turned out to be one of those typical pretty boy male love interests. Insta-love, forbidden love similar to Romeo & Juliet, sappy romance scenes and dialogue, a strong female character falling in love with the pretty boy and completely loses her original charm… What a way to ruin a story with so much potential! I already have a copy of the sequel, but I’m really worried about actually reading it now… Because (the second part of) Daughter Of Smoke & Bone definitely wasn’t for me.

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Karou seems to be just another young art student living in Prague, but there is more to her than what meets the eye. People believe the monsters in her sketchbooks are a figment of her imagination, but is that really true? And what about the fact that she is able to speak multiple languages perfectly, disappears often on mysterous errands and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that way? Karou has seen things most humans haven’t, growing up in a hidden shop where the chimaera Brimstone collects teeth of all sizes he uses for who knows what afterwards. He never seems to want to answer questions about her past, but it seems like she won’t be waiting much longer before she finds out the truth… Mysterious winged strangers mark the different doorways to Brimstone’s world with black hand prints; marking the beginning of the end… And Karou soon has to fight to stay alife. She crosses paths with the beautiful haunted Akiva, who seems to be just as curious to find out what Karou really is. He should and could have killed her, but something makes him decide otherwise… What will happen to them?

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Like I said, I loved the first part of Daughter Of Smoke & Bone and the story was well on its way to being added to my list of all time favorites. Then Akiva appeared and the story was turned into a Romeo and Juliet spin off… And I lost my interest completely. I know it’s almost impossible to avoid romance in a YA fantasy series nowadays, but after such a promising start I was really REALLY disappointed with the road this story took. I was browsing my kindle quotes for this review, and the sheer amount of sappy love quotes made me want to vomit… I know just about everybody seems to love this series and I’m glad, but unfortunately I’m not one of them.

BOOK REVIEW: The Name Of The Star – by Maureen Johnson

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Title: The Name Of The Star
(Shades Of London #1)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: YA, Thriller, Paranormal
First published: September 1st 2011
Finished reading: May 2nd 2016
Pages: 372
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“Fear can’t hurt you,” she said. “When it washes over you, give it no power. It’s a snake with no venom. Remember that. That knowledge can save you.”

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This series has actually been recommended to me various times in the past, but somehow I never actually managed to actually pick it up… Until my TBR jar thought it was about time I started reading it. And I’m glad I did, because I ended up really enjoying The Name Of The Star even though I wasn’t expecting the whole paranormal/ghost angle. Maureen Johnson sure knows how to write a story and create an atmosphere! It shows that this first book of the Shades Of London series is inspired by the original Jack The Ripper murders back in the 19th century, but this is by no means a historical fiction novel. The Name Of The Star only ‘borrows’ the facts of the original murders and is actually set in present day London… The historical references made when a series of brutal murders in the city mimick the original Jack The Ripper murders right to the date and time. The story has a fast pace and I really enjoyed the prose. Rory Deveaux is an interesting character and her experiences as an American teenager staying at an English boarding school are entertaining to read about and even hilarious at points. Those ‘light’ moments form the perfect contrast to the thriller and paranormal elements and made me really enjoy this read. To be honest, the whole paranormal/ghost twist kind of came as a surprise, but it did make the story a lot more original. And the ending… I will definitely try to read the sequel soon to find out what happens next. Recommended!

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Rory Deveaux grew up in Louisiana, but her parents gave her the choice where to spend her senior year. Rory decides to try her luck at an English boarding school in London while her parents work and live up north. Her new life at the boarding school is nothing like anything she experienced before, and she struggles to fit in and keep up with her school work… But luckily at least she really seems to get along with her roommate. School is not the only thing Rory has to worry about though. A series of brutal murders mimicking the horrible Jack The Ripper murders more than a century ago seem to have been taken place ever since she arrived in the city. The police doesn’t have any solid leads and no witnesses, and meanwhile the bodies seem to be piling up… And then somehow Rory turns out to be the first and only person to spot the man that is believed to be the prime suspect. The problem? Her roommate was right there and didn’t even see him… The police doesn’t know if they can believe Rory, but the fact that she seems to be the next target feels all too real.

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The Name Of The Star is without doubt an interesting read and has quite a few Jack The Ripper references for those who are interested in the famous 19th century murderer. The best part about this story is probably that Maureen Johnson actually made what could have been a simple historical fiction novel into an entertaining and fast-paced YA paranormal thriller. It might not have been exactly what I was expecting, but that doesn’t take away that I really enjoyed it and I will be trying to continue this series soon.

BOOK REVIEW: Blood Orchids – by Toby Neal

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Title: Blood Orchids
(Lei Crime #1)
Author: Toby Neal
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction
First published: December 2nd 2011
Finished reading: April 6th 2016
Pages: 314
Rating 3qqq

“Everything has to do with everything else—you know that by now. So begin at the beginning, and it will lead to the end.”

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I have been meaning to read more mystery/thriller books as well as escaping the YA/love triangle combination, so I decided to pick up one of my kindle freebies: Blood Orchids by Toby Neal. When I first started reading this story, it had all the signs it would be a typical fast-paced whodunit read. I especially liked the setting in Hawaii and the references to the culture; it really shows that the author grew up there herself. The main character is a policewoman named Lei Texeira; her complicated past causing her to be almost too involved in the current case she is working on. I’m not sure I like all aspects of her character, but she does feel real. What did bother me though were the romance scenes and the fact that not even changing genres helped me escape a love triangle. The romance scenes distracted from the main plot and I don’t think the love triangle was necessary… They mostly made me enjoy this story a lot less. Also, I think Blood Orchids might have too many different subplots, which is distracting. I actually thought the story was already finished at one point, only to find more chapters that didn’t really add anything substantial. In short, Blood Orchids had a lot of potential and I really enjoyed the first part of the story, but I feel the story would have been a lot better without too many distracting ‘background’ plots and romance scenes.

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Lei Texeira has had a difficult past, but she has been trying to get past it and now works as a cop in the quiet Big Island town of Hilo. Being a cop in Hilo normally mostly involves petty crimes, but that changes when she finds the bodies of two murdered teenagers on a routine patrol. She knows one of the victims, and even though she isn’t officially on the case, she becomes involved anyway trying to find justice. Flashbacks from the past bring back memories and soon Lei is obsessed with the case. But she also has other things on her mind… She is being stalked and doesn’t know if she still feels safe in her own home. Lei is wondering if the stalker and the killer might just be one and the same; but can she find evidence to back that up and will they find him before he kills again?

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Blood Orchids started out as an entertaining read and I enjoyed the Hawaii setting. The pace is fast and the story sounds like a typical whodunit, interesting enough but nothing extraordinary either. Unfortunately, I felt like too many things were going on at the same time, which made the plot less credible. Also, the last few chapters felt superfluous and only made the plot look more chaotic. Still, I would probably have given this book a higher rating if it wouldn’t have been for the annoying love triangle and bad romance scenes…

BOOK REVIEW: Where Things Come Back – by John Corey Whaley

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Title: Where Things Come Back
Author: John Corey Whaley
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
First published: May 3rd 2011
Finished reading: March 30th 2016
Pages: 228
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“I wanted the world to sit back, listen up, and let me explain to it that when someone is sad and hopeless, the last thing they need to feel is that they are the only ones in the world with that feeling. So, if you feel sorry for someone, don’t pretend to be happy. Don’t pretend to care only about their problems.”

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This book by John Corey Whaley has actually been recommended to me various times over the last few years, so when I finally found a copy I was one happy camper. Not only is the cover basically a mix of everything I love (black&white, blue and pretty fonts), I was also intrigued by the blurb of Where Things Come Back. And it might just be because of those high expectations, but I ended up being mostly underwhelmed by this read. First of all, the two completely different storylines were quite confusing and almost too distracting from the main event. It took a long time to understand how the two stories connected and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Closely related to this is the sheer amount of religious elements in Where Things Come Back. I’m not religious myself and although I normally don’t mind a mild dose of religious talk in a story, in this case I felt it became too preachy. I know this is highly personal and I’m by no means saying this is a bad read because of it, but the religious talk did cause me to enjoy this story a lot less than I thought I would. I couldn’t really connect to the main characters either, but I have to admit that the pace was fast and the mystery around Gabriel’s disappearance intriguing. Would I recommend this book? Yet, but approach with caution for the reasons I mentioned above.

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Cullen thinks he is about to have another boring summer in his small and dull Arkansas town before he starts his senior year, but things turn out to be quite different. He goes through a rollercoaster of emotions as his cousin overdoses and his aunt doesn’t know how to deal with his son’s death… And his town is no longer dull as allegedly an extinct woodpecker seems to have reappeared near it. The whole town becomes obsessed with the little bird, with no exception of his fame-seeking neighbor. But the most shocking fact of all is that his sensitive and gifted younger brother, Gabriel, suddenly disappears one day. Cullen is desperate to find his missing brother and hold his fragil family together… All this while somehow finding an explanation to it all. What about the bird that everyone seems to be looking for? And what does a young and disillusioned missionary in Africa has to do with all of this?

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I had high hopes for Where Things Come Back and I’m starting to believe this book simply isn’t for me, because it isn’t necessarily a bad read. The story reads fast and the whole mystery around Gabriel’s disappearance is intriguing. I personally didn’t actually like the main characters, the fact that the two storylines didn’t seem to connect for too long OR the religious elements, but I can also see why others might really enjoy this story by John Corey Whaley. So if you were interested in this book before reading this review, make sure to give it a try anyway.

BOOK REVIEW: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – by Mindy Kaling

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Title: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Author: Mindy Kaling
Genre: Non Fiction, Humor, Memoir
First published: November 1st 2011
Finished reading: March 8th 2016
Pages: 222
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“One friend with whom you have a lot in common is better than three with whom you struggle to find things to talk about.”

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I have to confess I have never actually watched Mindy Kaling‘s TV shows and I don’t know a lot about her in general. Still, since I quite enjoyed reading her other book Why Not Me?, I decided to try Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? as well. This one was actually published a few years before Why Not Me?, and it shows. While this first memoir is still quite funny and I appreciate how honest she is about her life, it misses a so-to-speak spark to convert it into something special. The prose is easy to read and there were some funny moments, but overall Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? wasn’t nearly as funny as her other book. What started out well actually turned into a slowish read around the middle, but luckily things picked up later on. It is quite an entertaining read even though you are not familiar with her work, although I suspect the part where she talks about The Office is probably funnier if you have actually seen the show. Would I recommend it? Yes, because it’s quite a quick read despite the slow middle, entertaining and hilariously funny at points. If you haven’t read her second memoir yet though, read that one first.

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Mindy Kaling tells us the tale of how she grew up and makes some honest and refreshing observations during this journey. How was Mindy during high school and how did she try to achieve her dream? She is not afraid to admit any failures and even admits she isn’t the perfect person to give advice. Mindy is simply a a ‘girl next door’ who became famous… And she not only explains things about her view on romance, friendship, Hollywood and the perfect amount of fame, but also gives us an inside view of what it is like being a comedy screenwriter and creating The Office.

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Mindy Kaling has a way of writing down her story that feels honest, refreshing and is quite entertaining as well. While not as funny as the second memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is still worth reading if you are looking for a short and entertaining read. You will find some very interesting quotes while you are reading this book! I can really appreciate how down to earth she seems.

BOOK REVIEW: Eve – by Iris Johansen

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Title: Eve
(Eve Duncan #12)
Author: Iris Johansen
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Romance
First published: April 1st 2011
Finished reading: March 6th 2016
Pages: 378
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“Yes, that was it. That was exactly what John Gallo was. A fever that would leave her if she didn’t let it take over her mind as well as her body.”

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I don’t like being this negative in my reviews, but in this case I really feel like I don’t have a choice. First of all the blurb of Eve is really misleading. It is sold as the first book in a new trilogy, but it is actually the twelfth book in a series and if you haven’t read the previous books (like myself), you will find a lot of details are missing. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only problem I encountered while reading this novel by Iris Johansen. The biggest setback was that I wasn’t a fan of the prose. To be more specific: the physical attraction/romance scenes were cringeworthy to say the least and made reading this story almost feel like voluntary torture. I know I’m not a romance fan and that might have made things worse, but I know a badly written romance scene when I see one. I hate to be so negative about a book, but I truly wish I would have decided to just DNF it… Because it truly felt like a waste of time. The ending was not satisfying at all and from what I saw in other reviews is that it is kind of a pattern to never reveal the identity of Bonnie’s killer. As you might have guessed, I wouldn’t recommend reading this book.

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Eve Duncan is a forensic sculptor and is able to help families find closure by piece back together bones, create a face and give the deceased back their identity. She is good at what she does and extremely driven, especially after her own daughter Bonnie was taken from her years ago. Eve never found out what happened to her daughter and is still obsessed with the case… So when a name from the past resurfaces, she dives right in even though it might be dangerous. She doesn’t want her boyfriend or good friend Catherine to be involved, but they follow her anyway… And things will become both dangerous and complicated real soon.

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When I first saw this copy of Eve at my hostel’s book exchange I was immediately intrigued by the cover and blurb. ‘FIRST IN A BREATHTAKING NEW TRILOGY‘ it said… It sounded like the perfect mystery/thriller read, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I actually DNFed it the first time around and I wish I would have let it stay that way, because I had a really hard time finishing this read. The horrible physical attraction/romance scenes made it really hard to focus on the rest of the story and the plot was quite slow and unbelievable in the first place. Unfortunately not a series I will be reading more of in the future.