ARC REVIEW: Mala Vida – by Marc Fernandez

Title: Mala Vida
Author: Marc Fernandez
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery
First published: October 1st 2015
Publisher: Arcade
Finished reading: January 5th 2019
Pages: 240
(Originally written in French: ‘Mala Vida’)

“Franco is dead, but not the evil he brought into the world.”

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

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I’ve had an interest in Spanish history and especially the Franco period even before I picked it as my thesis subject. It’s easy to say that when I came across Mala Vida and read the blurb I was sold immediately. A story partially set in one of my favorite European cities and one I know closely: check. An intriguing historical background and mystery: check. A healthy dose of crime fiction, suspense and plot twists: check. Oh yes, while Mala Vida is mostly a contemporary crime thriller, it also included a historical element and a very intriguing and devastating one at that. This story was originally written in French back in 2015, and will be available in English next week. The translation works splendidly and I had a great time reading this story. The writing style made it easy to keep myself invested in the story; there are flashbacks, different point of views and plot twists that will keep you on edge until you have everything figured out. The setting was a huge bonus for me and I liked the inclusion of cultural elements to make the setting feel more authentic. The historical case discussed in Mala Vida is fascinating and I liked how we get multiple views on the topic through the different characters. Diego’s character is very interesting and I liked that he is a journalist. The same goes for the other main characters: each has their own personality, background and adds a little something unique to the story. All in all a very successful read for me!

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The radical right has just won the election after twelve years of Socialist rule in Spain, and things are about to change drastically. As the country is preparing itself to retrace its steps to the past, there are other things happening as well. A series of murders is committed in various cities in Spain, and there are no clues found as to who is behind them or why they were killed. There seems to be no obvious connection between them, but isn’t there? And that is not all either, because a national scandal is about to be revealed as well…

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If you like stories with an international setting that can offer a little something different and outside the box, you should definitely consider Mala Vida. Part legal thriller, part historical, part mystery and part crime fiction, this story is a mix of a lot of different elements and very well executed at that. I personally loved the Spanish setting, the diversity of the main characters and the story as a whole. The historical element is both well executed and shocking and will definitely leave a mark… A very interesting read and one I’m very glad I came across.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #69 – A Boy Called Christmas & The Girl Who Saved Christmas

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! And with Christmas Eve being tonight, what better stories to review than not one, but TWO Christmas themed stories! The first two books of the Christmas MG series by Matt Haig… Both absolutely adorable books that will get you in the right mood in record time.


Title: A Boy Called Christmas
(Christmas #1)
Author: Matt Haig

Genre: Middle Grade, Fiction, Fantasy
First published: September 12th 2015
Publisher: Canongate Books
Finished reading: December 20th 2018
Pages: 272

“An impossibility is just a possibility you don’t understand yet.”


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I have been wanting to read the first Christmas book ever since I received and read the third book as an ARC a while back, and I thought December would be the perfect month to do so. And it turned out to be another magical experience. A Boy Called Christmas is the perfect Holiday season read for children and adults alike, and also perfect for reading out loud to the younger ones. Matt Haig’s writing style is spot on. Funny, entertaining, engaging and easy to read; you will find yourself turning pages admiring both the story the author has been able to create and looking at those adorable illustrations which connect really well with the plot. There is sadness, there is even some violence, but overall it is mostly a happy story full of joy and goodwill… And a healthy dose of humor as well. Perfect for the season as well as a perfect gift!


Title: The Girl Who Saved Christmas
(Christmas #2)
Author: Matt Haig

Genre: Middle Grade, Fiction, Fantasy
First published: November 3rd 2016
Publisher: Canongate Books
Finished reading: December 22nd 2018
Pages: 337

“Life is like a chimney – you sometimes have to get through the dark before you see the light.”


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I couldn’t NOT read the second book after finishing the first, especially since it’s exactly that time of the year when these little stories are to be appreciated most. The Girl Who Saved Christmas is without doubt a worthy sequel. I admit it took me a little while to get into the story, but that was probably mostly me and not the book itself. The writing is just as spot on as in the first and third book, and I’m adding Matt Haig to my list of authors I need to read more of ASAP. His middle grade writing is absolutely adorable with just the right amount of humor and spark to give it that special feel. This story is another one that is perfect to read out loud to children; I’m positive it will be a big hit with all those funny moments and characters to follow! The illustrations fit the story perfectly, and add a nice little touch to what is already a wonderful story. I can completely recommend all three books of the series both as a Holiday read and the perfect gift for young and old!


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ARC REVIEW: The Darkness – by Ragnar Jonasson

Title: The Darkness
(Hidden Iceland #1)

Author: Ragnar Jonasson
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: October 15th 2015
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: October 14th 2018
Pages: 336
(Originally written in Icelandic: ‘Dimma’)

“Over the years she had spoken to so many suspects she had developed a knack of spotting when people were trying to pull the wool over her eyes.”

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

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!! Happy publication day !!

I’ve been meaning to try one of Ragnar Jonasson‘s books for some time now, so when I saw that the translation of Dimma was coming out I just couldn’t resist. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story set in Iceland before, so the setting alone was a huge bonus for me. But what stands out for me even more is the main character of The Darkness. Yes, she is a detective with a complicated past, which may sound as a cliche… But this is all forgotten as we finally have an older main character to follow; DI Hulda Hermannsdottir is 64 and almost retiring, and getting to see her at this point in her life is truly refreshing. The Darkness is both about Hulda and the secrets of her past and the death of an asylum seeker from Russia. While a bit slow at point, the development of the plot and plot twists is well done and this story definitely has some surprises in store for you. And that ending! I wish I could understand Icelandic so I could find out what happens next… I’m fully intrigued. There are three different POVs to deal with, one of them set in the past, and all add something to the plot even though it takes a while to figure out how everything connects. The writing is solid and reads easily, and despite a slower pace at times The Darkness is still a very good detective thriller.

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Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir is about to reach the age of retirement, but she is allowed to dive into one last cold case before she has to clear her desk. She decides to look into the death of a young asylum seeker from Russia. While the other detective had ruled it a suicide, Hulda is convinced they didn’t investigate all angles in the past. She starts her investigation, but soon finds out nobody actually wants her to keep investigating. The renewed attention to the case may have dangerous consequences…

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The Darkness both has an interesting setting and a strong main character to build a story around. I really appreciated to finally have an older main character, and Hulda is without doubt a very interesting one to follow. The mystery around her past and the cold case she is investigating will keep you on your toes, making the slower parts less noticeable. And what a shocking ending! I definitely didn’t see some of the reveals coming. Talk about ending things with a blast… I will be looking forward to book two.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #53 – The Walls Around Us & Love And Gelato

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around another YA edition, although the books belong to different genres. The first was an absolute cover love case and a story that managed to surprise me. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma has to be one of the few stories were magical realism as an element didn’t actually bother me. The other is a typical contemporary romance story set abroad, Love And Gelato by Jenna Evan Welch, and was too cliche for me to properly enjoy.


Title: The Walls Around Us
Author: Nova Ren Suma

Genre: YA, Mystery, Paranormal
First published: March 24th 2015
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Finished reading: October 6th 2018
Pages: 319

“Our private taste in books showed a hint of our secret selves, and sometimes I was the only one who got to see those secrets.”


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This is one of those books I just knew I had to read without even knowing what it was about… The power of a beautiful cover. It’s also one of those books where it’s better to go in blind, because the full effect of it will be that much more powerful. The Walls Around Us isn’t your ordinary YA story. Strange, captivating. brutal, mesmerizing… You will be in for a ride with this one. You think this is just another thrilling crime story when you start reading, with a hint of a teenage Orange Is The New Black and a bit of Black Swan. But The Walls Around Us offers us more than that. It’s one of the first times magical realism is used in a story that didn’t actually bother me. Instead, the strangeness and beautiful descriptions took me on a journey along with the main characters, enjoying my time discovering what exactly was going on. The prison scenes were fascinating, and the many dance related scenes were a nice touch as well. I can’t say I was a fan of most of the main characters, but they did work perfectly in The Walls Around Us I guess. I enjoyed this story a lot more than I thought I would, and all in all it was more than a pleasant surprise. I don’t think The Walls Around Us is for everyone, but the right person will be just as mesmerized by this strange and magical story as I found myself to be.


Title: Love & Gelato
Author: Jenna Evans Welch 

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 3rd 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Finished reading: October 9th 2018
Pages: 400

“You know, people come to Italy for all sorts of reasons, but when they stay, it’s for the same two things.”
“What?”
“Love and gelato.”


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I know contemporary romance isn’t really my thing, but I have fond memories of my various stays in Italy and I really felt like travelling back there again through this story. I mean, who can resist that setting and the possible talk about a lot of delicious Italian ice cream? Because there is one thing true: Love & Gelato makes you crave all kinds of Italian food. And the author did an excellent job at describing the city of Florence and the setting in general. It almost felt I was there along with the main characters! The setting was probably my favorite part of this story, and I liked the idea of the journal and Lina learning more about her mom that way. The writing makes it easy to fly through this story as well… But there were also a few things that really bothered me as well. The first elephant in the room is of course the dreaded love triangle. Why o why do most YA books have to be ruined by this trope? I would have loved this story so much better without it… Because the love triangle (or in fact multiple ones) also ment the introduction of a whole lot of cliches. And cringeworthy moments. And more cliches. It ended up being just too much for me, although I have the suspicion fans of contemporary romance stories will enjoy Love & Gelato a lot better than I did. It’s also the perfect summer/beach read despite some sad and deeper moments.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #52 – In A Dark, Dark Wood & Without Merit

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two popular authors and two different genres. I was really excited about In A Dark, Dark Wood, but sadly it mostly fell flat for me. And Without Merit was without doubt an entertaining read, although not my favorite CoHo book either.


Title: In A Dark, Dark Wood
Author: Ruth Ware

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: July 30th 2015
Publisher: Vintage Digital
Finished reading: September 27th 2018
Pages: 339

“You’d think people would be wary of spilling to a writer. You’d think they’d know that we’re essentially birds of carrion, picking over the corpses of dead affairs and forgotten arguments to recycle them in our work—zombie reincarnations of their former selves, stitched into a macabre new patchwork of our own devising.”


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I had my first experience with Ruth Ware‘s books last year with The Lying Game, and I’ve been meaning to pick up another of her titles ever since. So when I had the perfect excuse to do so, I decided to finally pick up my copy of her debut In A Dark, Dark Wood. I’ve heard mixed things about her work in general, so I decided to go in with low expectations… Discovering I did probably well by doing so. In A Dark, Dark Wood is by no means a bad read and is without doubt as dark and menacing as that glass house in the middle of the woods chosen as a setting. The writing is engaging and the suspense is mostly handled well. I had two significant problems with this book though. The first thing that stood out for me was the fact that none of the characters is easy to connect to; most are unlikeable and overall I can’t say I really cared about what would happen to them. And then I’m not even talking about the whole fact that Nora and Clare hadn’t seen each other for ten years and suddenly Clare invites Nora to her hen? And not telling about James before? And Nora stays even after all the things that happen? So not credible to me. And that is not the only thing that made me doubt the credibility of the plot and events. There were several eyebrow raising moments involved, and not in a good way. I also did see quite a few of the plot twists coming really early on, and I didn’t like how the amnesia angle was incorporated into the story. It wasn’t a bad read, but nothing like I hoped it would be either.


Title: Without Merit
Author: Colleen Hoover

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
First published: October 3rd 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
Finished reading: September 28th 2018
Pages: 385

“Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.”


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I seem to be having a love-hate relationship with Colleen Hoover‘s books… Somehow she is able to get strong emotions and opinions from me, positive or not. Without Merit ended up belonging somewhere in the middle. While not my favorite and a bit different than I’ve become used to, there is no doubt that it is still a good story and I can understand why so many love it. It felt more YA than NA to me, but that on it’s own wasn’t a problem for me. The romance was also doable for me, which is something I have become used to with CoHo… Somehow she manages to make me forget I’m not into the whole romance genre most of the time. There are a lot of things to love in Without Merit, and I think that this abundance of different elements actually worked against the story in the end. Depression, agoraphobia, the Syrian refugee situation, lgbt elements, Honor and her boyfriends, Wolfgang and the church, family problems… Those and other elements are all incorporated into the plot, making it almost feel crowded and I don’t think each of these get the attention it deserves. I would have preferred less topics and a more developed appearance during the story. As it is, some of the more important elements are just skimmed over (suicide, the Syrian refugee situations etc) and feel more like plot fillers rather than something important to talk about. I still enjoyed reading Without Merit though and especially Sagan won over my heart easily. I like that the characters are flawed and feel realistic despite their strange names. All in all an interesting read, although not perfect.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #40 – Uprooted & The Shadow Cats

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time two YA Fantasy reads that didn’t really convince me in the end… The first Uprooted, started out excellent but more and more things started to disappoint me. The second, The Shadow Cats, was short and the writing was solid, but the characters mostly let me down.


Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Magic
First published: May 19th 2015
Publisher: Del Rey
Finished reading: August 19th 2018
Pages: 465

“There was a song in this forest, too, but it was a savage song, whispering of madness and tearing and rage.”


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I’ve been wanting to read Uprooted for years, but it was one of those titles that somehow escaped the top of my TBR pile every time and I kept posponing it. But no longer… I finally picked up my copy of Uprooted thinking it was going to be a dragon story, but I definitely didn’t remember the facts right. This isn’t a story about the mythical dragon, although there are other creatures involved. Was this a disappointment? Maybe, because I do love my dragon stories, but between the writing style, interesting worldbuilding and magic it was easy to forget all about that. Initially, I really enjoyed this story and I was positive it would receive a really high rating. The writing style is just wonderful, the worldbuilding is intriguing, I loved the many references to the Polish culture and Agnieszka’s character has an interesting background. I liked seeing the magic evolve and even tolerated the Dragon. But why o why does this story have to be destroyed by unnecessary and disturbing romance?!?! Seriously, I don’t understand the why of the introduction of this element, especially since it’s abrupt and doesn’t really make sense. Also, there was one x-rated scene that I found really unfit for a YA book. The romance alone made me lower the rating considerably, but that wasn’t the only thing that bothered me. The pace was quite slow at points, making the story drag. Especially when Agnieszka is in the capital… And her character in general, with the repeated descriptions of her clumsiness and ragged appearance, really started to get on my nerves. Still, with the wonderful writing and the interesting worldbuilding, I’m glad I had the chance to get to know this story.


Title: The Shadow Cats
(Fire And Thorns #0.5)
Author: Rae Carson

Genre: YA, Fantasy
First published: July 17th 2012
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Finished reading: August 20th 2018
Pages: 54

“It’s a beautiful weed,” Elisa answers. “And the perfect flower for you to carry, for it is like the people of Khelia, strong and unstoppable, capable of blooming and thriving where nothing else can grow.”


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I really enjoyed the first book despite a few little problems I encountered back in 2015, but somehow I never picked up the sequels. I was going to read book two originally, but then remembered I had a copy of the novellas as well, so I decided to read those first. The Shadow Cats is actually a prequel to the first book and focuses more on Elisa’s older sister Alodia. I never really liked her, but if possible she comes over as even worse in this novella. Arrogant, aloof and speaking horribly about her sister… Yes, there isn’t a lot to love about her. And what about her running off alone?? Elisa was quite annoying as well, with her answer to everything being she needs to pray more. I did really like Lupita’s character though. The writing is solid as well and I loved the use of many Spanish words, both in names and other descriptions. Very creative!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #39: Ink And Bone & The Mysterious Affair At Styles

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around another two titles for the Magical Readathon: O.W.L. Edition. The first, Ink And Bone, I’ve been meaning to pick up for ages, but wasn’t as good as I would have hoped after absolutely loving the Stillhouse Lake series. The second, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, is part of a promise to myself to finally start reading more of Agatha Christie‘s work… It was entertaining enough, but I still prefer her And Then There Were None.


Title: Ink And Bone
(The Great Library #1)
Author: Rachel Caine

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Dystopia
First published: July 7th 2015
Publisher: NAL
Finished reading: August 15th 2018 
Pages: 352

“You have ink in your blood, boy, and no help for it. Books will never be just a business to you.”


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I have had The Great Library series on my TBR for way too long… After my love for the Stillhouse Lake books, I just knew I had to give in and finally try more of her work. And let’s be honest: who can resist after that cover and blurb? I had really high expectations when I started reading Ink And Bone, and this just might have been the problem here. I was really surprised it took me a long long time to get into the story… I can’t exactly put my finger on the way, because the writing itself is excellent, but it might have been the slowish pace or my lack of connection to the plot itself. There is no doubt there is a lot to love in Ink And Bone, from the main bookish references, the idea of the Library to the main characters being trained to work for the Library and the steampunk elements… And of course the war and the Burners threatening the peace. But somehow, I just didn’t feel it. I felt some of the spark was missing, and only towards the final part did that spark finally ignite. The conspiracy plot and the promise of a whole lot more action and twists makes me curious about the second book, and the final part of Ink And Bone is definitely what saved the story for me.


Title: The Mysterious Affair At Styles
(Hercule Poirot #1)
Author: Agatha Christie

Genre: Classics, Mystery, Thriller
First published: 1920
Publisher: HarperCollins
Finished reading: August 15th 2018
Pages: 304

“You gave too much rein to your imagination. Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely.”


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I’m almost ashamed to admit I’ve only recently started discovering Agatha Christie‘s books, starting with And Then There Were None in 2016. I then read Murder On The Orient Express earlier this year, going against my self imposed rule to try and always read series in order. So this is me trying to make up for that and starting at the beginning, where it all once started. The Mysterious Affair At Styles is actually her very first book and it was interesting to discover how her long career had begun. This first introduction to the famous Hercule Poirot was an interesting one. The references to the war were interesting and gave the story a little something extra. True, the pace was a tad slow and this story is more about cleverly concealed twists and descriptions than real suspense. It was interesting to see how the case evolved over time and how Hastings tried to figure out what really happened, and his interactions with Poirot himself. I figured out the basics of the ending early on, but being able to see the techniques Agatha Christie used to reach that ending was still satisfying. All in all not my favorite, but I’m definitely looking forward to continue the series.


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