ARC REVIEW: The Secret Child – by Caroline Mitchell

Title: The Secret Child
(DI Amy Winter #2)

Author: Caroline Mitchell
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Detective
First published: April 18th 2019
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: March 3rd 2019
Pages: 336

“We are all justified by our wants and needs. Who’s to say my reasons aren’t just as valid as yours?”

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

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As a thriller fan, every time I see Caroline Mitchell‘s name pop up my heart skips a beat. She has become one of my trusted thriller authors and her stories haven’t failed to entertain me yet… Last year I was able to meet a new detective with a fascinating past, DI Amy Winter, and it’s time for a second date in The Secret Child. I have a weird obsession with serial killer stories and the main character’s past is definitely one of the things that stands out most in this new detective thriller series. Things can be said about her difficult past and flawed personal life being quite cliche, but Lillian will get under your skin and will give Amy Winter an original twist. The writing is more than solid, draws you right in and will make you reach the final page before you know it. It’s something I’ve become used to with Caroline Mitchell‘s thrillers and one of the reasons I would pick up one of her titles without even reading the blurb first. The Secret Child has a fascinating premise though and I love that part of the plot is set in the past and in the Soviet Union at that. This international twist makes the plot all the more interesting and gives the story an original touch. Past and present are mixed in a way that adds maximum suspense and intrigue about what really happened to Luka and the other children all those years ago. There are quite a lot of different elements in the story, with the 1984-1985 flashbacks, the present kidnapping and Lillian Grimes… I did feel they were better balanced than in the first installment, and the story will definitely have some plot twist bombs and surprises for you in store. All in all I had a great time reading The Secret Child and I’m already looking forward to discover what will happen next.

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

There are no solid leads after four-year-old Ellen was kidnapped from her very own bed at night. Until her mother Nicole receives a package with four phials and a message that will chill her to the bone. Suddenly her darkest fears have come true, and the past has come back to haunt her… Nicole is given a deadly challenge: one of the four phials is poisoned, and she has to drink one in order for the kidnapper to reveal Ellen’s location to the police. The kidnapper claims to be someone that is long dead… Is he telling the truth, and what does the past have to do with what is happening in the present? DI Amy Winter and her team will have to give it all in order for the truth to come out.

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If you, like me, enjoy fast-paced detective thrillers that aren’t afraid to go dark and twisty, you should definitely meet DI Amy Winter. Not only has she a serial killer connection, but she also isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in order to get things done. The Secret Child reads like a train and the flashbacks don’t slow down the pace at all… In fact, they only add extra dept and an original touch to the story. I’m really enjoying my time with DI Amy Winter so far and I’ll definitely be looking forward to meeting her again in the future.


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ARC REVIEW: The Fourth Courier – by Timothy Jay Smith

Title: The Fourth Courier
Author: Timothy Jay Smith
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: April 2nd 2019
Publisher: Arcade
Finished reading: March 13th 2019
Pages: 320

“It’s not death that we fear but being erased by history if we leave nothing behind.”

*** 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 always have a weak spot for a good and honest historical thriller with an international setting, so of course I was immediately intrigued by the blurb of The Fourth Courier. It sounded like a fantastic read and I found myself really looking forward to dive into this story set in post-war Poland. Sadly, I can’t say that I was impressed with what I found. Firstly I have to say that I might be the wrong target group here as the writing style seems to be more focused on a so-called ‘white male’ audience. No offense ment here, but I found The Fourth Courier to be sexist and a lot of negative stereotypes and cliches were used, not only regarding the character’s sexual preference but also regarding their race and nationality. Some readers might be fine with that, but personally it was a huge turn off for me. For the same reason I wasn’t able to connect to the writing style at all. Both writing and plot felt chaotic and all over the place… There are inconsistencies in the plot and there are so many different characters and storylines that it’s too confusing and difficult to keep track of the who, what, where and when. You literally get lost in the chaos, and not in a good way. The idea behind The Fourth Courier on its own is interesting and does have a lot of promise. Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed the execution of this idea though and I had a really hard time reaching the final page. It could have been a case of a story that’s simply not for me, but I won’t go so far as recommending it to anyone else either. Oh well, we can’t like them all, can we?

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Set in 1992 Warsaw, Poland, the FBI is called in when a series of murders takes a dangerous turn. The locals suspect that the victims may have been couriers smuggling nuclear material from Russia to Poland, which means they might have to deal with a future nuclear treat. FBI agent Jay Porter is sent to investigate and stop those behind the murders before things escalate further. Things are quickly spinning out of control though…

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I really wanted to enjoy The Fourth Courier and it initially had all the signs I would. But between the chaotic plot, too many characters, sexist comments and negative stereotypes and cliches I ended up really disappointed by this story. I confess I probably would have DNFed if it wouldn’t have been an ARC… And I can’t say that reaching the final page was all that satisfying, with the forementioned negative comments and plot getting on my nerves every single page. Like I said before, I might have been the wrong target group here, so I suggest deciding for yourself if you want to give this story a try or not.


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ARC REVIEW: The Fever King – by Victoria Lee

Title: The Fever King
(Feverwake #1)
Author: Victoria Lee
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Dystopia
First published: March 1st 2019
Publisher: Skyscape
Finished reading: March 5th 2019
Pages: 376

“Everything worth doing had its risks. Sometimes you had to do the wrong thing to achieve something better.”

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

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It was coverlove at first sight when I saw The Fever King first mentioned and after investigating further I really liked the sound of the blurb was well. I think that magic acting like a virus is a fascinating idea and a great starting point for a new series… The Fever King is set in a dystopian alternative future where a magical virus has been killing a lot of people for more than a century; the survivors end up being witchings with supernatural powers. They are basically a mix between witches and superheroes and it is an interesting take on the whole ‘a spider bit me’ phenomenon. Not everything about the plot might be all that original, but it is the characters who make this story stand out for me. For a YA dystopian series, there is a lot of focus on the characters rather than the dystopian world, but in this case I didn’t mind that much. Would I have liked to see more development of the alternative future the characters have to struggle in? Maybe. But Noam, Dara and even Lehrer make up for those holes and make this story worthwhile. Noam and Dara are easy to like and it was interesting seeing their characters and interaction evolve over time. Even Lehrer proved to be an interesting character, although I did had my guesses about him which turned out to be right… The other characters could have had more character development though. I did like how none of the three main characters is clearly good or bad, the author instead opting for blurred lines and basically humanity. The story started out quite slow, but picked up in the second half up to the point that it felt like a race against the clock. The writing is overall engaging and makes it easy to get to know and root for certain characters. Some of the plot twists were easy to guess and I didn’t agree with everything, but overall this was without doubt a very entertaining start of a new series. It does end with a cliffhanger though, so you’ve been warned…

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Noam has spent his whole life trying to help refugees fleeing magical outbreaks and trying to live in the nation of Carolinia. He was born here, but his parents have always been illegal… One day, Noam wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the magical virus that has been tormenting the country for over a century. Him surviving means he is now a witching, and powerful enough to attract the attention of the Minister Of Defense Calix Lehrer himself. They soon discover his ability to control technology, and Noam accepts Lehrer’s offer to train him personally as a way to fight for the rights of the refugees from the inside. But that is easier said than done…

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Gorgeous cover aside, this was without doubt an entertaining start of a new dystopian alternative future series. In The Fever King magic is in fact a virus that will kill most and leave the survivors with superpowers. A very interesting take on magic and without doubt one of the stronger features of this story. While the worldbuilding is a bit simple and not that developed, the three most important characters (Noam, Dara and Lehrer) mostly make up for it as they all have something special to add to the story. I would have liked to see the other important characters being more developed though, and the pace did start out a bit slow. But the story ends in a whirlwind and will definitely leave you craving for more.


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ARC REVIEW: Smoke And Key – by Kelsey Sutton

Title: Smoke And Key
Author: Kelsey Sutton
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: April 2nd 2019
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Finished reading: March 8th 2019
Pages: 304

“I suppose some things don’t have a proper explanation. They just are.”

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

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I admit it was coverlove at first sight when I saw this title for the first time, but it was the blurb that convinced me that I had to read Smoke And Key no matter what. The promise of what basically can be called a Corpse Bride inspired fantasy story with both a paranormal and a thriller twist just sounded too good to pass up on… And I still believe the premise of and idea behind Smoke And Key is one of its strongest elements as a whole. Under is such a fantastic, magical and daunting world and I would love to have seen in even more developed, although I do understand that the lack of information only adds to the overall mystery and intrigue around the place. I loved the fact that the characters in Under are named after something they had with them when they arrived. Simple, but fascinating as you try to find out the stories behind those objects and names… The beginning of Smoke And Key made a huge impact on me, and a lot of this impact had to do with the worldbuilding and writing style. It was able to put me under a spell straight away, and for a little while I was sure I had found myself a new favorite. Where did it go wrong for me then? I can’t put my finger exactly on the why, but part of it has to do with the fact this story has a very slow pace. I didn’t mind in the beginning, but I started to notice it more and more as things continued. The plot itself could have been stronger, as for a story with such a fantastic premise the actual story didn’t live up to expectations for me. The idea behind Key reliving those memories in such a real way is really interesting, and it is used to add a little suspense to the story as you try to guess who is behind the attacks and how the characters fit together. I did see the final reveals coming from a mile away, which was a bit of a disappointment for me. My main problem was with the appearance of the romance scenes and of course the dreaded love triangle though. Why does this story have to have one?! I absolutely loved the beginning of Smoke And Key and as I’ve stated before, I still love the premise of this story. Sadly, the executed was a bit underwhelming for me. Fans of romantic paranormal suspense will probably have a more positive experience though.

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When she wakes up she has no idea where or who she is… The only clue hanging around her neck: a single rusted key. That’s how she gets her name, as everyone is named from whatever belongings they had with them when they fell out of their graves. Because Key no longer breathes nor has a beating heart, and Under is a place she is struggling to come to terms with. Key is determined to remember her past and find a way out, but who can she trust? What is really going on in Under?

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There were a lot of things I loved about Smoke And Key and this is by no means a bad read. There were just certain elements that really irked me and failed to live up to the fascinating blurb and fantastic beginning for me. The slow pace, the romantic elements, the love triangle, the predictability of the plot… All things that made me enjoy the story less than I thought I would. I still love the premise of this story as well as the historical setting, Under and its Corpse Bride feel characters and the magic among other things. It’s a very interesting story and I have no doubt this world will stay with me for a while.


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ARC REVIEW: The Bird King – by G. Willow Wilson @groveatlantic

Title: The Bird King
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: March 12th 2019
Publisher: Grove Press
Finished reading: February 28th 2019
Pages: 440

“Once a story leaves the hands of its author, it belongs to the reader. And the reader may see any number of things, conflicting things, contradictory things.”

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

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I confess: the cover put me under its spell immediately and I knew I wanted to read this story even before I read the blurb. The premise of the story only enhanced my feelings though, as I’ve always had a special connection with Spain and its history. The mention of Granada alone, a city I’ve been lucky enough to visit myself and admire with my own eyes, would have been enough to make me jump up and down out of joy. Add the promise of a historical fiction setting with a focus on the last sultan of Muslim Spain, a setting right in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition and a fantasy twist, and I knew The Bird King was going to be something special. My instincts turned out to be right: this was such a stunning and absolutely fantastic read! It becomes clear from the beginning that the power of The Bird King is in the prose, attention to historical details and the hint of magical realism in part of the elements. The lines between fiction and fantasy are blurred and balanced in such a way that will surely mesmerize you before you reach the final page. The attention to detail and many descriptions really make the story and its characters come alive. We get a glimpse inside the Alhambra and its daily life under the last sultan and all things culture related. We also get an idea what the Spanish Inquisition was prepared to do in that time, although that is not the main focus of this story. Like I said before, the fantasy elements almost have a magical realism feel about them, something that really worked for me in this story. Each character is unique, well developed and easy to like… You will find yourself rooting for Fatima and Hassan and crossing your fingers they will be able to escape and find the mythical island where the bird king lives. People have complained about the slow pace, and while I agree the pace is indeed rather slow, it also makes it easier to fully savour the prose and all those wonderful descriptions and details. It helped me absorb every single detail all the better and I personally enjoyed every single minute of my time with The Bird King.

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Fatima has been part of the royal court of the last sultan of Muslim Spain ever since she was born, now a concubine to the sultan himself. She has been provided with everything she could wish for except for one thing: her freedom. Her closest friend Hassan is the palace mapmaker with a fascinating secret… He can draw maps of places he has never seen before in his life and even bend the shape of reality. This extraordinary gift is what will endanger his life when the representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender. His gift is seen as sorcery and they demand Hassan to be handed over to the Spanish Inquisition… But Fatima cannot bear to part with her only true friend and will try anything for the two to escape their fate.

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Yes, the story of The Bird King is without doubt just as beautiful as that stunning cover. It’s a perfect mix of historical fiction elements, a magical realism feel and fantasy elements… With different cultures coming together through the journey of Fatima, Hassan and the people they meet along the way. The historical setting, details and descriptions are perfectly elaborated with a gorgeous and magical prose you will cannot help but fall in love with. The pace of this story is slow, but it will make it that much easier to fully savour every single chapter and detail of their journey. Fans of slower-paced historical fiction stories who don’t mind a little fantasy mixed in will most likely enjoy this fantastic story as much as I did.


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DNF ARC REVIEW: Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution – by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Title: Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution
(Fat Angie #2)
Author: E.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: March 5th 2019
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Finished reading: March 1st 2019
Pages: 352
DNF at 32% (113 pages)

“Angie did not like sequels. By their very nature, they rarely met the expectations of the consumer.”

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

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There was just something about Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution that immediately caught my eye and made me want to read it. As someone who has always struggled with her weight and had a pretty miserable time during high school, I thought I was going to be able to relate to this story… But I guess it just wasn’t ment to be. I’m aware of the fact that I didn’t realize beforehand that this was a sequel and this might have played a role in my reaction to this story. I will keep this in mind and any missing background information is of course my own fault. My reaction to Fat Angie and my decision to DNF it are based on my experience with the sequel alone. I feel sad I had to take the decision to DNF as I rarely do that, but I’ll try to explain below why I didn’t see other way out. First of all I like to state that this is probably another case of this story simply not being a right fit for me. I thought I was able to connect to the main character as I had some of the same struggles during my time in high school. Sadly, I wasn’t all that impressed by Angie. She seems over the top, almost like a cartoon and not at all the realistic representation of a teenager struggling with her weight and the other things going on in her life. I was seriously frustrated by the way she behaved and expressed herself and I felt she was being turned into a cliche with almost too many different elements that were supposed to marginalize here being jammed inside her character (weight struggles, panic disorder, suicide attempt, dead sister, being queer, having almost no real friends, bullying, best friend ignoring her etc etc.). It felt like an overload of different elements being dumped on you instead of creating a realistic situation and this made the story less credible. I also really struggled with the writing style. The story didn’t really flow for me, it was packed with cliches and between short sentences and interruptions with definitions I struggled to find the motivation to keep reading. The plot moves quite slow, or at least up until the point where I stopped reading (about a third in, and the roadtrip hadn’t made its appearance yet apart from a brief mention in a letter). Between the writing style, almost cartoonish extreme reactions and violence, overload of different elements stuffed in the same character and that same character being unlikeable I saw no other choice than to DNF Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution.


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ARC REVIEW: Mona Lisas And Little White Lies – by John Herrick

Title: Mona Lisas And Little White Lies
Author: John Herrick
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First published: March 19th 2019
Publisher: Segue Blue
Finished reading: February 8th 2019
Pages: 324

“Unlike men – and cars, for that matter – a new tire had never let her down.”

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

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Surprised to see this title on my little blog? I know I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance, but I like to read something different every once in a while. There was just something about this title that caught my eye, and maybe the fact that it’s due to be published on my birthday was a sign? Anyhow, while I do think that contemporary romance fans will enjoy Mona Lisas And Little White Lies better than I did, I still had a good time reading it. I really liked the premise of this story. The artist inspired by a face he only saw once in all those years, the down to earth car mechanic who doesn’t know the power behind her appearance… The art, the chance meeting, the different worlds colliding: the story definitely has all the signs of that feel-good fairytale romance. The main characters Lily and Ryder are easy to like and each have their own personality. I like my quirky characters with flaws and they do feel quite realistic. Their story sounds like something straight out of a movie and it’s a story romance fans most likely will fall in love with. For me, there were a bit too many cliches involved, including romance tropes as insta-love and a love triangle. The whole ‘little white lies’ part felt a bit forced, as well as the final part of the story. Their reactions to the plot twist reveal and aftermath were a bit too cliche and over the top for me, but then again I’m not a drama fan. Some parts were a bit underdeveloped as well, including for example Aaron’s past and the role of Chase in the story. I really liked the many descriptions of Thailand though! Overall Mona Lisas And Little White Lies was an entertaining and fluffy contemporary romance read I can recommend to fans of the genre.

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Ryder saw Lily only once a couple of years ago, but has never been able to forget her face. He has incorporated her into his art for years now, using Lily as his muse for commercials and other art alike. Everybody wonders who this woman in his art is, but he never reveals her identity… Mostly because he doesn’t have a clue who or where she is. Then Lily’s friends see one of his commercials and Lily is determined to confront the artist about using her face without permision. But what will this meeting lead to?

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If you enjoy cute ‘love at first sight’ stories with quirky and flawed characters that are easy to like, you will probably love Mona Lisas And Little White Lies. The general idea behind this story is interesting and I loved the many art, car and Thailand references. The plot did get a bit predictable and cliche at points, and the dose of drama was a bit high towards the ending, but overall this was still a satisfying contemporary romance read.


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