ARC REVIEW: Dead Inside – by Noelle Holten @nholten40 @HarperImpulse

Title: Dead Inside
(DC Maggie Jamieson #1)
Author: Noelle Holten
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: May 31st 2019
Publisher: Killer Reads
Finished reading: May 17th 2019
Pages: 352

“He turned her from a confident, carefree, intelligent woman, into a shell. She felt like nothing. Like she was in someone else’s body, skin, mindset.”

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

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Holy bat in hell, what a read! Now excuse me while I go pick my jaw off the floor… I already had a feeling I was going to enjoy this crime thriller by fellow book blogger and now debut author Noelle Holten, and my expectations were more than met. I literally cancelled all plans, settled down in my favorite reading chair and flew through Dead Inside in one sitting. It was simply brilliant! I loved that we not only have the typical detective (Maggie) to follow, but that we also have a probation officer (Lucy) in the spotlight. It definitely shows in the little details that Noelle worked as a senior probation officer herself for eighteen years, and it was fascinating to see a lesser explored angle being used in a crime thriller. The same goes for criminal psychologist Kate, who brings another refreshing angle to the investigation and it’s these three women together that makes this story work so well. It’s true we don’t get to see all that much of Maggie yet, but I’m having a feeling we will be getting plenty of her in the sequel.

Dead Inside is all about domestic abuse and what effects it has on the victimis and those around them. Signs of abuse are often not easy to see and the victims often feel that the situation they are in is impossible to escape. Psychological abuse is still abuse and harder to discover for outsiders… As someone who has been in a toxic relationship in the past, I know how hard it can be to let go. Trigger warnings are in place for the mentioned abuse, rape, violence and alcoholism. Dead Inside shines a light on domestic abuse from the point of view of both victims and (in a less direct way) abusers. At the same time, we also have an active murder investigation going on with ‘victims’ who don’t exactly arise sympathy. This angle alone is a very intriguing as it makes you wonder about right and wrong and if certain people just had it coming and karma came looking for them, or if even those dirtbags have rights… This story is lightning fast and isn’t afraid to go dark and messy. There are various twists and turns involved in Dead Inside, and while I did see part of it coming, I definitely didn’t guess the final reveal. And what a way to end the story! The whole Bill Raven case sounds fascinatingly disturbing… I already can’t wait to read the sequel and Dead Inside hasn’t even officially been published yet. Crime thriller fans, you have found a new title for your wishlist! Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this outstanding crime thriller debut.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Breakers – by Dough Johnstone #blogtour #RandomThingsTours @annecater @Orendabooks

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the Breakers Random Things blog tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. As soon as I read the blurb of this story, I knew I HAD to read it… And the story most definitely blew me away. Want to know why? Please join me while I share my thoughts on Breakers! Also, make sure to check out my blog tour buddy Eva’s fab review here while you’re at it. ❤

Title: Breakers
Author: Doug Johnstone
Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Crime
First published: March 16th 2019
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: May 18th 2019
Pages: 300

“Everything with her was a performance, layered in irony, wrapped up in too much self-awareness. It was sweet but fucked up, tiring to go along with, like he was supposed to dig around for the real her.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Anne Cater and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I knew I had to read Breakers as soon as I first read the blurb. The Edinburgh setting, the devastating home situation of the main character, the mention of a crime lord involved… Oh yes, there were a lot of signs this was going to be an explosive and emotionally harrowing read. My instincts were right, because it turned out to be an absolute scorcher! In fact, the second thriller in a row to make me forget about everything else and finish the whole book in one sitting.

There is a lot to love in Breakers. The first thing that stands out is the writing style: the story is well written, engaging and the descriptions are done exceptionally well. The real power behind Breakers are the main characters though. Both flawed and realistic, Tyler, Flick and little Bean will win over your heart and you will ache for them as things are spinning out of control. Tyler has a very difficult life at home with his drug-addict mother and his violent older brother, but somehow he still manages to grow up pretty decent and protect his little sister Bean. His story is heartbreaking and Tyler’s relationship with his little sister earned a lot of brownie points! It’s obvious he doesn’t have an easy life, and it’s interesting to see his situation being contrasted to Flick’s life. It shows that having money doesn’t necessarily mean a happy life, but it does make things easier… It also shows that in the end they are not as different as Tyler thinks. Barry is a real pain and very easy to dislike, but his character is ment this way and helps show a contrast with his younger brother and that a difficult home situation doesn’t mean all kids turn out the same.

Another thing I could really appreciate was the crime lord element; it definitely spiced up the plot! At first we get a dose of minor crime as Barry, Kelly and Tyler rob houses, but then things take a turn for the worse as Barry knifes the wife of local crime lord Deke Holt. Things spin out of control quickly then and it shows in Barry’s character as well as he becomes even more unstable and violent. The situation of Tyler’s mother is tragic and shows us the effects of drug and alcohol addiction; children left fending for themselves as parents are no longer able to take care of them. Little Bean brings something sweet and innocent to the plot though. Her relationship with Tyler and innocent look on life are used as another contrast between ‘good and bad’.

Both character description and development are simply sublime in Breakers. It was fascinating to see how the different characters reacted to the situations that arised! This story was brutal and emotionally draining, but highly satisfying as a whole. Trigger warnings are in place for violence, abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction… Each of these elements is well incorporated into the plot and used to realistically display how tragic the home situation of Tyler and his little sister basically is. It is all a vicious circle almost impossible to escape… As you might have guessed already, Breakers is an absolutely fantastic and brutal story that fans of the genre will most likely devour in one sitting. I know I did!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Johnstone is an author, journalist and musician based in Edinburgh. He’s had nine novels published, most recently Fault Lines. His previous novel, The Jump, was a finalist for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his other novels have been award winners and bestsellers, and he’s had short stories published in numerous anthologies and literary magazines. His work has been praised by the likes of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Irvine Welsh. Several of his novels have been optioned for film and television. Doug is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow. He’s worked as an RLF Fellow at Queen Margaret University, taught creative writing at Strathclyde University and William Purves Funeral Directors. He mentors and assesses manuscripts for The Literary Consultancy and regularly tutors at Moniack Mhor writing retreat. Doug has released seven albums in various bands, and is drummer, vocalist and occasional guitarist for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He also reviews books for The Big Issue magazine, is player-manager for Scotland Writers Football Club and has a PhD in nuclear physics.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small #blogtour

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the Bright Burning Stars blog tour! A huge thanks to Brittani Hilles for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about the blurb of this story that caught my attention right away and I have been excited to read it. And while it turned out to be not entirely my cup of tea, I’m having a feeling the right reader will fall in love with it. Please join me while I share my thoughts on Bright Burning Stars!

Title: Bright Burning Stars
Author: A.K. Small
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 21st 2019
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Finished reading: May 10th 2019
Pages: 304

“Marine, notre monde, this world of ours – the stage and studios and barres – is intense and lonely. There is no space for friendship, love, or even an old and perhaps sacred bond between twins. Nothing shadows the art of dance. It’s a union of body, mind, and music. Classical dance is known for being ruthless.”

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

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Like I said before, there was just something about the blurb of Bright Burning Stars that caught my attention right away and I have been excited to finally read it. It’s true that it turned out to be not entirely my cup of tea, but I do believe the right reader will enjoy this story immensely. Fans of more gritty and slow-paced YA contemporary romance will be in a treat with this ballet-inspired story mainly set within the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Why wasn’t Bright Burning Stars a good fit for me personally? It’s hard to put my finger exactly on the why, but I think part of the reason has to do with the sheer amount of cliche drama relating to both competition, jealousy, romance and friendship. All this drama made it hard for me to stay focused and I confess it took me longer than expected to actually reach the final page. On top of this we have what you can call multiple love triangles and more jealousy and drama resulting from that… And you all know by now how I feel about those pesky love triangles in the first place. I’m sure romance fans who don’t mind a cliche or two will react different to this part of the story though. Another thing I didn’t like was the fact how they skimmed over abortion and basically make it seem like you can just go to the pharmacy, get a little something as if you were buying a cure for a headache and solve your problems that way. I’m not going into the whole abortion discussion, but I do feel this gives the wrong message to teenagers about safe sex and having to face the consequences of your actions and mistakes. Trigger warnings are also in place for other sensitive themes including eating disorders, suicide and drugs. I understand the ballet world is brutal and unrealistic (and basically unhealthy) demands are made of the bodies of the dancers, and I do think this is well portrayed in Bright Burning Stars, but it can potentially trigger more sensitive readers so you’ve been warned.

The story is told with the help of a dual POV, where we get to know Marine and Kate and learn more about how the constant competition has changed their relationship and how their final year once again puts a lot of pressure on both their bodies and their minds. I’m not sure I actually liked them, especially since their is a lot of teenage drama, boy stuff and jealousy involved, but they do help address various issues related to the ballet world. Bright Burning Stars is mostly a character-driven story where we follow the development of Marine and Kate. The pace is considerably slow at times, but shouldn’t be problem for those who enjoy this kind of story. I did wonder about the use of random French words in the text, as they didn’t seem to add anything substantial to the story… And with a Paris setting aren’t they speaking French all the time anyway in the first place? Instead of the French words, I think I would have liked to see more dancing and more descriptions of Paris and the school. But that could have been just me. Overall this was still a solid read, and while not my cup of tea, I can see how others could fall in love with Bright Burning Stars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A.K. Small was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

SOCIAL LINKS

aksmallwords.com
Twitter: @aksmallwords 
Instagram: @aksmallwords 


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ARC REVIEW: The Vanishing Season – by Dot Hutchison @amazonpub

Title: The Vanishing Season
(The Collector #4)

Author: Dot Hutchison
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: May 21st 2019
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: May 11th 2019
Pages: 320

“Sometimes we only recognize our limits once we’ve passed them.”

*** 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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I’ve been a big fan of The Collector series ever since I read the first book back in 2016, and I have been waiting impatiently for the final installment ever since I read book three last year. There is no doubt that The Vanishing Season delivers. Each book of the series actually follows a different member of the FBI team, and this last book is all about Eliza and Brandon. I personally really appreciate this little detail, as it gives us the opportunity to learn more about certain characters while also still having the bantering between the members of the team. It’s definitely a series best read in order, or else you will be missing important background information about both characters and past cases… But they will be well worth your time. The Vanishing Season has definitely succeeded in making this series go out with a bang. Things are going to get very personal and cold cases are going to get mixed with a current kidnapping case in a way you won’t be able to guess easily. There are twists and turns involved to mislead you and while you may get some details right, it will be impossible to imagine the full truth about the who, how and why until the very end. And you won’t be able to keep it dry by the time you reach the final page either… A part of this reaction has to do with the characters and how easy it is to connect to and basically adopt them. I personally love all members of the FBI team, flaws and all, and their bantering and dry humor is right up my alley. I even have a namesake in this series; something that doesn’t happen often! I have seen some people complaining about the use of Spanish, but I personally love those little details as they add an authentic touch to the characters without complicating those readers who don’t understand Spanish. Each character is thoroughly developed during the series and feels realistic; it’s interesting seeing them evolve over time and I loved finding out how everything ended. The second half of The Vanishing Season is basically an emotional rollercoaster and there will most likely be tears involved if you were able to connect to the characters previously. I found myself flying through the pages as I was dying to discover how it all ended; I literally couldn’t put down my kindle until I got there. I liked how everything wrapped up nicely and I was more than satisfied with this final book of the series. The Vanishing Season and The Summer Children are now tied for series favorite! If you enjoyed the previous books, you will most likely have an excellent time with this story as well.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The East End – by Jason Allen #blogtour

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the The East End blog tour! A huge thanks to Justine Sha for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about the blurb of this story that caught my attention right away and I had no other option but to read it… And it was without doubt a great decision. Please join me while I share my thoughts on The East End!

Title: The East End
Author: Jason Allen
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction
First published: May 7th 2019
Publisher: Park Row Books
Finished reading: May 6th 2019
Pages: 304

“It’s much better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t done. Remember that.”

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

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Like I said in the introduction, there was just something about the blurb of The East End that caught my attention right away, and it turns out my instincts were right about this story. What an intriguing and thought provoking read! It really shows that the author grew up in the Hamptons, as the descriptions of the area feel realistic and really transport you to the setting. The contrast of the working-class inhabitants of the Hamptons and the rich estate owners vacationing only for the season is fascinating.  The fact that they are only temporarily there, but not only have such a huge impact on life in town but also treat the locals in a certain way definitely leaves a lot to think about. Corey is a fascinating character, and I’m guessing here that part of his experiences and thoughts are inspired by the author himself back when he worked for wealthy estate owners himself when he was younger. Knowing this adds a whole different level to The East End and makes you wonder if little details were based on true events or if everything is indeed fiction. The fact remains that you will find a lot of flawed characters, secrets and lies in this mostly character-driven story. With a rich and elaborate prose, the author describes both setting and characters with a flourish and those characters without doubt provide for a lot of drama and suspense. I can’t say they were exactly likeable, but their flawed personalities were well developed and felt real. Trigger warnings are in place for abuse, addiction and alcoholism as well as violence and suicide… Oh yes, The East End has a lot of heavy topics for you in store. The main focus is on what happens that night in the mansion and the aftermath for the different characters though. The suspense and family drama is sprinkled with a little hint of romance, but this story mostly about secrets that might be revealed, a dead body on the property and an eternal struggle to find a way out. Fans of more character-driven suspenseful stories will have a great time with The East End.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Allen grew up in a working-class home in the Hamptons, where he worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners. He writes fiction, poetry, and memoir, and is the author of the poetry collection A MEDITATION ON FIRE. He has an MFA from Pacific University and a PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he teaches writing. THE EAST END is his first novel.

SOCIAL LINKS

Author Website
Twitter: @EathanJason
Facebook: @jasonallenauthor
Goodreads

BUY LINKS

Harlequin // Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Books-A-Million // Powell’s


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DNF ARC REVIEW: Middlegame – by Seanan McGuire

Title: Middlegame
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
First published: May 7th 2019
Publisher: Tor.com 
Finished reading: May 4th 2019
Pages: 528
DNF at 41% (217 pages)

“Numbers are simple, obedient things, as long as you understand the rules they live by. Words are trickier. They twist and bite and require too much attention.”

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

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WARNING: it’s unpopular opinion time again!

I never in the world expected to end up writing a DNF review for Middlegame. I absolutely adore the Wayward Children series and while I’ve yet to try her other work, I had full confidence this new story was going to be another winner. All those raving reviews and 5 star ratings only reconfirmed that belief… But I guess it wasn’t ment to be. First of all I have to stress that I feel really bad about the decision to DNF, especially since I almost never have to resort to such a drastic decision and Middlegame is such a highly anticipated title. Trust me, I haven’t taken this decision lightly,and I have really tried to overcome my initial feelings and warm up to the story. But after a second, third and fourth chance, I’m throwing in the towel at 41%. I’m very happy most people seem to be having a complete opposite experience from mine though. It’s easy to deduct Middlegame is able to provoke very strong reactions; either you get the story and you absolutely adore every single page, or you feel like a mighty confused heap of mess and are left clueless and lost in the woods. Spoiler: I’m part of the second group. Again, I’m feeling really bad for having to take this decision, but it is what it is I guess.

I’m having a hard time properly expressing why I struggled so much with this story, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that (especially in the beginning) I had no idea what I was reading. I was extremely confused and frustrated by the fact I didn’t understand what all those different characters and events had to do with each other, and with the fantastical elements left without a proper explanation it was mostly guesswork and question marks instead of me starting to understand the world. Middlegame can mostly be classified as urban fantasy with sci-fi elements, although some POVs are definitely hardcore fantasy. Those are without doubt the most confusing ones as no proper explanation was offered (or at least up to that point). I admit things got slightly better with some POVs, especially when we follow Roger and Dodger, as they offer an almost ‘normal’ world where things are easier to understand. I loved that Roger is all about words, that Dodger is a math genius and how they are connected. I wasn’t a real fan of the writing style, although their chapters are probably the most readable. I really disliked those chapters with Reed, but again part of the problem was that I felt information was missing and I couldn’t properly understand it. Ever read a sequel without reading the first book, finding yourself confused all the time because you are missing crucial information? That was how I felt most of the time while I was trying to read Middlegame. Again, I seem to be the exception here as most people seem to love this story, so don’t give up on Middlegame on my account. Just remember that if you do find yourself being a confused pile of mess when you are reading it, you are not the only one.


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ARC REVIEW: Romanov – by Nadine Brandes

Title: Romanov
Author: Nadine Brandes
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: May 7th 2019
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Finished reading: April 29th 2019
Pages: 352

“Something you should learn about us Romanovs is that we like to defy supposed tos.”

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


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I knew I had to read this book as soon as I first heard about it. A magical retelling of the story of Anastasia Romanov? How can I resist that?! I confess I had forgotten a lot of details around the Romanov family and their tragic ending… But that didn’t make me enjoy Romanov any less. This retelling mixes historical facts and magic in an expert way and gives us a whole new take on the events set in 1918 Russia. While Romanov can mostly be considered and in fact mainly reads like a historical fiction story, there are also magical elements incorporated that give the story a little something extra. I really liked the magic as described in Romanov and I almost wished we would have seen and learned more of it during the story. Instead, the main focus is on the Romanov family and what happens to them after Nastya’s father had to abdict and the whole family is exiled in Siberia. It’s a story of a family fighting to stay together while they try to hold on to a shred of dignity… The mayority of the story is focused on their time as prisoners in exile and not on the events after as I would have guessed. I enjoyed the writing style, although I do have to admit that the pace is considerably slow and this might be a turn off for those who don’t enjoy slower and more character driven historical fiction. Romanov focuses mostly on the characters and their development, and only gives you a healthy dose of action and magic more towards the ending. I personally didn’t really mind most of the time, although the middle part could get a tad too slow and tedious. The characters and magical take on this famous family mostly made up for it though, and I can definitely recommend it. Historical fiction fans: don’t be put off by the fantasy elements in this story, as it’s surprisingly light on the magic and focuses mainly on the historical elements.


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