ARC REVIEW: The Lost Book Of The Grail – by Charlie Lovett

Title: The Lost Book Of The Grail
Author: Charlie Lovett

Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery
First published: February 28th 2017
Publisher: Viking
Finished reading: July 26th 2017 
Pages: 336

“The library smelled substantial; it smelled of both life and death. The air was stale and still and Arthur felt the atmosphere of the place envelop him. He was home.”

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

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I admit I have a weird obsession with any title that has the word ‘book’ in it, so one look at the cover of The Lost Book Of The Grail and I was sold. Any lover of books about books and historical mysteries will be intrigued by the blurb of this story by Charlie Lovett. Trust me, I was one of them… And I have been looking forward to read it for a while now. That’s why I was slightly disappointed to find myself having mixed feelings about The Lost Book Of The Grail instead. On one hand, there were quite a few things I did love about this book. First of all, there are many many bookish references, quotes and descriptions that will appeal to any bookworm. The smell of books, the library, the old manuscripts… I could just imagine being there in Barchester myself just by reading the detailed descriptions and I always love when that happens. I also really liked the idea behind this story and the mystery around the manuscript and the history of Barchester and its secrets is intriguing. BUT. Unfortunately, the pace is slower than a sleeping snail and I had a really hard time to stay focused and keep reading despite the fascinating history. In fact, the plot actually feels pretty chaotic with the unorganized flashbacks, guidebook quotes and random quotes from other books. I admit it does add an original touch, but it also slowed down the already slow pace even more and made the story flow considerably less and feel quite haltered. Another problem I encountered myself with were the characters. To be honest, I was never able to warm up to them and they mostly felt like cliches. The ‘old school’ Arthur and ‘modern’ Bethany have textbook clashing views on anything bookish and I didn’t feel they were inspiring. Also, I could have done without the romance…  It didn’t add anything substantial to the story and only managed to make me enjoy the final part of The Lost Book Of The Grail even less. Another thing I struggled with is that the story, for being about a lost manuscript and the hunt to unravel the mystery before it’s too late, was actually quite uneventful and lacked suspense. I was really surprised by this, because when I read the blurb I thought their quest was going to be a whole lot more exciting. Oh well, we can’t like them all, can we?

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Arthur Prescott works as an English professor in the modern buildings of the University of Barchester, but he feels more at home surrounded by the ancient books and manuscripts on the Barchester Cathedral library. He spends most of his free time there, researching his unfinished guidebook to the medieval cathedral… Although his secret obsession with the Holy Grail is never completely leaves his mind. When an American woman barges into his sanctuary with the task of digitizing the manuscripts, Arthur is appalled. But Bethany doesn’t seem to be what she appears to be and she turns out to be a fellow Grail fanatic… And soon she will join Arthur in a quest to find a missing manuscript with the story of the cathedral’s founder.

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I really wanted to like The Lost Book Of The Grail and there were certain elements I did enjoy very much. The history of Barchester and its secrets is fascinating and I’m sure many will appreciate the bookish quotes and references. The pace is incredibly slow though and the plot feels both a bit chaotic and lacks action. I also had problems connecting to the characters and felt they lacked character development or at least originality. Such a shame!


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ARC REVIEW: The Book Of Whispers – by Kimberley Starr

Title: The Book Of Whispers
Author: Kimberley Starr

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: October 3rd 2016
Publisher: Text Publishing
Finished reading: June 15th 2017
Pages: 386

“I have a voice, I have words. I run to a future where there’s the possibility of using them.”

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

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I admit I have a weird obsession with any title that has the word ‘book’ or anything book-related in them, so combined with a stunning cover The Book Of Whispers was immediately on my radar. I requested a copy of this story mostly based on this obsession, and didn’t realize before I started reading it that it had such a low Goodreads rating OR the fact that demons play such a big role in the story. To be honest, now I reread the blurb I don’t understand how I could have missed that part… Because what I thought would be a historical (medieval) fiction about a mysterious book actually turned out to be more of a demon-infested fantasy read. Stories involving demons are always  a hit or miss for me, so I guess I have myself to blame for that part… It wasn’t just the demon overload that didn’t work for me though, but also the way they were incorporated into the story. Especially in the beginning this mix of historical and fantasy felt awkward and the many many descriptions of the demons and all their strange forms slowed down the pace considerably. Trust me, there were many many eyebrow raises before the story started to flow better! Luckily the book itself made its appearance quite early on; otherwise I’m not sure if I would have decided to continue this story. I liked the medieval setting and the crusade and the idea behind The Book Of Whispers is without doubt an interesting and original one. I appreciate what the author wanted to do by mixing a traditional crusade story with fantasy and its complexity when trying to balance those elements; I just didn’t enjoy actually reading it. Mind, this could have been just me and my aversion to demons… Although I had a hard time connecting to the writing style or characters as well. Apart from the awkward demon descriptions that slowed down the pace, the writing style in general didn’t flow and felt a bit like trying to drive a car that is running out of fuel. This haltered feel did fade away a bit towards the ending, but all in all I struggled considerably reaching the final page. As for the characters: like I said, I had a hard time connecting to them and some of them were quite annoying. I liked that the demons were connected to the seven sins, but some of the characters were basically caricatures of those sins and maybe not that credible. Also, the romance. Boy, did I struggle with that feature. I know I’m almost never a fan, but besides the fact that this story has a love triangle, I found the romance in general didn’t feel credible at all and mostly a cliche. I can’t go into details without spoilers, but insta-love and all those sappy and cliche descriptions and feelings? Definitely could have done without that. There were some twists though and I liked the historical elements. The ending was interesting enough as well I guess. And there is no doubt this book surprised me, although in my case not in a good way…

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Set in Tuscany, 1096 AD, Luca is the young heir to the title of Conte de Falconi. He has a problem though: he can see demons and has strange dreams that sometimes predict the future. Luca is forced to keep this a secret since people either don’t believe him or are afraid of him… But when he sees his father murdered in one of those dreams, he is determined to stop this vision from coming true. This means following him on the great pilgrimage to capture the Holy Lands against his wishes… But will also be complicated when his father gives him an ancient book that holds a lot of mysteries just before they leave.

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I like stories with a medieval setting and I was definitely looking forward to The Book Of Whispers, but in the end it just wasn’t for me and not just because of the demon overload. The writing style, the demon descriptions, the characters, the romance… There was a lot that unfortunately didn’t work for me and the historical setting couldn’t make up for this. The idea behind The Book Of Whispers is very original though and it must have been a lot of work to mix both elements. There is no doubt this story had a lot of potential…


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BOOK REVIEW: The Hired Girl – by Laura Amy Schlitz

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Title: The Hired Girl
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Religion
First published: September 8th 2015
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Finished reading: July 23rd 2016
Pages: 400
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“But I think the most important thing those books gave me was a kind of faith. My books promised me that life wasn’t just made up of workaday tasks and prosaic things. The world is bigger and more colorful and more important than that.”

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The Hired Girl was my latest TBR jar choice and quite a fortunate pick, since I already planned to read it for the When Are You Reading? Challenge anyway because of its historical 1910s setting. I normally really enjoy reading historical fiction, but unfortunately I wasn’t impressed by this story by Laura Amy Schlitz. Most people seem to love The Hired Girl though, so I guess this will be yet another unpopular opinion review… First things first, I can’t deny the historical setting is well executed and I liked that the prose matched the era. The descriptions and prose in general show that the author has investigated the era thoroughly and used the terms appropriate for the 1910s. This was probably the strongest feature of The Hired Girl, because the rest didn’t manage to convince me. While the first part is interesting enough (even though the first chapters are a bit dull) and the descriptions are great, the story takes a strong religious turn later on. I don’t mind religion in a story as long as it doesn’t have a strong presence, but in The Hired Girl it was just too much for me to enjoy. The fact that I didn’t like the main character in general didn’t really help either. I know a lot of people seem to love Joan, but she was too naive and later on even whiny for me to grow closer to her despite her love for books. During most of the book this unlikeable character still wasn’t too much of a problem, mostly because of the interesting historical setting. Unfortunately the last part of this story was full of strongly religious dialogue and cheesy romance; ending up ruining the reading experience for me. I know I’m in the minority for not enjoying The Hired Girl though, so you might enjoy this historical fiction story a lot better than I did.

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After her father decided that his fourteen-year-old daughter Joan can attend school no longer because she is needed at home, Joan has no longer an escape from the hard work at Steeple Farm. Her mother died years ago and her father and brothers don’t exactly treat her well; the dreams of her mother (and Joan herself) for her to become a teacher seem to have evaporated. How will she ever escape the neverending and dull work at the farm? Miss Chandler used to be a teacher and gave her a diary, telling her she should write to practice. Joan pours her heart out into the diary and decided to seek a new and better life for herself despite better judgement. Maybe escaping the farm, traveling to the city and working as a hired girl cleaning and cooking for a family will finally help her improve her chances of a better future?

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The historical setting and well researched descriptions and prose are without doubt the best feature of The Hired Girl. I especially liked the Rosenbachs and what they added to the story; the descriptions of their household were really intriguing. I can’t say I liked the main character Joan though. I understand she is still really young, but instead of endearing I found Joan mostly annoying, naive and even whiny at points. And then I’m not even talking about the romantic blabbering and strongly religious dialogue in the last part… I really wanted to enjoy The Hired Girl, but this novel just wasn’t for me.

BOOK REVIEW: Hitman Anders And The Meaning Of It All – by Jonas Jonasson

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Title: Hitman Anders And The Meaning Of It All
Author: Jonas Jonasson
Genre: Fiction, Humor, Contemporary
First published: September 16th 2015
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Finished reading: June 25th 2016
Pages: 400
(Originally written in Swedish: “Mördar-Anders och hans vänner (samt en och annan ovän)”)
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“If only children could be free of all that crap previous generations had gathered up for them, he said, perhaps it would bring some clarity to their lives.”

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I should have been warned sufficiently by the low Goodreads rating, but I thought this would be one of those unpopular opinion books. Why? Because unlike most book bloggers out there, I absolutely loved Jonas Jonasson‘s other novel The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared and I was hoping of having a similar experience with this new book. I guess I was wrong. While The Hundred-Year-Old Man was interesting, fast-paced and laugh-out-loud hilarious, Hitman Anders And The Meaning Of It All was simply painful to read. In fact, I have been considering a DNF at various points in the story and decided to skim-read the last part because I just couldn’t take it any longer. Such a shame, because I really wanted to enjoy this book! Why is Hitman Anders nothing like his other novel? First of all: the story simply isn’t funny. Instead of laughing out loud, my eyebrows worked overtime as I became more and more annoyed by the plot and characters. Or should I say: lack of plot and character development. Seriously, the plot just doesn’t make any sense and the religious elements really started to get on my nerves. I mean, a former hitman finding Jesus and wanting to start his own church?! Sorry, that just isn’t doing it for me. I felt no connection whatsoever for the characters and the only reason I was able to finish this book is because I skim-read the last 40% of the book. As you might have guessed, I wouldn’t recommend this book. Make sure to try his other book The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared though!

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Hitman Anders has been having a problem with drugs and alcohol most of his life, making him quite violent and earning him a few prison sentences. Now he is fresh out of prison yet again, he decides to stay away from the hard stuff so he won’t end up right back inside… And then he meets a receptionist at a 1-star hotel and a female Protestant vicar who happens to be an atheist. The three get together and put together a very unusual business plan that is supposed to make them all very rich. It seems to work for a while, until their most important asset of all of a sudden finds Jesus. With Anders no longer wanting to do his job and focussing his day on his new religion and drinking ‘the body of Jesus’, the receptionist and vicar will have to find a new way to get their money… And the new plan is even more ludicrous than the last one. Will they be able to succeed against all odds?

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I really wanted to enjoy Hitman Anders And The Meaning Of It All despite the negative feedback, but unfortunately I will have to agree with the mayority on this one. Unlike Jonas Jonasson‘s other novel, this one didn’t manage to impress me and I even thought about DNFing it at some points. Both the lack of character development, the uncredible/poor plot and the fact that this story isn’t funny at all unfortunately just made me feel really disappointed by this book in general.

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: The Girl Of Fire And Thorns – by Rae Carson

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Title: The Girl Of Fire And Thorns
(Fire And Thorns #1)
Author: Rae Carson
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Religion
First published: September 20th 2011
Finished reading: October 15th 2015
Pages: 423
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God’s will. How many times have I heard someone declare their understanding of this thing I find so indefinable?”

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I’ve had a copy of The Girl Of Fire And Thorns collecting dust on my shelves for quite some time already and someone recommended it to me not that long ago, so I decided to pick it up. It was without doubt a very enjoyable read! Rae Carson writes in a way that sucks you immediately into the story and combined with a fast pace I was able to finish this read almost in one sitting. I was actually thinking of giving it an even higher rating, but decided not to because I there were a few things I wasn’t completely happy with. I do not consider myself to be a very religious person and although I normally don’t mind religion in stories (as long as it is not preaching), the many religious references in The Girl Of Fire And Thorns did start to bother me a little. Although they do make sense in the story, with the main character Elisa being chosen by God to be the bearer of the godstone and all… But sometimes I had the feeling Elisa was relying on her prayers a bit too much. Still, I more than enjoyed this story. The worldbuilding is very well done, the plot is interesting and the prose easy to read. I would have liked to see some of the characters developed more, but hopefully that will happen in the sequel…

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When a godstone appears in princess Elisa’s navel, everybody knows she has been chosen for greatness. Only once a century, God picks his chosen one and marks them with a godstone, giving them powers to fight magic. But Elisa doesn’t feel so special herself, having done nothing remarkable during the first fifteen years of her life and her perfect older sister to compare herself to. On her sixteenth birthday, she is married off to a king of another country. He seems to be in need of the chosen one to save his country, but what he doesn’t know is that Elisa doesn’t even feel comfortable in her own skin… And Elisa doesn’t realize she is is danger herself. King Alejandro wasn’t the only one looking for the bearer of the godstone, and soon Elisa will have to find a way to use her inner strenght to save both herself and the ones she cares for. Will the prophecy be fulfilled?

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The Girl Of Fire And Thorns is a fast and entertaining read full of action with an interesting worldbuilding. There are quite a few religious references, so if those bother you it is best not to pick up this novel by Rae Carson. Other than that, this novel is more than recommended if you are looking for a solid YA fantasy read. This is definitely a series I will have to continue soon!

BOOK REVIEW: The Lovely Bones – by Alice Sebold

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Title: The Lovely Bones
Author: Alice Sebold
Genre: YA, Mystery, Crime, Drama
First published: 2002
Finished reading: June 1st 2014
Pages: 328
Rating 3

“Each time I told my story, I lost a bit, the smallest drop of pain. It was that day that I knew I wanted to tell the story of my family. Because horror on Earth is real and it is every day. It is like a flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained.”

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When I was browsing for new books to add to my readinglist a while back, I saw a lot of contradictory reviews of The Lovely Bones. People seemed to either absolutely hate or love this book by Alice Sebold, and it made me want to check it out for myself to see what all the fuss was about. And although I found the end to be not credible at all and even a bit fantastical, I was able to like the general idea of the story. Alice Sebold describes us her version of the afterlife, where its residents in Heaven can create the world they would have liked to live in when they were still alive…

The Lovely Bones doesn’t have a lot of action in it; the story is more about the different emotions and ways of cooping with such a terrible loss. Unfortunately the different characters are behaving in a stereotypical way, which made the story less original. A father blind with grief, a mother in the middle of a midlife crisis, a little brother who has an imaginary friend, a girl who is into ghosts and other dark stuff… Sure, the fact that Alice Sebold is telling the story through Susie is original, but the other characters just felt a bit flat and not credible. Especially with the mother Abigail I had serious problems; I felt her character wasn’t well described and I just couldn’t believe or understand why she would do and act the way she did. Sure, grief can make you to do strange things in order to take the pain away. But when I was reading what Abigail was doing during all those years, I couldn’t stop asking myself: Seriously?!

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The Lovely Bones introduces us to Susie Salmon, who was murdered one day walking back home after school. Her body was never found, but we as readers know exactly what happened to her because it is Susie who tells us the story from her own personal Heaven. Although the body was never found, there was no doubt left Susie was murdered. She follows her family she left behind as well as the killer and various others that were important to her, although she is unable to contact any of them directly.  Both the police and her father Jack are trying desperately to find the killer or at least more physical evidence, but they seem to fail… Jack thinks his creepy neighbor George Harvey did it, but he has no proof and the policemen quickly become tired of his phonecalls. Abigail drifts away from her family and the kids grow up mostly with their father and grandmother. Susie watches them struggle and grow up from Heaven, and seems to want to continue living through the lifes of the ones she loved. The killer was able to escape town, and the authorities try hard to find him. And next comes the end, the terrible end…

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The end for me destroyed a story that could have been so good, if only it would have been written differently. I’m not sure whether to recommend The Lovely Bones; the general idea is interesting, but for me it didn’t make up for the flaws I encountered. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the book. I just didn’t love it either.