YVO’S SHORTIES #169 – Kill You Twice & The Poet X #20BooksOfSummer

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around my first two 20 Books Of Summer titles belonging to two completely different genres… But both were excellent reads. Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain is already the fifth book of the series, and while not my favorite of the bunch I still had a great time reading it. And The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo turned out to be just as good as I hoped it would be.


Title: Kill You Twice
(Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell #5)
Author: Chelsea Cain
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: August 7th 2012
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Finished reading: June 10th 2020
Pages: 337

“Life was a series of near misses. Car accidents dodged by quick reflexes. Railings that broke falls. Antibiotics. Seat belts. Helmets. We should all be dead a hundred times over.”

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After finally continuing with this series last month, I decided to work my way through the rest of the books ASAP so I can cross off another series on my unfinished series list. I know that technically the author promised more books were yet to come, but as it’s been seven years since book six was published I don’t think that will happen any time soon. Kill You Twice is book number five and marks the return to the spotlight of Archie’s nemesis Gretchen. After being mostly absent in book four, this sequel benefits from her strong presence once again and it has been interesting to see the dynamics between Archie and Gretchen develop further. The plot introduces us to another killer, but Archie and the rest soon discover there is a lot more going on than they assume initially and they wonder if there is a possible link to Gretchen… Especially as she is determined to make contact with Archie again. Susan makes her appearance as well, and it has been great to see the different characters develop over time. The final reveals are definitely shocking! Kill You Twice is not my favorite of the series though (which might be due to the explicit adult scenes, which are always a turn off for me), and there is definitely a warning in place for more than one disturbing and rather gory description and scene. If you like your serial killer thrillers dark and twisted, this is an excellent series though and the connection between detective Archie Sheridan and serial killer Gretchen Lowell is simply fascinating.


Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Poetry
First published: March 6th 2018
Publisher: HarperTeen
Finished reading: June 12th 2020
Pages: 368

“She knew since she was little,

the world would not sing her triumphs,

but she took all of the stereotypes

and put them in a chokehold

until they breathed out the truth.”

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Wow, what an absolutely breathtaking read! I already fell in love with Elizabeth Acevedo‘s writing last year in With The Fire On High, but The Poet X has completely blown my socks off. Beautifully rendered, raw and simply stunning, The Poet X is simply slam dunk when it comes to poetry and the story itself is completely written in verse. I think the only reason I didn’t give it the full 5 stars is because of the focus on religion, mostly because I have a personal aversion to this element in stories… I know this exploration of religion was mentioned in the blurb, but I confess that I like going in blind and I didn’t investigate before reading this one. That said, the religious element didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, as I was too busy devouring that glorious writing in verse. I love how the author gives us a glimpse of what it would be like to grow up with strict religious Dominican parents, and I loved the use of Spanish as it added an authentic feel to the story. The poem in Spanish is simply stunning! Xiomara, Xavier and the most of the others are easy to like and connect to, and while I strongly disliked the mother for obvious reasons, it was interesting learning a bit more about where her motivation came from. The Poet X is not an easy read as it covers difficult themes as forcing religious beliefs, parents pressuring their children, lgbt and not being able to come out and sexual harrassment among others. I love how Xiomara tries to find her voice through her poetry, and The Poet X is without doubt a powerful read completely written in verse I simply cannot recommend enough. I can’t wait to read Clap When You Land now as I believe it’s written in verse too!


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ARC REVIEW: Saving Ruby King – by Catherine Adel West

Title: Saving Ruby King
Author: Catherine Adel West
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
First published: June 16th 2020
Publisher: Park Row
Finished reading: June 8th 2020
Pages: 352

“The world takes so much, sometimes words are all one can possess.”

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

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I was invited to read Saving Ruby King last month, and I found myself to be immediately intrigued by the blurb of this title. Especially considering recent events in the world… Because we can’t have enough own voices stories out there to help educate us more. That said, I have to say that I’m having a really hard time rating this book, and I ended up having mixed thoughts about the story as a whole. I’ll try to explain below what worked and didn’t work for me.

On one hand, Saving Ruby King is undeniably a very important and powerful read: an own voices debut set in both present and past Chicago that helps give us some insight in the race problematics and issues black people have to face even to this day. This element was the driving force behind this story and the main reason I kept reading. BUT. On the other hand, a big part of the story also focuses on religion. There is nothing wrong with that, but I personally have a huge aversion to stories that focus on religion, and even more if they start sounding preachy. This has nothing to do with the quality of this story, but instead is rather a personal reaction to an element I wasn’t expecting to be so present… But the fact remains that I struggled to keep reading every time religion came in focus, which was a lot.

Apart from my obvious issues with the focus on religion, Saving Ruby King is a fantastic debut. The writing, the complexity of the plot, the multiple POV structure, the character development, the mystery around and secrets of multiple characters, the race problematics, the story of abuse, the violence and also a note of hope… This story has so many elements and it makes for a multi-faceted and rich story. The plot follows multiple characters both in past and present, and it can be a bit of a juggle in the beginning to keep track of how they all fit together, but Saving Ruby King provides us with helpful family trees to make things easier. I also particularly liked the perspective of the church, which was both unique and gave us a more neutral insight in past events.

This is not an easy story to read, and will most likely make you feel uncomfortable. I applaude Catherine Adel West for the realistic development of the plot and characters, and for not being afraid to show the ugly truth and for the characters and elements to go dark and unsettling. This is a story about race problematics as well as a story of domestic violence, child abuse, self harm, murder as well as a spark of hope… Beautifully rendered, and if you are not bothered by the strong presence of religion in the story, you will be blown away by this story. Trust me, this book is worth reading for the black voices and focus on race problematics alone. I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes that stood out to me…

“We’re a minute blip on someone’s television. Sixty seconds and my friend is ruined, or ruined even more than she already was.”

“They know they won’t be held accountable for their actions. America doesn’t need ropes and trees anymore to kill us. They have cops.”

“It’s a melting pot jigsaw puzzle with very distinctive boundaries. And those invisible lines still carve up the city, separating black, brown and yellow from white, opportunity and a void of such things.”

“I’m black. That’s what matters. Cops cover for cops. Blue covers blue. Blue doesn’t cover black.”


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YVO’S SHORTIES #151 – (Modern) Classics Edition

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a flash round with very short shorties reviews featuring four (modern) classics I’ve read recently.


Title: A Study In Scarlet
(Sherlock Holmes #1)
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

Genre: Classics, Mystery, Thriller
First published: 1887
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Finished reading: January 31st 2020
Pages: 143

“There’s a scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.”


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I’ve been meaning to meet up with the original Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson for ages now, and after watching the Netflix series and a recent mention in another book, I finally had the perfect excuse to do so. I must have read various retellings over the years as well as watch more than one screen adaptation, but it was without doubt fun to go back to the roots and see how the original Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle created was like. I was already familiar with most of the details of the case in A Study In Scarlet, so that didn’t come as a big surprise for me… What was a huge surprise to say the least was the second part of this first installment. Part two is seemingly completely different from the first part with Sherlock and Watson and is set in the US rather than the UK… A story about a man and a little girl rescued by the Mormons, forced to join their beliefs or face the consequences when disobeying. I personally found this part to be far less interesting and a bit too dragged out, and only towards the ending you will understand why this story is included. I highly enjoyed the first part and the ending though and I will definitely continue with the series soon.


Title: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Genre: Classics, Fiction
First published: May 27th 1922
Publisher: Juniper Grove
Finished reading: January 31st 2020
Pages: 41

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want.”


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The movie adapation of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button recently popped up in my mind and I remembered I somehow never read the short story it was based on despite wanting to do so. Since it’s a supershort read with only 41 pages, I decided to squeeze it in between my other books I was planning to read… It is without doubt a quick and quite entertaining read, although it did leave me wanting for more. This could have been such a perfect story for a full blown novel, as right now we don’t see a lot of dept, character development or insight in the different ages of Benjamin Button. That’s probably why I think I prefer the movie in this case? That said, if you are looking for a quick and surprisingly fun classic to read, this is a great choice for sure. I just don’t want to think about the poor Mrs. Button for having to give birth to a seventy-year-old man though! xD


Title: Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer
Author: Patrick Süskind

Genre: Classics, Thriller, Crime
First published: 1985
Publisher: Penguin Books
Finished reading: February 5th 2020
Pages: 263
(Originally written in German: ‘Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders’)

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”


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This story had intrigued me ever since I first watched the movie years back, but somehow it took me a long time to finally make time for the original story. I’m definitely glad I finally did read the book! Patrick Süskind has a way with his words that really makes the descriptions come alive and Grenouille’s story is both horrifying and absolutely fascinating at the same time. I already knew what was going to come as I’ve seen the movie muliple times, but even so I highly enjoyed reading this modern classic. The building up to the moment Grenouille turns into a real ‘monster’ is excellently done. There is something strange and almost supernatural about his character from the start, with him having no smell and his extraordinary nose for detecting and identifying the most minimal scent… His character development is the main focus of the story, as well as anything involving scents of course. A dark and quite shocking serial killer thriller set in 18th century France, and without doubt a great pick if you are looking for an intriguing and engaging modern classic to read.


Title: Peter Pan
Author: J.M. Barrie

Genre: Classics, Children, Fantasy
First published: December 27th 1904
Publisher: Puffin
Finished reading: February 18th 2020
Pages: 207

“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”


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I loved watching the Peter Pan adaptations when I was little, so I fully expected to love the original story and classic as well… But I guess it wasn’t ment to be. Warning: it’s unpopular opinion time again! I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t a fan of the writing at all and except for a few entertaining moments I found the story mostly dull and rather slowpaced… I even started skimreading at one point and that is never a good sign. The story just never managed to grab me and I kept wondering if I left it too late and maybe would have had a complete different experience as a child? That said, I definitely didn’t enjoy the story at all as an adult, while the adaptations still manage to entertain me even now. The story was also a lot darker and chaotic than expected, something that came as quite a surprise. Oh yes, the original Peter Pan definitely wasn’t my cup of tea, and turned out to be quite a disappointing experience to be honest. I’ll stick with the adaptations this time around!


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ARC REVIEW: Bitter Falls – by Rachel Caine

Title: Bitter Falls
(Stillhouse Lake #4)

Author: Rachel Caine
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: January 21st 2020
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: December 16th 2019
Pages: 336

“Women are always, somehow, to blame for the acts of men; that’s more true now than it ever has been.”

*** 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 fan of this series ever since the first book came out, and the first two books are on my list of all time favorites. Book number three, while solid, didn’t have that same wow factor for me and I was hoping that missing spark would be present again in book number four… But unfortunately I’m starting to think that maybe this series has been going on for too long, and maybe it’s just better to leave things as it is? Don’t get me wrong, I still think this series as a whole is brilliant and Bitter Falls is without doubt another solid read. BUT. I guess you can only have that many bad things happening to the main characters before it starts becoming REALLY unbelievable.

Like I said, I still think the writing itself is brilliant and Bitter Falls is without doubt an intense, twisted and thrilling ride. I still devoured every single page and the story once again had that unputdownable vibe, but I also started looking a bit more critical at certain aspects of the plot and that is never a good sign. Basically book four, like book three, misses some of that spark that turned the first two books into all time favorites for me. With everything that has happened already to Gwen, Sam and her kids, it is extremely hard to put together another believable plot and create a new life threatening situation they have to get themselves out of. The plot of Bitter Falls and its cult element is without doubt intriguing and definitely has that disturbing and twisted feel. It links back to things that happened in the previous book and gives us another backdrop for a story that will have your heart racing the whole ride. BUT. Like I also said, I started wondering about the credibility of it all and especially the ending felt a bit over the top. I’m still on the fence as to what to think of the second half of Bitter Falls… It was without doubt highly entertaining, filled with action, suspense and a lot of disturbing scenes, but unfortunately once again that wow factor I was hoping for wasn’t present for me.

In short: I had a great time reading Bitter Falls and it is without doubt a solid and simply thrilling crime thriller, but sadly didn’t live up to the sheer brilliance of the first two books. If you are a fan of Gwen Proctor and the other main characters and keep those expectations in check, you will find yourself having a great time though! A little note: this is one of those series that has to be read in order, because you will be missing out on too much background information and character development otherwise… And trust me, you definitely don’t want to miss out by not reading the first two books especially!


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Little Siberia – by Antti Tuomainen #RandomThingsTours #blogtour #Orentober @Orendabooks @annecater

Hello and welcome to my stop of the Little Siberia Random Things blog tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I’ve been meaning to pick up Antti Tuomainen‘s books for quite some time now, and after reading the blurb of Little Siberia I just couldn’t resist posponing Palm Beach Finland slightly and read this newest story first. I definitely understand the love for his books now! Want to know why? Please join me while I share my thoughts…

Title: Little Siberia
Author: Antti Tuomainen
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: September 17th 2018
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: October 9th 2019
Pages: 300
(Originally written in Finnish: ‘Pikku Siperia’)

“It seems that the turning points in our lives are always associated with a strange combination of the banal and the extraordinary, like watching a spaceship land in a perfectly everyday landscape.”

*** 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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The first thing that people seem to mention when it comes to Antti Tuomainen‘s recent books is the way he is able to introduce dark comedy more than successfully into an already solid crime thriller. Nordic noir with a healthy dose of blacker-than-black humor? You can definitely count me in for that! I’ve been looking forward to finally discover his work for some time now, and while I thought it was going to be my pink and fabulous copy of Palm Beach Finland, I’m more than happy my first introduction has been Little Siberia in the end. I definitely understand all that buzz around this Finnish dark comedy magician now!

So, dark comedy. Humor is basically a tricky element to introduce in any story, as it is extremely hard to get the tone and type of humor just right. Not everyone likes the same kind of humor, and black humor can go wrong real fast and even become offensive to some readers in a blink of an eye… I’m personally all for dark comedy and sarcasm when done right, and there is one thing for sure: Antti Tuomainen knows how to handle his humor. Sharp, hilarious and blacker than those seemingly endless Finnish nights… Oh yes, Antti Tuomainen‘s humor is definitely right up my alley. He is not only able to make me chuckle with his wittily wicked comments, but somehow he is also able to combine it flawlessly with one of my favorite genres. Humor and crime are not exactly natural partners, no matter how dark that humor might be, but Little Siberia makes you realize just how well both work together when someone who knows what he’s doing takes the reins.

That’s not the only thing that stands out in Little Siberia though. The remote and small town Hurmevaara up in Northern Finland is without doubt the perfect setting for this story. The descriptions of the setting are thorough, plentiful and really make the story come alive for me. The remoteness, the cold, the closeness to the Russian border… It all plays a carefully crafted role in the plot and Hurmevaara isn’t just an ordinary setting that could be swapped with a different town. Instead, Hurmevaara almost feels like yet another character of this story and its existence is basically essential to the plot. That same plot is both highly original, addictive and basically an emotional rollercoaster ride. The basics of this story are actually quite simple, but you soon realize that the finale of Little Siberia is constantly being dangled in front of you like a carrot, while at the same time little plot twist bones are being thrown your way to keep you hungry for more. Less in more in this case, although it is true that we still have quite a cast of characters to juggle.

What I love of this story is that the main character Joel is actually a priest. Quite unexpected and without doubt the driving force behind the successful introduction of humor into the plot… Joel has a fascinating history and his development is undeniably key to the story. Through his character, we are introduced both to the crime element and the more poignant story of his home life. After recent events, Joel is forced to fight for what he thinks is right, and decides to play both security guard and amateur detective to do so. This leads to all kinds of witty, awkward and even dangerous situations, and Little Siberia consequently has a healthy dose of action, suspense and violence in store for you. Things WILL escalate and you will find yourself biting your nails long before the end is in sight… Always having that wicked humor thrown in to ease the tension just when you think you are about to explode. Little Siberia has a very eclectic and well developed mix of characters to enjoy as well, each adding a little something to the plot and the story is all the more interesting because of them. On top of that, Little Siberia most definitely ends with a bang!

Before I stop today’s rambles, a big thank you is in place to David Hackston for enabling us to enjoy this fantastic story through his flawless translation. We are so lucky to have fantastic translators out there who make it possible for us to enjoy our dose of Nordic Noir to the fullest! And there is no doubt that Little Siberia is a little gem. If you like your humor dark and your Nordic Noir lighting fast, bloodchilling and touching at the same time, Little Siberia is simply a must-read. It’s like a big black bowl of delicious and hilarious crime magic!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Finnish Antti Tuomainen was an award-winning copywriter when he made his
literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. In 2011, Tuomainen’s third novel,
The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’
and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. Two years later, in 2013, the Finnish
press crowned Tuomainen the ‘King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart
was published. With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen was one of the
first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and his poignant, dark
and hilarious The Man Who Died (2017) became an international bestseller,
shortlisting for the Petrona and Last Laugh Awards. Palm Beach Finland (2018)
was an immense success, with The Times calling Tuomainen ‘the funniest writer
in Europe’.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #94 – Release & How To Walk Away

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a title I ended up having mixed thoughts about (Release by Patrick Ness) and another I picked up based on recommendations and ended up really enjoying (How To Walk Away by Katherine Center).


Title: Release
Author: Patrick Ness

Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: May 7th 2017
Publisher: Walker Books
Finished reading: April 4th 2019
Pages: 287

“Blame is a human concept, one of its blackest and most selfish and self-binding.”


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I had been meaning to pick up another Patrick Ness title for a while now, and thought the Magical Readathon was the perfect excuse to do so. I’ve been seeing mixed things about Release ever since it was… errr… released, so I decided to keep expectations low. I’m glad I did, because I ended up having mixed thoughts about this story as well. In fact, something similar happened with The Rest Of Us Just Live Here (the chapter introductions vs. the rest of the chapters) so I’m guessing this particular writing style and me just don’t really get along. What do I mean? Well, while I mostly enjoyed Adam’s chapters, I wasn’t so sure about the other more fantastical one (Katie). Both were so extremely different in tone and even genre that they mostly just clashed for me (like what happened in The Rest Of Us Just Live Here). I know magical realism can go both ways for me and this time around it definitely wasn’t a positive reaction… I had a hard time making sense of Katie’s POV and it mostly just distracted me considerably from what was happening to Adam. The way both POVs finally ‘met’ wasn’t really satisfactory for me either, but that might just be me reacting to the magical realism. I did enjoy the writing in Adam’s POV and I really loved that while the story is basically taking place in just one day, there is a lot going on and you won’t find yourself bored. Adam sure is having a pretty bad day! Religion is involved since it plays such a vital role in Adam’s family (and part of his misery), but nothing too preachy so I didn’t mind. The story wasn’t too heavy on the romance as a whole (something I could really appreciate), and the lgbt elements were well developed. If Release would have been just Adam’s POV and nothing more, I would probably have ended up rating it higher… But Katie’s more unique magical realism chapters kind of put a damper on things for me. Depending on how you react to those chapters you will either absolutely love it or end up having mixed thoughts like me.


Title: How To Walk Away
Author: Katherine Center

Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 15th 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: April 13th 2019
Pages: 320

“There are all kinds of happy endings.”


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There has been so much hype around How To Walk Away ever since it came out last year that I’ve been a bit afraid to pick it up myself. But after seeing so many raving reviews, I was also curious to find out what I would make of this story myself. I think I’ve become an instant fan of Katherine Center‘s writing, and she is a new addition to my short list of contemporary romance writers that are able to make me enjoy the genre. It took a few chapters to warm me up completely to the characters and the situation, but once I did I was hooked. The writing is excellent and one of the things that really stood out for me. Following the main character as she has to learn to live with the consequences of the accident was both heartbreaking and intriguing, as her struggles and fears are realistically and well described. Chip made me want to hit something, but I guess that fits the purpose of his character… I liked seeing Margaret’s character develop and grow over time though. How To Walk Away isn’t just about recovering after an accident, having to learn to live with a disability and Margaret seeing her life changed forever though. It is also about family and the estranged relationship with her sister. All characters in general are well developed, feel realistic and add there little something to the plot. I could really appreciate this was more of a slowburner romance and instead there is a lot more focus on Margaret’s situation and personal development. The chapters set in Belgium brought back memories of Bruges and made me crave chocolate! The ending of How To Walk Away was without doubt satisfying and I would recommend this story to anyone who enjoys the genre.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Wicked Saints – by Emily A. Duncan @WednesdayBooks

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the Wicked Saints blog tour! A huge thanks to Meghan Harrington for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I fell in love with the cover and blurb as soon as I first heard about this book, so of course I had no other choice but to accept joining the tour. And I can say it was a good decision… Want to know why? Join me while I share my thoughts on Wicked Saints!

Title: Wicked Saints 
(Something Dark And Holy #1)
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Magic
First published: April 2nd 2019
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Finished reading: March 17th 2019
Pages: 400

“We are all monsters, Nadya. Some of us just hide it better than others.”

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

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Every once in a while you come across a book with a cover and blurb that will blow you away completely. A book that will have you looking at your calendar longingly until the day arrives when it’s finally published. You might also luck out, and be invited to read it early and join the blog tour to help spread the love… This is exactly what happened when I was approached to read Wicked Saints. A dark, bloody and gothic fantasy story with superpowers, mysterious saints and an assassination plot to kill a king… What more to wish for in a story? This debut without doubt met my expectations and I already can’t wait to find out what the sequel will have in store for us.

So what made this story work for me? The first thing that stands out is just how delightfully dark and gothic Wicked Saints is. This story isn’t for those with a weak stomach and blood, violence and monsters are a constant presence in the plot. This dark and disturbing atmosphere sets the right tone for this wicked beginning of a new fantasy series… The setting itself adds to the overall atmosphere. The two main countries at play, Kalyazin and Tranavia, are clearly inspired by Poland and Russia and I liked the little references to names and culture. Would I have liked to see the worldbuilding more developed with more descriptions to make it truly come alive? Most definitely. It would have given Wicked Saints that little something extra that would have made it in an instant favorite… But I was still more than happy with what I got.

I also really liked how Emily A. Duncan incorporated religion into the story, with a clear difference between the Kalyazi culture and their magic by praying to different gods on one side and the Tranavians using blood magic and being called heretics on the other. It was interesting to see this theme evolve during the story, especially in Nadya’s perception of the world as she no longer find herself in the sheltered monastery and learns to put things in perspective. I liked the idea of ‘light and dark’ magic and how it was developed. The blood magic and the vultures are basically the perfect villains of the story, but like in the real world, definitions are messy and there is not just one villain and side to the story.

Wicked Saints has a dual POV, where the story alternates between Nadya and Serefin. They initially represent the cliche good and evil in the world, but as we get to know the characters better we learn that conclusions are not that easy to draw and things are not black and white but rather grey. I’m personally a big fan of the characters and their development. Not only Nadya and Serefin, but especially Malachiasz as well all turned out to be a fascinating characters. I admit there were some cliches involved and I can’t do anything else but agree there are certain similarities between Wicked Saints and the popular Grishaverse, but personally I wasn’t all that bothered by that. The dynamics between the different characters are great and the secondary characters are mostly well fleshed out as well.

As for the romance… Do I wish the story didn’t go down that road? Probably. Wicked Saints is pretty mild on the romance though and we are spared a love triangle (or at least for now), so that is most definitely a bonus. This is by no means a sappy fantasy story and most of the plot is black and gothic to the core. It’s my kind of fantasy, where the wicked and powerful get a leading role and are ready to kick ass. I loved the duality of this story; between the different countries, cultures and light and dark magic. It is a story with a fascinating premise and a lot of promise for what is yet to come, and without doubt recommended to those who enjoy darker YA fantasy stories with strong main characters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

EMILY A. DUNCAN works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons. Wicked Saints is her first book. She lives in Ohio.

SOCIAL LINKS:

Website: https://eaduncan.com/
Twitter: @glitzandshadows
Instagram: @glitzandshadows
Tumblr: http://glitzandshadows.tumblr.com/

BUY LINK:

https://static.macmillan.com/static/smp/wicked-saints/


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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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YVO’S SHORTIES #83 – The Bitter Kingdom & Friend Request

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two completely different genres, but two books I ended up enjoying. The series conclusion The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson and the psychological thriller Friend Request by Laura Marshall.


Title: The Bitter Kingdom
(Fire And Thorns #3)
Author: Rae Carson

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: April 14th 2013
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Finished reading: February 6th 2019
Pages: 490

“It’s the highest art form, deceiving without lying. A word is the only thing in the world made more powerful by absence than existence.”


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WARNING: possible spoilers if you haven’t read the first two books yet. You’ve been warned…

I first started this series back in 2015, and it took me a long time before I finally continued it… Not because I didn’t enjoy the first book, but simply because other books got in the way. I finally read the novellas last year, and after reading the second book last month I was determined to read the third and final book ASAP so I could finish the series while memories were still fresh. I’m without doubt glad I picked up the final book, because The Bitter Kingdom definitely made this series end on a high note! I’m not sure if it is my new favorite, but I’m happy to say that all three Fire And Thorns books stay consistently strong and the final book doesn’t disappoint at all. Why was The Bitter Kingdom such a success for me? First of all, I could really appreciate the chapters from Hector’s POV. They were both refreshing and definitely a welcome addition to the story! I also liked how we finally get to learn more about Inverno and see more of that part of the world… The high fantasy worldbuilding is one of the best features of this series and it’s always great to see it expand. The writing is engaging and it makes it really easy to just keep turning the pages. The plot itself isn’t all that complicated, but offers enough action and a romance that will warm your heart instead of annoy you. The end did feel a bit too easy, but overall it does provide closure for this series and its character. I really enjoyed my time with this trilogy and can highly recommend it to fans of the genre.


Title: Friend Request
Author: Laura Marshall

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: August 9th 2017
Publisher: Sphere
Finished reading: February 9th 2019
Pages: 384

“I’m in a hall of mirrors, full of distorted reflections and false endings. I’ve lost track of which way I came in and I have no idea how to get out.”


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I recently bought a copy of Friend Request on a whim after remembering it being mentioned various times back when it was first published, and I couldn’t resist picking it up when I was in the mood for the genre. There is no doubt that Friend Request was a very entertaining psychological thriller with a few twists and turns I definitely didn’t see coming. The story starts slow and it takes a while for the pace to pick up. Basically, the first half has more of a character driven slower psychological thriller, while the second half is more of a suspenseful crime thriller with a fast pace and quite a lot of action. This made the story feel a bit unbalanced, but the second half made the story that much more thrilling. I mentioned twists I didn’t see coming, and this was definitely true, but I cannot help but wonder if some weren’t a bit too farfetched and dark compared to how the story first started? I do love my surprises though, so I’m a bit on the fence about how to feel about all this. I personally preferred the chapters set in 2016 over those in 1989, mostly because I’m not a real fan of high school drama and bullying. That said, both timelines seem well developed and help creating the suspense and intrigue around Maria and what is happening to Louise in the present. As for Louise: she can be quite annoying and I don’t understand some of her decisions, but her character with all its flaws does feel convincingly realistic. The mystery around what happened to Maria in 1989 and who is behind the messages in 2016 will definitely keep you intrigued until you find out the truth… And it will be hard to see that final twist coming. All in all Friend Request was still a very entertaining read despite the flaws I mentioned.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #64: An Officer And A Spy (DNF) & Educated

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two books that didn’t manage to convince me. The first, An Officer And A Spy by Robbert Harris, sadly a DNF, something that rarely happens. And I had high hopes for Educated by Tara Westover after so many glowing reviews, but I guess it’s unpopular opinion time again.


Title: An Officer And A Spy
Author: Robert Harris

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: September 26th 2013
Publisher: Knopf
Finished reading: November 12th 2018 
Pages: 429
DNF at 30% (129 pages)

“It seems to be a necessary part of the criminal mentality: to survive captivity, one must somehow convince oneself one is not guilty.”


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An Officer And A Spy is one of my TBR jar picks and a title I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I had been looking forward to it despite the mixed reviews, mostly because the setting sounded fascinating. I still think the setting on its own is very interesting and the general plot has a lot of potential. A possibly wrongly convicted officer, espionage, the threat of a war and other struggles definitely sound like a good recipe for a successful historical fiction read. Sadly, the execution of those elements in An Officer And A Spy just didn’t work for me. I have picked it up only to put it down again after only a few pages multiple times over the last few weeks. I’ve tried and tried to at least make it to the end to see if things improved later on, but in the end I decided to make the difficult decision to just DNF it. I hardly ever give up on a book, so it definitely makes me sad to do so… But between the superslow pace, writing style, too many descriptions and a lack of interest in both the plot and the characters, I think this was the right choice for me. An Officer And A Spy just never grabbed me and I was never able to stay interested in the story… It’s very possible this story simply wasn’t for me even though historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. A lot of readers did love it, so definitely don’t give up on it if you are thinking about reading it.


Title: Educated
Author: Tara Westover

Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir
First published: February 20th 2018
Publisher: Random House
Finished reading: November 14th 2018
Pages: 352

“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occured to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”


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It’s unpopular opinion time again… You’ve been warned. 

I have been looking forward to finally read Educated for months now, especially after reading so many glowing reviews. This is probably one of the reasons my expectations might have been too high, that and the fact that this memoir has been compared to The Glass Castle. The fact is: I was quite underwhelmed by all of it. This was not what I was expecting, and I feel sad for feeling this way, but it is what it is… I’m going to try and explain the reasons why. First of all, I know that I’m a skeptical person, and I don’t tend to believe things easily just because they are written down on paper. I also had a hard time believing Tara Westover‘s story as it was written down. Please don’t tell me I’m implying she is a liar, which I’m not. I do believe that she wrote Educated based on her memories, memories that can have gotten distorted over time especially if her early life has been such a struggle. And I really had to take her story with a whole lot of grains of salt to be able to continue reading. Like I said, I’m not saying she hasn’t had a tough life, or that her family didn’t do what they did, just that I didn’t find her story as told credible. I mean, for a survivalist family living in the mountains they sure have a lot of luxuries including at some point even a phone, TV and internet (not talking about the enormous mansion they seem to be having in the end). Her family life definitely wasn’t standard, with them not even having a birth certificate for a long time, not going to school and working in the junkyard etc etc. But I would rather call it eccentric for the most part instead. Also, at one point she describes her father as bipolar, something that is never confirmed as the same disease prevents him getting a medical diagnose. Still, I would have liked to have seen this angle developed further rather than just throwing the ‘bipolar’ word out and leave it at that. Another thing that bothered me were the many many serious accidents, a few life threatening, and somehow they are all healed with essential oils and other herbal cures? I do believe in holistic treatments along with medical care, but this is just getting too hard to believe. (I’m not saying they weren’t injured, just that the injuries maybe weren’t as bad as they remembered?) Anyhow, this reckless behavior and indifference towards general safety of others and the ‘miracle’ recoveries were just too much for the skeptical person in me to handle. Another thing I found hard to believe? Where all the money came from. First we are told they are poor, then money starts popping up everywhere somehow. I can get why her childhood chapters are a bit vague about money, but how on earth did she get the money together to get into a prestigious college and university? I know there are grants, but they don’t cover it all and it is a LOT of money we are talking about and very prestigious and expensive education. I mean, she goes to the UK and studies abroad for a long time? And then travels back and forth between the US and the UK multiple times? The flights alone cost a fortune, and surely aren’t covered by grants. A real mystery to me. There is also the question how she got into college in the first place, especially since she was never really educated at home in the first place. Somehow being able to get a superhigh score just by teaching herself advanced math and everything else in the test just doesn’t come over as credible to the skeptical me. Maybe she had a higher level of education than stated in the memoir before she started preparing herself for the test? I don’t know, but as it is Educated wasn’t at all credible to me. I’m not saying her being able to get her degrees isn’t admirable, and I’m sure she’s had a hard life especially with her despicable brother Shawn (I’m not even going into the abuse and her brother here, or we could still be talking tomorrow), but sadly her memoir wasn’t able to convince me.


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