ARC REVIEW: The Fourth Courier – by Timothy Jay Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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


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ARC REVIEW: End Of The Lie – by Diana Rodriguez Wallach

Title: End Of The Lie
(Anastasia Phoenix #3)
Author: Diana Rodriguez Wallach
Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
First published: March 4th 2019
Publisher: Entangled Publishing LLC
Finished reading: January 18th 2019
Pages: ?

“This time, they were all going to burn, without any beasts rising from any ashes.”

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

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I read the first two books of this YA spy thriller series last year and enjoyed the international feel and pace of the story, so when I saw the third and final book mentioned I just couldn’t resist. I was looking forward to another bout of country hopping and finding out how Anastasia’s story would end… And End Of The Lie manages to deliver both. While I do have to say I enjoyed this last installment a tiny bit less than the previous two books, overall it was still a solid read. The pace took a little while to pick up and I have always had my struggles with the main characters, but the story is easy to follow and we still get our dose of international travel despite the slow start. And I just LOVE that not one, but two places we were able to visit during our Europe trip last year were mentioned! Seeing Krakow and Prague described brought back great memories and made me feel as if I were transported back to those places again. It shows that the author used personal travel experiences to describe the settings! This international feel of End Of The Lie is without doubt one of the strongest features of this spy thriller. Once the pace picks up, the plot goes fast as they are trying to end the whole situation before things spin even more out of control. There were cliches involved and I’m not sure about the credibility of some aspects, but I can’t deny it was still an entertaining read. I could have done without the romance and the bitchiness, but overall the Anastasia Phoenix trilogy as a whole is an entertaining interntational spy thriller for fans of the genre.

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

Anastasia Phoenix and her friends thought everything would be better now everything was out in the open, but those thoughts turned out to be too good to be true… Lives are still in danger, and the only way to stop it all is to destroy Department D completely. This is easier said than done, because they have no idea where their parents are and how to end things completely. Will they be able to stop all this madness before it’s too late?

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I love a good international setting where it seems like reading a story comes with free travel. Add the fact that this story visits two places I’ve recently been able to explore and love myself, and it’s easy to say that the international feel of End Of The Lie was a huge bonus for me. I still struggled with the main characters, the bitchiness and the romance (although I liked some of the romantic developments), but the writing reads like a train and once the pace picks up things get interesting. Fans of international YA spy thrillers will have a great time with this trilogy.


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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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ARC REVIEW: Run And Hide – by Alan McDermott

Title: Run And Hide
Author: Alan McDermott
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Action
First published: August 22nd 2018
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: July 26th 2018
Pages: 304

“When we signed up, we were sold a dream. America’s invisible protectors, keeping the country safe from enemies foreign and domestic.”

*** 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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Before I start with my review, I have to be honest here and say I’m probably not the right target group for this one. While I like my thrillers fast and action-packed, it becomes pretty obvious early on that Run And Hide is basically a male-focused story and some of the comments included can come over as sexist. This probably has had a negative influence on my opinion and I do think male readers who like fast spy and action thrillers will have a lot better time than I did with this story. But let’s talk a bit further about my own experience with this story. Besides the sometimes crude comments and other possibly sexist references, I had a hard time connecting to the writing style in general. This made it harder to fully focus on the story and keep myself invested in the plot. The plot itself was a little too much for me and not credible at all, but I guess it would probably make for a perfect Hollywood blockbuster action movie. Over the top, extreme, with a lot of gun action and fighting scenes… National safety at stake and a conspiracy plot and all; oh yes, Run And Hide would probably translate very well to the screen. As a book I wasn’t too sure the story actually worked though. There were too many different storylines and POVs for me, making it hard tracking them all and figuring out who is who. While most of them turned out to be important to the plot, I would have preferred less POVs and a more indirect introduction instead. The main characters have potential, but I personally wasn’t convinced by how Eva Driscoll was described. Again, this might have just been me not belonging to the intended target group though. Overall I was fully expecting to enjoy this story better, especially since I like a healthy dose of action scenes, but sadly Run And Hide wasn’t for me.

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Eva Driscoll is used to be the one doing the chasing, but now the bad guys are after her and they won’t stoy until she’s dead. Eva has been on edge ever since she heard her brother was killed in a fake suicide, and decides to team up with the one person who can help her find the answers she needs. Together, they are determined to find out why members of the Special Forces squad both Eva’s brother and her new partner Rees Colback belonged to are dying under suspicious circumstances.

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Run And Hide is fast, ruthless and lethal. I’m positive the right target group will absolutely love this action-packed spy thriller that reads like a blockbuster action movie. I myself had problems with both the credibility, male-focused comments and writing style in general, but like I said before that might just be me not being the right target group for this one. If you are able to connect to the writing style, you won’t find a boring minute in this story.


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ARC REVIEW: To Die In Vienna – by Kevin Wignall

Title: To Die In Vienna
Author: Kevin Wignall
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Spy
First published: June 14th 2018
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: May 31st 2018
Pages: 270

“One can learn more on the way to an inevitable defeat than from a fortuitous victory.”

*** 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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!! Happy Publication Day !!

Fun fact: I was actually visiting the city of Vienna when I was browsing Netgalley and saw this title, and of course I had to request a copy and see if I would recognize any of the sights. It wasn’t until after our trip I was able to pick it up, but that made being able to revisit the city all the better. To Die In Vienna is, as the title already might suggest, a fast-paced and suspenseful story of an ex-spy trying to keep alive while others are closing in with the mission to kill him. Another fun fact: this book will soon be a major motion picture starring Jake Gyllenhaal! And I can see why this story would work very well on screen, because there is a lot of action involved and it includes a conspiracy, a damaged but apparently skillful hero and a lot of twists and different directions that will keep a viewer on edge. The book is highly entertaining to read as well, although I do have my doubts about the credibility of certain aspects. Especially regarding the main character and what happens to him, since it doesn’t seem to fit in with his background. I was still able to enjoy To Die In Vienna though and it was great to see a few of the popular sights in Vienna mentioned. The story reads superfast and I’m sure any fan of the spy thriller genre will have a great time reading this one. The ending was a bit too abrupt and felt a bit too ‘neat’, but I’m sure in the movie people will eat it up. All in all an entertaining and action-packed thriller with an international setting.

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Freddie Makin has been on a job watching Jiang Cheng during the last year, and honestly I doesn’t understand why he is even watching the academic with such an ordinary life. But a job is a job, and he has never asked or cared about the details before. That is, until the day someone is sent to kill him and Cheng disappears… Freddie is now on the run, and wondering what it is he saw that made his contractor want to kill him. Surely it was something incriminating, but what? And who is behind it? Freddie is forced to go into hiding as he tries to figure out the who, what and how before it’s too late and he has to pay with his life…

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If you are looking for a fast-paced, entertaining and engaging spy thriller that is easy to read and will give you a healthy dose of action, To Die In Vienna is an excellent choice. Some little credibility doubts and kind of abrupt ending aside, this spy thriller delivers a very entertaining story where you follow the main character as he tries to both escape the killers and figure out why they want him dead in the first place. Look out for the movie as well! I’m having a feeling both will appeal to spy thriller fans.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Lies That Bind – by Diana Rodriguez Wallach @EntangledTeen

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the Lies That Bind Blog Tour! The sequel of this international spy series was published on March 6th and has proven to be another entertaining and addictive ride. Please join me while I share my thoughts on Lies That Bind!

Title: Lies That Bind
(Anastasia Phoenix #2)
Author: Diana Rodriguez Wallach
Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
First published: March 6th 2018
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Finished reading: March 5th 2018
Pages: 322

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

ABOUT LIES THAT BIND

WARNING: Skip the summary if you haven’t read Proof Of Lies yet. There might be spoilers!!

What do you do when you learn your entire childhood was a lie?

Reeling from the truths uncovered while searching for her sister in Italy, Anastasia Phoenix is ready to call it quits with spies. The only way to stop being a pawn in their game is to remove herself from the board. But before she can leave her parents’ crimes behind her, tragedy strikes. No one is safe, not while Department D still exists.

Now, with help from her friends, Anastasia embarks on a dangerous plan to bring down an entire criminal empire. From a fire-filled festival in England to a lavish wedding in Rio de Janeiro, Anastasia is determined to confront the enemies who want to destroy her family. But even Marcus, the handsome bad boy who’s been there for her at every step, is connected to the deadly spy network. And the more she learns about Department D, the more she realizes the true danger might be coming from someone closer than she expects…

MY RAMBLES

I read and enjoyed the first book of the series last month, which I reviewed here. Some soundbites of my review on Proof Of Lies:

“I love myself a good spy thriller and I was immediately intrigued by the premise of Proof Of Lies. An international setting, conspiracy theories… Can it get any better than that? This is definitely my kind of story.”

“Where the story starts out a little slow despite everything that happens, the second half was what fully made my heart race.”

“This YA spy thriller is fast-paced and entertaining and perfect for fans of the Embassy Row and The Conspiracy Of Us series.”

All of these lines directly apply to Lies That Bind as well. I have a weak spot for any story with a conspiracy plot, spies or an international setting. Having all three of these elements in one story? Definitely the right way to start for me! Lies That Bind picks up where Proof Of Lies ended and show us the danger for the Phoenix sisters isn’t over yet. They have a new situation on their hands, one that might even be more complicated than what they have already faced. Like in book one, it took me a while to get into the story, but as soon as I did I was hooked. The first part of Lies That Bind is mostly used as a base line which the rest of the plot and the next book of the series will be able to stand on. This kind of introduction is necessary and while it slowed down this book, I’m having a feeling book number three will be full of fireworks. Because like in the first book, it was the second half of Lies That Bind that really made my heart race. Why? The non stop action, plot twists, shocking reveals and international setting probably had a lot to do with it. There is no doubt that the ending left me wanting for more… Because I’m dying to find out how they will be able to find their way out. That and a few other reveals I will not talk about to avoid spoilers. But I’m feeling it in my toes the next one is going to blow minds.

The writing style makes it really easy to read this story, and despite the slower start Lies That Bind turned out to be a superfast read. And I also loved the use of foreign language in the text, which helped create the right international atmosphere. The descriptions of the places they visit are well done and make it feel as if you were there yourself. Free travel included while you are reading, another bonus! I do have to say I struggled a bit with the high dose of drama in especially the first half of Lies That Bind. I mentioned in my review of the first book that I wasn’t a fan of the main character Anastasia because of her attitude, and this feeling hasn’t changed. Trust-issues aside, the tension between Anastasia, Marcus, Antonio and Keira did get a bit too much for me. I guess part of this has to do with the romance, but in the end it was mostly the dramaqueen episodes that got to me. I still have a weak spot for Marcus and his little Spanish accent though. And it has been interesting to see how the characters react to the different situations. Even more importantly, the final part of Lies That Bind made me forget about all that drama and I devoured the non stop action as it was thrown at me. I can’t wait to read the third book now and find out what the author has in store for us next! Like I’ve said before, this YA international spy series is fast-paced and entertaining and perfect for fans of the Embassy Row and The Conspiracy Of Us series.

ABOUT DIANA RODRIGUEZ WALLACH

Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of the Anastasia Phoenix Series, three young adult spy thrillers (Entangled Publishing, 2017, ’18, ‘19). The first book in the trilogy, Proof of Lies, was named by Paste Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Best Young Adult Books for March 2017.” Bustle also listed her as one of the “Top Nine Latinx Authors to Read for Women’s History Month 2017.” Additionally, she is the author of three award-winning young adult novels: Amor and Summer Secrets, Amigas and School Scandals, and Adios to All The Drama (Kensington Books); as well as a YA short-story collection entitled Mirror, Mirror (Buzz Books, 2013).

She is an advisory board member for the Philly Spells Writing Center, a school-based Workshop Instructor for Mighty Writers in Philadelphia, and has been a Writing Instructor for Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth since 2015. She holds a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and currently lives in Philadelphia.

AUTHOR LINKS

Author Website: www.dianarodriguezwallach.com

Author Blog: http://dianarwallach.tumblr.com

Author Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dianarwallach

Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dianarwallach/

Author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dianawallachauthor/


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ARC REVIEW: Proof Of Lies – by Diana Rodriguez Wallach @EntangledTeen

Title: Proof Of Lies
(Anastasia Phoenix #1)
Author: Diana Rodriguez Wallach
Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
First published: March 7th 2017
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Finished reading: February 23rd 2018
Pages: 400

“People don’t become powerful without having secrets.”

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

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I have stumbled across this series recently after I was invited to join the blog tour for the sequel. I love myself a good spy thriller and I was immediately intrigued by the premise of Proof Of Lies. An international setting, conspiracy theories… Can it get any better than that? This is definitely my kind of story and decided to dive into the first book straight away. I confess it took me a little while, but as soon as the story changed setting I was completely hooked. Where the story starts out a little slow despite everything that happens, the second half was that fully made my heart race. Partly because it was set in Italy and the descriptions of the different places were very well done, but also because of the non stop action and plot twists as Anastasia is trying to find her sister. The first part set in the US did serve very well as an introduction and base line which the rest of the plot stands on. Another thing I really liked (probably the philologist in me speaking here) were the introduction of (mainly) Spanish phrases into the text. I did detect some spelling mistakes, but it’s always tricky when it comes to foreign languages in texts. The mention of local food was another nice touch, although I do have to say that even though I’m Dutch I had never heard of ‘spekdik’ before. Might just be me though… As for the characters, I kind of have a weak spot for Marcus, probably because he’s from Madrid and I spent some time there studying abroad. And I agree with Anastasia: I do love a Spanish accent. Talking about Anastasia though, I think she is the main reason I couldn’t rate this story higher than I did. Instead of feeling sorry and rooting for her, I found myself rather annoyed by her dramatic, whiny and dramaqueen attitude. I can understand feeling low after all that happened, but she really took it to extremes… The constant ‘I can’t have anything positive happening to me while my sister is gone’ and ‘I shouldn’t be flirting for the same reason’ and the crying in general really were too much for me. And as for the romance… The romance itself wasn’t as bad, but Anastasia’s attitude towards it was. One moment she was all over him, then the next she’s all cold and distant because it’s not fair to her sister… What about the other person in the equation? Ugh. The writing really flows though and makes it easy to keep turning those pages. And while I had my guesses, the plot twists and conspiracy theory elements are well executed and mostly managed to surprise me. Also, that ending! I will definitely be looking forward to the sequel to find out what happens next. In short, this YA spy thriller is fast-paced and entertaining and perfect for fans of the Embassy Row and The Conspiracy Of Us series.

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Anastasia Phoenix has been moving all around the globe ever since she was little, her scientist parents being transferred multiple times over the years and taking their two daughters with them. Their latest home in Boston became a lot more permanent when both parents die in a car crash, and Anastasia’s older sister Keira is left to take care of both of them. But now Keira has disappeared and the police presume her dead… The only one who believes she is still alive is Anastasia, and she is determined to find her. But that is easier said than done…

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I have a weak spot for both an international setting and the whole spy/conspiracy theory element, so reading Proof Of Lies was an easy choice. Both these elements were what made this first book of a new series into a succesful and entertaining read for me. While I can’t say I liked the main character, not only because she is over dramatic and whiny, but also because she is quite naive and doesn’t seem to care about possible consequences of her actions, I somehow still very much enjoyed reading about her search for her sister. The non stop action and international setting in the second half definitely had a lot to do with that. I did wonder about the credibility of it all (A teenager in Europe without supervision?? Everything that happens to them in general??), but I guess at least the second part can be explained away by the conspiracy itself. All in all without doubt still a very entertaining read and I will be looking forward to read the sequel.


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