YVO’S SHORTIES #125 – Muse Of Nightmares & Hope And Other Punchlines

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a YA edition: two most anticipated books that both lived up to expectations for me. Muse Of Nightmares  by Laini Taylor is the duology conclusion and I once again fell in love with the wonderful wonderful prose. I have loved Julie Buxbaum‘s books in the past, and while Hope And Other Punchlines isn’t my favorite of the bunch, it’s still an excellent read and the 9/11 element is well handled.


Title: Muse Of Nightmares
(Strange The Dreamer #2)
Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: October 2nd 2018
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Finished reading: September 15th 2019
Pages: 528

“Wishes don’t just come true. They’re only the target you paint around what you want. You still have to hit the bull’s-eye yourself.”

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I admit I’ve been afraid to pick up my copy of Muse Of Nightmares… After being blown away by the first book of this duology, I was afraid it was going to be almost impossible for the sequel to live up to expectations. But I shouldn’t have doubted the power of Laini Taylor‘s absolutely gorgeous prose! Like with Strange The Dreamer, I was absolutely mesmerized by the words she uses to describe both the high fantasy world, its characters and the plot itself. Things can be said about the fact that not all that much seems to be happening considering its 500+ pages, although I did feel there was more going on in the sequel. But personally I didn’t really care as long as I was going to be able to keep lapping up those gorgeous sentences. Muse Of Nightmares proves that the writing and characters truly can make up for a plot that is slightly bland in places and this story blew me away. I mentioned the characters, and they are definitely one of the reasons this duology is on my list of all time favorites. Lazlo, Sarai and the others won over my hard so fast and my heart really went out for them. I love that a lot of the characters are not either good or bad, walking that grey area instead of simply being described as monsters. The worldbuilding of this high fantasy world is again beautifully done and set the right tone for this sequel. I would definitely suggest reading these in order, as Muse Of Nightmares picks up right where the first book ended and you won’t be able to appreciate the sequel without the character and plot development in Strange The Dreamer. Then again, if you don’t mind a slower and more character driven YA fantasy, you will want to spend time devouring the stunning prose in both books anyway.


Title: Hope And Other Punchlines
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 7th 2019 
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Finished reading: September 26th 2019
Pages: 311

“I’m so, so tired of always worrying about our world splitting into a before and an after again.”

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Julie Buxbaum is one of the select group of authors who can make me enjoy the contemporary romance genre. After loving her first two YA books, it’s easy to say that my expectations were sky high for Hope And Other Punchlines. It might have been the wrong time to pick up this title, or it might have been that my expectations were a tad unrealistic, because while there is no doubt that this story is an excellent read, it didn’t blow me away as I thought it would. There is a lot to love in Hope And Other Punchlines though. First up is the 9/11 element, an event that has made a huge impact on countless of lives and I could really appreciate how Julie Buxbaum incorporated this into the plot. While both the town and the Baby Hope photo are fictional, I do feel they represent the aftermath of 9/11 realistically and show us just how devastating the impact of this single event is even all those years later. Then we have the main characters Abbi, Noah and Jack. While I had certain issues with some actions in the beginning (blackmailing!!!), it is still quite easy for these three characters to win over your heart. The dynamics between geeky Noah, Jack and Abbi will grow into something absolutely adorable and they are definitely part of the reason this book works. Abbi (Baby Hope) is a very interesting character and she makes you think about the impact one little photo can have on both the life of those portrayed and on many others as it becomes a symbol of hope. I personally adored the camp scenes and I thought the story was well balanced in general. Lighter moments are contrasted with not only 9/11 details, but also other heavy themes as Alzheimer and cancer. I finished this story in no time at all and while I do admit it’s not my favorite Julie Buxbaum, I can definitely recommend it to any fan of the contemporary romance genre looking for a story that is both adorable and heartbreaking.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #123 – The Madness Underneath & The Hiding Place

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two reads that both turned out to be entertaining, but still not as good as I hoped they would be. The sequel The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson and The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor


Title: The Madness Underneath
(Shades Of London #2)
Author: Maureen Johnson

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: February 1st 2013
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Finished reading: August 28th 2019
Pages: 304

“They knew I would do a better job of berating myself for being an idiot than they ever could and that waiting for the punishment was much worse than the actual punishment.

 

The tick tick tick is much worse than the boom.”


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Fun fact: the first book of this series was a TBR jar pick as well, and while I really enjoyed it, it still took me three years and another nudge from my TBR jar to finally pick up the sequel. This ment I didn’t remember all the details about the events in the first book, but it was quite easy to get the gist after the first couple of chapters. I really like the idea behind the Shades Of London series. It’s YA paranormal fantasy and horror with a twist, the snarky humor giving you a break from the darker scenes. I do believe this sequel is not as strong as the first book though… This feeling has to do both with the plot itself, the characters and the romance involved. The plot, while interesting enough, did miss that spark of the first book. It might have been the simple fact that it’s hard to live up to the previous Jack The Ripper inspired plot, but I found certain parts of the plot quite slow and sometimes not all that credible. I also had issues with certain actions and the behavior of certain characters… Part of this feeling has to do with the fact that we have to deal with a considerable amount of romance and teen angst in this sequel; something I didn’t expect at all and definitely wasn’t my cup of tea. I still liked the writing though and the humor used was mostly spot on for me. The paranormal elements were likewise interesting and I liked the development of Rory’s special skills. And that mayor cliffhanger ending definitely makes me want to pick up the third book soon despite my reservations.


Title: The Hiding Place
Author: C.J. Tudor

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Horror
First published: February 5th 2019
Publisher: Crown
Finished reading: August 30th 2019
Pages: 288

“People say time is a great healer. They’re wrong. Time is simply a great eraser. It rolls on and on regardless, eroding our memories, chipping away at those great big boulders of misery until there’s nothing left but sharp little fragments, still painful but small enough to bear.”


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I really enjoyed The Chalk Man last year, and I’ve been looking forward to try C.J. Tudor‘s second book The Hiding Place ever since. It might have been that I set my expectations too high, but I ended up having mixed thoughts about this book. The first thing that stands out is that I underestimated just how dark this story was going to be… I personally didn’t mind, but I do believe The Hiding Place would be classified more accurately with a (paranormal) horror label rather than just a ‘regular’ thriller. Especially the paranormal aspect took me by surprise, as I have to be in the mood for those kind of stories and don’t always react to them positively. It really shows the author uses the work of Stephen King as her inspiration though; The Hiding Place definitely has that King feel with the horror elements, the bugs and the paranormal. Completely original or not, there is one thing for sure: C.J. Tudor sure knows how to write. I found myself flying through the pages, both shocked and entertained by what was happening. I liked the humor used, and while the characters are not exactly likeable, it somehow works for this story. And while I can’t deny I preferred The Chalk ManThe Hiding Place is without doubt still a very entertaining albeit darker than expected read.


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ARC REVIEW: Song Of Sacrifice – by Janell Rhiannon

Title: Song Of Sacrifice
(Homeric Chronicles #1)
Author: Janell Rhiannon
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mythology, Fantasy
First published: December 26th 2018
Finished reading: April 9th 2019
Pages: 426

“The more time passes, the more keenly we feel our losses carved into our very soul, even as the memories fade around the edges.”

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

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I always love discovering (Greek) mythology inspired stories and as soon as I read the blurb of Song Of Sacrifice I knew I had no other choice but to read it. This first installment of the Homeric Chronicles is set in the years leading up to the famous Troyan War (1295-1251 BCE) and includes a wide variety of myths, stories and different characters. If you enjoy reading about the Troyan war and happened to cause it, I can without doubt recommend Song Of Sacrifice! It truly shows that the author has investigated the topic thoroughly and then succeeded to combine an impressive amount of different stories and characters in such a way that it flowed in a coherent and chronological way. Some minor changes have been made, but I love how true to the original versions Song Of Sacrifice stays. Any Greek mythology fan will be able to appreciate that! The writing is more than solid and is very easy to read. And while there are many different characters and settings, it never distracted or confused me as I was reading the story (although I guess it does help having a general idea of who the main characters involved are). In fact, I loved the fact that the story doesn’t focus on just one character, but instead offers us multiple views and stories to treasure. This gives Song Of Sacrifice a multidimensional and rich feel and definitely added to my positive experience with this story. Gods and humans alike play a role in this story, and I think descriptions and historical setting are spot on. A fair warning for adult content and trigger warning worthy topics as abuse, rape and violence, but it kind of goes with Greek mythology stories as they can get pretty brutal. Song Of Sacrifice is part of a series, and book one doesn’t actually get to the point of the Troyan war yet, but reading about the (lesser known) years leading up to the war is just as fascinating. Fans of historical fiction and Greek mythology retellings will love spending time with this story.


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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 Fever King – by Victoria Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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


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YVO’S SHORTIES #86 – Moon Over Soho & The Woman In The Window

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time a sequel I have been meaning to read ever since enjoying the first book last year and a 2018 hyped release I’ve been putting off but was also really curious about. Moon Over Soho turned out to be an excellent read, while The Woman In The Window failed to convince me completely.


Title: Moon Over Soho
(Peter Grant #2)
Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller
First published: April 21st 2011
Publisher: Gollancz
Finished reading: February 22nd 2019
Pages: 375

“For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.”


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I’ve been meaning to continue the Peter Grant series ever since I read the first book last year… With book number three ordered and currently on its way to my home, I thought it was about time I did. Not only do I love the covers of this series, but I really like the mix of different genres the stories represent. Moon Over Soho can be read as a stand-alone, although you do miss background information about the characters and magic… I suggest reading them in order anyway, since the stories are without doubt entertaining. Book two has a musical twist and includes the London jazz scene as one of the elements of the story. The focus of this story is on Grant and Nightingale again, and we have new supernatural beings to hunt. The writing style makes it easy to read the story and the sarcastic and dry humor was right up my alley. I liked the plot and the way the story follows two different cases at the same time. Part of the plot is solved by the time you reach the final page, but we have a new dangerous character still on the loose we will probably see more of in book three. I’m really enjoying my time with this series so far and I will be looking forward to the next book.


Title: The Woman In The Window
Author: A.J. Finn

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: January 2nd 2018
Publisher: William Morrow
Finished reading: February 24th 2019
Pages: 449

“My mind is a swamp, deep and brackish, the true and the false mingling and mixing.”


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Surprised I hadn’t read this one yet? With all the hype around The Woman In The Window last year and the mixed reviews out there I had decided to stay away… But curiosity took over and with the news of a movie on its way I decided to give in and give it a go. I ended up having mixed feelings about this story. In a way this is quite an entertaining psychological thriller with the typical unreliable narrator you understand right away can’t be trusted to tell you the truth. I appreciate the focus on agoraphobia, as this story might help people understand better what it is like to have to live with it. The writing flows and makes it easy to keep turning those pages, although I do admit the pace was slower than I would have expected and especially in the first half of the book. The Woman In The Window is mostly focused on the main character Anna and nothing much happens until you reach the final part. Another thing that was a huge turn off for me: I was able to guess almost every plot twist from a mile away. Especially the first big one was so easy to see through that I was really disappointed. Anna is not an easy character to like, and while I feel for her having to deal with her agoraphobia and nobody believing her, I was never able to warm up to her or the other characters for that matter. The plot itself was a bit weak and, as I said before, nothing much was happening during most of the story, which made the pace feel a tad slow and the story dragged in parts. It wasn’t all bad and there were certain aspects of this story I liked, but I wasn’t blown away by it either.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #80 – When Dimple Met Rishi & The Shattering

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two YA read of two different genres… One that turned out to be a pleasant surprise and one that failed to blow me away. I’m so happy I ended up enjoying When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandya Menon! It was just the feel-good story I was craving. My TBR jar pick The Shattering by Karen Healey wasn’t as good as I hoped though despite the interesting premise.


Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 30th 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Finished reading: January 25th 2019
Pages: 384

“It was crazy how words – just black squiggles on a page – could bring memories rushing back.”


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I have to be honest here and say I wasn’t sure this book would be for me. Contemporary romance isn’t really my thing and you all know by now how I react to hyped books… But I’m really glad to say that When Dimple Met Rishi turned out to be an exception to that rule. It might have to do with the fact I was in the mood for a feel-good story, but I enjoyed my time with this story so much better than I thought I would. This story is cute, fluffy, quirky, geeky and has unique characters and that #ownvoices element that seems to be so popular right now. Yay for etnic diversity and interesting characters that represent a different culture in a realistic way! The characters are what made this story into a success for me and I loved reading about Dimple and Rishi’s story. The coding, the comic art, the geeky elements in general… This was just quirky heaven for me. The writing is engaging, flows easily and made me finish this story in one sitting on a rainy day. The plot itself might not be all that complex, but it’s the perfect feel-good contemporary romance story that will manage to warm your heart. I’m definitely looking forward to read more of her work now!


Title: The Shattering
Author: Karen Healey

Genre: YA, Mystery, Paranormal
First published: July 1st 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: January 29th 2019
Pages: 336

“The world shouldn’t work like this; that was why I made plans, to be ready for every eventuality. Adding the impossible to the things I had t obe prepared for was really unfair.”


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This one had been on my TBR for quite some time and it probably would have been even longer if it wouldn’t have been for my TBR jar. It’s not that I didn’t like the sound of the story, especially with a New Zealand setting and the promise of a paranormal mystery, but older titles tend to get pushed into the background as other titles demand attention… Even though The Shattering didn’t turn out to be a big hit for me, I’m still glad I finally picked it up. This probably has a lot to do with the setting, since I hardly ever seem to read books set in New Zealand. It also doubles as a negative though, because I would have loved to see more local culture and descriptions included. As it is, The Shattering feels more like a melting pot filled to the brim with different story elements and bits and pieces, making each feel superficial and underdeveloped. The story itself has a lot of potential, with the paranormal aspect, the secrets of Summerton and three different POVs to follow. But with so many different elements distracting you, the story didn’t come out as strong as I thought it would be. The characters, while interesting and in general not that difficult to like, felt a bit underdeveloped and cliche at points. The plot, while entertaining and engaging, didn’t feel all that original to me and I think this has a lot to do with those cliches popping up everywhere. It’s an interesting mystery with a paranormal touch, the three different POVs bringing some dept to the story, but I wish the story would have focused on only a select few important topics instead of trying to squeeze in as many as possible… This way, for example the focus on teenage suicide is kind of lost and that is really a shame. All in all The Shattering isn’t a bad read and quite entertaining, but sadly it failed to blow me away.


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