ARC REVIEW: She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be – by J.D. Barker

Title: She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be
Author: J.D. Barker
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Horror
First published: March 31st 2020
Publisher: Hampton Creek Press
Finished reading: March 21st 2020
Pages: 774

“I can’t imagine living in anything but a fairy tale. The real world can be an abhorrent place.”

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

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I’ve been a huge fan of J.D. Barker’s writing ever since I first started reading the 4MK Thriller books… I’ve been looking forward to read more of his work ever since I finished the trilogy, and as soon as I first read about She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be I was completely under its spell. The title, the cover, the blurb, the promise of another masterfully written story… I don’t tend to read a lot of books over 600 pages as they can be a painful investment of time if you don’t end up connecting to the story, but I made an exception for J.D. Barker as I already knew his writing would most likely be right up my alley. And boy, did I make the right decision!

Some stories just need more pages, and manage to keep you fully invested along the way. She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be is one of those stories. Somehow, even though this newest J.D. Barker book has almost 800 pages, I never felt bored and I never felt like the story dragged or could have been told in less words. No, Jack and Stella’s story needed to be this elaborate, as their history spans decades and it is necessary to go slow and thorough to go deep and fully understand their characters. I’m aware that She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be might not be for everyone, but don’t let the daunting page count dissuade you if you love an intricate and well developed thriller with a supernatural/horror twist! Trust me, you won’t regret spending time with this story.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot to avoid ruining surprises and plot twists, so I will keep my rambles short this time around. What I can say is that I loved the structure of this story. It’s not easy to take on this big of a project and tell a story that not only spans decades, but also has a big cast of primary and secondary characters… Especially without the result being a very hard book to keep up with, let alone enjoy. But J.D. Barker seems to have found the right formula. She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be is divided into multiple parts, focusing on the life of main character Jack Thatch as we see him growing up over the years. His POV is used to introduce the many characters important to the plot, and he helps put them into perspective. Of course he is not the only POV, as we also have the mysterious subject ‘D’ to deal with for example… I personally liked the little observation chapters featuring this character, as the mystery around both his identity, his supernatural abilities and his role in the plot added that extra level of suspense.

As you might have expected from a book this big, the character development is both extremely detailed and very well handled. The characters are both flawed and realistic, and I personally loved the dynamics between Jack and Stella as well as the other more important characters in this book. Whether you like the characters or not, you will find yourself to be invested in what happens to them either way… And the mystery around the supernatural and the secrets of the past only enhance these feelings. She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be is not a full-blown urban fantasy read, but instead mostly a mix of an action and detective thriller, a dark contemporary and a story with a horror and supernatural feel. It’s a hard book to put inside a box, and I personally love a story that manages to defy genre boundaries and provide us with a new and unique story cocktail. This story has so many different elements to treasure and enjoy, and it felt like a true treasure hunt to keep turning those pages and keep reading those chapters. You never knew what direction the story would take next, and I personally love a story that keeps me on my toes.

She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be is as unique as its long title, and the right person will treasure this story as much as I did. I had a fantastic time reading every single chapter, and I never felt like the story was overlong or should have gone in a different direction. Big is in this case most definitely better! And this book has only reconfirmed to me J.D. Barker belongs on my list of favorite authors.


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ARC REVIEW: The Electric Heir – by Victoria Lee

Title: The Electric Heir
(Feverwake #2)

Author: Victoria Lee
Genre: YA, Science Fiction, Dystopia
First published: March 17th 2020
Publisher: Skyscape
Finished reading: January 10th 2020
Pages: 479

“Just because something is a stereotype doesn’t make it true.”

*** 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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After enjoying the first book of this duology last year, I was excited to meet up with the main characters again in The Electric Heir. But before we continue with my rambles, can we just take a second to admire this absolutely gorgeous cover? Both Feverwake covers are simply stunning and most definitely fit this story as well, as it can be seen as a direct reference to the magical powers so fundamental to this story. Cover love aside, there are quite a few other elements that made this duology work for me.

The first thing that stands out in the Feverwake books is the dystopian setting and worldbuilding in general. While not entirely original, the dystopian world where a magical virus ravages the world, killing most and leaving the survivors with supernatural powers, is without doubt intriguing. While roughly based on actual US states and cities by name, the story has an obvious dystopian feel both because the country and government as we know it is long gone and the story is actually set in the future (2123 to be exact). The worldbuilding itself isn’t all that extensive, but solid enough to give the story the right backdrop.

One of the things I liked most about both books was the magic and the fact that there was a wide range of different supernatural powers as well as level of strength after surviving the virus. It was interesting to see the different characters develop their power over time as well as seeing the power change them… And as the blurb already states, the sudden absence of that power too. Magic is without doubt essential to the plot and definitely spiced up this story! As for the plot itself… It was interesting to see the new direction this story took. Lehrer is clearly the supervillian of this story and the main goal is to defeat him before things really spin out of control. I do admit that some parts of the plot were quite cliche and the pace can be considerably slow in points. Especially the second made the story drag in certain parts, but overall curiosity won out as I wanted to know how it would all end.

There are a lot of trigger warnings involved when it comes to The Electric Heir, including genocide, abuse, rape, mental health, suicide and addiction (full list available on the author’s website). There are a lot of deeper meanings to be uncovered while reading this duology and some parts even give off a political vibe, but I personally thought this only gave the story a little something extra. There are quite a lot of heavy elements included in The Electric Heir and if you are looking for a balanced and happy story this would definitely be the wrong place to look for it. But life isn’t all about happy endings and it made this story feel a lot more realistic because of it. I personally found the ending itself of The Electric Heir a bit abrupt, but I guess it does give you closure and all in all it’s a well rounded duology that wrapped things up nicely. If you are looking for an entertaining YA dystopia that isn’t afraid to go dark, love a good LGBT romance and don’t mind a dose of teen angst and a slower pace, this Feverwake duology is definitely for you.


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BOOK REVIEW: Changeling – by Matt Wesolowski @Orendabooks

Title: Changeling
(Six Stories #3)

Author: Matt Wesolowski
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: November 15th 2018
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: November 8th 2019
Pages: 194

“It’s like an urban myth, a legend that has refused to die; this case has resurfaced again and again in my life. This case has an inexorable pull. Whether I like it or not.”


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I know I’m late when it comes to the Six Stories party, having only discovered the series this year, but I’ve become a fast and irrevocable fan. While my first experience with this series was already brilliant, the second book blew me away completely and I wasn’t sure how any sequel would manage to live up to it. I shouldn’t have doubted the writing powers of Matt Wesolowski though, because he has truly outdone himself with Changeling. It’s been weeks since I finished reading this absolutely brilliant read, and I’m still struggling to get a word on paper… My ability to review completely destroyed by this story. Oh yes, such is the power of Changeling!

I think that part of the reason that makes this series in general so unique is its format. Told in a podcast form with six different episodes and a number of guests interviewed by an impartial podcast host, each book enables us to dive into the different cold cases from the very beginning. In the case of Changeling, we are trying to find out more about the 1988 disappearance of a child as they were driving through the Wentshire Forest. The seven-year-old Alfie Marsden disappeared without a trace when his father stopped after hearing a strange sound coming from inside his car… And no trace of the boy nor his body is ever found. What happened to Alfie that night? To this date nobody seems to know for sure, but after receiving a letter our already famous Scott King decides to give in and try to discover the truth.

As with the previous two books, the suspense is build up slowly but surely. Changeling  once again toes the line with the horror genre after the introduction of the supernatural angle and hints of the myths around the Wentshire Forest. This story isn’t just another thriller and investigation into a cold case; the strange things happening in this forest definitely give this story an eerie and ominous feel. As the episodes continue, we slowly get to know more about both the case, Alfie and those close to him. Nothing is as it seems and this story definitely has some surprises for you in store… But nothing is as big as that final reveal. I almost dropped my copy of the Changeling on the floor along with my jaw when I reached that part of the story… Those who have had the chance to read book three already will know what I’m talking about. Oh yes, Changeling most definitely ended with a bang and left me both speechless and wanting to analyze everything I just read all over again to see if I should have seen the signs… And it is without doubt a story that will stay with me for a long time.

Along with the format, plot and writing, the characters themselves also play a key role in the success of Changeling. Scott King we of course already know, and it was interesting to see him interact with and react to yet another intriguing case. The other characters that play a role in this story are all realistically and meticulously developed, making both them and Alfie’s case truly come alive for me. I had a fantastic time slowly discovering the truth about Alfie and those around him, and while not every character is all that likeable and has its flaws, I found it didn’t matter at all as it only made Changeling feel more realistic. If you are looking for a well written and spine-chilling thriller with an unique podcast format and an explosive ending, Changeling (and the rest of this series for that matter) should go straight to the top of your wishlist!


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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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