Saturday, September 22, 2018

Adaptations, yes or no?

How do you feel about screen adaptations of (beloved) books?

I confess I often feel a little scared because two problems might arise: 
1) the adaptation isn't very faithful and I can't help but think it's wrong;
2) it might happen I can't forget the actors' faces and won't return to my own idea of how they look like...

On BookBub there is a list about recent adaptations that are being aired or will be and of them all, I'm very curious about The Discovery of Witches, based on the books by Deborah Harkness and which I loved. I'm debating my willpower to watch or not to watch if it becomes possible at some point...

What about you? Any interesting one in the list?
Image belongs to Deborah Harkness's website.
Enjoy the weekend!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Mark Pryor - The Paris Librarian

Hugo Marston's friend Paul Rogers dies unexpectedly in a locked room at the American Library in Paris. The police conclude that Rogers died of natural causes, but when his girlfriend is also found dead, Hugo is certain mischief is afoot.
As he pokes around the library, Hugo discovers that rumors are swirling around some recently donated letters from American actress Isabelle Severin. Some are being kept secret. The reason: they indicate that the now ninety-year-old had aided the resistance in frequent trips to France towards the end of World War II. Even more dramatic is the legend that the Severin Collection also contains a dagger, one she used to kill an SS officer in 1944.
Hugo delves deeper into the stacks at the American library and finally realizes that the history of this case isn't what anyone suspected. But to prove he's right, Hugo must return to the scene of a decades-old crime.

Comment: I got this book at my local library the last time I went there. Since this is not a big book and the font wasn't too small, I figured it would be interesting enough to read for a few hours, even more so considering the theme would be about a mystery in Paris and there would be talk about books and libraries, things I find extremely appealing.

This is the 6th installment in the Hugo Marston series by author Mark Pryor.
The story begins with Hugo, the protagonist, scheduling a meeting with his librarian friend Paul Rogers regarding a book Hugo would like to acquire. However, everything changes when Paul is found dead in his closed office and all indicates natural causes.
Hugo isn't sold on it but all clues point there and he starts to accept the fact until Paul's girlfriend is also found dead and that is just too much of a coincidence, which mean Hugo investigates and puts all the pieces together to make the truth come alive again...

I had never heard of this author before seeing the book in the library and I didn't investigate before deciding to try it, so I was not aware this would be the 6th book in a series. From this POV, the book is readable as a stand alone even if there were several references to previous details which, I assume, were dealt with in the previous installments also. This was a simple story about an crime investigation so I must say I was a little disappointed with the fact not much is centered in a library or about a librarian in Paris...

It was precisely that detail that grabbed my attention when I picked the book to read he blurb. I was interested in reading about the adventures of a librarian in a city I've visited and whose setting I'd be able to more or less recognize but the protagonist is not the librarian of the title. I must wonder why this was chosen, then, since the story wouldn't be about that person's life (since he dies, of course).

There is also the promise of book talk but I felt everything was very superficially mentioned and all references to books were sporadic and regarding things that, after all, had no real importance to the plot! One element is the investigation about a set of documents about a former supposed spy who is actually an old actress and the memoirs she had on paper and donated to the library in Paris. I believed this would be directly related to the plot but let me tell you, it's all circumstantial because that barely matters. I can see it was used as a red herring of sorts but to the POV of the reader it's just so..unimportant, so why bothering to include it. I don't really think the author thought this well.

I do think the story was fluid, easy, simple...I had no trouble finding motivation to read but now that I've finished I find the plot too silly. This is definitely not the best mystery/murder investigation I've read about. I suppose the author wanted to create the atmosphere to let us imagine and be eager to know what happens next but the way the story develops and how each detail is linked to the other doesn't always make sense. I also didn't find any sense in urgency for the characters to discover the truth. When the motives of the crimes committed are revealed I was like.. really? This is it? But how is this related? What a weak, pointless explanation. The story is rather weak, in my opinion. Or, at least, it was not developed in a more strategic way to convince the reader of its importance and complexity.

I don't feel compelled to read more adventures in the life of the protagonist. I can only imagine more suppositions wouldn't be met and it's getting more and more difficult not to be annoyed at some blurbs hat are very misleading. 
I think that happened here too and although some things were interesting and the setting more or less good, the execution didn't convince me at all.
Grade: 5/10

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Lilas Taha - Shadows of Damascus

Bullet wounds, torture, and oppression aren't the only things that keep a man-or a woman- from being whole. Debt. Honor. Pain. Solitude. These are things wounded war veteran Adam Wegener knows all about. Love-now, that he is not good at. Not when love equals a closed fist, burns, and suicide attempts. But Adam is one who keeps his word. He owes the man who saved his life in Iraq. And he doesn't question the measure of the debt, even when it is in the form of an emotionally distant, beautiful woman. Yasmeen agreed to become the wife of an American veteran so she could flee persecution in war-torn Syria. She counted on being in the United States for a short stay until she could return home. There was one thing she did not count on: wanting more. Is it too late for Adam and Yasmeen? 

Comment: I got interested in this book back in 2015 after seeing it in some list and commenting to my friend H. about it. For several reasons we decided to buddy read it and after all this time we finally got to it.
It's not a big book, it can be read quite quickly but I confess I expected something different bearing in mind the blurb.

In this story we meet Adam, a war veteran who was in Iraq fighting and where he met Fadi, a man who was contracted to be the team's translator. Things don't go well, Fadi ended up saving Adam's life and made Adam promise to do him a favor if ever he needs it.
Now, years after Adam was discharged due to health reasons, he receives a  note asking for help and Fadi wants Adam to help his younger sister Yasmeen by taking her to the US and marry her so she can be safe from the government's people.
Yasmeen is a young woman who saw her beloved Syria be destroyed by war and pain but she accepts help thinking one day she will return to her family. Things are very different in America ut she hopes Adam is a considerate man and will help her. She didn't count on getting to know him and his reality so well, though.

The way the blurb is presented and even only by reading what I say above, one might get the impression this is a romance. Indeed, there are some romantic elements in the story but now that I've finished, I don't think, as a romance, that this was well done.
If one thinks of this book being mostly a ficton story, not focusing on the romance, then it wasn't as amazing for me either so I'm struggling to try to think how to define this book.

This is the first book I've read by the author so the writing style is a complete surprise. This is not a long story (232 pages) and the font is bigger than in most editions so, overall, a not so big book.
I'm stressing out this aspect because, to me, the story didn't feel very complete. The author mentions and includes several updated and current scenarios we can know about in the news regarding war and the collapse of countries like Syria but to write about complex situations within a supposed romance plot just feels undone.

I wanted to read this story precisely because of that: how could a woman from a devastated country go to America, where many soldiers who have participated in the horrors in her country come from, finds love and healing with a man who also went through his own issues while fighting? Besides there's the inclusion of other domestic affairs which amount to a lot in such a small page count.
I just didn't have the impression the story was romantic if that was one of the goals here. The way things are written seems to jump from scene to scene and I felt we were told a lot but the action didn't follow the same pace so I feel I didn't get to see why these two would be a good match, much less why they could be in love.

Were they even in love despite some words exchanged? The book ends up in a hopeful note but... is that is? I don't think the book was properly finished, it's not even done in a whimsical or philosophical way where we can interpret at will, I really think the story was not done, with so many loose threads that the author left. 

The cultural aspects of the background of both Adam and Yasmeen were addressed in several occasions too and it was good to see how different they were but the reasons why they would be well matched escape me. Some scenes seemed off putting while we tried to be convinced that other people wouldn't be good for them (mostly in Adam's case) but the way things happened... I can't understand why this reads as strongly as some other readers claim. Yes, there are some difficult things to read about and it can be emotional here and there but all things considered, the plot was not well done, it included too many subjects and not enough development nor character growth (even excluding the romance part).

I think the contrasts were well chosen, that's a fact. Many details about war and PTSD and even expectations of what we see in people from other parts of world were good too.
But the execution of the novel could have been better and I don't think this was well achieved if one considers it to whether be only literature of world events or simply a romance novel.
Grade: 6/10

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

TBR Challenge: Amanda Quick - Slightly Shady

From the moment the stranger burst into her antiquities shop in Rome, Lavinia Lake knew he was nothing but trouble. He said he was in pursuit of a killer. He swore he was only trying to save her. Yet Lavinia was convinced that Mr. Tobias March was bent instead on destroying her. When the self-described spy hustled her all the way back to England, Lavinia vowed she would find a way to repay him in full. She never dreamed that Mr. March had in fact been telling the truth, that he had been hired to track down a powerful villain. And just as his investigation was heating up, he found it complicated by the most ungovernable, exasperating-and slightly shady-woman he had ever met. Lavinia most certainly never dreamed they would meet again, forced into partnership under shocking circumstances-or that their fiery disputes would spark a sizzling desire as overwhelming as the danger they faced.... 

Comment: Here we are again, on another Wednesday dedicated to the TBR Challenge. For this month, Wendy has decided to nominate the theme Historical, which is quite wide and can be adapted to the readers preferences. I'm not very picky in my historicals so I went with Amanda Quick, an author I've read and enjoyed before and whose books I still have in the pile.

This title is the first of a trilogy where we get t follow the adventures of Lavinia Lake and Tobias March. They meet in Rome when Tobias destroys some statues in Lavinia's antiques' shop while accusing her of being part of an organization that has shady business.
Since they find evidence of the shop being used as such, Lavinia accepts Tobias' decision to go back to England with her niece Emeline.
Already there, needing to find a means to survive, Lavinia decides to embark in a new profession by investigating the cases that go her way, not imagining that Tobias has the same job. Circumstances put them in the same path and they decide to momentarily join forces. But since they do have a lot in common, even their sarcastic temperament, can they be a good enough team?

As expected, this story is told in a very objective way, meaning that the characters are not prone to much inner dialogue nor hesitancy. From begin to end, they are always aware of what they do and there isn't much for the reader to see in terms of mundane things. Every scene has a purpose. This also means most things not seen need to be read between the lines and this is probably my favorite aspect of this author's writing style.
On the other hand, everything seems to follow a straight line and no deviations happen, which makes the story feel too much as a moving train, no time to wonder, to think.
If this is something that appeals to you or that you haven't seen in books, the author is talented in that regard.

For me, the story was good enough because it was what I imagined in terms of writing. As for the plot, it had its moments but I can't say it was spectacularly done. The main issue revolves around the investigations done by Lavinia and Tobias, together or on their own, while interacting with other characters. I guess that if one expects an amazing mystery, this is not it. Yes, the steps towards the discovery of a killer and of the mystery are believable but not as ingenious as one might hope. What makes this story is obviously the main character's relationship and why they are a stronger team.

The romance is a little too quick, especially for historicals contents. It does suit these people but the same thing usually happens in all the books by the author, the characters enter an intimate relationship rather soon as if that's normal and expected of the two whether it's accepted or not in the society of the time where the action is set. I guess the romantic part is after, while they adjust to the idea of being together and caring for one another. I understand the tactic but...well, it's not as likely, is it? Still, I like to know ore about them by little details and that sort of "hides" the less achieved parts of the actions they go through.
Since there are two more books, the relationship is going to develop even further there. Lavinia is not a common historical heroine but I liked her and, of course, Tobias has a great hart underneath some of his more impetuous comments or decisions.

All in all, this was a great way to spend some time, this is not heavy reading, it's perfect to relax and be entertained. I wouldn't say this is the best book ever but it did live up to its promise and expectations within its genre. I'm definitely going to read the others as this one did a good job making me curious and wanting to see more of this interesting couple as well as their closer family members.
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Lucy Parker - Making Up

Once upon a time, circus artist Trix Lane was the best around. Her spark vanished with her confidence, though, and reclaiming either has proved…difficult. So when the star of The Festival of Masks is nixed and Trix is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, it’s exactly the push she needs. But the joy over her sudden elevation in status is cut short by a new hire on the makeup team.
Leo Magasiva: disgraced wizard of special effects. He of the beautiful voice and impressive beard. Complete dickhead and—in an unexpected twist—an enragingly good kisser.
To Leo, something about Trix is…different. Lovely. Beautiful, even though the pint-size, pink-haired former bane of his existence still spends most of her waking hours working to annoy him. They’ve barely been able to spend two minutes together for years, and now he can’t get enough of her. On stage. At home. In his bed.
When it comes to commitment, Trix has been there, done that, never wants to do it again. Leo’s this close to the job of a lifetime, which would take him away from London—and from Trix. Their past is a constant barrier between them.
It seems hopeless.
Utterly impossible.
And yet…

Comment: As many other readers, I've really enjoyed the previous two stories written in this London celebrities universe created by Lucy Parker. Although I've noticed some readers weren't as happy about this book as they were about the other, I still felt quite eager to spend time reading this.

In this third installment, we have the story of Beatrix and Leo, two people who knew each other while they were teenagers but separated after a situation that now makes them sort of enemies.
The two of them reconnect after Leo accepts a job with Trix's company and they even realize the new vacancy at Trix's shared apartment is Leo. Of course that with so much close proximity, thy eventually talk about the reasons why they didn't get to discover what was between them. But now, more mature and with past experiences, they can finally give in and see where their chemistry leads them...

I liked this book as I've enjoyed the others because, once again, we have glimpses of the lives of interesting people but, more important, of people who talk and act on the page and we get to understand why some of their reasoning make sense or not. I like that we get to see things, and when the author writes about what happened at a another time or with other people, it matters but it's not overdone. I'm very, very glad this is a clever author who thinks about the outcome and weights in what is necessary to add or to not add.

The romance is vibrant. I don't think it's as fascinating as the dynamics seen in the previous two books where the couples were strangers and had no shared history, but Trix and Leo hadn't seen each other for a long while and were never really together before so this is more a second chance at something rather than lovers reunited (trope I don't like that much).
As I've said, it was great they were able to talk about what was happening to them but I still think they started being intimate very quickly... maybe  a few more scenes of sexual tension would have added a little extra to their relationship.

As the plot moves forward, things start to be what one would expect. In this matter, I don't thin the author really imagined different, rather, she writes simple situations but with a very good dose of emotion and believability. I care about her characters and what they do and that can count as a lot.
However, I would say that since the dynamics aren't as exciting to follow, some of their romance felt a little weaker even if still good. I wouldn't think this is a story about childish behavior as some readers have said and I actually think Leo and Trix behaved very well for the most part. Yes, some scenes are a bit...silly, but that's where the fiction part comes, we want to be dazzled by the romantic aspects, and not just follow a real live situation, isn't it?

I also liked how the author incorporated the work difficulties in this book. Usually in romances, things are too easy or too out of the page for us to see when it comes to work or a job the character has or there's no real impact in that. In this book we get to see Trix worry about what she is doing, if she is able to deliver... we see Leo talking about his work, about what he would prefer to do, about what it means to have opportunities... it added interesting layers to the characters' lives and decisions.

All in all, this wasn't as addictive as the other books, it wasn't as "magical" but I still had a great time reading, the epilogue was sugary but cute and will certainly not miss the 4th installment, coming out next year apparently.
Grade: 8/10

Monday, September 17, 2018

Ilona Andrews - Iron and Magic

Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Warlord of the Builder of Towers, served only one man. Now his immortal, nearly omnipotent master has cast him aside. Hugh is a shadow of the warrior he was, but when he learns that the Iron Dogs, soldiers who would follow him anywhere, are being hunted down and murdered, he must make a choice: to fade away or to be the leader he was born to be. Hugh knows he must carve a new place for himself and his people, but they have no money, no shelter, and no food, and the necromancers are coming. Fast.
Elara Harper is a creature who should not exist. Her enemies call her Abomination; her people call her White Lady. Tasked with their protection, she's trapped between the magical heavyweights about to collide and plunge the state of Kentucky into a war that humans have no power to stop. Desperate to shield her people and their simple way of life, she would accept help from the devil himself—and Hugh d’Ambray might qualify.
Hugh needs a base, Elara needs soldiers. Both are infamous for betraying their allies, so how can they create a believable alliance to meet the challenge of their enemies?
As the prophet says: “It is better to marry than to burn.”
Hugh and Elara may do both. 

Comment: What a complicated week I've had! I was a lot busier than I expected and my reading time has resented that. This book, which considering the authors and the theme, should have been read in one day and a half or two days actually took me four days. I'm glad I've read this book but I must also say that if I could have read it all in a row, I'd certainly have appreciated it even more.

This is the now famous spin off Iron Covenant series by author team Ilona Andrews. Their Kate Daniels' series is recognized by the clever characters, the steady plot and consistency. One of the characters that readers have come to dislike/hate is Hugh d'Ambray, who has repeatably tried to kill Kate or her friends or somehow ruin her life. However, this is the first of his books where he will have his own HEA. 

Yes, how can a villain be this redeemed but apparently there isn't a goal the authors can't meet and Hugh not only managed to find courage after Roland, the big bad guy "dumped" his services, and re-shaped his Iron Dogs team but he also found a place where they could get their focus back. In making a deal with Elara Harper, a mysterious woman in charge of an even more mysterious group of people, Hugh now has some of his self worth back but can it last when enemies are still trying to get revenge?

There are certainly mane adjectives one could use to talk about the bulk of the author's talent and eye for detail while writing. I've commented on several of their books so I won't repeat myself by saying all that but to simplify, they not only write well but are able to give the reader a notion of setting/characterization that I suppose it's not possible to ignore as being steady and well done.

This new story is quite interesting mostly because of who is the protagonist. I've read that the idea of this story begun as a joke or something along the comedy lines but apparently there isn't much these authors can't try and this book proved that even bad guys can have a heart.
This is basically the key element here: for readers who have devoured the Kate Daniels' series, Hugh was/is a bad guy. He was an opponent to Kate until some things happened and he got out of the way but he was not HEA material.
I guess I should say that while this book is perfectly well structured it's not as delectable if read without background.

Hugh is not a character that suddenly decides he is a victim so his past actions are meaningless now. This means that, in this story, we still see a not so acceptable behavior and attitude from Hugh. I don't think the authors could justify a turnaround on who Hugh is but it's satisfying to see they tried to humanize his decision based on what happened to him, on what he did in his past and a little bit in why he felt he had to do it. I will look for to see what will happen in the future (two?) books because now Hugh has come to terms about certain issues and how that will play out in a conclusion, I'm quite eager to find out.

This is not a book only about who Hugh is or why he was shaped to be this way but also about his courage and team behavior, in the sense he helps those he feels are his responsibilities. I think there is a good balance between several aspects of all the parts that make this character realistic. However I'd have preferred certain things to be better explored in detriment to others but... oh well.
Some battle scenes and fights - despite common in the worlds created by Ilona Andrews - just felt a little too much for me, I'd hae liked to focus even more on the little details and psychological side.

There's a romance starting in this story because Hugh has center stge but he enters a marriage of convenience with Elara to improve his team's survival chances but Elara isn't a wimp or a prop. She is a full created heroine who has many secrets. I liked some of their interactions and the convincing way they started to deal with one another. The next Iron Covenant story will weight more on Elara and her past and I'm curious to see how that will be matched with what happened to Hugh and the happenings in the central Kate Daniels' series final book.

This was a very well done story, many elements were well chosen, inserted enough to make the reader curious and I think this is brilliant since one can feel that there is a lot more to happen without having it all there promised but then not delivered. The authors have a great eye for detail and both Elara and Hugh seem to be a good match in personality and state of mind, something that would have been easily done another way. I'm glad I liked this book even if some pacing wasn't as consistent as I imagined it would but still, great job letting the reader wonder about and root for Hugh.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

L. Rowyn - A Rational Arrangement

“But these are vital aspects of marriage. If one cannot discuss them, what's the use in meeting at all? It's like trying to decide what you'll have for dinner without mentioning food.”
Wisteria Vasilver does wish to marry. Truly. But though she lives in Paradise, arranging a match is full of traps and pitfalls for the unwary ... or perhaps just for her.
Nikola Striker, Lord of Fireholt, expects he'll wed -- someday. But not now, and never to a rich icicle of a woman like Miss Vasilver. No matter how much his parents might want the match, or his house might need her dowry. Besides, he has his own problems -- most of them people who need his help as a mind-healer.
Lord Justin Comfrey, Viscount of Comfrey, would be more than happy to help Striker with his financial troubles, and not just to ensure that Miss Vasilver's dowry doesn't tempt Striker into marriage. If only he could find some way to make his proud, stubborn friend accept the money!
Can three people of such different temperaments ever find their way to a more perfect Paradise?

Comment: I read an opinion about this book in a site and got curious about it. Looking at some reviews on goodreads, I thought I'd like to see how the author would create such a world of fantasy mixed with historical and, especially,the relationships and society connections. By seeing some of the labels readers have attributed to this, I knew this would feature MMF, a variation I lost interest but that now made me curious once again. However, despite the beauty and complexity of the plot, there was just one or two elements that I feel weren't used as I expected them to be...

In this fascinating (and long) story, the author has crated a fantasy world, Paradise, which felt like post apocalypse, set in a world/dimension away from Earth but still using several of its "rules" of society and beliefs. The author is clever to adds many layers - political, sociological, psychological - to the fantasy details, while still letting us absorb a layer of romance.
The main character is Nikola, a man who has a title but no money and is Blessed, which means, he has special powers, in his case he can mind heal others. While getting to know him, his family and those he deals with, we get the possibility to understand the rules and beauty of this imaginative creation.

Perhaps I'm not describing this well enough, but I did like the story a lot, as well as the structure of it. This is a very long story, my ebook edition had 640-something pages, but its length isn't difficult to go through. Actually, the story is captivating and exciting to keep reading and one barely notices the passage of time especially if this is a genre that appeals to the reader.

The world building is fascinating and I can see the author took time to think about details and about elements from recognizable things (such as historical costumes and religious notions for instance) to help base the society presented here. This is a fantasy world and it also includes talking, human like cats, sort of like evidence of anthropomorphism which seems to be a constant in the author's work but to me it wasn't difficult to imagine or to accept. It was also sort of sweet, to be honest.
All the rules and notions are given to the reader in a believable way, well structured and thought and makes sense. Since it's similar to what is familiar to us now, one can compare and more easily imagine.

The relationships between characters are well done, and the overall effect feels like an historical setting, considering the way people dress and some of their social behavior.
The plot involving the main characters is vibrant at times, a little dragging at others but it's always easy to keep reading.
Nikola is the main character and I really liked his evolution..he starts as if looking like a spoiled brat but the reality he is very considerate and noble and I liked him. Wisteria, the heroine, is obviously socially inept in some situations, she does seem to have some sort of syndrome in the autistic spectrum but she is strong, smart and a character I'd like to know in real life.

This is a MMF story, which means there is another element to the relationship. Justin is a lord, a little older than the others but a perfect complement to them.  I didn't mind this aspect of the romance. However, I must say that it did look like when they were two by two, whether Nikola and Wisteria, Nikola and Justin, Justin and Wisteria, they felt more stable than in the (few) scenes at the end where they were together. I won't go into spoilers but one of the things I disliked was how this situation was not socially accepted which means that for me, their HEA was bittersweet and I'd certainly have changed that. It was also a pity most of the time we had a slow burn romance between all parts and the challenge was centered in the last 100 pages. Some balance is lacking to me.
Plus, like I said, some parts of the story dragged a bit too much.

Everything considered, this was a very good story, very rich in details, in segments and characterization. Apart from some minor things (which I'd still change, though), this was well done and I wouldn't mind other stories in the same universe, with different characters, maybe.
Grade: 8/10

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Mary Balogh / Grace Burrowes - Once Upon a Dream

Mary Balogh and Grace Burrowes team up to create a pair of Regency novellas each set at a summer house party. 
In Another Dream, by Mary Balogh, Miss Eleanor Thompson has found satisfaction as the director of a respected school for girls. The life of a dedicated educator offers many rewards and much meaning--but also more loneliness than Eleanor anticipated. She accepts an invitation from her sister, Christine, Duchess of Bewcastle, to attend a Bedwyn houseparty, never dreaming the summer curriculum might include stolen kisses and true love. 
In The Duke of My Dreams, by Grace Burrowes, banker's daughter Anne Faraday is cast into the company of Elias, Duke of Sedgemere, at house party in the Lakes. Anne warms to the lonely man and conscientious father behind the title, and Elias becomes enthralled with the brilliant, burdened woman beneath Anne's genteel facade. Liking turns to love under the Cumbrian summer moon, but family obligations, secrets, and a prodigal duck conspire to thwart the course of true love.  

Comment: After reading the Bedwyn saga by author Mary Balogh and considering it a good one overall, I was very interested in reading the author's novella in this dual novella installment. I also didn't mind that the other novella was by Grace Burrowes, an author I've also read and enjoyed.

In these two novellas we have a common theme: ladies not considered young anymore who somehow find their future with a titled gentlemen.
In Mary Balogh's novella, we have Eleanor Thompson's story, she's the sister of Christine (heroine book #6 in the Bedwyn saga) and we also saw her as she took over Claudia Martin's school at the end of Claudia's book in the Simply Quartet series.
The novella by Grace Burrowes is a standalone apparently, although there is a connection to another novella published in a different anthology. This is the story of Anne Faraday, whose father is a banker for many aristocrats which means many look down on her except the duke of Sedgemere...

Comment: These two novellas made for a not very big book. I had a great time reading both, for different reasons but in the end, it was time well used.
Both have in common the fact the heroines aren't young women anymore but that doesn't stop them from being worthy of a good HEA. The gentlemen who fall in love with them are also titled which guarantees the women's independence isn't out in jeopardy and to top it all, each couple can finally be cured of loneliness. Also in common is the fact most of the plot takes place during a house party.

In Mary Balogh's novella, Eleanor Thompson is on her way to a house party at her sister's house for a well needed rest from the school's obligations. Eleanor hoped the school and teaching would be a perfect way to value her independence but she discovers that teaching in the school and managing it are very different things.
On the way, a storm happens and Eleanor gets stranded in an inn and there she meets an interesting family of three, especially the young girl that introduces herself to Eleanor. She ends up sharing a meal with the widower father of the children and despite how pleasant it is, both think they won't meet each other again until they see each other at the house party where Eleanor understands the gentlemen apparently might propose to a young womb he considered might be a good wife...

I liked this novel mostly because it featured the Bedwyn family and it's always nice to see characters we care about being mentioned. Eleanor was a good heroine, very mature and quiet but with the thoughts many other women have also, such as the notion happiness isn't static nor are the dreams one might have. I liked how she discussed her ideas with others, how she thought one way but with time she came to accept other ways of acting and doing things... and her romance with Michael, the widowed father was very stable as well. Some people say it could have used more passion but I don't think it went too far from the author's style. Plus, the best thing? The author wrote this ina  way, the development of their relationship felt well paced. I liked it.

In Grace Burrowes' novella, Anne Faraday is a lonely woman because her father is a banker and deals with the money of many aristocrats which means she is sort of dismissed and disliked by many. The duke of Sedgemere is going with a dear friend to a house party and miss Faraday is there as well and he does think of her as someone intriguing because she never treats him different from other gentlemen, unlike many other girls and women in society. In fact, the more he thinks of her and her quietness and intelligence, the more he admires her.
Anne has had some bad experiences with the polite society for things she can't control so she decides to eventually go to the country and live peacefully there. However, it he house party she discovers a side to the duke she didn't see coming...

I also liked this novel although I felt, as it also happened with the other books I've read by this author, that the inner thoughts of the characters aren't presented in a way I'd say is "engaging". They always look so distant from what we see them doing in the page that it's almost indifferent the way they think vs acting. I suppose it's just the writer's style.
Anne and the duke were a good match, though, since they complemented each other perfectly: he is well seen and established in many levels, she is smart and offers a steady relationship despite her vulnerable side. The psychological aspect was well done within the page limit so I felt happy with their story, overall.

→ All in all, two good stories and, if nothing else, two good ways to get an idea of the respective author's styles and writing.
Grade: 8/10

Friday, September 7, 2018

Robin York - Deeper

In this New Adult debut by Robin York, a college student is attacked online and must restore her name--and stay clear of a guy who's wrong for her, but feels so right.
When Caroline Piasecki's ex-boyfriend posts their sex pictures on the Internet, it destroys her reputation as a nice college girl. Suddenly her once-promising future doesn't look so bright. Caroline tries to make the pictures disappear, hoping time will bury her shame. Then a guy she barely knows rises to her defense and punches her ex to the ground.
West Leavitt is the last person Caroline needs in her life. Everyone knows he's shady. Still, Caroline is drawn to his confidence and swagger--even after promising her dad she'll keep her distance. On late, sleepless nights, Caroline starts wandering into the bakery where West works.
They hang out, they talk, they listen. Though Caroline and West tell each other they're "just friends," their feelings intensify until it becomes impossible to pretend. The more complicated her relationship with West gets, the harder Caroline has to struggle to discover what she wants for herself--and the easier it becomes to find the courage she needs to fight back against the people who would judge her.
When all seems lost, sometimes the only place to go is deeper. 

Comment: Why do I keep trusting that a YA/NA story would appeal to me I can't explain. I saw a good opinion about this story back in 2015 and I added this to my TBR but honestly, this desire I have to be engrossed in a great story when the protagonists are so young should be a lesson learned already. I always hope I'll be proven wrong and as it happened recently, some books do prove it.
This, however, was not the case for me.

In this story we meet Caroline and West, two different people but who attend the same college. The story begins with Caroline discovering an ex (she believes) has posted sexual pictures of her in the internet. She is embarrassed, terrified by the outcome and angry something like this happened. She tries to deal with it on her own but of course there are things can't do.
West is one of those "bad boys"  that often populate these sort of novels and he ends up being a support for Caroline although he also has a lot of issues to work out and deal with. The two form a team at a time things are very complicated, emotionally, but together they can achieve anything (or not).

I'll include some mild spoilers.

When I read this story would address the subject of online shaming and privacy being exposed, I thought it would a very contemporary theme in the NA genre which made me interested in seeing how the author would portray this terrible situation and how victims can't usually easily defend themselves.
I was even more curious because the author is Robin York, a pseudonym for Ruthie Knox, whose contemporary adult work I've read before and enjoyed immensely. 

This book, I can imagine by looking at some comments and grades on goodreads, can be quite amazing and resonates with some but for me, it was simply a waste of a good premise.
So we have a potentially interesting story about a girl who has never done wrong but who is the victim of a crime and I thought, surely the plot will focus on this, even more so as a sort of awareness tool for readers so that they can try to protect their privacy online as well. I have to say that although this is mentioned, the focus of the story is certainly NOT this subject.

It's understandable that the usual NA books marketing, especially if romance stories, would focus on that. But sincerely, I couldn't just accept it easily. Or maybe I'm totally different from everyone else. Or maybe I wanted a story that others just took for granted somehow and that is why the plot felt silly at times and without focus most of it.
So the poor girl has her life turned upside down, she has her trust, her confidence attacked, her good name and privacy squashed and what matters to her is the attention and the support of a bad boy who often doesn't care about her? Come on!

The message of this book should be that women/girls should not give up their rights and should protected themselves and fight for what is right but I felt this was all lost among the constantly annoying talk about what it could be like to have sex with West and why both lust after one another. Arggh! 

So annoying, what's the point of that! Yes, she should be able to have sex with whomever and no one has any business about that but she was the victim of a crime! How can she even think about being with another person so soon after such a terrible situation caused precisely because she has as any right to have sex as everyone else. I truly think the emotional and psychological aspects were not addressed correctly, even assuming Caroline is strong enough to put it aside when necessary.
Belief the next YA/NA could be gold: the trust on the partial thoughts of readers who, as always, have different perspectives of looking at things.
Other people didn't see it this way, I know. 

This is a first person narrator and that is beyond annoying. Should I be aware of or know where is the "rules book" about New Adult plots/stories being only labeled so if the narrator is 1st person? The narrator alternates between West and Caroline but this doesn't help at all. What they think, what they focus on... what does it matter they match sexually? Don't these people have more serious issues to deal with?
And I won't even start about their academic aspirations, much less West's past and experiences which are absolutely pointless in this story (but certainly didn't impress me at all), even if real life is filled with Wests trying to make a living after bad pasts/origins.

I thought something would be different about this story considering who the author is. 
This just isn't totally negative because there are references about self worth here and there and some situations were well portrayed, I think. But this could have been so much better!
There's a continuation but no way I'm wasting time reading it, with so much to read already...
Grade: 3/10

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Kendra Leigh Castle - Call of the Highland Moon

Gideon MacInnes is a werewolf from the Scottish Highlands. He loves the haunting beauty of his home, but runs away to upstate New York, grappling with his destiny of being his clan's next alpha. As a snowstorm closes in, Gideon is attacked by rogue wolves working for an enemy he never imagined existed. He stumbles, wounded and bleeding, to collapse on the doorstep of Carly Silver's tiny romance bookstore-ironic, as she's never been very good at relationships with men.
A warmhearted woman, looking for a new pet ...
Thinking he's a dog, she takes him home, treats his injuries and wakes up to find a devastatingly handsome naked man in her bed.
Trapped together through the raging storm, Gideon discovers that he's found his mate and Carly has to choose between becoming a werewolf, charged with protecting humankind from the inhabitants of an evil otherworld, or giving up the one man she's ever truly loved ...

Comment: This book has been in the pile since May 2010. Quite a long time but at this time (between 2008-2011 more or less) I was really into PNR as my main genre to read so I've "collected" several first books in a series, with the hope of adoring it so much, I'd have many series to binge on afterwards.
However, as many readers will know from experience, there are more fish in the sea, meaning, books to admire, and I've lost count on what I was collecting and kept on reading several genres.
This book is one of them but, unlike some amazing (now old) gems out there, for me this one was not a success.

In this book we follow the story of Gideon MacInnes, a werewolf who goes to America to experience life in big cities despite his soul and inner wolf craving the wild of Scotland, where he lives. His father and brother don't really understand his drive but let him learn on his own.
In America he is attacked by wolves sent by his evil cousin Malachi and a very hurt Gideon ends up at the back door of Carly Silver's house, who takes him in thinking he is just a big dog.
In the morning Carly sees a strange man in the house and thinks he killed the dog for he is nowhere to be seen but of course Gideon tells her the truth while they both unsuccessfully try to fight the attraction and lustful thoughts. Still, danger awaits...

I can't help wondering that, if I had read this when I was in my "high" from savoring practically every PNR, this would have felt better to me. It's difficult not to compare with other books I've read in the meantime and in several aspects, this comes under the execution of those. But I could also say good books/stories are timeless, right?

Some of the issues I had were the following, I'll enumerate to make it easier:

- The premise is that Gideon finds in this stranger a soul mate but they are different people from different places and how can they be together with a threat behind them. I think this aspect wasn't done well because even allowing for the fact mates recognize each other somehow, nothing in their relationship felt likely. Why are these people a good match besides mythical bonds?

- The romance failed to impress because many of their discussions were based on situations I can't accept as being more than romantic comedy scenarios. It felt their serious issues weren't dealt with in the way that would ensure their lives were on the same track.

- Gideon lied about some things to Carly and that affects how her life is shaped. I can get the idea of "protecting you from things you can't control" but I ended up thinking it was just one way to make the bridge to other parts of the plot.

- The plot wasn't bad but it wasn't appealing to me. The story was boring, I think there was a lack in chemistry between them so the steps taken towards a common goal felt flat. Plus the bad guys weren't presented well. (I'd have skipped them altogether and would focus on the couple instead)

- There were two types of bad guys although it only felt like one at first. Perhaps a way to keep the story going? There are two more stories after all. Things just didn't make much sense but my lack of interest probably explain some of what I know call "confusion".

- Carly is a likable heroine but I feel I didn't get to know her besides the basics and some clichés. Her relationship with Gideon doesn't feel like a complex one nor does it feel like they are intriguing together. The way things solve themselves in the end is just too easy and I'd say that maybe the author chose some settings badly in order for things to make more sense.

All in all, this was not the type of story I expected. There are some shifter "worlds" that are engaging, addictive, offer complex pack structures, family bonds, characters' bonds as well. Here everything was superficial in the sense that we barely understand everyone's inner thoughts or personality besides the obvious, and I feel that this was a huge problem for me to enjoy the book.
It's not one I'd say stands the test of time but... it might work for others.
Grade: 5/10

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Sandra Brown - Mean Streak

Dr. Emory Charbonneau, a pediatrician and marathon runner, disappears on a mountain road in
North Carolina. By the time her husband Jeff, miffed over a recent argument, reports her missing, the trail has grown cold. Literally. Fog and ice encapsulate the mountainous wilderness and paralyze the search for her.
While police suspect Jeff of "instant divorce," Emory, suffering from an unexplained head injury, regains consciousness and finds herself the captive of a man whose violent past is so dark that he won't even tell her his name. She's determined to escape him, and willing to take any risks necessary to survive.
Unexpectedly, however, the two have a dangerous encounter with people who adhere to a code of justice all their own. At the center of the dispute is a desperate young woman whom Emory can't turn her back on, even if it means breaking the law. Wrong becomes right at the hands of the man who strikes fear, but also sparks passion.
As her husband's deception is revealed, and the FBI closes in on her captor, Emory begins to wonder if the man with no name is, in fact, her rescuer from those who wish her dead - and from heartbreak.
Combining the nail-biting suspense and potent storytelling that has made Sandra Brown one of the world's best loved authors, MEAN STREAK is a wildly compelling novel about love, deceit, and the choices we must make in order to survive. 

Comment: Another book in the collection by Sandra Brown I have to read. I've loved "discovering" the author when I was reading mostly romance and now that she has evolved towards romantic suspense I still feel like being happy about reading one of her books and this one was definitely a good one!

In this book we follow the story of dr Emory Charbonneau, a doctor who loves running and that, when the story begins, is going to train for a marathon. However, she goes missing and her husband only reports it some time later, making him a suspect in the eyes of the policemen dealing with the case.
Emory, however, is actually being taken care of after a concussion by a mysterious man who doesn't tell her his name. He helps her, though, even if some of his attitudes are too weird like when he says her phone isn't working and that he doesn't have one.
As the plot evolves and more and more secrets come out of places no one would imagine, can Emory accept the mysterious man is there to help her or does he have a secret agenda and wants only to hurt her? Can she imagine that while actually being attracted to him?

I think the author was very clever with this novel because there is a slight twist closer to the end that explains some things and with the explanations we realize we had the clues in front of us on how to justify some actions taken, but just expected the truth to be different. I believe this to be the main goal with how this novel was created and developed although I must say it wasn't completely achieved because some things are a little too unlikely and don't make sense. Apart from them, the plot was very clever and fascinating and made me want to keep reading all the time.

I think the pace of the story was well achieved. Things happen sort of slowly which is to be expected and I think the reader has time to savor the story while trying to connect the dots. It was also great that it's possible to be surprised as I was while reading and there a couple of clues there I didn't see coming, especially since the main plot is obvious: Emory and her mysterious man are meant to be together, there's more about him we don't immediately know and the bad guy will be caught eventually.

Emory is a good heroine and I liked her personality and charisma. I also liked how she was with the hero, sort of vulnerable but still maintaining her voice and values.
He is obviously mysterious but a great hero as well and I must say I was positively surprised by how much I liked knowing things about him.
Why he is so mysterious is part of the plot and that's why I'm not writing much about it but I must confess that despite understanding his reasons for privacy and being away from the spotlight, it still feels unlikely - especially thinking about real life and if what he went through was a real event. But well, the story had to have some secrecy.
The book ends well for these two and, of course, the hopeful HEA makes it worthwhile!

As for the plot against Emory, that was quite intense and had it been explained in the way it felt like it would, I'd say it would be perfectly acceptable. However, the author went a step ahead and made it even more complex but to me that was a bit too much. Not that it couldn't be that way but thee main reason behind everything just felt very pointless. But who am I to say...

All in all, this was a good novel, I really recommended it to those who like this genre and I can't wait to read more by the author, I still have a few until I'm updated on her work.
Grade: 8/10