Saturday, July 22, 2017

Julie Klassen - The Tutor's Daughter

Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father regain his spirits when his academy fails, agrees to travel with him to the distant Cornwall coast, to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But after they arrive and begin teaching the younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen and danger mounts. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte, only to find the music room empty? Who sneaks into her room at night? Who rips a page from her journal, only to return it with a chilling illustration?
The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry, wrestle with problems--and secrets--of their own. They both remember Emma Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. She had been an awkward, studious girl. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her.
When the suspicious acts escalate, can the clever tutor's daughter figure out which brother to blame... and which brother to trust with her heart?


Comment: After having read another book by the author five years ago, I found myself intrigued by this book's blurb and I added it to my TBR list. Months after that, I finally decided to read it. In terms of writing there aren't many differences but I can say I sort of enjoyed reading this one a bit more.

In this book we meet and follow father and daughter to a manor in Cornwall so that the father, a teacher, can go and tutor the younger sons of a family who has sent their older boys years ago to the teacher's academy. The teacher has found it weird the younger boys weren't sent but after a letter exchanging, he is invited to tutor them and Emma, his daughter goes as well.
When they arrive at the house, however, it seems they were not being expected and from then on, there is an aura of weirdness and secrets Emma can't seem to put behind. At the same time, she is confronted with the older boys, now men, who were part of her childhood and growing up and how she feels about both of them: Phillip, the friend she always trusted on and Henry, the boy who mocked her and who made pranks...

I liked the overall idea of this book and there is certainly an atmosphere of secrecy that makes this book feel almost gothic and dark. But it never gets to that despite one or two elements that clearly are present to give us that impression.
The plot intrigued at me first and although this is a book also labeled as "christian fiction", meaning no explicit sex nor any sort of intimacy scenes, I think it provided enough interest and situations that one can easily overlook the lack os obvious romance scenes.

I think the author did an interesting job in depicting every character. The main characters are solid and in every scene they appear it's obvious how much integrity they really have and why they can be trustworthy. This is something one would expect of course, them being protagonists.
It's the secondary characters that really make the story move along. Those are the ones with the secrets, the hidden motivations... it's interesting that we are led to believe somethings and after all the explanation is simple. Some secrets aren't difficult to find out but others can be trickier, not because it's such a complex plot but (in my opinion at least) some of the secrets just arise from situations I think were used to add some drama. I'm thinking, for instance, on the reason why a certain character was found so often near the house when apparently he had no business being there. The explanation is good but well, he didn't really have to be there, you know...

As for Emma, as a protagonist, I liked her, I liked how she acts through the book and I think the love interest is too obvious for it to not simply be part of the blurb. Emma also puts herself in some situations which seem rather pointless but I suppose something would have to happen for the story to move along... the fact the POV isn't just Emma's is interesting but she is the biggest "narrator" if one can say so when the narrative is in the third person. I'd liked to have others' POV more often. Of course, this allowed the story to keep that sort of secretive aura.
I just think that Emma wasn't always as strongly present both in the story and in terms of personality as she could but well..she was just a guest at the house anyway, so...

At the end of things I believe the author has managed to keep the story simple for the most part, which makes it look better structured too. Some themes used were interesting but they were not explored to the maximum and in one hand I guess this was a good thing, it didn't become too boring to read. The Christian fiction part was also not too obvious nor preaching and that is also good; one can interpret at their own will.

All in all, I think the plot and the execution feel a little more interesting and solid than int he other book I've read. Even the romance feels better done, when comparing. I'll try another book to see if this is a matter of choosing the right book or if the author is a hit and miss for me. This one I liked best and any reader who likes historicals would find good reasons to appreciate it too.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Susan Elizabeth Phillips - First Star I See Tonight

A star quarterback and a feisty detective play for keeps in this sporty, sexy, sassy novel—a long-awaited new entry in the beloved, award-winning, New York Times bestselling author’s fan-favorite Chicago Stars football series.Piper Dove is a woman with a dream—to become the best detective in the city of Chicago. First job? Trail former Chicago Stars quarterback, Cooper Graham. Problem? Graham’s spotted her, and he’s not happy.
Which is why a good detective needs to think on her feet. “The fact is . . . I’m your stalker. Not full-out barmy. Just . . . mildly unhinged.”
Piper soon finds herself working for Graham himself, although not as the bodyguard he refuses to admit he so desperately needs. Instead, he’s hired her to keep an eye on the employees at his exclusive new nightclub. But Coop’s life might be in danger, and Piper’s determined to protect him, whether he wants it or not. (Hint: Not!) If only she weren’t also dealing with a bevy of Middle Eastern princesses, a Pakistani servant girl yearning for freedom, a teenager who just wants of fit in, and an elderly neighbor demanding Piper find her very dead husband.
And then there’s Cooper Graham himself, a legendary sports hero who always gets what he wants—even if what he wants is a feisty detective hell bent on proving she’s as tough as he is.



Comment: This is most recent installment in the Chicago Stars series by author Susan Elizabeth Phillips, years after the last book had been published. Since I've recently read the books by the author in this and another series she wrote, I still feel relatively familiarized with her style and narrative so I was eager to have one more story set in the world I came to enjoy a lot while reading the series.

In this book we meet Piper Dove, a very determined and confident woman who wants to be successful at her brand new detective agency, something she inherited from her father but recently organized her own way. The problem is that her first case investigating former athlete Cooper Graham, a man everyone knows in Chicago due to his years playing in the Chicago Stars football team, goes wrong because he soon realizes what she's doing and she's uncovered.
Cooper just wants to make his night club Spiral a hit so more could follow. Yes, the night club scene can get a bit boring but he's in it to make it a personal success even if he also tries to get his hands in another deal. Piper is annoying at first but the more time they spend together, the crazy things get and even his feelings start being out of his control...

I know this is not the best novel ever written but to be honest, it was amazing for me for two very basic reasons: even among all the crazy and unrealistic situations, I had a fun time reading and immersing myself in the characters' adventures and I like the author's writing style.

The author's books can be filled with crazy situations, an almost feel her characters are larger than life, they are described as ordinary in their feelings, emotions and reactions but the reality is we can struggle to imagine them as common people in the street. This can be difficult for the reader to relate to the characters but the story is so well thought and imaginative and structured that, in my personal opinion, I can put all that aside and simply enjoy a simple novel which happens to include crazy scenes.
Perhaps what makes it work here and not in other series is that this author does know how to do it well.

I liked Piper a lot. She is very different from me in terms of personality and obviously it's always easier to connect if we have common trait with the characters but here I could see Piper's vulnerability so although she is so different, I was rooting for her and I wanted her to be as special as she seemed to be.
Coop was great too, he's a good hero, not over the top in any aspect and despite being a great person, a great hero, a great man, he doesn't use his advantages to be superior so i liked his character too.
The romance was very cute, I really liked the HEA and how sweet it is. I've finished the book on Monday I'm still thinking about the epilogue, super sweet but not in a silly way.

The type of plot isn't complicated, this is a contemporary romance without all those tricks to make it more intense or dramatic. I liked how we got layers to go through so we could get to message, especially when it comes to Coop's dreams, Piper's need to be her own person, to prove herself...things they can certainly talk about so we know but in some scenes we can learn more than just seeing their dialogue. I also liked how the secondary characters were well inserted into the plot, never in an over the top manner (except for when it's an obvious tactic for some reason) and although we have several different characters and many have a voice they don't take over, they don't get the spotlight from Piper and Cooper. I really liked how "populated" the story was but never overcrowded.

All in all, I loved it, I will re-read my favorite scenes many times for sure and I just wanted to say that it might not be the best thing ever but it truly worked out for me now and  just the smile I know I have because of it is enough to have made it a successful story for me.
Grade: 9/10

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TBR Challenge: MC Beaton - Hasty Death

Lady Rose Summer refuses to abide by her parents' insistence that she marry. Even more distressing, she wants to become self-supporting by moving out with her maid Daisy and going to work in trade. On advice from Captain Harry Cathcart-a noble-born private investigator who knows the independent-minded Rose all too well-the Earl and Countess of Hadshire agree to let Lady Rose work as a typist and live in a women's hostel.
Eager to join the working classes, Lady Rose abandoned the comforts of her parents' home. But life as a working woman isn't quite what Rose had imagined---long hours as a typist and nights spent in a dreary women's hostel are not very empowering when you're poor, cold, and tired. Luckily for Rose, her drudgery comes to a merciful end when she learns of the untimely death of an acquaintance.
Freddy Pomfret, a silly and vacuous young man, was almost certainly up to no good before he was shot dead in his London flat. When she inadvertently discovers that recently-murdered playboy Freddy Pomfret was a blackmailer, and she also discovers incriminating evidence pointing to several members of her class, she returns to London high society in order to investigate properly. With the help of Captain Harry Cathcart and Superintendent Kerridge of Scotland Yard, Rose prepares to do the social rounds---uncovering a devious blackmail plot and an unexpected killer.


Comment: This is another post which belongs to the TBR Challenge I'm participating in, hosted by Wendy, the SuperLibrarian. July is dedicated to the Series Catch-Up theme and this time around I chose the second installment of a four titles series. I've read the first book in the beginning of the year and I really liked it, so this was not a difficult choice.

In this second installment, Lady Rose Summer is dedicated to be an independent working woman, master of her own destiny and somehow, along with the help of captain Harry Cathcart, whom she met in the previous book, her parents allow Rose to try for a few months while they go on a vacation for Nice. However, the situation isn't as easy as Rose imagined, for living of one's paycheck isn't the same as having all the comforts of home. Along with Rose, is her new maid/friend Daisy and things seem to go well when it comes to teaching Rose a lesson until an almost tragedy is avoided and rose starts to realize some things.
At the same time, a new death happens to someone Rose and Harry and we knew from the previous book. Of course, again Rose decides she wants to help Harry's investigation and once more, she finds herself in trouble...

For those who haven't read this series, this is an historical mystery series featuring Harry Cathcart, a clever military man who came from war needing to support himself despite being the son of a baron. Being in trade however, makes him not very worthy in society's eyes but that doesn't stop them from using his skills as an investigator. That is how he met Lady Rose's family and helped them in the previous book. Now the two meet again for the same reason and again, there is a murder investigation to solve too.

As it happened with the first book, I liked reading this one quite a lot. There's humor in the book, but it's not forced, and it can be subtle, it just seems to work out well for me. The murder investigation isn't too complex nor filled with missed calls or twists, it's a rather simple but well thought plot and the murderer someone not too obvious but who doesn't come from nowhere either. I like how we also get the domestic side of things along with the mystery and both are connected quite well.

Harry and Rose are a case we could almost say a matter of opposites attract. Lady Rose knows her place (sort of) but she hopes and wishes for independence and adventure and she has always imagined a husband would put a stop on that (the way her parents didn't do, actually). She likes Harry but there's a certain sense of entitlement to her which doesn't let her be as genuine or as friendly with him as we would like. Personally, this side of her is what I disliked the most because she also has other characteristics I am fond of in her personality.
Harry is used to life, he brought a lame leg from the war and some depression which he mostly ignores when he's busy and working and investigating. He likes Rose but they are not in the place where they can tell each other the sort of things we, as romance readers, would like them to say. Harry is proud and he wouldn't do anything unless he is certain of that. I really like Harry, he is not complicated, he doesn't care about what others think for the most part but he is kind and tries to help. I'm looking for to the book where they finally give in and admit their attraction and - eventually - marry. At least this is where the story is obviously moving to in terms of romance.

The writing is also simple and without much fuss. I enjoyed reading the story, reading between the lines and getting a very accurate POV throughout the novel about all characters and their motivations. This isn't a big book, it's not a complicated or melodramatic plot but it does bring a lot to infer and I liked how I could follow things quite easily without needing a chart with connections and stuff like that we sometimes could use in bigger and more complex mysteries.

This story features some interesting characters. It's very interesting how each one can sort of represent an idea or a concept without being so obvious that it would make them a cliché (for instance we have a vegetarian character and that does make us think about it and how people saw it in an historical context). There are several situations that touch the class system, the difference between types of poverty, the often seen stat of society values and morals and such but never in a preaching tone nor in a way that would make us think the purpose of the book was to think of that and not the mystery.

If one were to compare to other historicals, certainly this one wouldn't feel as correct/formal or serious, but I think it's very charming and has many aspects to convince the readers they are spending their time well.
The secondary characters work out pretty well too and I was very eager to see what would happen next. I can understand why it doesn't work for many people and after reading other books in the genre - and not enjoying some - I agree it could be better in some aspects like editing and the murder solving but overall, for me it was quite enjoyable. Maybe best to read the books in order considering some situations mentioned might be difficult to imagine without previous knowledge.

The end was good enough, the important things when it comes to Harry and Rose aren't solved but there two more books to go and I'm very happy to think I still have them to enjoy.
As for recommendations, those who like the "cozy mystery" type of book will probably like this series.
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Victoria Darkins - The Key

Jack and Carrie are lost souls. Jack is an eminent university lecturer in English Literature who suffers from quadriplegia after a spinal cord injury in his late teens. Having convinced himself that he was better off on his own he has closed the door on any romantic entanglements and instead directed all his energy into his work.
Carrie is trying to unchain herself from a cruel, neglectful and guilt ridden childhood. She has earned a place on a degree course of her dreams but it comes at a costly price.
Both are thrown together by Mary, a mutual friend and past social worker, who has hatched a plan to help Jack and Carrie with their predicaments. Carrie becomes Jack's live-in carer securing her with an income and unexpected benefits.
Will it be too late from them to find out that they both hold the key to unleash each other from the chains that hold them to their past? A key that will unlock their hearts.


Comment: I got interested in this book because of the blurb. The idea of a romance between two people who have been through a lot, albeit differently, was extremely promising, even more so after recent bestselling books portraying characters with a disability but in this case with the knowledge of a HEA at the end.

This is Jack and Carrie's story and how they are brought together by Mary, a common person in their lives.
Carrie needs money so she can keep studying but she isn't able to easily trust everyone so the job of taking care of Jack sounds perfect, even more so when it comes with a house and health benefits she wouldn't be able to afford on her own.
Jack is quadriplegic so he is used to need help for a long time. Carrie isn't a professional but he knows of her financial issues so he doesn't mind letting her learn how to do things. They are both wary of letting someone get too close but the reality is that common living and close space make room for a developing friendship...and more.

I liked the idea of this book so much, I totally overlooked the fact this is the author's apparent first (and only) book. Well, this could mean nothing, there are many cases of amazing one hit books out here but the truth is I found some aspects in this story which have let me down quite a bit...

The biggest issue I feel happened here is the under developing of the characters. We are told many things about them, hey think and mention this and that but to be honest I don't think we truly got to know these characters where it counted and I can empathize all I want but they sound as if the author planned on creating enough layers for us to keep discovering and to give the idea of complexity to their personalities. They were simply drawn and heir lives and mental situation never explored to the point where this would be truly romantic or emotionally vibrant.

I really think both Jack and Carrie had enough details about their characters that would allow the story to be great, I imagined a reluctant but slowly developing romance where both would try to stay distant but nevertheless becoming even closer int he process. I imagined meaningful conversations about their pasts, I imagined a more detailed situation for each in a way they would use what happened to them to create a better future and although we are told all that, it was not written in a way that can say I found addictive.
The narrative felt choppy, broken in some places, there wasn't always a continuous line in terms of chapter formatting... so the plot, as a whole felt rather plain and too obvious. I wonder if a better editing would have solved it or if the writing is simply too amateur because the author couldn't say things differently.

The romance is obviously an expectation we get while reading. I kind of wanted them to focus more on their feelings for one another before admitting them but things weren't as easy as that. I liked the details about Jack's problem and how someone like him copes but the emotional aspect wasn't very stressed here. Carrie's past too wasn't well explored. I understand and liked how we didn't enter melodramatic areas with this but reading the blurb one would expect their pasts would have been more complicated than the way they talk about it. This means the romance was a bit too simple. Plus, I don't think there was enough sexual tension or emotional development to make me believe they were truly passionate for the other.

All in all, an interesting contemporary novel, interesting themes but the HEA, despite welcome, wasn't very well created and the characters weren't as amazing as I imagined.
Grade: 6/10

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Amy Harmon - The Queen and the Cure

There will be a battle, and you will need to protect your heart.
Kjell of Jeru had always known who he was. He'd never envied his brother or wanted to be king. He was the bastard son of the late King Zoltev and a servant girl, and the ignominy of his birth had never bothered him.
But there is more to a man than his parentage. More to a man than his blade, his size, or his skills, and all that Kjell once knew has shifted and changed. He is no longer simply Kjell of Jeru, a warrior defending the crown. Now he is a healer, one of the Gifted, and a man completely at odds with his power.
Called upon to rid the country of the last vestiges of the Volgar, Kjell stumbles upon a woman who has troubling glimpses of the future and no memory of the past. Armed with his unwanted gift and haunted by regret, Kjell becomes a reluctant savior, beset by old enemies and new expectations. With the woman by his side, Kjell embarks upon a journey where the greatest test may be finding the man she believes him to be.


Comment: The first installment in this fantasy series was something I enjoyed reading a lot. I was naturally curious about this second story and if it would be  as interesting as the first one. Thankfully, it proved to be entertaining and very well done in my opinion. Too bad my time for reading has been a bit complicated due to busy touristic season...

In this second novel, the situation in the city of Jeru is now being fixed and most Gifted people are being recognized and defended by the king and queen. Outside Jeru city things are still tricky and besides, the Volgar race, the natural enemy of everyone else, is still a threat. Kjell of Jeru, the bastard brother of the king is a captain with the task of fighting the Volgar and helping people but he recently found out he is Gifted and he is a Healer, something not easy to accept along his killing the enemy side.
In a distant region Kjell saves a woman from dying and from then one, she seems to want to follow him as she thinks she owns him. But a twist and the hunt for an old enemy can change Kjell's life completely, even after his feelings towards the saved woman change as well.

This story is very sweet. I do like how the author has created such a world and how things were being developed.
Maybe, because I did read it rather recently, I found many points in common with a certain book by Naomi Novik and it wasn't easy to ignore that. But, of course, this novel lives on its own merit and I did enjoy spending time in this world a lot more. The fantasy aspects, along with the incredible characters make for a very emotional and poignant story without making it just another already seen plot or clichéd end.

I really liked this novel and all the twists that we were given. I just think that, from a certain moment on, after one of the biggest twists happens, one character no longer behaved as expected and while I understand that from a plot POV, it was still quite a change and the story didn't seem to flow at the same pace.
This aside, it was quite thew treasure to read the story and to wait to see what would happen next, especially considering the emotional journey some characters also had to make.

The focus is clearly Kjell and I confess I really liked him and his thoughts, his way of behaving, his honor and why he struggled to accept certain things or act a certain way. It was very emotional to see some situations through his eyes but in the end of course every action is worth the HEA he gets and truly deserves. He is quite the layered character and often his choices makes us think but I think he is the type of hero anyone could defend, even more so after being not such an obvious hero type in the previous book.

The relationship between Kjell and Sasha, the woman he rescues, is complex. I was quite surprised by some situations after they admitted some fo their feelings and there is a moment where things go to a path I was not getting fond of. But thankfully, things never stopped making sense and the author didn't use clichés to make things more obvious or dramatic instead. 
The interesting aspect is how the characters relate to their Gifts, to those around them and to the opinions and/or expectations others have too. It was very, very interesting to have some focus on the Gifts and how that could impact people'«s choices and so on. When it came to Sasha and Kjell, their Gifts were a bit like them: they can be a team, they can help each other but that doesn't make them indispensable to one another, just an easy completion of two souls.

In the end, this was a very good read, it was exciting, imaginative, we still had scenes with the previous couple, we have two new protagonists who interact with each other and others quite often and that makes the plot move along and feel full and vibrant. It's a good story for me.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Kelly Bowen - Duke of my Heart

Captain Maximus Harcourt, the unconventional tenth Duke of Alderidge, can deal with tropical storms, raging seas, and the fiercest of pirates. But he's returned home from his latest voyage to find a naked earl—quite inconveniently deceased—tied to his missing sister's bed. And he has only one place to turn. Now he's at the mercy of the captivating Miss Ivory Moore of Chegarre & Associates, known throughout London for smoothing over the most dire of scandals.
Miss Moore treats the crisis as though it were no more serious than a cup of spilt tea on an expensive rug. As though this sort of thing happened on the job every day. Max has never in all his life met a woman with such nerve. Her dark eyes are too wide, her mouth is too full, her cheekbones too sharp. Yet together, she's somehow...flawless. It's just like his love for her, imperfect, unexpected—yet absolutely true.


Comment: I decided to get this book after seeing very positive reviews and opinions by people whose opinion I tend to trust. I was so eager to try it that since I purchased the book (not that long ago) until adding it to this month's list wasn't such a big stretch.

This is the story of Ivory Moore, a woman who has been many things in her life, including an opera singer and a duchess and now she is simply part of a team that specializes in controlling and downplaying scandals. This book opens with Ivory and a co worker of sorts trying to minimize the fact a young lady is missing from her aunt's ball and in her bed, tidied, is a dead naked aristocrat.
At the same time, the lady's older brother, the Duke of Alderidge, is returned from his ship and demands to know what is happening. As Ivory makes her moves to not only find out the duke's sister but also why she needed to flee in the first place, the duke is always close by, wanting to know which progresses are being accomplished. But for Ivory he is more trouble than hep as he stirs her emotions as no man has done for a long time...

I liked this book overall, but I have to admit my grade is slightly more elevated than what I would say because  I liked the idea of two very different people having found love in a situation that, realistically speaking, wouldn't be as easy or, maybe, the way it was written simply led me to think that. 
I think what stays the most with me is how unlikely it is for this couple to end up together but not because of their social positions per se. Several books portray unlikely relationships. But the author didn't include as many romantic gestures/scenes/situations/even thoughts to make me not only want to see them together but to believe their feelings were really going that way.
Yes, one can say there are little clues and it's all in how we read between the lines but... I just don't feel that captivated by them as a united front.

The plot isn't too complicated and it does offer interesting situations for us to connect the dots when it comes to some whys an hows. 
What really makes this novel in my opinion is the two main character's personalizes and their takes on life and responsibility. Both come from different backgrounds but in common they have the fact they didn't always feel comfortable in the roles they were given or that were expected of them.
Thinking this, I must say I liked the heroine best. She - we learn - has had a childhood no one today would want to imagine, and her adult life hasn't always been as free and happy as some recent years were. I admire this character's attitude and how noble she is.

The hero, on the other hand, felt rather childish in his actions, even bearing in mind how he was put aside by his parents when his brothers were alive and he only a third son. I can admit the change from an always forgotten son to a duke could be a harsh one and that he prefers freedom and his ships, his "job" as captain and so on. But isn't his title as a duke a task he should honor and defend and apply himself to when he knows there are no heirs? It just made me a bit hesitant to believe his efforts and his words about taking care of his sister, of being aware of others' needs around him and whatever when he clearly hasn't felt the will to be a duke. Does he need to like it? No, but if it's his role, if others depend on his position...can he simply put it behind him with no care? I just didn't like this aspect of him and it's not like he just found out he is a duke, so...

The HEA still happens, obviously, we get the idea they end up together but I was hoping for a not so subtle end, where is the epilogue with them being happy and having a life together? I don't need much, just a little domestic scene of them dining and talking or something. I think the HEA lacked dynamism.
I'm not sure I'll read the other books in the series although the characters were in this book and I do feel some curiosity. Maybe much later...
Grade: (a weak) 7/10

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Jaci Burton - Thrown by a Curve

For Alicia Riley, her job as a sports therapist for the St. Louis Rivers baseball team is a home run—until she becomes the primary therapist for star pitcher, Garrett Scott. Out of the lineup with an injury, he’s short-tempered, hard to handle, and every solid inch, a man.
Right now, the only demand he’s making on Alicia is that she get him ready to pitch in time for opening day. Except the sexual chemistry between them is so charged, Alicia’s tempted to oblige Garrett just about anything. But both their careers are at stake—one bad move and it’s game over for both of them.
Garrett also feels the hot sparks between them, and the way he figures it, what better therapy is there than sex? Now all he has to do is convince the woman with the power to make the call.


Comment: Here is another installment in the Play by Play series by author Jaci Burton, and one less book in the pile for me. Although I've been trying to go through the books in the series I own, I have to say that as a rule, the stories are not as fantastic as I imagined and not to the level of covers they show. Readers know a book should not be judged by its cover but to me, these ones are slightly more amazing than the books they portray.

In this 5th installment we have Alicia Riley's story, she's the sister of the hero in the previous book and cousin to protagonists in the first three.
Alicia works as a physical therapist for a baseball team where her cousin Gavin also plays in. Alicia sort of offers herself to help player Garret Scott regaining his shape after an injury but only because she sees his efforts so far haven't had results and she feels she might help by changing his workouts.
Garrett isn't feeling very positive but he still loves the game and wants to play so he accepts Alicia's "dare" and starts doing what she says, which means they spend a lot time together. As time goes by, however, it starts to become difficult to separate their professional side and the personal one, which Garrett thinks isn't as personal as it can get...

I'm sure I've said it before but here it is again: what a pity this series isn't more character focused instead of sex scenes and erotica hints. Even in private conversations Alicia has with friends the talk seems to always go to sex. I can accept it as normal but in the stroy about Alicia and Garret and a potential relationship, why does it matter... sex should be the reflection of their relationship not the reason why it exists. I guess I'm old fashioned.
And yes, I knew this would be more oriented to sexual situations but the way characters act even in professional situations doesn't seem the type of thing I would want people working for me to act. Now, if the plot was better balanced between the two things maybe it wouldn't be such a noticeable thing for me.

So, Alicia is not an effective worker at the baseball team and although it shouldn't matter if she falls in love with a player, the reality is they don't fall in love before becoming intimate. Where is the professionalization? She keeps saying she can't jeopardize her job because she likes it and she wants to help the players and so on but even when recognizing the signs, she still gets involved with Garrett. For me, how amazing it would have been if they were to go through sexual tension situations and only after both their futures and feelings were understood and obvious, they gave in, then the relationship would feel even stronger. The way things happen when they talk about love I don't think it's believable.

In the previous two books the balance between the protagonist's relationship and the overall plot seemed better done but in here it felt like the baseball stuff was just an afterthought and not even the personal doubts and actions each character has seemed to matter in the whole scheme. They often mention challenges, difficulties and such, but at the end all those things haven't played such a big part in leading them to the HEA. From co-workers to friends to lovers isn't such a stretch but I don't feel convinced from all those things to being in love was shown to us.
Alicia is a pragmatic character and I liked her but yes, when she was thinking about sex, no matter how realistic, it's not what I wanted to know about her. Same for Garrett, the serious conversations they had weren't developed as well as they could even accepting they wouldn't discuss important things all the time.

At the end of the book, I guess what I wanted to have seen was obvious passion from realistic feelings and situations. So much dedication to the sex side because it sells, because people want to have sexy stories or because erotica catches people's eyes and then the plots, the romances are secondary and not sweet enough. I know romance novels don't always need to be sugary but a bigger amount of thoughtful situations and conversations makes it easier to convince the reader it will be a strong HEA at the end after all.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Chris Owen - An Agreement Among Gentlemen

Edward Munrow has had a change in circumstances. Going from being a gentleman of few means to being a wealthy land owner in less than a day is difficult enough to imagine, but being blackmailed into a marriage he doesn't want by a Duke is just too much.
Ned agrees to the marriage to keep his name out of the scandal sheets, and soon enough he is meeting Lady Jane, a member of the Duke's family, and her son, Henri, the Viscount Langton. Langton is a delightful surprise for Ned, a young man just coming into his own, ripe for the sorts of debauchery Ned is best at.
The problem is that Langton brings out all of Ned's protective instincts, and that, along with a warning that the Duke will ruin him if he so much as lays a hand on the young man has him keeping his hands to himself. Until Henri won't let Ned protect him from himself, that is. Add one of Ned's old lovers to the mix and the combination is unbeatable.
This Victorian romp has it all, from family intrigue to marriages of convenience and naughty fun between the sheets. Take it to bed with you today.


Comment: I started reading m/m books in 2008 and 2009 was probably the year I invested the most in the genre, being it a novelty and such. I did go through many freebies and deals which allowed me to read several stories, some better than others. Chris Owen is an author I wouldn't consider a favorite but for a while one or two things by the author were special to me, so I tended to imagine this an author whose work I'd follow. Nowadays, things seem different to me.

This book tells us the story of Edward Munrow, a man whose titled friend left him his estate and also all the challenges that go with it in terms of maintaining and running the land. Ned, as he is know to close friends knows it's only a matter of time until someone approaches him with marriage proposals or deals and in fact, a sick duke does precisely that by blackmailing Edward, since he knows his sexual preferences and says he would spread that gossip until Ned is ruined.
One of the conditions to ensure Ned's acceptance of the plan is to have his nephew living in the estate for a while, Henri, the son of the first marriage of the woman Ned is supposed to marry. Ned accepts but he vows to seduce the duke's nephew and then say so to the duke. What he didn't count on was being himself seduced and falling in love...

As I've said, a book like this would have been amazing years ago, when the genre itself was new to me. Today, after many attempts I kind of know what my preferred style is and this is no longer it. This can be quite the situation because I still have some older titles in the pile and now I dread reading some of them...maybe the writing style is still something I appreciate but I fear not.
The style that I found impressive almost ten years ago no longer appeals much to me. The writing style isn't to my preferences nowadays and the content being too focused on sex scenes and inferred emotional content instead of seeing it happen in a logical but romantic way doesn't strike me as appealing as it used to be, especially because I prefer books heavy on the romance side, even in this m/m genre.

This book actually features a menage relationship which can be tricky as it never seems as there is balance. One element always seems to come after, to be an add on... in this book, because sex was the instigation point to the relationship, it just feels like the three of them were a handy mix. I never had the idea I was knowing the characters well and that I should be happy they were together. My expectations might be unfair considering what I knew of the author's work and the erotica label but...each book is unique and I hoped for different elements.

The main character, Ned, disappointed me. His attitude, the ease in which he participated in sexual situations didn't make me eager to see him reaching happiness and keeping it. In historical books, having solid m/m relationships within the strictness of society rules isn't easy but others have done so, and to me, this one failed in that. Is it a sexy book...? Yes, but the emotional side of things, imagining the emotional response these characters were having... it's just not the sort of attitude and behavior I like to read about. I just feel sad that after reading the book what is left is the notion of lots of little actions the characters carry on with, whether disguised as love or simply being called lust, only come out as being silly and sexual and that is the only reason they exist at all. It's just too repetitive and not interesting enough for me these days. I admit I skipped the sex scenes and some scenes where characters would be talking about or planning sex.
The other elements of the menage, Henri and Truitt, weren't memorable enough for me but it did annoy me Truitt seemed the third wheel and that Henri is a sex addict beneath his innocent act.

All in all, a disappointment. We can't always like everything, and I didn't find this as annoying years ago but now... I want the structure, I want the emotion, the romance and I want the characters to behave as good people. In this book I simply didn't have that notion.
Grade: 3/10

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Ciji Ware - A Cottage by the Sea

Some might call it running away . . .
But after a scandalous Hollywood divorce, Blythe Stowe considered it damage control for body and soul. The pain, the humiliation, the daily tabloids shouting details as her famous husband dumped her for her own sister demanded a serious getaway: to the wild coast of Cornwall and a cottage by the sea that her Wyoming grandmother claimed had been home to her ancestors.
Some might call it chance . . .
But Blythe encountered more than just a quaint retreat nestled amid vivid skies and gorgeous ocean. And she had the odd sensation that her wickedly handsome neighbor Lucas Teague was more than a British gentleman going broke. He might be her destiny . . .


Comment: I added this book to my TBR years ago and last year I finally bought it. This month it was one of my picks and I must say although I enjoyed most of it, it ended up not being as amazing as I imagined at some point.

This book tells us the story of Blythe Barton, someone signing her divorce when the book starts. From that and because her husband is an Oscar winner, thus followed by paparazzi, she decides to travel to Cornwall, where her family had roots. In there, she finds a lovely cottage but also a crumbling Barton estate, int he Teague family for centuries.
Somehow, Blythe and Lucas, the current owner, agree on a business deal and with his land and her money, they will invest in a terrific new business which will bring people and money to the region.
Soon, however, Blythe realizes there's more than simple history connecting her to Cornwall and as time and the business ventures go by, the past comes back and Blythe and Lucas end up being partners in more than business...

This story begins, like I said, with Blythe getting divorced. I imagined we would have her dealing with her ex a lot and although she eventually gets closure, it's not such a frequent situation in the book, something I'm very glad of because this part of Blythe's life seemed too complicated and highlighted situations that could overtake the apparent goal of the book, which is to focus on new beginnings and letting the past go.

This story is focused on Blythe and her life, her way of dealing with what comes her way but it's also a dual time novel, where we have the contemporary part (thankfully more frequent) and the past, set in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The past is included so we can make a bridge between what is happening to Blythe and other characters and why certain things have a specific meaning. The problem, for me, is that i don't think the past scenes were useful at all. We could still have the past through letters or something without having actual scenes depicting those things. I don't feel the past part was necessary for the plot to move on and I admit I sort of skimmed a few pages.
Besides, the past has us reading about characters that, sincerely, were all silly and jealous and immature and although I get the idea here was to portray how Blythe and others should learn to let go of what happened in their own lives so they can live in the now, the past section was just a waste of pages to me.

Dual time aside, the book mostly centers in the situation Blythe is living and her relationship with Lucas, both as business partners and as lovers.
Blythe and Lucas each had a complicated past, they both bring baggage to their current relationship and part of the whole novel is them going on but needing to overcome what happened before. This means we have several emotional dealings and situations to solve, which I didn'0t mind much and would mind even less without the past section. But it was very interesting - this sort of made the book for me - to see the two characters deal with other people in their lives but still find the romance, the new relationship... it's not a perfect plot/development, but I had a good time reading most of the book.

This was the first book I've read by the author. I don't think her other titles appeal to me as much as this one did, but I might try something else by her int he future. This is a good book to escape with in long afternoons but the writing is a bit erratic here and there and less pages spent in the past would certainly help. At least in my POV.
Grade: 6/10