Thursday, November 15, 2018

Dan Brown - Origin

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.
As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.
Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself... and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery... and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

Comment: Dan Brown is an author I don't run out to read but his books offer that incredible mix of cultural content and fast paced plot that I find very easy and captivating to read, even if his writing is a little exaggerated and his stories too formulaic. Nevertheless, I saw this book available at my local library and decided to bring it with me to read.

In this latest book, the author takes his hero Robert Langdon to Spain, for him to participate in a  conference/presentation by Edmond Kirschner, a student he had at Harvard and who has become a brilliant scientist. In this presentation, Edmond is bet on proving the origin of life in the planet and the destination humans are supposed to evolve into one day, dismissing formally the need to believe God did it. But before his presentation can be finished live, he is killed and chaos follows the place. Langdon and Ambra Vidal, the curator for the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, where the event was taking place, must run and hide to be certain Edmond's presentation can be finished and they will only be able to do it by accessing his computers, back in his house in Barcelona.
Will they be able to do it before Edmond's killer reaches them?

Once again, this book was quite an adventure. I must say I liked it a lot even though it wasn't perfectly constructed. As it happened with his other work I've read I think there is a distinguish one must do in order to better appreciate Brown's books: first, that the stories are fiction so of course there's a lot one must read suspending belief and second, the content can be read in regards to being based on facts as the author says before any of the stories but isn't meant to be seen as the only way to consider things. I actually think the author does a good job letting the reader make their own mind, even if his beliefs are a little obvious at times too.

Thinking this, I did like to learn things and Dan Brown always makes certain he includes several amount of information about the theme and many other things he obviously researched. I do like to read these things as if they really matter to the plot and not as if they were there just to prove how clever the author can be.
I can't say I followed all the details and notions but the things said were intriguing and fascinating to think about.

As it always happens with this autho's books, there's also some fictional content and in this case the author has invented new monarchs for the Spanish royal family. I can understand why using the real on wouldn't be considered acceptable, especially because of the freedom he took by using the characters created to make some plot decisions make sense.
I think he went a little overboard but overall, I liked the situations regarding the royal family and, surprisingly, it added an interesting emotional content I wasn't expecting but liked.

Robert Langdon is again an incredibly resourceful and clever hero, he manages to do things in an incredible way but this time not as ridiculously as he did in Angels and Demons, where he accomplished things I just couldn't believe at all.
His sidekick is again a gorgeous and intelligent woman but I liked how the lack of romantic interest was played in this; it suited the plot well that they were only pals in reaching the goal, even if some vibes at the end made it pointless. Oh well, not everything is perfect.

There is a lot of extra content, which I found engaging to read about, namely about Edmond's work and his attempts to help humanity, This played out very well into the final revelations, especially regarding the "bad guy". As for the reason for this plot, the apparent discovery abut the origin of Man and so on, and the notion religion can be put aside, well, like a friend said, we live in such a global world, the surprise effect wasn't here because any theory has already been discussed somewhere so it didn't cause such a big impact.

Overall, this was a good adventure, filled with interesting content and characters and although the main premise and development don't go too far from what one would expect, I think this was a lovely story to read and it was certainly very entertaining.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Ruth Ozeki - A Tale for The Time Being

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.


Comment: This book got on my radar because it was one of the chosen titles of a book club I used to
be part of. I only joined the group later on but the comments about this book were many and I liked what people said. I added it to my pile but it has been around 5 years already... still better late than ever.

This is the story of Nao, a young American girl whose Japanese parents had to go back to Japan after Nao's father lost his job. These three people have little to do with Japanese culture but they are forced to go back anyway. 
When the story begins, Nao introduces herself and starts telling her story.
There's a second main character, a grown up woman called Ruth, who lives in Cortes Island, north to Vancouver. After the 2011 tsunami in Japan, many people lost everything and some debris has ended on the other side of the Pacific and this is when Ruth discovers something in the beach. Later on, while talking to her husband, they realize it's a bunch of papers and a diary, which Ruth starts reading. And so, the two tales connect and slowly, we start seeing what was really going on with Ruth and Nao's lives...

This is a very intense story of dual narrators. We have Nao's story, which we get from her own POV and also Ruth's side of things, which we read in third person.
I'm not certain why the author chose to force us to connect with Nao so promptly and not with Ruth but for me this barely mattered because the story was very powerful.

Nao is a young girl that saw her whole change in the blink of an eye. She is facing many complicated moments because her father can't find a job and is severely depressed to the point of trying to commit suicide. Nao's mother seems to be more absent in how important she could be to the story but it's Nao herself that is the key of everything. She is a very sad, lonely girl who gets bullied at school and through her fear and the terrible things she endures, we see glimpses of a wonderfully bright girl who just can't seem to get enough. 
I found Nao's sections to be amazingly poignant, but also difficult to go through at times. It's really unbearable to think about the pain, the suffering, the humiliations people everywhere face daily and we simply won't know...

Nao has a very peculiar family history and one summer she gets to stay at a temple with her nun great grandmother Jiko, who teaches her a lot, especially about her son Haruki, one of the kamikaze pilots during WWII. These details were deeply researched, I could tell, and were very emotional. In fact, if there is one word I could use to describe the book is emotional because in almost every page there is a detail, a sentence, a scene that just grabs you and won't let go.

Ruth's sections were also interesting to read for me although I've read some readers saying it wasn't so for them, but I liked how more mundane Ruths life appeared to be, even if she lived in a sort of isolated island with her husband who we get also suffers from some mild mental disorder. Ruth is novelist whose memory is being affected so I got the notion she didn't mind the isolation although we can tell she hates it at times. Still, there was a lot to take in by reading through Ruth's perspective and I liked how she tried to know more about Nao and even tried to help her any way she could, despite the time and distance.

Along with philosophical discussions and quantic presentations, the reader slowly unravel what is really happening to both Nao and Ruth and the lessons they learn as they get to communicate with one another: Ruth by reading Nao's diary and Nao by writing it to someone out there.
I liked this style, it was very interesting to know little things at a time about both main characters and their lives and hopes.
This could be described as a complex plot because there's a lot of information included which isn't that easy to follow but it does make the story richer.

Closer to the end, things reach their peak and I confess I was very worried about Nao. It's never that obvious to the reader if Nao is alive at the end or not but the journey towards the last chapter is so emotional like I said, to full of amazing thoughts, I just loved the experience of reading this book.
Grade: 9/10

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Tracy Guzeman - The Gravity of Birds

Sisters Alice and Natalie were once close, but adolescence has wrenched them apart. Alice is a dreamer who loves books and birds; Natalie is headstrong, manipulative – and beautiful. On their lakeside family holiday, Alice falls under the thrall of a struggling young painter,Thomas Bayber. Natalie, however, seems strangely unmoved, tolerating sittings for a family portrait with surprising indifference. But by the end of the summer, three lives are shattered.
Decades later, Thomas, now a world-renowned artist, reveals the existence of a portrait of himself with Alice and Natalie from that fateful summer. The sisters themselves have disappeared without a trace. And Thomas is torn between taking the secrets of the girls to the grave, or using the painting to resurrect the past before it closes up on them all for good…


Comment: This is another historical dual timed story that interested me and this month I finally got it and read it.

In this book we have the story of Thomas Byber, a known artist who suddenly claims there's another one of his paintings he wants to sell, this after decades of not painting anything new. The people in charge of finding two missing pieces of the painting, however, seriously doubt exactly why the missing painting has been so out of the radar of all critics and experts. 
One of those people is Denny Finch, a man who made his career studying the artist Thomas Byber and the other is Stephen Jameson, a brilliant art expert who has faced seriously damaging career stumbles. Can these two uncover the secret behind the suddenly discovered painting and what is the role of sisters Natalie and Alice Kessler, the subjects of the painting along Byber himself?

I should say this is an intriguing story and my favorite part of the book was to see if there was any other huge secret waiting to be uncovered in relation to the painting. However, this book is more focused on the human relationships and the character's emotions than in the backstory so, for me, it was a little disappointing to being sent in a direction and after all the biggest secret yet to be revealed wasn't that amazing - I kind of suspected beforehand.

The story actually starts with the story of why the painting came to existence ans we learn of some clues about how Thomas Byber met the Kessler sisters in the past and why he painted them. I confess that, unlike the majority of times I read dual timed stories, I really liked being in this "past"scenario of the 60s. The characters were interesting, the little steps they took and the atmosphere surrounding them was mysterious and I liked learning things a little bit at a time.

Since this is a story where we alternate in reading from the past scenario and the present one, there are obviously chapters set in the present. It wasn't as interesting for me to read this part. I think that, in part, the reason was the lack if interest I had for Stephen and Denny, the to main characters we follow in the "present" scenes.
Denny is a widowed investigator/professor and although his personality was interesting enough, it was still difficult to want to spend time in his company... as for Stephen, I could commiserate with his work related problems and how that must have made him feel but he was a little intense. Then, the mix of these two together, their little quirks and ways of being mixed together just didn't add to a very appealing combination and I was looking for to read their parts quickly so they could be over... 

Thankfully, the action was moving alone nicely around half way through and it got more and more interesting as time went by and we discovered some things, not only about the characters from the past but also why they would matter now too.
As I've said, there is one last secret about the painter Thomas which is only revealed in the end but I suspected what it was. I wouldn't say this is the most innovative or mysterious plot to be described in terms of historical fiction books but overall, it was good enough to read and enjoy.

I could write more about certain details but for those interested in reading, the less one knows, the better. The writing itself could be a little more edited and the characterization could use some refinement but all things considered, this book provided a good amount of entertainment for certain.
Grade: 7/10

Monday, November 12, 2018

Amy Lane - Keeping Rock Promise

Carrick Francis has spent most of his life jumping into trouble with both feet. The only thing saving him from prison or worse is his absolute devotion to Deacon Winters. Deacon was Crick's sanity and salvation during a miserable, abusive childhood, and Crick would do anything to stay with him forever. So when Deacon's father dies, Crick puts his college plans on hold to help Deacon as Deacon has helped him.
Deacon's greatest wish is to see Crick escape his memories and the town they grew up in so Crick can enjoy a shining future. But after two years of growing feelings and temptation, the painfully shy Deacon finally succumbs to Crick's determined advances and admits he sees himself as part of Crick's life.
It nearly destroys Deacon when he discovers Crick has been waiting for him to push him away, just like Crick's family did in the past. When Crick's knack for volatile decisions lands him far away from home, Deacon is left, shell-shocked and alone, struggling to reforge his heart in a world where love with Crick is a promise, but by no means a certainty.


Comment: This is another book I had in my pile to read for some years now. I'm making an effort in trying to go through long standing books and I hope I can keep on doing it the following years too. This was in the pile after someone's recommendation but I can't remember exactly why.

In this story we meet Carrick Francis, a young man who has always seemed to get himself into trouble but he discovered a model hero in Deacon Winters, the son of a man who took him in even when his own family didn't. Being at the Winters' farm was great in many ways, especially because it allowed him to realize he wasn't only thankful to Deacon's help and attention, but also to the fact he liked Deacon as more than a friend.
Since Carrick is so young, Deacon never really does anything about it until the day of their friends Jon and Amy's wedding but some miscommunication afterwards turned things into an almost unbearable situation. Can these two overcome their issues and make a happy life together?

This was a good story, very rich in details and emotions but it was also very angsty. If I had to summarize things, I'd say it was a little too much in the negative aspects so, despite the beauty of the writing and the analysis behind every action, this novel would probably read as just being a little over average for me.

This is basically a story about two guys not really thinking about each other romantically until a certain point. I liked how the author has tried to keep things simple, no big mastermind plot behind any action, any sequence, this is just a group of average people going about their lives. As in real life, things don't go perfectly scripted and all characters face lots of everyday situations and others not as easy to go through. I did like the fact the author inserted this vibe of normalcy in their lives and we can wonder how many thousands have similar lives or similar situations to overcome in their existence as well.

What I think is the most negative detail isn't the problems the characters face. I think the problem is the amount of problems. In almost every chapter there's something to solve, something to discuss, something to fear, something to go through, something to try to not worry about, something to... and so on. I know this can be realistic and I think the author wasn't trying to hide anything in relation to the type of issues real people go through, so this book has realism and emotion but it was too much. I felt like I had no time to breathe between the problems, the heartbreak and the defeat in certain chapters. 
Thankfully, there's a HEA at the end, otherwise, I'd go crazy thinking there wouldn't be no hope at all to them.

Carrick is a cute character and his personality is pretty much obvious from the start. He does go through several issues but I liked that despite all, I could commiserate with him and his words. He does act a little too impetuously and I found some outcomes of this to be rather exaggerated but overall his actions revealed someone caring and I'd have liked to know him in real life.
Deacon is more reserved but through his actions and decisions we understand he is someone amazing and trustworthy. I could see why he and Carrick are a good couple but their relationship wasn't an easy one until the end of the novel. I would have liked to see them interact more and in a more relaxed environment fr certain.

The plot is filled with difficult scenes. As I've said, the main theme is definitely emotion through obstacle overcoming, but I still liked little impressions we are supposed to get and feel by going through everything. However, it can be a little exhausting to read this because it feels like the problems are on going and it's hard not to be a little depressed about it.
Grade: 7/10

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Yet another list of reading nooks

At my end today, the day is grey and not very inviting to be outside, unless one likes outdoor activities. For me, days like these mean a fireplace, a book and some background TV to give the idea of something happening.
I was googling this idea and I found the following list:
http://www.demxarchitecture.com/thedemxbuzz/2017/6/1/15-cozy-reading-nooks-for-rainy-days

This list has 15 images with ideas of reading nooks that could be useful while it rains, for they give the perfect "atmosphere".
Of them all, my favorites are #3, #7, #11 and #14. I'd love to have either in my house but since I don't and won't be able to, I can still dream...
What about you, any good ones?
Happy reading!


Mini-Comments

Here is another mini-comments post, where I write a few sentences about some recent reads that haven't been great and that I don't have much to say. Thus, to just leave a little recognition of the stories, here goes.

We're the D'Artigo Sisters: Half-human, half-Faerie, we're savvy--and sexy--operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. But our mixed-blood heritage short-circuits our talents at all the wrong times. My sister Delilah shapeshifts into a tabby cat whenever she's stressed. Menolly's a vampire who's still trying to get the hang of being undead. And me? I'm Camille--a wicked-good witch. Except my magic is as unpredictable as the weather, which my enemies are about to find out the hard way...
At the Wayfarer Inn, a portal to Otherworld and the local hangout for humans and beasties alike, our fellow operative, Jocko, has been murdered. Every clue points to Shadow Wing, the soul-munching, badass leader of the Subterranean Realms. He's made it clear that he aims to raze humankind to the ground, turning both Earth and Otherworld into his private playground. Our assignment: keep Shadow Wing and his minions from creeping into Earth via the Wayfarer. The demons figure they're in like Flynn. After all, with only my bumbling sisters and me standing in the way, how can they miss? But we've got a secret for them: Faulty wiring or not, nobody kicks ass like the D'Artigo girls...

 
Comment: I had this book to read for years, since 2011 if I'm not mistaken, and I hoped this would be an intriguing urban fantasy tale. 
This is the story of Camille, the oldest of three sisters, who has the powers of a witch. For several reasons - some attempted to be explained in the story - Camille isn't the best witch ever and that makes her efforts not go so well in her job as an investigator for the supernatural world she belongs to. But now a friend is dead and someone needs to know what happened before others are killed too...
Again, I'm certain had I read this years ago, the style and details would have been amazing to go through but now I just felt the plot too predictable and quickly able to be solved but the huge amount of unnecessary filling was too much. I soon lost interest, I couldn't have much patience for such a poorly written story (in my opinion) and my lack of interest in the characters. Next year I plan on beginning the art of not finish a novel and this would be a good candidate for certain, considering my lack of enthusiasm while reading...
Grade: 3/10 

-//-

Reginald Mason is wealthy, refined, and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by title, a factor that pains him and his father within the Regency society that upholds
station over all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely, Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbor and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal, one that has left her branded as damaged goods. Besmirched by shame, the earl is only too happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her. Though Reginald Mason, Senior, wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social ladder, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Reginald Senior serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents, and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resenting the other for their current state of affairs while their respective fathers revel in their suffering. So begins an intoxicating tale rife with dark secrets, deception, and the trials of love-a story in which very little is as it seems. 

Comment: I was quite eager to read this novella by Mary Balogh because I certainly like the different class trope and I was eager to see how the couple would get along.
Annabelle was caught in a scandal and now it seems the only possibility for her reputation is a marriage to her father's vulgar but rich neighbor's son. The son, Reginald is rumored to be a gambler and a dandy so the two don't really like the idea of marrying the other but for two such headstrong people, they meekly accept their fate as a way to obey their parents after the fame each one got...
I confess I didn't like neither main character until the very end of the book. There's a reason for that for the author planned on an amazing surprise and I confess until a certain point I didn't imagine it at all, but all things considered, especially the apparent behavior in the beginning, I just couldn't really enjoy the whole story. 
To explain this would mean to give a spoiler but let's just say the title gave me, once more!, a wrong impression about what I'd read about (it seems to be my curse to be mislead by titles and/or blurbs), so I failed to enjoy this as much as other surprised readers did. Still, a good enough read overall.
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Jojo Moyes - The Girl You Left Behind

France, 1916. Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. When she is ordered to serve the German officers who descend on her hotel each evening, her home becomes riven by fierce tensions. And from the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie's portrait - painted by Edouard - a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision.
Almost a century later, and Sophie's portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting's true worth, and its troubled history. A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv's life upside down all over again . . .
In 'The Girl You Left Behind' two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for what they love most - whatever the cost.


Comment: Jojo Moyes apparently is a hit-or-miss author for me, I've loved some of her novels and others weren't as amazing to me. I wanted to have a positive expectation about this one, especially because the average grades are good and I can say my expectations were met.

In this dual timed story we have two main characters: Sophie, who lives through the turbulent years of the First World War, and Liv, who in contemporary times not only must deal with the loss of her husband but also the problems caused by owning a painting given to her by her beloved husband. However, the painting is the picture of Sophie, who was married to a minor french artist, Edouard Lefévre. Bt during the war, Sophie is taken and no one sees her again.
The lives of these two women are linked together because of a chance situation but as the pages unfold, we slowly discover what happened to Sophie and why Liv is now facing problems...

I really liked this one. I only stopped reading to go to sleep because I found this to be engaging, interesting, addictive. I really liked the story and the way the author planned on how to develop it.

I think one of the best features was precisely the way the story is divided. Often, in dual time plots, we have one and another alternatively played out so that the reader can follow each key moment as it happens but here, it was a little different. 
First, we have Sophie's story and then Liv's. There are one or two chapters from Sophie's perspective from then on, but it was great to be able to more easily divide what was happening. I think it was productive to be able to separate things and I actually enjoyed the book more, things were done in a way that really made sense.

Both plots were great. I tend to prefer one to the other - usually the contemporary because it's easier to be empathetic to what happens - but in this case I really liked spending time reading about both women and their challenges.
I liked Sophie because she was brave despite some mistakes she did in the name of love. Any story based on or set on war times is always heartbreaking and Sophie's is no exception, all the scenes where she was dealing with the issues of being in a war were difficult to absorb.
Liv has different problems and emotions to process. I liked her and the challenges she faced. I liked how the author introduced some subjects in Liv's life (like her mourning and the pressure of the press when a problem gets public) and how those details were dealt with.

The plot, in general, is well developed in my opinion. The sequence of events makes sense and there's a little detail in every chapter that makes things seem more important, more special.
I know some readers complained about the theme, about some plot's moves... but I think there's a good balance in what we see on the page and the emotions associated with what happens. I do think the author gave life to what each heroine was going through and did it well enough to make this a gripping story. It's not perfect but, as always, it depends a lot on perspective. For me, it worked out well.

All in all, this was a great mix of historical and fiction and a little romance. I didn't want to let go of the characters but thankfully, there's a happy ending and that made it feel even more special.
Grade: 9/10

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Frank Herbert - Dune

Here is the novel that will be forever considered a triumph of the imagination. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad'Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family--and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream.
A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.
 


Comment: Months ago I was browsing the shelves at a bookstore and saw this book. I already had an idea about its importance to science fiction but I confess I never thought about reading it with any seriousness. Still, the edition I got was at an accessible price and brought it home, planning to read it at a later date and I picked November because I knew it would be my vacation month. Therefore, I planned to pick it to be the first book of the month.

In this classic, we have a very basic story: young Paul Atreides must get revenge on his father's death and for that he transforms himself into the messiah awaited in the planet his family went to as a request of the emperor.
The beauty of this novel is not only the path Paul needs to take but how one can read between the lines and infer if what Paul does is actually necessary for his desired outcome...

I had a certain expectation about this book after hearing so many interesting opinions about it here and there. I was aware this would be a strong and solid story and quite rich in details and that made me imagine a certain idea, despite also knowing this was first published in 1965, but aren't classics timeless? I had full confidence this would be amazing, especially since it's a story set in the future.

I won't go into any plot description because the book is famous enough if someone is curious and, besides, the plot is pretty basic. This is a book about revenge.
However, the book certainly shows how dated it is and I just couldn't get past the fact the style, the descriptions, the actions all felt so... predictable, so obvious in a way and I can't say it's only because so many things way after were loosely based on this book.

Should I say the author had very basic writing skills? I guess, even if still validating his immense talent for creation and imagining things not everyone would. He has great ideas, just not a good way to put them in evidence. I found particularly annoying how the reader spends so much time knowing something bad is going happen, knowing what is going to be and tat feeling is more irritation than surprise, in the sense that I thought often "get on with it already".

However, among all the lengthy descriptions of what characters thought, of why they would behave a certain way, they still managed to talk and think in riddles, as if the reader couldn't be bothered to know some of their motivations...but knowing their thoughts was an absolute necessity. I mean, this tactic felt pointless! In relation to Paul's actions, things are even weirder because he is young and despite all his training he still behaved as a know-it-all.... I often would think that if these people were so smart, so amazing, why do we even have a story? The problems could have been anticipated and solved way sooner!

This book is divided into three sections but I got to a point everything was repetitive, sometimes silly and was looking for to finally finish.
The characters certainly played their parts but I must say they didn't really step out of what expected of them so in this aspect there was no surprise, the reader always knows what each character is supposed to mean and to do.

I suppose I can say I didn't go into this with the best mind frame or I just expected too many different things but apart from the author's tremendous eye for detail and imagining scenarios not everyone would, this story was a little bit of a let down. I can accept its importance and why others like it but for me it was not such an amazing experience to read it. At least, it saves me from the idea of having to read the other books...
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Alissa Johnson - An Unexpected Gentleman

Adelaide Ward has but one goal-to obtain an offer of marriage from the respectable, if unappealing, Baron Maxwell. But it's the devilishly handsome Connor Brice who captures her imagination-and a kiss in broad daylight-in front of a dozen members of the ton. Now Adelaide must decide if the charming scoundrel who stole away her reputation might still be trusted with her heart. Because Brice is after more than Adelaide's affection: he wants revenge on the baron. 

Comment: This was the last book I picked in October and I chose it because it was the one I still had in the pile by this author. This is also the second in the Haverston family trilogy. All three books are connected loosely, meaning that the main plots of all aren't directly connected, so each book can be read out of order. I wasn't aware if this though, and I ended up reading the last story first, then the first and, finally this one. 
I must say I'm glad I did things out of order because now that I've read the three stories, my favorite is the third for certain.

In this second story the main protagonist is a man we met while the protagonist of the first story visited prisoners to help them with their mending clothes.
The heroine, Adelaide, is the sister of another prisoner, guilty of unpaid debts, and someone the hero would see often visiting the prison. However, the two are linked because the heroine's family is close to destitute and her only solution is to marry someone with money and that is what will likely happen between the heroine and the hero's unscrupulous step brother. But now that the hero is free again, he not only wants to get his revenge on what the step brother caused but he also wants to have Adelaide to himself...

I thought this book to be boring. I'm not usually a big fan of revenge plots and this was not the one that made me think differently. The romance wasn't that amazing either and all these elements together just didn't make for a very interesting read, overall.

The revenge plot is classic in some books and often happens so that we can understand why the character changes tactics and understands it's not about revenge, we should just learn to let go. The case here is more or less that and the hero Connor somehow does get to that opinion at some point but the path towards that isn't one I'd say is the more interesting to follow. I just didn't like hoe he behaved, even if his reasons were valid and even acknowledging he didn't do unfair or bad things to reach his goals. I just didn't like reading about his so called problems and the way he chose to act on how to solve them.

The heroine is one I liked many times, especially when she was acting as a sensible woman, knowing her limits and her strengths.
However, since this is also a romance, Adelaide also acts like an innocent young woman and that means rather silly and sometimes as if she had never seen a man before (namely when he is trying to seducing her, no matter how innocent, can she be that naive?) and that really got on my nerves, especially because she was basically taking care of her family at this point and it made her looks as if only one look would dismiss all her abilities, all her poise and behavior. I mean... disappointing.

The romance was also a little bit the game of cat and mouse and in this case, the mouse wasn't always unaware of what is happening but I still didn't find their relationship to be addictive to follow. Connor is obviously very reserved and it almost feels as if his decisions and actions aren't meant to be easily seen by others. He says he cares about Adelaide and I can appreciate how he helps Adelaide and tries to get her out of the toxic path of his step brother. But I can't say his feeling are well expressed or easily believable.
As for Adelaide, I liked her for the most part but her more "mary sue" behavior in certain situations made me want to tell her when was behaving like an immature person and, considering the premise, her change in personality at the times she behaved as the responsible person she is described as in the blurb ,felt a little unbalanced.

I think that, at the end of things, what felt weaker in this story was really the lack of balance between what this was supposed to be and what was actually happening in the page. Both protagonists had plenty of opportunity to behave differently and still obtain their wishes, especially after Connor proposes to Adelaide and she has that chance.
Regardless of this, the story was sweet, had cute moments, cute interactions and scenes but as a whole it wasn't as incredible as I would like.
Grade: 6/10

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ramsey Hootman - Courting Greta

Samuel Cooke knows most women wouldn't give him a second glance even if he were the last man on earth. He's the cripple with the crutches, the nerdy computer genius every female past puberty feels compelled to mother. So when he leaves his lucrative career to teach programming to high schoolers, romance definitely isn't on his radar.
Perhaps that's why Greta Cassamajor catches him off guard. The sarcastic gym coach with zero sense of humor is no beauty - not even on the inside. But an inexplicably kind act toward Samuel makes him realize she is interesting.
Samuel is certain she won't accept his invitation to dinner - so when she does, he's out of his depth. All he knows is that he'll do whatever it takes to keep her as long as he can. Pretending he's got his class under control? Easy. Being vulnerable enough to admit why he ditched his programming career for teaching? Um, no. That would require honesty. And if there's one thing Samuel can't live without, it's the lies he tells himself.
In this poignant, witty debut, Ramsey Hootman upends traditional romance tropes to weave a charming tale of perseverance, trust, and slightly conditional love.


Comment: I was given this book for my birthday. I was aware this wouldn't be the most conventional romance story but still, that idea sold me on being quite eager to try it anyway.

In this story we meet Samuel Cooke, a bright and kind man but often overlooked by others due to his health problems, namely the fact he needs crutches to walk and also because he is considered a "nerd" which means women in particular don't find him attractive and tend to want to help him.
Samuel decides to change his carefully planned life by leaving his lucrative job at a company he part owes to teach at a high school. What Samuel wasn't counting on was the kindness of Greta, the gym teacher, a woman that by all standards isn't considered a beauty, nor a nice person and that is also older than him.
While Samuel tries to face the fact he does feel attracted to Greta, he also has a world to explore in the high school he joined, especially the challenge that is to be a teacher but also a friend...

I fund this story to be a very good one when it comes to slowly unravel hidden layers of understanding, of lessons learned and given to humans and of acceptance. How many hidden thoughts and feelings do we al carry within us but that we don't share with others? How often do we look at someone and judge based on appearance and eventually we would be proven wrong if only we could speak to that person or learn something about their lives?
While I don't think the author aimed this novel to the reader's philosophical thinking, it certainly was something I, personally, thought about while reading this.

The easiest way to describe this book is by saying it's a romance. But of course, the main component of this story isn't that. Samuel and Greta do become a sort of friends but their relationship doesn't follow any of the usual steps into a HEA. 
In fact, it's the uniqueness of their relationship that makes it special because while each other trusts the other, they reinforce a bond that we can see is meant to be a good one.
I was mentioning layers before because while they slowly trust each other's status with the other, their hidden stories are much slower to come out but when that happens, the emotion is a lot stronger too. I just think that, by having only Samuel's POV, some better scenes regarding Greta were lost to us.

This sounds as if the story can be boring, but it's not, it's not just fluff or platonic expressions of love. Greta and Samuel face new situations for one another, they must deal with the fact they work in the same school, they face people's stares and comments and gossiping...but that same time it was good this wasn't only focused on Greta's harsh personality or Samuel's physical disability. They are part of a community, they have family members hey deal wit an their pat isn't always easy nor too difficult. It was good to see how the author attempted a balanced level between all elements.

I think some things were "solved" a little too superficially and other subjects lacked some of the content I hoped for (like more about Greta's life experiences) but overall, this was a good story. I finished the book happy with the way most things happened but now that a few days have gone by, I keep thinking I'd change one or two other things like how Samuel could have done something more when he learned who was guilty of Greta's unhappiness or how the secondary characters weren't as exploited as they could.
Regardless of that, this was a great surprise and I was very happy to have been given the chance to read it. Who knows how many good books are out there without us even knowing?
Grade: 8/10

Friday, November 2, 2018

Shona Husk - The Goblin King

Cursed by a Druid millennia ago, Roan lives a bleak existence in the Shadowlands, desperately trying to retain his soul and not succumb to the goblin horde. When a beautiful human summons him to grant a wish, he sees a glimmer of hope. But will she ever agree to be his queen?
A man was cursed to the Shadowlands, his heart replaced with a cold lump of gold. In legends he became known as The Goblin King.
For a favored few he will grant a wish. Yet, desperately clinging to his waning human soul, his one own desire remains unfulfilled: A Willing Queen.
But who would consent to move from the modern-day world into the realm of nightmares? No matter how intoxicating his touch, no matter how deep his valor, loving him is dangerous. And the one woman who might dare to try could also destroy him forever.


Comment: I had this book in the pile since 2011. This is yet the case with many others but the reality is I just can't read as quickly as I would like and things pile up. I bet all devoted readers have the same problem... 

This PNR features a man Roan, who was cursed millennium ago to become the goblin king, a magical being that would overcome his human side to devote itself to the search for gold. With him, other men have been caught in the curse and now, when the story begins, Roan looses another of his men, leaving only his own brother Dai.
The story begins with a summoning, and Roan sees himself bound once more to the wishes of Eliza, a teenager who had summoned him before. However, Eliza is now a grown up woman and her summoning happened quite accidentally, for she only wanted to escape her fiancé and wasn't aware when was asking for the goblin king.
Roan feels very differently about Eliza now and part of him wishes loving her and possibly having her love back could actually break the curse... would it work?

Apparently, this first book has a prequel, novella sized, where some details are explained. I wasn't aware of that so I must say from the start that several things made no sense in this book or at least they just didn't feel well explained and it probably had something to do with it.
Another detail I couldn't help but notice was how disjointed the story was and that made it a little difficult to enjoy reading or to root for the characters.

Roan's story is complicated but I don't think I felt as empathy as I could towards him and part of the reason I feel is the way the author wrote things. I never understood why his crimes were that bad and why that specific curse was placed on him. He was then cursed, he had thousands of years to think, to plan, to do countless things and reinvent himself a thousand ways but it feels he is just as angry now as he was when he was cursed. It gave me the sense so long has passed but the hero hasn't changed at all with what happened. I wasn't that captivated by him.

Eliza summons the goblin king (how and why she would know she could do this, I have no idea) for the second time as a mistake and the plot starts from there.
She is in a situation not that easy to get out of and I could feel her fear, her lack of options to change the situation... there were some scenes focused on her POV that I liked and that, ultimately, saved this story from being a negative one for me.  However, Eliza isn't the only character and here were parts I also didn't understand why were used or important for the story.

One element of the plot is that Roan could take Eliza to his goblin king reality and she wouldn't "be" in the human reality anymore. The switch, however, wasn't always that obvious and often I saw myself wondering what was supposed to happen and why were they at a certain place now. 
There were also scenes with the enemy of Roan, the one who put him in the cursed situation and those I think were really uninteresting.

While reading I just kept thinking why does this matter? What's the point of reading about these characters, doing silly things? The world as was used this novel had nothing about it that readers could react to, so many things left unexplained...the goblin legend was used but only partially... I would have preferred Roan to have been cursed into a well structured reality, a world with rules, where goblins were just another type of being... this demand that there's a bad guy vs a good guy as an excuse of plot is quite exhausting and badly used here. How much more interesting it would have been to pt Eliza in the goblin world and see how she would adapt? Just my preference, I know, but it would have been a lot more interesting, I think.

As a romance, I didn't really enjoy this novel. Eliza and Roan as a couple certainly didn't make me eager to know their story, nor was I interested enough in them individually. I think this was mostly a lost opportunity to create an amazing world and show case a type of character not most readers would be interested in. There were some good scenes, some goof thoughts shared via Eliza's experiences here and there but... not enough to make me want to read more.
Grade: 5/10