Tuesday, June 19, 2018

M.K. Eidem - Grim

King Grim Vasteri is the strongest and most feared warrior in the Tornian Empire. He is the King of Luda, blood brother to the Emperor and his line will die with him. He will have no offspring for no female would join with him for once he was scarred he was considered 'unfit'. The Tornian Empire has been dying ever since the great infection caused the birth of females to become a rarity. Since then they have been searching the known universes for compatible females. The Emperor's discovery of a compatible female on a slave ship changed that. He'd ordered Grim to find his Empress' home world so more 'unprotected' females could be obtained, knowing Grim would never be allowed to Join with one.
Lisa Miller is a widowed mother of two little girls, Carly and Miki. Her husband died just a year ago, after a long battle with cancer and she misses him immensely. Friends want her to start dating again but in her heart, she knows there isn't a man on the planet she could love like her Mark. Who could love their girls like their own. Therefore, she'll stay alone.
When Lisa is discovered 'unprotected' at her husband's grave, she wakes on an alien ship heading for an alien world. Refusing to accept this she confronts the large males, demanding she be returned to her children. Seeing his chance to have a female, Grim agrees to accept and protect her offspring, if she agrees to Join with him and only him. Realizing this is the only way she can retrieve her children Lisa agrees and the Tornian Empire changes forever.

Comment: I got interested in this story after reading some good reviews about other sci-fi romance books and convinced H to buddy read it. As usual, I've finished first.
Looking for similar types of stories to things we previously liked can lead to interesting discoveries or not as pleasant ones and in this case I must say the important elements are there but there was a serious under development in what I would consider to be the best course of action for what was the premise.

In this story we meet Lisa Miller, a woman who was kidnapped by aliens from a distant planet where females don't abound and that has forced the (conveniently human-like) aliens to search for other species somewhere else. Earth women are a good match and that's why the aliens have gotten females found alone and "unprotected", to better let them get used to the new world.
Lisa, however, is not alone and she has, in fact, two children. When she says this and the aliens know about it, they still think it's too late to go back but between the other women's reaction and the decision of the alien king on board, they go back.
Grim is the highest member on board and he wouldn't be considered "fit" to have a female and with her, a family of his own. But in his decision to go back to accept the female's children, he does it in the condition Lisa accepts him. But since life and rules are quite different in the planet where they are going to live, will Lisa find happiness?

I can understand why some readers have enjoyed this story. There's something about using all the rules we adhere to and are used to and try to see them through different eyes or even in different contexts, namely humans vs aliens POVs in this book. I too was interested in seeing how to compare the societies and expectations of humans in a planet where so few women (or females, to distinguish) exist and how would they socialize now that things are becoming different.

As long as I kept reading, however, it turned out to be very difficult to ignore the flaws of the story, which I'll enumerate ahead. Despite that, I still consider this to be a successful story, mostly because the fantasy created was fluid and I wanted to see what would happen next. I liked how Lisa was such a determined woman and, as soon as she made her mind, she took charge of things and of those around her. I liked how Lisa was portrayed as being caring and aware of those around her, even the guards and those who wouldn't necessarily need to have contact with her. Her best feature was also her least positive for e but more of that ahead.

I liked how Lisa alone seemed to be the reason for most changes to happen in her new house and new planet as well. I liked how her role seemed to be elevated and how others seemed to improve of become better and happier people around her. I liked how females seemed to be very important in the Tornian empire, even if culturally they weren't as decisive and positive-acting a they could. I liked how Lisa and the other humans worked out as a means to compare. I liked many of Lisa's decisions, actions, routines...
As for the romance with Grim, that was of course too quick but I was more interested in the world building and so on.

Now onto the aspects I'd change or, at least, I felt weren't as well done. I'll summarize them because they could be a lot more detailed:
The writing is simple but the style felt simple. This means the characterization of everyone felt a little amateur, as if the reader wouldn't be able to grasp things without them being obvious.
The story definitely needed editing, which would have made the reading easier.
Lisa was a fascinating character but she also came across as too annoying or know-it-all and that didn't feel very realistic to someone who was kidnapped, who knows she will never see her planet and friends again.
The interactions between characters had its moments but more often were very black and white and that didn't allow for a lot of emotional growth.
The plot isn't complicated but includes situations that could have benefited so much from a stronger and more complex world building. Or maybe it just wasn't well used. 

I think the story has positive things but I wanted to see more things, I wanted better notions of the world building, the "rules", the reasons why now it was a good time for change to happen and not just because of Earth women. I feel like the author had many ideas, knew what she wanted to so with them but didn't have the patience to insert them slowly so there are many things around but not such a cohesive sense of them.
Based on the blurbs of the other installments in the series, this sci-fi story would be pretty much a repetition with different protagonists, as if the notion of expanding or offering different perspectives wasn't contemplated. This was moderately fun to try as a stand-alone but I think I'll stop here.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, June 15, 2018

Jayne Ann Krentz - Truth or Dare

The sexy, suspenseful sequel to Light in Shadow Zoe is an interior designer with a unique sense of style. But even more uncanny is her sense of what's going on under the surface, the secrets a house can hold. At the moment, though, Zoe isn't concerned about a client's space. She's more worried about what's going on in her own house in Whispering Springs, Arizona, where she lives with her new husband, private investigator Ethan Truax. After a whirlwind courtship, and a dangerous adventure, they've gambled on commitment, hoping that their powerful attraction can help them learn to live together despite their utterly opposite personalities. But newlywed life is suddenly interrupted when a shadowy figure from Zoe's past shows up in Whispering Springs, and her closest friend is put at terrible risk. For Zoe and Arcadia Ames share a shocking secret. And as they seek to protect the truth, they must join together, and with Ethan's help, accept a very dangerous dare.

Comment: Last year I've read a book by Jayne Ann Krentz that had been in the pile for a long time and because I liked it, I've decided to read the sequel, this title. I think that both are in the same level, so one can trust on the author's consistency at least. I hoped for something with more impact, though.

In this sequel, we have Ethan and Zoe still married and trying to balance their expectations because they do like one another but both have secret thoughts about themselves they find difficult to share, like Ethan's fear of not being able to be who Zoe needs and Zoe thinking Ethan might never accept her psychic side.
At the same time life goes, including their jobs and routines. Among all this, there are still some loose threads to solve from the previous book regarding a third character and that will put everyone again on guard about possible weird situations that might compromise their safety...

I can't think of a better way to be both vague and to the point about this novel. The story is very much to the point despite the amount of pages but because the biggest complexity is how several situations come together in order for the finale to happen.
I did miss some more...psychological content, to say it simply. I'm glad the characters discussed their issues but since all are clever and well adjusted despite their past experiences, there wasn't much to see or develop regarding their personalities.
I, therefore, had hopes about the problem still to solve and while it did offer some interesting situations, it was a huge letdown how everything was solved.

I think the author used a technique I tend to like, which is how good guys don't fully lose control of the problems, and it's always great to see authors trying to portray this while maintaining the mystery, the suspense. This takes talent.
However, at the same time, mrs Krentz went a little too far because when the biggest enemy is dealt with, when the climax of his actions happens, the solution and final scenes are.... outside the page.
I mean..... we know of what happened, we don't see it. What a disappointment.
And after this, we have left several pages that read like a huge epilogue but that felt too much and not that important considering everything could have been said with a lot less pages.

This book is not perfect, no. I think the chapters aren't all very well interwoven together. But there's something about simplicity and knowing what to expect that made it easy and fluid to read and one didn't need to anticipate negative surprises. I also liked seeing all the characters discuss stuff together, trying to live their lives in peace but while being friends, that was positive. But I got to say, if the focus was on so many people, apart from the protagonists Zoe and Ethan, the others were left a bit too much to the "underdeveloped" stage and I would have liked to see them as complex and detailed as the main couple.

After reading several books by the author (in all her pseudonyms) I can see not only the trend and formulas in her work but also common character-types. This can be good for those who enjoy knowing what to expect and in part I liked that but the stories feel slightly superficial, as if we didn't get to all the layers. I'd change this a bit in her books if I could.
Despite this and my critiques, I had a great time reading and it does feel like spending time with interesting and close people. This is a very nice feeling and while I might not read a JAK as soon, I might dive into some of her other work, just to change genres.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rebecca Zanetti - Shadow Falling

Before the Scorpius Syndrome tore through North America and nearly wiped out the population, Vivienne Wellington was the FBI’s best profiler. The bacteria got her anyway. But she survived. She recovered. And when she woke up from a drug-nightmare of captivity, her skills as a hunter of men had gone from merely brilliant to full-on uncanny.
Her mysterious rescuer wants her to put them to the test. But no matter how tempting he is, with his angel’s eyes and devil’s tongue, Vinnie knows she shouldn’t trust him.
If the FBI were still around they would rate Raze Shadow as one of the bad guys. His military training can’t wipe out his association with the Mercenaries, the most feared gang in a thousand miles. His loyalties are compromised. He won’t even tell Vinnie his real name. But there’s no FBI in the new America of fear and firepower, only instinct and risk. And the way his arms wrap around Vinnie tells its own story. Whatever else Raze is concealing, he can’t hide his desire . . .

Comment: This is the second installment in the Scorpius Syndrome series by author Rebecca Zanetti. I confess I was surprised by having enjoyed the first book in the series because the setting is an apocalyptic world devastated by a virus that killed most of the human population in North America and those who haven't died have turned into sociopaths or were changed somehow. Very few survived the virus and few less haven't been infected.
I usually avoid these scenarios because I can't help but thinking it would focus too much on the negative aspects and how could a HEA really work out but...I'm glad I was proven wrong.

In this second adventure we have the focus on Vivienne Wellington, a woman who used to work as a profiler of sociopaths and serial killers for the FBI. Vinnie has been caught by the ripper (an intelligent sociopath - opposed to those who can't focus) who now is the President but at the end of last book she was rescued by Raze Shadow, a mercenary who then joined the Vanguard.
Raze has wanted to be part of a community again for a long time and he recognizes in the Vanguard a place where he can be useful and feel worthy, same as Vinnie, but he also has a secret agenda about betraying her. However, with time passing and situations developing unexpectedly, will he be able to go with it, especially after realizing Vinnie means too much for him to let her go?

Usually, I prefer novels where we can have a broad sense of the world building, the settings, of everything that surrounds the characters and the places where they live/work/interact, etc.
In this case, because the world out there has been affected so terribly, it's actually interesting to focus on small communities and how they must be ruled in order to work properly for everyone. 
I think this aspect has worked out pretty well and this surprised me. We could have a very claustrophobic scenario but thankfully it isn't so and I believe it has helped me to imagine a wider setting.

As for the plot in this second story, again, I was positively surprised. I liked how we were able to have a good sense of the characters' movements, their tasks, their daily interactions... there was also a certain situation in this book that wasn't completely solved but which allowed for an interesting social situation to be explored. I think the author has thought about possibly realistic situations that might arise n such a scenario and she inserted one of them quite well here. However, part of me would have preferred it to be solved more firmly, without much room for second doubts (which I assume might be reason for further conflicts).
I also liked how more characters were introduced and we now have the idea of which paths might be taken in the following books to make the plot move forward. I'm curious about how the new characters will be placed in contact with the ones we already knew.

There's a romance, of course. Vinnie and Raze have a very quick development in their relationship. One could debate on the emotional aspect of involving oneself in such dire circumstances and making it work but this aspect is obviously enhanced for plot reasons. I still think every romance happens a bit too quickly, even bearing in mind adversity, life is short and so on. But the couple's interactions make for it a bit and I liked how they trusted each other about their inner thoughts and feelings somehow, even if not in the best way they could have, were the situation different.

I was quite eager to keep reading. I don't think this is the best story ever but it was compelling for me, mostly because I wanted to see the characters interact in such a scenario. More than the problems with their enemies (which I understand why exist but could do without), what I want to see is the human behavior, the expectations, the way the characters deal with normality in such a abnormal world.
It was also great to see the characters - mainly the women - put their knowledge and intelligence to use for the goodness of the groups and to find help and necessary things.
I'll keep on reading the series...
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Hester Browne - The Honeymoon Hotel

The Bonneville Hotel is the best kept secret in Mayfair: its art deco suites and glittering ballrooms a former home-away-from-home for royalty and film stars alike. Recent years haven’t been kind, but thanks to Events Manager Rosie, the Bonneville is reclaiming some of its old cachet as a chic retro-glam wedding venue.
While Rosie’s weddings are the ultimate in romance, Rosie herself isn’t; she’s focused on the details, not the dramas. But when the hotel owner appoints his eccentric son Joe to the Bonneville staff, Rosie finds herself up against an unprecedented challenge: a rival whose predilection for the unconventional could derail not only Rosie’s own career, but the most elaborate, high-profile wedding the Bonneville has ever seen.

Comment: I saw a reference to this book in a best-of list from 2014. Since then I bought the book but of course it has been languishing in the pile until a few days ago, when I finally started reading it. I have to say I did like it,despite one or two things I'd change.

In this story we meet Rosie McDonald, an events planner in a hotel in London but in truth she occupies herself the most with weddings, since the hotel is a perfect venue location. Rosie is very professional and she wants to control everything, not only because she wants to do her job well but also because she feels better if she has it all under her control. 
This means meeting Joe Bentley, one of the sons of the hotel's owner and someone quite different from her on her views on how to make a wedding ceremony perfect, things start to become too complicated around her. It will take Rosie some time to make changes in her life so that she can live instead of just going through the motions...while at the same time giving the brides who seek the hotel the expectations they have.

I'd say this book is very clearly a chick lit styled story, more focused on the life of the protagonist and the situations she sees herself in. I guess it's close to woman's fiction because most of the conflict comes from Rosie's feelings about herself and what she is doing with her life and not as much the (silly/comedy) interactions with others.
But I liked Rosie's voice even if - and this could have been done better I think - her personality was a little too bland. She was very controlled, the same way I would consider myself to be, actually, so it was nice to see how she would evolve. But that is the problem, her change or evolution or coming to terms, whatever one might call it, wasn't obvious and meaningful. We have some sentences with her thinking this and that but her life per se wasn't changed in a significant way.

At the same time, I liked the simplicity of this novel. I liked Rosie wasn't a crazy woman doing unlikely or pointless things (like many chick lit heroines) to stand out.
When some conflict situations happened, I also liked how she dealt with them, which shows her stable POVs and attitudes. The problem is that too much makes her feel a little boring. I actually wouldn't have minded if the author had ramped the angst level in specific situations (not the relationship one) just to better present emotion.
As for her job skills, I did like how the author made her feel very competent and caring about what she was doing, even if some characters around her weren't characterized as attentive.

The secondary characters don't seem to have as much personality since we only have Rosie's POV and some situations did feel very limited because of that. It's not that great to have first person narrator you know..., so many of the interactions between characters emphasized some things and not others and of course that was the only way for us to know some things which means, again, reductive.
Still, I liked to see Rosie's friends being an important part of the journey and I was glad there weren't many of them to be distracting.

There's a supposed "vibe" about Rosie and Joe. They are at odds with each other about how to see weddings and their meaning and how they should be performed but that's to accentuate the fact they might be a good case of opposites attracted. Rosie is in a relationship when the story starts and she has baggage so I did love the fact nothing instantaneous happens between them, but when things change and it does it doesn't feel "cheap" or only convenient. But perhaps a few more scenes of them debating their feelings more obviously would have been better.

All in all, this is a very obvious British styled novel, meaning, one can recognize many elements common in novels written by British authors or set in the UK. Sometimes, the style is too heavily obvious that the story feels "hijacked" but this time the British flavor felt just perfect.
This is not the best story ever but I had a great time and I can understand why its balance could justify its presence in people's best of lists.
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Laura Lee Guhrke - The Truth About Love and Dukes

Dear Lady Truelove . . . I have fallen in love, truly and completely in love, for the first time. The man whom I hold in such passionate regard, however, is not of my station. He is a painter, a brilliant artist. Needless to say, my family would not approve . . .
Henry, Duke of Torquil, wouldn’t be caught reading the wildly popular “Dear Lady Truelove” column, but when its advice causes his mother to embark on a scandalous elopement, an outraged Henry decides the author of this tripe must be stopped before she can ruin any more lives. Though Lady Truelove’s identity is a closely guarded secret, Henry has reason to suspect the publisher of the notorious column, beautiful and provoking Irene Deverill, is also its author.
For Irene, it’s easy to advise others to surrender to passion, but when she meets the Duke of Torquil, she soon learns that passion comes at a price. When one impulsive, spur-of-the-moment kiss pulls her into a scorching affair with Henry, it could destroy her beloved newspaper, her career, and her independence. But in the duke’s arms, surrender is so, so sweet .

Comment: After reading some positive reviews on this book, I have decided to add it to my list. Now that a few months have passed, I finally started the book and I must say I was more positively surprised than what I really expected. I had read another book by the author a long time ago and from what I remember it wasn't as captivating, but this time I think I'll be a fan of this series.

In this story we meet Henry, the duke of Torquil, as he decides to investigate the silly column "dear mrs Truelove" in a newspaper after he recognizes a story very much alike his own mother's, since she wants advice in how to deal with a potential marriage with someone not in her class. Henry and his siblings are obviously nervous and he goes to the newspaper to question the owner and the woman who gave his mother the advice to "just follow" her heart.
Irene Deverill is a feminist who has taken over the family business to make ends meet and to finally give some stability to her family since her father drinks and can't really help. The gossip and the truelove column are the most sought over items in her newspaper and she knows it can provide for them for a long time so she doesn't think about letting it go, much less after an aristocrat demands it so. The problem is that the duke doesn't play fair and Irene and her younger sister see themselves in a complicated situation, all because of the duke. But as close proximity makes them butt heads, it also makes Irene realize there's more about the duke than his status...

Reading the blurb and my own poor description above, one probably imagines this is another silly story about unlikely characters and while I must say it's necessary to suspend belief for a while because some situations can't be that realistic (dukes wouldn't interact like that with common people I'm sure), at the same time the author was able to write scenes where the characters talk and discuss their lives, status, positions and experiences so that the physical relationship isn't only lust or a convenient excuse to make them closer but a consequence of true feelings.

For this alone, I would be able to say this is a successful story. I really liked it that we were able to get to know both Henry and Irene very well, even if they acted a bit stubborn at times. Of course we tend to see things through out contemporary eyes but this is an historical. I admit some things felt like modern people wearing old fashioned clothes but the settings provide a lot of interesting scenes for the characters to interact in and that does help them improve and see the others in different ways. I think this is a thoughtful story with characters who do have a brain and I liked this more seriously discussed type of plot where we see things happen in an obvious way.

Irene and Henry are very different, so I could see some opposites attract here but they are also from different sides of the social hierarchy and I do love to see how people can still find common ground and compromise and love while everything around them wasn't supposed to work.
Henry is a fascinating hero, and we put them in such a status not just because he is rich or because he helps the heroine somehow but because this time he talks to her, he tries to understand her side and he also presents good arguments on why he occupies a certain position and can't simply ignore it. He is actually a very sweet man...
Irene is more vibrant, sure of herself and independent. It took her a bit longer to accept a certain fact about their relationship but I also understand her POV and she isn't as generally described as usually feminists are in these books, she has opinions, she makes herself heard but she isn't so aggressive she dismisses others or their feelings completely. Her falling in love and accepting Henry did feel very sweet as well. I did like their relationship overall.

The secondary characters were interesting, did offer a lot more than just supporting roles. For instance, I liked how Henry's mother was portrayed and how everyone was very rational in their opinions, ideas, so on...
The tone of the story isn't that serious, there are several routine scenes and here and there some comedy feels but overall, I liked how the story was played. Very different from my memories of the other book by the author I've read. As if a mature person wrote this and was able to convey the message...I can't explain well.

I liked this story, there were many elements I enjoyed, there are flaws as well, some parts weren't as well paced, but all things considered, I had a great time reading. I'm certainly going to keep up with this series.
Grade: 8/10

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Lilah Pace - His Royal Secret

James, the handsome, cosmopolitan Prince of Wales, is used to being in the public eye. But he's keeping a king-sized secret...James, next in line for the throne, is gay.
He’s been able to hide his sexual orientation with the help of his best friend and beard, Lady Cassandra. Sometimes he feels like a coward for not coming out, but he daren’t risk losing the crown. If he did, the succession would fall on his deeply troubled younger sister, Princess Amelia. To protect her, James is willing to live a lie.
While on holiday, he meets Benjamin Dahan—a rugged international reporter with a globe-trotting, unattached life—who catches far more than James's eye. And when Ben is transferred to London, it seems fate may finally be smiling on James.
But what began as a torrid fling grows into something far more intimate and powerful. Soon James will have to decide who he is, what he wants from life and love, and what he’s willing to sacrifice for the truth...

Comment: While in an online conversation with someone, I was told about this book and what a great story it was. I don't mind royal themed books but usually the HEAs aren't done in the ways I would expect do I also don't look for them.
I was willing to try this one, though, because it featured two men.

In this book we have James, the prince of Wales as a gay man living in a lie not only to met expectations and suppositions about royal lines but mainly because he couldn't come out, eventually lose the possibility to lose the crown to his younger sister, who wouldn't be able to take on the kingdom and stay sane.
These situations weight in on James but he focuses on his duty and the things he accomplishes to make it bearable despite past disappointments. This changes, however, the day he meets Ben in one of his rare holiday escapes. Things end up stressful between them but James meets Ben again at a change encounter in a formal dinner event and their relationship rekindles. But with so many issues to deal with, can James and Ben find common ground?

This story is clearly marketed as an alternative reality to the known lives of British royalty and in this world, James, as the crown prince, is gay and hiding his feelings because of duty, which includes a best friend who helped him give the public the idea of a lengthy relationship. But James isn't happy about the situation, only feels he can't have options nor would he be able to come out publicly due to other problems and not his own self.

I actually liked the story, this was the first time I've read something by the author and I liked the writing style. The words flow easily and I think the author was competent in conveying the characters' feelings and especially James' need to find happiness while still keeping up with appearances. I can only guess how hard it is for famous people who just want to have their privates lives like that but are constantly pressured to be on the spotlight. (not the ones who pretend to be annoyed but really love the attention)
I think the author chose interesting scenes to let us know about these tings and I liked I never got the feeling there could be other things to focus on.

James is a fascinating character, he has flaws of course but his position in life can be understandably difficult when it comes to the daily things most people take for granted, like privacy. I can also accept the fact his choices wouldn't be immediately able to be different no matter how easy it is to think them.
Ben was a bit more difficult to read but I also think it was a bit on purpose. He has had some issues in his past that were emotionally complicated but I liked how he still read as a compassionate man, how he could see James' side of things even if he feels he wanted more or less, depending on his moods. Part of the fun of seeing their relationship develop is precisely the doubts and the almost sensation they are falling in love without thinking that until it gets to the point if feels inevitable, as if it's something meant to be.

There are scenes that seem to be a bit more unlikely to believe in but all's fair in fiction, I'd say, if it follows minimal reason. There is more to this story than just the romance, even if that can be seen as the best part, of course. I liked how the secondary characters feel well done, especially James' interactions with his sister and best friend. I can imagine these details aren't there just to fill up space and they will be important characters in the sequel as well.

I liked the angst in this book. It's not exaggerated nor is is used just to move the plot forward. 
For instance, I liked the author thought about the elements included in the story and gave them meaning. I'm curious to see how the characters' decisions n this book will have a follow up in the next one. Thinking from a unique fairytale POV, I do hope things progress on a certain way but I can already imagine the unsolved issues which felt like the things I'd change in this book being key in the next and I only hope the author solves them well.
Can't wait to read it next month. As for this, a great read.
Grade: 8/10

Friday, June 8, 2018

TA Pratt - Blood Engines

Meet Marla Mason-smart, saucy, slightly wicked witch of the East Coast....
Sorcerer Marla Mason, small-time guardian of the city of Felport, has a big problem. A rival is preparing a powerful spell that could end Marla's life-and, even worse, wreck her city. Marla's only chance of survival is to boost her powers with the Cornerstone, a magical artifact hidden somewhere in San Francisco. But when she arrives there, Marla finds that the quest isn't going to be quite as cut-and-dried as she expected...and that some of the people she needs to talk to are dead. It seems that San Francisco's top sorcerers are having troubles of their own-a mysterious assailant has the city's magical community in a panic, and the local talent is being (gruesomely) picked off one by one.
With her partner-in-crime, Rondeau, Marla is soon racing against time through San Francisco's alien streets, dodging poisonous frogs, murderous hummingbirds, cannibals, and a nasty vibe from the local witchery, who suspect that Marla herself may be behind the recent murders. And if Marla doesn't figure out who is killing the city's finest in time, she'll be in danger of becoming a magical statistic herself...

Comment: This book is one of the several ebooks I had had in the pile the longest. Well before I even got an e-reader, when I read .pdf files in my computer, I got several ebooks in the genres I liked the most at the time, PNR and UF. But some were a bit forgotten, then I'd get to other things first and time passed by. I'm trying to read them though, just to not have wasted the effort it took to get them. However, perhaps because they no longer strike my fancy or perhaps because I wouldn't enjoy them no matter the time I were to pick to read them, some have been quite a let down.

In this book by author TA Pratt - this being my first attempt on reading something by him - we have Marla Mason as a protagonist. Marla is a witch and she is on a mission to find a way to defeat a rival before she casts a spell to overtake the city Marla is the sort of manager of. In order to achieve her goal, Marla travels with her companion Randeau to find a cornerstone, a magical artifact that will allow her to battle her enemy. The problem is that the stone is hidden and those who could help her find it end up dead within hours of meeting Marla. Will she be able to solve her problems before she looses "her" city for good?

This is an UF story with many of the elements one can find in the genre. It was interesting to recognize several of the expected details like the powerful main character, a funny sidekick, a quest that isn't easily solved but of course the heroine/protagonist gets there quicker than most, some red herrings along the way, some disappointments before the end where gloriously things are solved. This story isn't heavy on romantic elements which I sort of missed but perhaps it's explained for being a first book in a series or because the author is a man, I can't say.

However, despite the winning elements that usually sustain a plot like the one here, the specifications and original details weren't something that won me over and to be honest I was quite eager to just have the book finished.
I think my biggest issue was with the characters themselves. And if one can't enjoy spending time reading about the characters then it's difficult to have a better liking to what's on the page. 
This doesn't mean the writing wasn't intriguing but the personality of the characters and the world building weren't appealing enough for me to, for instance, want to keep reading about Marla.

Marla is the main character, she is clever and witty, powerful and kick-ass but I didn't like her. I think the little clues about her personality, about her past and her motivations didn't endear her to me at all. I felt her character was mostly dubious regarding morals and the concepts of right and wrong and I couldn't feel I had a grip on her true feelings. It was all about her task, her need to win over something even if for that she had to go over some people. Although this wasn't the case of a sanguine attitude all the time, several information about her past choices, her way of acting just made me think she was not likable and I didn't really want to invest in understanding her, even if she becomes "better" in following books.

For me, one of the best things about any book is the dichotomy between the plot and the character's decisions throughout. So, in this book we have a plot with many harsh situations, with a little too raw scenes and sometimes secondary characters (mainly the enemies) and not always common or stable occurrences that could show us the character's quieter sides. Unlike other UF series, where we can also have complex plots but in between more domestic os sweet descriptions of the character's lives/dreams/ideals or things alike these lines, in here we didn't. Why should I care about Marla? Why should I accept what she's doing is the best course of action? I just didn't care enough to be bothered and because several scenes were unappealing, I just wanted to get over with it.

After Marla's adventures combined with some scenes that include a lot of different things, I can grant the story that (like the cannibal character), and also after the introduction of too many details to fully remember, the book is ending and what we have been sort of promised from the start - Marla finding the stone to defeat another witch - actually ends in a very unexpected way but by no means, an amazing one. In reality, it's very anti climatic and I thought to myself why I bothered.

I'm debating more and more my personal rule of finishing all books I read. It seems (usually) older readers are right: with time and age one has less patience for unappealing things.
I did finish this book but since I didn't enjoy the way the characters were portrayed nor how they behaved in general, I won't continue this series.
But it's a cute cover and some little details were original.
Grade: 3/10

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Jaci Burton - Melting the Ice

Everything’s coming together for budding fashion designer Carolina Preston. Only months away from having her own line, she could use some publicity. That’s when her brother suggests his best friend as a model - hockey player Drew Hogan.
Carolina and Drew already have a history - a hot one, back in college. Unforgettable for Carolina, but for Drew, just another slap shot. This time, though, it’s different. His perfect body would be for professional use only. This time, she could use him.
Drew is all for it. He’s looking forward to the exposure. Plus, it would give him a chance to prove to Carolina that he’s changed. If only he could thaw her emotions, convince her to let down her guard and let him in just one more time...
Comment: This the seventh installment in the Play by Play series by author Jaci Burton. Of all the stories so far, I must say the overall opinion is that this is too average, too clichéd and not completely appealing all the time. I'm at a point where I keep reading only to get books out of my TBR list as an accomplished task, even if one or two titles have been better than others.
This one wasn't that great...

In this story we have Carolina, the youngest sister of the hero from the previous book, and Drew, one of his best friends.
While at college, Carolina decided one day to seduce Drew and they spent a night together but Drew left without any further communication so although no promises were exchanged, Carolina still felt a bit rejected. They have kept a cordial relationship over the years even if Carolina never forgot that one time.
Now that her father is the vice president, her brother is engaged and happy and her own professional life is going on a new positive adventure, Carolina and Drew are brought together once more by Gray, her brother. Caroline needs models for her new fashion collection debut and Drew can be a great outdoor model, allying his good looks with his sports' fame to better start up her sports collection. But getting so close again will revive the sparks of that one night in the past?

As I've said, this story was very average. I can't help thinking the plot was boring and the character's actions and interactions didn't bring anything new to the table, only more sex and clichéd ideas. I wasn't even sold on the fact they were falling in love. Nothing emotional or deep was obvious and no matter how often we read their feelings were changing, that was not easily seen. When a book is so mono toned I wonder why going through all this trouble... I certainly would change things and that can't be a good reply to a work that has certainly taken the author time and effort.

The plot is rather thin. There are several scenes that I assume try to convince us both protagonists work hard in their jobs but I think they were mostly impersonal to the point any character could do them. Several things also happen to convey this need for the protagonists to interact, like fitting for clothes, like Drew spending Christmas with Caroline's family, like Carolina watching Drew's games to get "inspiration" for her sports collection... the thing is, all these things are perfectly acceptable and doable in this context but that's it. There's no advancing because of these things. I'm being picky, I suppose, I already knew about the writing style beforehand, but it still felt like a letdown because the characters were quite boring, especially together.
Another detail that doesn't always bother me but I can't help but notice is the lack of more sports scenes or related situations...this is a sports themed romance after all...

The books in this series are also labeled as erotic which means we should expect sexy times. Despite those scenes (which I skipped since they all look the same), I also expected some connection between the characters because of that. But the sex scenes didn't seem to improve anything or enhance their sentimental situation. The characters didn't seem to become that better together because they were sharing something that brought them closer. I also felt a little annoyed Carolina's feelings of sexual attraction were always so obvious to Drew. Do people really walk around always feeling horny and letting it be that obvious all the time? It felt silly, to be honest. Of course Drew would have sexy thoughts about Carolina as well and I won't even go that way just to not make myself even more annoyed.

I've come to realize this type of books aren't really something I appreciate that much. Sometimes books surprise me (I liked the previous one much more, for instance) but more often I'm left thinking there should be more to them. I need some substance in books and while some comedies manage that even without serious issues, just random repetitive things don't do it. I have one more book in the series to read but after that one I think I'll let it go.
Grade: 5/10

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Viola Grace - Two Parts Demon

Benny is swept on a quest to save her parents, and binding herself to her agents is all part of the plan. Who knew it was permanent?
Benny has completed the XIA course that will let her work with the agents she became close to while hunting a serial killer. It will take effect the moment they are cleared of demonic influence. Nothing like knowing that your blood is despised to make a girl feel wanted.
After a night on the town with Freddy, Benny runs into the agents, and they are not only hogging her favourite taco joint, but they are interested in her social status. She is about to say yes to whatever they can come up with when she gets a call from her house, and the night goes downhill from there.
Karaoke, kidnapping and binding spells make up the rest of the night when Benny must head to the demon zone and Argyle, Smith and Tremble refuse to let her go alone.
Nothing like jumping into a dimensional prison to lock in a first date.

Comment: After being positively surprised by how I liked the first part of this An Obscure Magic trilogy back in January, I knew I'd eventually get to the rest of the story and this second installment ended being my last read of May.

In this second part of the story, Benny is applying to be part of the agents' team she has helped in the previous book and to do that she must complete a course. While she does get approved, she can barely celebrate it before another family crisis happens and there goes Benny to the rescue. This time she has the help of her friend Freddy and, of course, the three agents she sort of bonded with. However, the new task Benny needs to face will be dangerous and she will do what she must to secure those around her can survive, even if that includes to soul bond with all the agents that seem to be her perfect match. But if things do solve themselves, what will Benny do then?

Yes, I can imagine what I wrote immediately makes you think about menages but the reality isn't as simplistic as that. And again, the writing can be quite silly and without any great literary ability but I still liked reading again about Benny's adventures.
I'd say these stories are good palate cleaners, which means they can so impersonal and without emotional investment, one can be entertained without worries.
However, this doesn't mean the story is vapid or stupid; only that it doesn't have any real purpose and can be interpreted differently by who reads. For me, they read as an easy stop in a paranormal world with lots of details to think about and a possible love story featuring several people.

Although I wouldn't say it is a good idea to read this with any serious expectations, it's still fun to think about a broader perspective on this world and it does help that the author simplifies everything, from motivations to plot maneuvers, which means this is very easy to read despite the details.

Because this is a short book, the events do seem to happen very quickly. There's also a complete lack of conflict and tension and things get solved pretty quickly. But I think it's still a good way to decompress and just read something that ends up positive.
I can understand the disappointments, though. There isn't much to go on and the characters are seriously under developed but the next installment will have interact more so hopefully this element can have some sort of closure too.

I can't even explain why this little story managed to feel positive for me while several recent PNR reads have not and with a lot more page count and dilemmas to overcome. But I suppose sometimes one can't explain it, one just reads it and personally, I do feel glad I could try this one, despite its major flaws when comparing to other work.
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Tess Gerritsen - I Know a Secret

Two separate homicides, at different locations, with unrelated victims, have more in common than
just being investigated by Boston PD detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles. In both cases, the bodies bear startling wounds—yet the actual cause of death is unknown. It’s a doubly challenging case for the cop and the coroner to be taking on, at a fraught time for both of them. As Jane struggles to save her mother from the crumbling marriage that threatens to bury her, Maura grapples with the imminent death of her own mother—infamous serial killer Amalthea Lank.
While Jane tends to her mother, there’s nothing Maura can do for Amalthea, except endure one final battle of wills with the woman whose shadow has haunted her all her life. Though succumbing to cancer, Amalthea hasn’t lost her taste for manipulating her estranged daughter—this time by dangling a cryptic clue about the two bizarre murders Maura and Jane are desperately trying to solve.
But whatever the dying convict knows is only a piece of the puzzle. Soon the investigation leads to a secretive young woman who survived a shocking abuse scandal, an independent horror film that may be rooted in reality, and a slew of martyred saints who died cruel and unusual deaths. And just when Rizzoli and Isles think they’ve cornered a devilish predator, the long-buried past rears its head—and threatens to engulf more innocent lives, including their own.

Comment: This is the latest installment of the Rizzoli and Isles series by incredible author Tess Gerritsen. The book was published last year but since my collection is in paperback, I've waited for this edition to be released.

In this 12th adventure, Jane and Maura have a new case of people being murdered and although at first it seemed nothing was in common between the deaths, some clues finally reveal the secret behind several situations and the truth is quite disturbing. But using method and dedication both ladies will find the truth and catch the villain before someone else innocent is killed too.

Tess Gerritsen is an amazing writer. Her books make sense because she has the medical knowledge for many things to make sense and to be well explained to the average reader. But she also has talent to portray things in such a way that everything seems it couldn't be presented any way else! I find this fascinating and she certainly knows how to put things in a good sequence.

Once again, two details stood out for me and made me really enjoy this story:
1) the mixing up of the murders investigation with the domestic lives of the protagonists. I know this annoys some hard core fans of thrillers but I love it, I really appreciate being a part of the main characters like this.
2) Everything we are told has two sides and this amazing author can write in such a way we are NOT supposed to take one instead of the other. We get all the information about things and we make up our mind in general and in relation to the context in hand. In this investigation we get to know a lot about the characters, about those who died, those who are key to understand them (like parents and friends) and it's truly a fascinating exercise to wonder about the psychology of all this. I think Tess Gerritsen is perfection incarnated in how she manages to convey things not in terms of morals or horror scenes but the whys, the hows, the details about this and that.

These two details combined make an incredible story and I really liked the way the author has taught us some things at the same time. The investigation isn't as secretive as others were (to my understanding) and I think one key detail was a little easy to predict from a certain point on, which retracted some impact from the end but it was interesting the same.

I'd actually say what this book lacked was a bigger oomph in the end. The villain was punished but there was a detail left in the air, a detail without a moral resolution that, despite interesting on its own, felt rather diminishing when thinking about the overall plot: yes, morally challenged people or sociopaths as one might prefer to call them can be harmless but there's a fine line and I think the author could have done something better regarding this.

Well, fans of the series can't complain I think for for a new reader this isn't the best book to start. ll the murder investigations are started and finished in most books but there are tons of things to read between the lines and I swear it's worth it to go through all of them!
Another winner, for the most part, for me.
Grade: 8/10

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Connie Brockway - My Dearest Enemy

Breathtakingly romantic, startlingly original, Connie Brockway's novels have captured the hearts of readers and the raves of critics everywhere.  Now she brings you a unique and unforgettable love story that begins with a series of letters between a world-weary adventurer and the woman whose love brings him home.
Dear Mr.  Thorne,
        I give you fair warning.  I intend to do whatever I must to abide by your late uncle's will and win Mill House.  Though I know he never expected me to succeed, and for whatever reasons is using me to shame you, I accept his challenge.  For the next five years, I will profitably manage this estate.  I will deliver to you an allowance and I will prove that women are just as capable as men.  And at the end, I shall accept Mill House as my reward.
Lillian Bede

My Dear Miss Bede,
        Forgive me if I fail to shudder.  Pray, do whatever you bloody well want, can, or must.  I shall look forward to making your acquaintance in my lawyer's office five years hence, when I take possession of Mill House.
Avery Thorne

Comment: This is the first book by this author I've tried. I had heard of this author before, she has quite a name among the romance community for a few months ago I got this book from amazon marketplace and now I decided to try it and see if I'd like it as much as some of the people whose tastes re similar to mine did.

In this book we meet Lily Bede, a young woman who, though certain circumstances, receives an odd inheritance: if, for a determined period of time she can make a profit of a certain propriety, she will be the heir of it after the said time. If not, it will be the closest male of the late owner who will inherit. The family connection is complicated but Lily feels she will try her best to be successful. However, she also exchanges letters with her enemy and contender for the propriety, Avery Thorne.
With time it seems their debates over everything get more and more outrageous but when they finally meet in person, can they ignore what has become obvious to all around them?

In this book we have one of the best tropes of romance (for me at least) which is the enemies to lovers. Along with opposites attracted, difference of classes, ugly ducking, marriage of convenience and sometimes the fish out of water - when one of the characters doesn't feel they belong to a certain setting - this trope is one of those that usually works as catnip for me.
This means I was very eager to see how the characters would interact, how the scenes with them would show us the way things were between them and I was really looking for to see the battle of will and the eventual realization they were actually falling in love, as if they couldn't help it. I really like it when an author manages to convey these ideas well.

The story is  quite rich in all the details I've mentioned but at the same time, no matter how romantic some things were, no matter how understandable Lily's reasons wee for her to take a position in being proper, in being independent, in being thoughtful in relation to her surroundings, I still felt like she was a little too stubborn. This is what makes me more annoyed at myself: I think a contemporary heroine like Lily would be perfection for me, but in an historical setting, I would have preferred her to have understood her feelings a little sooner, only because when she finally does, we have the epilogue right after and it almost feels like we, the reader, couldn't "enjoy" it.
In contemporaries, an independent woman is more acceptable to me to like if she waits to be confident of her feelings, of her choices, or if she doesn't give in to the hero just because.

Avery is a good hero, though. Sweet, but with flaws. I was really happy with the way he saw Lily, how he fell for her and instead of being all moody about it or pretending it was not happening, he quite quickly admitted to himself he was.
The relationship between them developed in a sort of predictable way but it was sweet to see. I think, however, that some situations, mostly emotional understandings, took a bit too long to happen, especially after repeated scenes/dialogues where they debate why they can't simply be together as a married couple. Then, the solution is too quick and removes some intensity from all the prior drama and I felt this could have been done better.

Nevertheless all my pet peeves about this, I still enjoyed reading it, I still had a good time getting to know these characters and of course I liked the epilogue although it also focused in things/people I'd switch with the main couple instead but...entertaining for the most part, yes.
Grade: 7/10