Friday, March 22, 2019

Anne Bishop - Wild Country

There are ghost towns in the world—places where the humans were annihilated in retaliation for the slaughter of the shape-shifting Others.
One of those places is Bennett, a town at the northern end of the Elder Hills—a town surrounded by the wild country. Now efforts are being made to resettle Bennett as a community where humans and Others live and work together. A young female police officer has been hired as the deputy to a Wolfgard sheriff. A deadly type of Other wants to run a human-style saloon. And a couple with four foster children—one of whom is a blood prophet—hope to find acceptance.
But as they reopen the stores and the professional offices and start to make lives for themselves, the town of Bennett attracts the attention of other humans looking for profit. And the arrival of the Blackstone Clan, outlaws and gamblers all, will uncover secrets…or bury them.

Comment: This is the second installment of the Wold of the Others series by Anne Bishop. Or, like me, some readers just think of it as installment #7 of the Others series. The author's writing is quite unique and the some times apparent simplicity of the interactions between her characters is a very fascinating detail to focus on and one that compels me to read each time a new books comes out.

In this book we have the tale of how the city of Bennet is slowly being re-shaped into normalcy again, after the events that happened through other books. It's as if this is a sort of parallel story along Etched in Bone, although most of the plot doesn't really match the plot of the other book.
Bennet is a city that suffered a lot of revenge by the Others and ow they are controlling the town and those who are eligible to live in it again, especially humans.
Among the several new characters being introduced, is Jana Paniccia, the first female cop to be graduated and someone who will have an important role in the city, especially because she can act as a sort of liaison between the city's rulers (Others) and most of the inhabitants (humans). 
But there is danger coming to Bennet and will Jana and those she becomes friend with enough to help protecting it?

I've been reading a few comments here and there about this book and some readers mention a detail, others noticed another and after seeing some sentences I have to say they managed to touch some of the aspects I couldn't exactly put into words which have made me think about this book and why, although I still enjoyed the experience of reading, it felt a little less good than the previous stories in the series.

After finishing the book, what I thought the most about is how the stories feel too much alike. This was already obvious from book #1 to the one after and so on but in this one, somehow, it felt more obvious. I can appreciate the fact the author is true to her own world and rules and set ideas but once again we have a group of characters who band together to defend a place/a person against another group that is clearly the enemy.

I can also find some interest in the fact the bad guys are always humans, a message which the author doesn't certainly disguise regarding mankind's negative actions and all the wrongs done.
I just think that, in this mission to stress out how weak humans can be (but sly and mean and cause for harm and evil) compared to Others, it also can feel a little bit condescending to use them as opposition when there are also good humans in the stories. What I mean is, the "good human characters" that by not being special (like human Meg is) are still used to make a point and this makes the series feel like a bad lesson at times. I wish the good humans and Others had a more balanced relationship and that the strong or important good humans weren't only those in need or in a weaker position.

Another element that wasn't such a decisive element but that in this book I thought more and more as the plot moved forward is the limitation the author created by having the rule that Others and humans cannot form a life long romantic partnership/relationship. They are friends, they can be occasional lovers but they are so different they can't be each other's mates (in the PNR sense of the word).
It's positive yes, that the author has maintained her own rules but then some relationships, which I assume are supposed to stress out the ability everyone, both human and Other, have to be respectful or considerate of the other or even accepting of someone once an enemy and know a valuable member of the community, simply lack even more emotional levels because they can't be more than friends. 
In this book, the author actually introduced interesting elements regarding relationships but I don't think I feel as happy about the state of things knowing a "good human" and an Other wouldn't be mates.

The author is very talented, I've said this practically in every comment about all the books by her I've read so far. I think the positive aspects surpass the negatives by far. However, even though her novels aren't pure romances but fantasy, I still expected a bit more in that regard, especially comparing to some of her previous work in other series.
Another issue when it comes to her writing is the fact, plot wise, Others are so worried about maintaining the order, about letting it be obvious who's boss, how can the "bad humans" always get to far with the mean and destructive plans? I can get why but it is something easily changeable in the plots if needed...

All in all, this was great but it did feel a little bit more angsty, a little unfair, a little heavier on the sadness and hopelessness of some facts (and some not necessary, even if the author wanted to shock readers with violence and death) and to be very honest, I liked reading the book mostly for the community feel rather than the characters. I would change a few things and that would change the book so, I liked it but I didn't love it as I did some of her other work.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A question

As I get older, the more I notice that my concentration on reading if there is more noise around or if the TV is on or even if I have another task on gong, decreases.

Does anyone else feel this? Do you still find it easy to be in a noisy place/situation and focus easily on your reading? Does it depend on the book and how much you enjoy it?
Please, share your opinion!
image here

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

TBR Challenge: Mimi Matthews - The Matrimonial Advertisement

Helena Reynolds will do anything to escape her life in London, even if that means traveling to a remote cliffside estate on the North Devon coast and marrying a complete stranger. But Greyfriar's Abbey isn't the sort of refuge she imagined. And ex-army captain Justin Thornhill--though he may be tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome--is anything but a romantic hero.
Justin has spent the last two decades making his fortune, settling scores, and suffering a prolonged period of torture in an Indian prison. Now, he needs someone to smooth the way for him with the villagers. Someone to manage his household--and warm his bed on occasion. What he needs, in short, is a wife and a matrimonial advertisement seems the perfect way to acquire one.
Their marriage was meant to be a business arrangement and nothing more. A dispassionate union free from the entanglements of love and affection. But when Helena's past threatens, will Justin's burgeoning feelings for his new bride compel him to come to her rescue? Or will dark secrets of his own force him to let her go?

Comment: This month the theme for the TBR challenge is Favorite Trope. This book has a little mix of several tropes I usually enjoy in romances, such as the beauty/beast, mail order bride and marriage of convenience, heroine who needs help, protagonists who can act shy... perhaps it's more of a mix between tropes and plot devices but all together made me really eager to try this book and, as it probably happens with all readers, I imagined certain scenarios in my head of where this might lead...

In this story we meet Helena Raynolds, a woman who replies and accepts a marriage proposal in the newspaper and travels from London to north Devon in order to meet her future husband. Helena is desperate to find a home faraway from London and when she realizes her husband to be is Justin Thornhill, a man who used to be a soldier and was in India just like her brother, her hopes get high she might escape what chases her.
Justin only wanted a wife with no fuss, no courtships and complicated steps so he agreed with his solicitor to put the add on the newspaper. Having been badly burned while in India and living in a place in need of work, with no balls and no parties in the horizon, he hoped his wife would be someone a little older and without much vanity. Helena is beautiful and refined but he still accepts marrying her because he knows she is a woman in need of help and he wouldn't be able to ignore that. Can they find enough common ground to make their marriage work?

If readers were to pile up the elements in the books they read and divide them by likability, regarding this book I'd have a good sized pile with positive aspects.
However, thinking about the set and the final picture, to say so, this book felt a little too bland in the romance aspect. In part it's the fact this could be labeled clean by some people, the protagonists only kiss, but then there are a few passages, a few hints, a few intoned words that suggest differently and I don't think that, in general, cohesion was achieved.

Helena is a likable protagonist and Justin even more so, especially because he has that characteristic of some heroes which is the need to protect others even at their own expense, a factor often mentioned in the plot itself.
I liked Helena and I think the reasons she had, in an historical context, to run and seek protection, even through marriage to a stranger of whom she only required kindness from were understandable and well inserted into the story. It made me think about how people with diseases/conditions not yet understood or correctly diagnosed were treated and how some not ill people were caught in the unknown and mistreated.
I think the setting up of the main plot in Devon and of who Justin is and how Helena makes him come out of shell just by being herself were details the author thought of nicely. 

As a whole, the story was fluid enough and captivating to read about, the characters had their own unique features which I liked knowing about as the plot developed. However, when I had to stop reading for some reason it wasn't difficult. At the same time this was a fascinating story, with enough elements on the protagonist's pasts to make them a good match emotionally, there is some vibe or tone here that didn't make me appreciate the book as much as it probably deserves (other readers have better written opinions on why this book is a successful one).

In this book we have third person narrator but we can follow each protagonist's thoughts, often alternatively.
When the story begins - I had not seen this was also labeled "clean romance" - we get from the hero's thoughts that he wants a wife mostly for company and sex. The way things are written, it becomes obvious this would be an important part of the relationship for him (and I could imagine how it might bring them closer somehow) but as the story develops, his hero complex takes precedence and nothing happens between them except kissing. 
I can understand the author's choices in how the romance was conducted. But at first the tone was so insistent on a subject that the fact it got practically ignored until the very end felt like it didn't matter. If so, why bringing it to the open? The story could have been focused on Helena's plights the same without it. 
This might be a minor detail for some, but for me it affected how I saw what was happening. To be clear, I'm not saying the story should have had sex scenes (although sexual tension could be sexy and clean at the same time) but if that is the way things were, then some details can be misleading or silly in the bigger scheme of things. That's why I said there are some hints and a certain tone in some moments of the story that don't seem to match the rest. I get it but still.

All things considered, this was a good enough story but there's some emotion missing, some notions I didn't see developed as I imagined when I read about the tropes and situations that would be portrayed here. Nevertheless, it's a good historical that touches several details most readers would enjoy.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Anne Youngson - Meet Me at the Museum


Tina and Kristian thought their love stories were over. Each on the other side of 60, they have lost a best friend and a wife, the ambitions of their youth, their hopes for a fresh start. Yearning for connection, they strike up a yearlong correspondence, brought together by a shared fascination with the Tollund Man, subject of Seamus Heaney’s famous poem. As they open up to one another about their lives—daily routines, travel, nature, beauty, work, family—these two strangers become friends and then, perhaps, something more.

Full of insight, humor, and candor, Tina and Kristian’s letters are a testament to the joy that can come from the meeting of two intensely curious minds. Anne Youngson’s Meet Me at the Museum is a celebration of long letters, kindred spirits, and the possibility of writing a new story for yourself, at any stage of life.

Comment: When I first knew about this book what made me interested was the fact it was an epistolary story and I tend to like stories presented like that.
So, I checked the blurb on the goodreads site and it said: 
"When Tina Hopgood writes a letter of regret to a man she has never met, she doesn't expect a reply.
When Anders Larsen, a lonely museum curator, answers it, neither does he.
They're both searching for something - they just don't know it yet.
Anders has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future. Tina is trapped in a marriage she doesn't remember choosing.
Slowly their correspondence blossoms as they bare their souls to each other with stories of joy, anguish and discovery. But then Tina's letters suddenly cease, and Anders is thrown into despair.
Can their unexpected friendship survive?"

Just to summarize, Tina is a 60 something year old married woman in the UK who decides to write a letter to a professor in Denmark, over the Tollund Man, a real archaeological find that was discovered in Denmark. However, since many years have passed, the professor is dead and the 60 something year old curator of the museum where the Tollund Man is replies to her with that information.
From here, they start sharing things about themselves and of course it is expected of the reader to infer they will become friends and sort of confidants. They often share cultural or even what we can call intellectual opinions but also personal ones, and stuff about their lives.

I was immediately drawn to the possibility of a poignant story with two adults exchanging letters like in old days and slowly revealing enough of one another that their relationship would evolve somehow. I didn't look any further, I checked that the average of this book was a positive one so I confess I just added it, later on I got it and now that I have read finished reading the novel, it isn't what I imagined at all, even accepting the fact the story has merit and enough points of interest.

This story isn't a bad one, per se. I think Tina and Anders are interesting people and their letters have enough detail to let us know a lot about them and why their lives should be interesting, especially because they have very different backgrounds and career choices.
I admit that part of my impression of this book is one of boredom because some letters mentioned subjects that I don't think were addressed in a very appealing manner but that can be just my own perspective.

The most interesting part of this book is, precisely, the personal sharing, the things about both Tina's life in the UK with a husband who we learn never paid much attention to her although she has been a life companion to him and his farm and about Anders's two children and his deceased wife, who had some problems. I was invested in these two characters, yes, and I wanted to know things about them and where the story would lead. With hindsight, some details start to be quite obvious in regard to the main issue the author wanted to address here. It was still emotionally well done to make me give a positive grade to this book. 
The end of the story, sadly but understandably, is an open one and although it suits the whole plot, it still left me a little unrested because of its lack of closure.

Now to go back to why I added the blurb when I begun my comment and the crux of my issue with this novel:
Even putting aside the slight boring entries, I would have overlooked them if this book was the type of story I imagined when reading the first blurb I found. It doesn't say anywhere, I know, but I did expect a little bit more obvious romance content. Without having read reviews or such, I imagined Tina and Anders could be a little younger and their relationship could evolve in that path more obviously.
The way things happen, the reader can think it or not, depending on how the story is read. But I really thought the romance would be treated in a more evident approach. My disappointment is centered on the blurb, which isn't doing its role of informing correctly to the detail of even switching the protagonist's name. By comparing the two; I mean the one I include in my comment and the one of this ebook edition (and in goodreads anyone can compare them too), they are not the same. Had I seen the two, I might have different expectations or I might have chosen to not read it.

This doesn't mean the story isn't worth reading and I did enjoy some of its content. But it can be very annoying how a blurb misleads or doesn't inform as it should.
Still, this book has enough interest on its own and anyone who likes epistolary and fiction can enjoy reading it.
Grade: 6/10

Monday, March 18, 2019


For Clara Deverill, standing in for the real Lady Truelove means dispensing advice on problems she herself has never managed to overcome. There’s nothing for it but to retreat to a tearoom and hope inspiration strikes between scones. It doesn’t—until Clara overhears a rake waxing eloquent on the art of “honorable” jilting. The cad may look like an Adonis, but he’s about to find himself on the wrong side of Lady Truelove.

Rex Galbraith is an heir with no plans to produce a spare. He flirts with the minimum number of eligible young ladies to humor his matchmaking aunt, but Clara is the first to ever catch his roving eye. When he realizes that Clara—as Lady Truelove—has used his advice as newspaper fodder, he’s infuriated. But when he’s forced into a secret alliance with her, he realizes he’s got a much bigger problem—because Clara is upending everything Rex thought he knew about women—and about himself. . . .

- // -

Detective Sergeant James Henderson’s remarkable gut instincts have put him on a three-year fast track to becoming an inspector. But the advancement of his career has come at a cost. Gay, posh and eager to prove himself in the Metropolitan Police, James has allowed himself few chances for romance.
But when the murder of barrister Maria Curzon-Whyte lands in his lap, all that changes. His investigation leads him to a circle of irresistibly charming men. And though he knows better, James finds himself enticed into their company.
Soon his desire for photographer Ben Morgan challenges him to find a way into the other man’s lifestyle of one-night stands and carefree promiscuity. At the same time his single murder case multiplies into a cruel pattern of violence and depravity.
But as the bodies pile up and shocking secrets come to light, James finds both his tumultuous private life and coveted career threatened by a bitter legacy.

Comment: Two small comments about books I've read recently but of which I don't have much to say besides the fact I enjoyed them both, each for different reasons.

Bitter Legacy is the first book I read by Dal Maclean and I was convinced to read it by some positive opinions. I think the main protagonist, James, is a very appealing hero and I liked getting to know about his personality and morals by his actions through the book. I was rooting for him and his ability to perform his job as a police inspector. 
The book is centered on murder investigations and police procedures and that part of the story is secretive enough to be compelling but not that it doesn't start to lead a certain path from clues here and there. 
The plot is closely interwoven with James' personal live and the apartment he visits (when the story begins) and starts to live in, and how attracted he get to its owner Ben. These two aspects are very close and although I found the manner in which things mixed very cleverly done by the author, I can't help but being in the camp of those who wish the villain had been a different one and, thus, the end would be different too. 
I don't know if I'll read more books by this author so soon... I liked practically everything here, especially James and the emotional content he enhanced by his thoughts. But the romance aspect is, in my opinion, unfair and unromantic and not satisfactory in the end.
Grade: 7/10

The Trouble With True Love is the second installment in the True Love series by Laura Lee Guhrke. I liked the first one and was curious about the character that would be protagonist of this one.
Clara Deverill is the sort of heroine that in nowadays' historical books isn't much popular. I mean the heroine who wants to get married, who wants an easy life at home. This is no feisty, no rebel, no out of trend (like her sister, the protagonist of the first book) heroine who gets her HEA by being different from the norm. 
However, part of these stories - I've come to realize - is to see how each character learns to balance what they want with the things they don't, so of course part of the fun is to see Clare enjoying the situations where she must have a strong voice and do things she didn't think she could. Same for the hero Rex, although he has a different background to support his actions and reasons for his behavior.
I liked how thee two didn't seem to have things in common but while developing a reluctant friendship at first, learned they could be in love with each other and although the very end is a little too sweet, it was still very good and left me with a smile. I'm looking for to read the next one!
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Mary Balogh - At Last Comes Love

Only desperation could bring Duncan Pennethorne, the infamous Earl of Sheringford, back home after the spectacular scandal that had shocked even the jaded ton. Forced to wed in fifteen days or be cut off without a penny, Duncan chooses the one woman in London in frantic need of a husband. 
A lie to an old flame forces Margaret Huxtable to accept the irresistible stranger’s offer. But once she discovers who he really is, it’s too late—she’s already betrothed to the wickedly sensual rakehell. Quickly she issues an ultimatum: If Duncan wants her, he must woo her. And as passion slowly ignites, two people marrying for all the wrong reasons are discovering the joys of seduction—and awaiting the exquisite pleasure of what comes after….

Comment: This is the third installment in the Huxtable series by author Mary Balogh. As I've said before, I'm trying to go through some series in order and with a month by month pacing to not get tired of the style and characters.

In this book we have the story of the eldest sister Margaret, who has let go of a possible marriage and adventure to help take care of her younger siblings, as promised to her parents. Now years past, her life is finally steady but she finds herself alone at 30. While Margaret contemplates the possibility of finally accepting a marriage proposal from a man who has shown interest in her but whom she has refused, the man from her past returns and hopes to rekindle the feelings they once shared. However, Margaret realizes what used to be is no longer and she is desperate to not show to that man she is still alone. The marriage proposal she expected, however, doesn't happen so when a sudden encounter happens at a ball with Duncan, the earl of Sheringford - someone who is a stranger - Margaret lies to save face and starts a situation that soon gets out of her control...

What I just wrote is the base for the plot of this book. Margaret is a character we've come to like for her dedication to her younger sisters and brother and how she gave up romance for family. I mean, not that she couldn't have both while younger but the circumstances are understandable.
I don't think this heroine is the best ever because she does follow the path of behavior many other protagonists by this author have done, but overall it was easy to like her and see her find true love.

The story is also focused on the hero, who has done something very scandalous years ago and it still paying the price. Of course we are slowly given explanations about what he did and why and it's certainly something we can accept and makes the hero very honorable.
The fact the author introduces fact in a very slow pace makes the plot sound more structured and as if time is going at a coherent pacing to let us know that even of it's written days passed, the emotional content makes things feel more serious and solid. 

I think this is probably what makes the author's books so good, most of the content is well explained, makes sense according to what we are told and allows the reader to make their minds about the characters and the reasons for their actions.

Therefore, the romance is slow too, Margaret and Duncan don't have much time to get to know each other before an understanding between them is done but I enjoyed how Margaret made things happen in a way that would ensure her feelings were acknowledged. The writing is serious and reliable and I do appreciate that. I'd say, though, that this means the characters can also be a little too practical in their agreements so the idea of falling in love, of seeing them in a position where they are happy with one another but still unsure of what it all can mean is a little lost. The story is a romance for certain but it isn't always as romantic as it could.

The secondary characters provide a very good comparison with the protagonists and I always like to see the interactions between everyone, including characters who have had their story. I think the author cleverly makes it a good element to ut more characters on the page by having series about friends or family members because each character's life isn't based on seclusion, it's always a great technique to show how a character's behavior and attitude is by letting them interact with others.

All in all, this was an expectantly stable story. I'm curious about the brother's story, coming next and I hope it's better than the blurb seems to indicate...
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Dave Duncan - The Reluctant Swordsman

Wallie Smith can feel the pain. He goes to the hospital, remembers the doctors and the commotion, but when he wakes up it all seems like a dream. However, if that was a dream how do you explain waking up in another body and in another world? Little Wallie finds himself in the physique of a barbarian swordsman, accompanied by both an eccentric priest babbling about the Goddess and a voluptuous slave girl. Is this a rude awakening or a dream come true? What in the world will Wallie do now that he's found himself stranded in a strange realm? Well it just so happens that the Goddess is in need of a swordsman. It won't be easy but if he succeeds he will have everything he wants. If he doesn't, things could get ugly. Wallie is reluctant but sees his chance. If only he had the faintest clue as to the adventure he is about to unleash! If only he could imagine the forces that will be out to vanquish him!

Comment: I got interested in this book at a time I was quite dedicated to read fantasy. While talking to someone, this book was recommended and I remember I got it pretty soon after that. However, as often happens, I didn't read it as quickly as I got it and it has been in the pile for years. I've tried to go through some long standing books in the shelves an that is why this book got its turn now.

In this fantasy story we meet Wallie Smith who - we are informed even before the story begins - dies after some medical complications. However, Wallie doesn't remember dying and when he wakes up he is in a strange world inhabiting a body he doesn't recognize. After much confusion he is told by a demigod he has been chosen by the goddess of this weird reality to go on a quest and if he can prove to be successful, he can remain in this new body and live to a fulfilling new existence. Of course Wallie has doubts and makes several mistakes but along with some surprising friends, he goes on... but can he overcome his contemporary cultural expectations in such a different world? 

I like fantasy stories provided they can have some romance or if they are so well crafted that even without romance, the world building can sustain everything. Regarding this book, despite recognizing the imagination of some elements, the lack of romantic situations was very disappointing. There is a relationship between the main character and a woman but I wouldn't go as far as describing it as romantic.
I suppose it wasn't difficult to know this wasn't pure romantic fantasy of course, but I thought the story would go on a different path based on the blurb...

The beginning of this novel is a little confusing and it took me some time to understand what was happening and to like the story. The idea someone would die or disappear or never return to a reality that is as much a part of someone as any mental or emotional ties we develop in a lifetime was very melancholic for me to imagine. Yes, this is the explanation why Wallie, a modern man, could be the protagonist but...the difference was too much and I felt sorry for Wallie, not really excited over his adventure.
The new world Wallie is supposed to brave on and get to know wasn't really captivating either, even admitting the author's imagination and ability to put things into words.

If this is a great new world, with different rules and without any limit within a possibility, why must it be so dire and constricted in what can happen? Te society of the new world Wallie is facing, the social structures imposed on population and a whole range of cultural norms was so limitative, I can only guess it was meant to impose conditions on Wallie's actions. I mean... if Wallie is special to have been chosen for this so called quest, why is this world so filled with unfairness? Why not make this into a fun and challenging adventure but that the reader could cheer Wallie for?
The way things went with the rules Wallie had to follow, the unfairness of the situation, the lack of consideration for some characters... I just think the action was poorly done and explained. There are two more books but isn't it a bit unfair this can't be read as a standalone for those readers who couldn't read everything? Oh well.

Wallie himself was a good enough protagonist. What he had to face is too out there to imagine, even among so much fantasy worlds to compare things with. As a likable character, he isn't too bad and I felt for and with him some times. But he can't really change things to the point it would make a difference, so his presence isn't that special in the bigger scheme of things and his attitude goes with the flow or the dictations of his surroundings. For instance, his behavior/inner thoughts about slavery... I get it but if he isn't there to be different in terms of being a hero or a savior or something along those lines, why bother with a different reality scenario to why Wallie was chosen as the main character?

All things considered, I thought this would be more like those cute adventure stories but the world building and the action weren't very strong. I struggled to like some aspcts of this story, I actually disliked others and although Wallie has some qualities, I confess I don't really find any interest in reading what happens next. I might have lost interest in the pure fantasy genre and that is impacting my opinion about this, but I'm not that bothered by the fact anyway.
Grade: 5/10

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Joanne Harris - A Pocketful of Crows

I am as brown as brown can be,
And my eyes as black as sloe;
I am as brisk as brisk can be,
And wild as forest doe.

(The Child Ballads, 295)

So begins a beautiful tale of love, loss and revenge. Following the seasons, A Pocketful of Crows balances youth and age, wisdom and passion and draws on nature and folklore to weave a stunning modern mythology around a nameless wild girl.
Only love could draw her into the world of named, tamed things. And it seems only revenge will be powerful enough to let her escape.
Beautifully illustrated by Bonnie Helen Hawkins, this is a stunning and original modern fairytale.

Comment: One of my friends is a fan of this author and she lent me this book because, in general, I also like her books. I was expecting some along the lines of the other books by the author I've tried so far but this was very different.

In this fantasy story, we have a short length tale of a "wild" girl who falls for a "normal" boy. The girl doens't have a name, as is the habit of her people, the people of the earth, of magic and secrets, those who can become animals and feelings and don't adhere to the usual rules of humans.
However, one day the girl interrupts what seems to be a spell a human girl is attempting to capture the attention and heart of a boy. Perhaps because she interrupted, the spell fails and the girl looks for the boy to see what would be so special about him. She becomes enamored and with time he seems to reciprocate her feelings, even though others don't agree. The problem comes when the boy's father returns and the difference of classes proves to be too much...

I was surprised by how simple this story appeared to be. In fact it isn't so and the writing is beautifully lyrical and vibrant. I did like the scenes the writing evoked in my head and, of course, one could discuss the meaning of things and the supposed lessons to pick of this read. However, all things considered, I think this story was both too simple and too YA-like for me to enjoy it more.

The characters are really young, I think the female protagonist is 14 and I can see the sort of fantasy/historical vibe in that and in the reaction others had of her looks faced with the other girls. I can see the duality of criteria based on looks.
As a matter of fact, I suppose one of the biggest issues here is how unfair it is for girls of a certain look or of uncertain origins to be labeled and judged by that, not caring about who they really are as a person. In this story this is more than evident but then two details to think about: this girl is no fragile flower who will be rewarded by her dignity and simple ways and the boy is definitely not prince material to make things better in the end. 

If I had to summarize what this novel is about, I'd choose "revenge". The girl doesn't get to to have her feelings reciprocated in a serious manner but instead of just going away to lick her wounds or to patiently wait for the guy to get his bearings, she plans on revenge.
In this regard, I can see a bit more of mrs Harris usual style in plot and characterization. Things aren't easy but the girl can find ways of making her plans come true. We never lose the sense she is worthy and innocent while planning something that won't be undone but that can be tricky to think about. At the same time, the fact the protagonist is both aware of her negative feelings but looking to restore her simple and pure way of living is probably the "deepest" subject here. Can we all be that balanced in our own way of thinking?

I can understand the author was trying to write something a little whimsical, a lesson to be taught and a warning to be done to those who don't respect other people's feelings.
I can enjoy her inspiration and even the beautiful writing but as a whole this story didn't really made an impression in me.
A note to this book, which also contains art by Bonnie Helen Hawkins and that is also beautiful and a lovely addition. Still, I must say the same characters weren't always done exactly the same way... ok, this is not a comic book but I certainly noticed the changes.

This was a good enough tale to read but I don't think I'll easily remember it in a few weeks...
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

David Lagercrantz - The Girl Who Takes and Eye for an Eye

Lisbeth Salander - the girl with the dragon tattoo, the brilliant hacker, the obstinate outsider, the volatile seeker of justice for herself and others - has never been able to uncover the most telling facts of her traumatic childhood, the secrets that might finally, fully explain her to herself. Now, when she sees a chance to uncover them once and for all, she enlists the help of Mikael Blomkvist, the editor of the muckraking, investigative journal Millennium. And nothing will stop her - not the anti-Muslim gang she enrages by rescuing a young woman from their brutality; not the deadly reach from inside the Russian mafia of her long-lost twin sister, Camilla; and not the people who will do anything to keep buried knowledge of a sinister pseudo-scientific experiment known only as The Registry. Once again, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, together, are the fierce heart of a thrilling full-tilt novel that takes on some of the most insidious problems facing the world at this very moment.

Comment: Having read last month the first book in the Millenium series (originally by Stieg Larsson) that was written by David Lagercrantz, I've decided to keep going with this one too, since it was available at my local library. 

In this fifth installment of the series, we find Lisbeth Salander in prison due to a situation which happened in the previous book. Lisbeth isn't going to spend too much time there but she still finds someone to look for in the inmate Faria Razi, a woman accused of murdering her brother. Faria and most of the prison population is afraid of Benito Andresson who terrorizes everyone, including the guards. Lisbeth gets annoyed and gives an ultimatum to the chief of the guards but that might cause her some problems int he future, especially because her beloved mentor dies while she's locked up and Mikael Blomkvist is investigating possible connected situations that might also have something to do with the older man's death. Will Lisbeth be released and remain safe enough from a few more enemies?

In the comment of the previous book I've said the style of this new author and that of the late Stieg Larsson are different but since the story has the same conduit, things don't appear to be that off. However, I can't help but notice that it does feel like the rhythm follows a different tune. Nevertheless, the storyline has the reader following certain steps which we can link to previous situations. Basically each new story is independent but still part of a whole. 

As always, Lisbeth is the central character although this time the focus wasn't much herself or her challenging relationship with her sister Camilla, which was one of the key situations developed in the last book. This time that is a little secondary, as the focus switches to a different perspective of how her family life has turned the way it did and how is helped shape her current personality.
Even Lisbeth's attitude while in prison and why she helps the other inmate have a purpose  and s somehow part of why Lisbeth is supposed to be a sympathetic character but part of me wonders if it wasn't simply a way to put Lisbeth in the right position for some plot moves...

I think it's always interesting to keep peeling the emotional layer Lisbeth has managed to hid due to her childhood and the bad things she lived through but part of me also can't help thinking the whole "Lisbeth as the victim" - the way I see it - has become a little too much, as if this storyline is being dragged on and on... perhaps it would be time to solve this side of things and maybe focus on Lisbeth's skills now to help with other stuff? I can see why the focus would be on this, after all any crime investigator is only as more interesting as his/hers personal issues but... it can seem to be getting a little repetitive.

The plot is filled with sudden discoveries, some more important than others for what matters the most in the plot, but all have some sort of connection between them. It can be quite difficult to mix things but still keeping them part of a whole and for that, I must commend the author's attempt to do things in a proper way, so that readers ca be captivated by all details. There are some elements which I would say were used to divert the reader's attention and others were so out there (the villain's reasons to keep secrets after years and without the personal possibility any positive outcome is very weak at times) I struggled to understand why some things mattered that much.

All things considered, I enjoyed the story and some of the things I liked less are minor in the bigger scheme of things, probably more due to my personal POV than a huge problem of the novel but despite the enjoyment, some things really don't allow me to think better of the story.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, March 1, 2019

Robin Cook - Toxin / Chromosome 6

Toxin: When a doctor's daughter becomes infected with E. coli, the widespread dangers of bacterial contamination are no longer a subject for debate, but a grim reality. In desperation, he is forced to follow a trail of ignorance and corruption from the tangled red-tape of the medical community to the highest levels of the powerful meat industry. It is an eye-opening thriller that every American should read ... 
Chromosome 6 is a prophetic thriller that challenges the medical ethics of genetic manipulation and cloning in the jungles of equatorial Africa, where one mistake could bridge the gap between man and ape--and forever change the genetic map of our existence...

Comment: Several years ago I was able to find this omnibus edition of two novels by Robin Cook in a bookstore but of course it has been waiting years until now, when I finally decided to read it. As always, better late than never.

The stories included in this edition don't have any connection with one another but, as expected from this author, both address some sort of situation related to thew world of medicine or science.
Toxin presents a doctor who wants to discover how his young daughter was able to consume food with the e.coli bacteria and die from it without the responsible people caring.
Chromosome 6 focuses on the surprises and dangers of creating organs with scientific methods in animals and how that can result on uncontrollable situations for all involved.
Although each story has its own plot and setting and, dare I say, «tone», both have the same sort of writing issues. Some readers just say the author doesn't have talent to write but I wouldn't agree with this. I think the author has the knowledge to present his ideas and themes in shocking ways but he does fail in solving his own plots. Perhaps one could say this is style but no, he has other books where he finished things (like Abduction, which I really liked).

Generally speaking, the author uses his books to address a situation that is out there but there are always those who care, those who don't, those who make it happen for several reasons, those who are unaware... in terms of letting people have a glimpse of "worst case" scenarios, I think the author does his job well. Most people also prefer to consider this fiction, that in no way, real people would actually behave like that or do those things or that legal institutions would act so horribly.
Therefore, I think his books could be considered having two main points: the theme and all the realistic and scientific proof of its existence and the fictional part of the story where the characters behave and talk and showcase what could happen. 
I think the science part is always provocative (even if I don't have the knowledge to judge it) but the fictional part could certainly be improved. 

On account of this, let's see:
In Toxin, the theme is the possibility of meat being badly processed and by eating, people absorb bacteria while unaware of this. 
The plot follows dr Kim Reggis while he tries his best to save his daughter and this not being possible, he wants to find out how this happened, which are the steps between an animal being slaughtered until it gets to out table and how could the meat be subjected to infections. In fact, it could so easy and the story stresses this a lot. 
I just think dr Kim wasn't likeable most of the time and when he changes his behavior I felt was a little too late. Besides, what he decides to do to prove his suspicions is often unrealistic and this part of the writing, the fictional characters, didn't make justice to the importance of the theme with their lack of focus. The there's no end. There ar some scenes that let us think some steps took place but we never get to see anything. frustrating!

In Chromosome 6, the theme is the playing with this specific chromosome to improve the chances of a successful organ transplant by using animals that resemble humans in therms of DNA without caring about the ethical consequences and the fact only certain people would benefit from it.
The plot is engaging and with adrenaline-inducing scenes, especially because the action takes place in different places (New York and in the Equatorial Guinea) but in simultaneous times/days.
I think this one was a little more successful in terms of plot because all "good" characters were well portrayed and their steps captivating to follow. However, again regarding the end, there were things left unsaid, we never discover what happened after the biggest plot issue was dealt with.

All things considered, both stories provided food for thought. It's a little pitiable that the fictional parts weren't stronger, to better deliver the message. The content might be important but from the POV of the reader interested in the fictional story, there are too many unsolved issues, which can be distracting and unfair after pages and pages of investment. I also don't think to have better ends (or with details) would have ruined the message the author was trying to make.
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Reza Aslan - God, A Human History

In God, Reza Aslan sheds new light on mankind’s relationship with the divine and challenges our perspective on the history of faith and the birth of religion.
From the origins of spiritual thought to the concept of an active, engaged, divine presence that underlies all creation, Aslan examines how the idea of god arose in human evolution, was gradually personalized, endowed with human traits and emotions, and eventually transformed into a single Divine Personality: the God known today by such names as Yahweh, Father, and Allah.
Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, God challenges everything we thought we knew about the origins of religious belief, and with it our relationship with life and death, with the natural and spiritual worlds, and our understanding of the very essence of human existence.

Comment: I won't spend much time commenting this book but I think it's different enough to merit some lines.
This is a non-fiction sort of essay on how humankind has created and developed the idea of "God" until nowadays. The author is an academic and controversy aside, I think he did present an interesting and objective summary on the evolution of what is God and how the notion changed with time.
The main idea the author presents is that humans have always attempted to create a divinity that would resemble themselves rather than the other way around.
To do this, the author has divided this book into three parts and in each one he addressed the possible thinking of people through the ages, from the Paleolithic until the more modern creations of churches and organized religions.

I think this book fulfills its goal: it helps those who aren't very knowledgeable about religion to understand a little bit of the social, economical and some psychological reasons why humans have tried to create the notion of superior beings to the point of worshiping them.
I also think the most captivating idea discussed in the book is how this was done, not out of fear or lack of knowledge of the unknown but because it would be an expected mental device to justify behaviors and choices and steps. I'm summarizing, of course, since the author has many academic sources to explain all his ideas, but in general this could be it.

I'm not going to discuss the veracity of what the author claims. First I'm not that knowledgeable to be able to present my own thoughts on theories that took philosophers and historians to come up with and second, part of me feels the point of this novel isn't to let people think with their own heads but to step by step go towards the idea the author defends the most. Discussing this would be a little pointless.

Strictly from the POV of being an average reader, I think the book has a good structure in terms of portraying the information. One can go through time and learn a little bit bout ideas and possible explanations for human behavior through history.
I could say it is a little provocative but I didn't have the feeling that was the aim. The facts and information presented are all documented, there are notes and sources and like any goof academic, the author included a vast bibliography to support much of his text.
Of course, as with any supposition, it's all very difficult to prove without evidence or historical people's testimonies on why they did or believed things.

I'm catholic so I have a certain understanding of "my" church's credos and dogmas. At the same time, I can also be suspicious enough to distinguish between faith and historical facts and there are things people will always doubt or find weird/unexplainable.
But even for those who don't have religious beliefs this can be an informative work. Surely, it can also create even more doubts as any idea could be analyzed to the infinitesimal detail but the writing is accessible and helps to put things into perspective.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Tami Dane - Blood of Eden

This mind-blowing new series introduces Sloan Skye, an ambitious intern at the FBI's paranormal unit, where the usual rules of crime fighting don't apply. . .
Sloan has a sky-high IQ, a chaotic personal life, and a dream: to work for the FBI. Her goal is within reach until an error lands her with the FBI's ugly stepchild: the new Paranormal Behavioral Analysis Unit. She'll get to profile criminals, but the pool of suspects is a little more. . .diverse. Yet even as Sloan tackles her first case--a string of victims, all with puncture wounds to the neck--she can't silence her inner para-skeptic.
To catch the killer she'll have to think like one. That means casting aside her doubts, and dealing with bizarre nightmares that started with the job. But the strangeness is only beginning, as Sloan pieces together the shocking truth about a case that's more personal than she ever would have guessed.

Comment: As I've said in other posts about PNR books published years ago, when PNR was a stronger trend, nowadays those stories can be a hit or miss. I've collected several books which are the first in a series with the hopes of discovering a new addictive series but often they have just been waiting and waiting. Nowadays, reading those books can be like a good walk on memory lane or it can be a waste of time but I'm glad to say this book, which I bought in 2012, is a good one for me.

In this novel we meet Sloane Skye, a young woman who just got an internship with the FBI and whose dream is to be a full time agent. When it seems her spot might have been (surprisingly) taken by her college nemesis, she is then indicated to be part of a new FBI branch, the unit that deals with paranormal activity and cases.
Along with her chief and small team of colleagues, Sloan stars her career doing field wok, something she didn't even imagine she could do as an intern.
As the fist case goes, the investigation points out to a vampire-like perpetrator but there are some weird details that make things a little more complicated than that explanation.
Along with the job worry, Sloane also has a chaotic personal life and her high IQ isn't enough to make her deal with things in the easiest way, which means a lot to get over with...

First of all, I must say this is narrated in first person but here is a case of it not being too annoying for me because the heroine is likable enough and this book reds more like a mystery than a romance. It's part of the story that we get to have the information slowly given and processed step by step. It's different with romances because it limits the amount of scenes/situations the reader could see.

This book did surprise me. At this time and age, it's very difficult to read a book without having at least a little notion about it with so many site reviews out there. Reviews might not tell all but they can give an impression of how much one might enjoy a book or not. In fact, I've purchased some books without checking sites like goodreads and had I done that, I probably wouldn't have bought them. Anyway, I've checked goodreads to see the opinion on this book and was put off a little by its very low average grade (side note: grades on GR below 3.7 at least aren't considered to be positive by me and this book has a 3.30) but since I had it, I've decided to try it and see for myself.

I liked the book because although it does have many loose details and isn't always easy to follow the situations and the author often adds things in a tone or manner that are meant to let the reader infer things which might not have any importance at all, the plot is easy to follow for the most time.
I think what I liked the best was how this was mostly a crime investigation. I've seen some comparing with popular TV shows but I haven't watched them all so I suppose I could say it's a little like the X Files even though the majority of the story is very light on the PNR elements. I actually believe that this would have been a stronger story without them...

The PNR aspect of things is both related to the investigation and to the heroine, Sloane. I won't go into spoilers but I must confess it felt a little silly how the author, practically at the end of the novel, came up with a bunch of paranormal details in a row which not only made the plot itself loose power and consequence but also brought too many new information too close to the end and things felt very choppy and unrelated, almost too trivial to be woven into the story.

Up to the last chapters, I was actually having a great time reading. I liked Sloane and her personality, the antics of her mother and roommate and even the slight hints here and there about her relationship with JT, the coworker she found herself a little attracted to and about Gabe, the nemesis we find out was a little misunderstood. The romance side is certainly going to be addressed in the following two books of this - I've learned now - trilogy but in this book I liked how things weren't too mixed up nor exaggerated.
It's really a pity the PNR content wasn't explored in a stronger way, it really just feels like an add-on. I fear for what the next books might do, considering the information learned in the last two or three chapters. This was a good enough book for me, I don't mind I've waited to read it but it's not a priority to get the rest.
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Anyta Sunday - Gemini Keeps Capricorn

Sometimes, one stubborn Capricorn is all it takes… to drive Wesley Hidaka to crazy, flirtatious lengths.
Wesley loves annoying his RA, Lloyd Reynolds. He just can’t help it. Lloyd is focused, decisive, grounded. He has this amusing ability to follow rules.
Of course Wesley wants Lloyd to break one… or three hundred.
Sometimes, one smirking Gemini is all it takes… to have Lloyd laying down the law and marching Wesley straight back to his dorm room.
It doesn’t stop Wesley teasing again. And again. And again…
But damn. Lloyd doesn’t crack easily. He’s full of principles. He’s unshakable.
He’s the perfect friend to have when Wesley needs help. Like with his truant brother and his old high school principal.
Sometimes, one little lie is all it takes… to find Wesley fake-engaged to his off-limits RA.
What can he say? It seemed like a good idea at the time…

Comment: This is the third installment in the Signs of Love series by author Anyta Sunday. I really liked the first book but the second was a little weaker (even though I liked it too). I didn't have high hopes for this one because it's a friends-to-lovers story and these can go quite wrong. Thankfully, it wasn't the case of this book.

In this book we meet Wesley Hidaka, a funny guy who is studying law to honor his late father, who was a renowned judge. Wesley is living in the dorm whose RA is a guy he really looks up to. Lloyd is a serious but fair RA and someone with whom Wesley can't help but flirt all the time. They are friends and not only because Lloyd takes his responsibility for the residents under his care as a serious task.
When a situation regarding his brother Cal gets tricky, Wesley asks Lloys to pretend they are engaged and the attraction and flirtation go up another notch. 
Lloyd, however, doesn't break his principles by acting on his attraction for someone he is supposed to be responsible for but there is so much a guy can take... will these two find a way to be together without breaking any rules?

I had a great time reading this book. Although it had a trope I'm not usually such a fan of and a first person narrator that more times than not gets on my nerves when it comes to romances, I think the author did a good job depicting the friendly relationship between two people that don't share a lot but still make them closer than they imagined. I also think this story was balanced between funny and (subtle) serious content and the tone matched this too.

Wesley is one of those characters that could very easily turn into annoying or bothersome because he acts a way that could be seen as that of someone who wishes so hard to impress or to be funny that those around wouldn't be able to endure their presence for long. I'm very glad the author has found a way to not make Wesley an overconfident person because those people can get on someone's nerves. I think this was achieved by letting the reader get glimpses of Wesley's vulnerabilities, such as his relationship with his mother and the way he thinks some people might look at him. I liked we were made aware he knows he could be misunderstood due to his sunny disposition.

Lloyd is a little more difficult to read, we don't have his POV after all, but he is someone others can trust and that is visible in several moments when someone needs his help. I liekd that he had the willpower to fight Wesley's more obvious advances sometimes but always with a sense that he isn't always so certain about how real the attraction between them is. The fact they get to be friends and trust one another before they give in to their attraction made me like Lloyd a lot more.

Actually, I'm glad the "friends-to-lovers" trope wasn't based on a lifelong or a childhood friendship crossing borders now they are more mature. Those are the stories that make me wrinkle my nose because I can't help thinking things inevitably change and that can't go right all the time... from personal experience, having a very close friend and starting to change things never ends well... therefore, it was great to see they only started to become closer friends in the college setting, thus not that long.

The plot is filled, as any reader can imagine, with funny/cute scenes mixed with some more serious content and ideas but nothing too angsty or complicated to go through. I assume one of the purposes of these stories is to showcase how a place/setting can be friendly, secure and even fair for people to be themselves and become better people with time and space to learn/to improve.

There are some scenes where the protagonist don't seem to know they are falling in love and that can be a little too unrealistic but I also think the way the story is developed highlights this so that the end can look even more special. The reality is that I had a great time reading this story despite some less than interesting moments/situations and it was so cute at times, I devoured it. I'm now eager to get to the next one!
Grade: 8/10

Friday, February 22, 2019

Elizabeth Hoyt - Duke of Pleasure

Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king's secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley—and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.
Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she's the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation.
When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be—before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

Comment: This is the 11th installment in the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt. I've been enjoying reading the books in this series and it makes me a little sad to think it's almost over.

This is the story of Alf, the recurrent boy spy we've come to see in several books helping this or that character solving some spying business or something. Alf, however, we also have learned, is actually a young woman and she has taken into herself the task of helping those in need, taking over the role of ghost of st Giles. One night she ends up helping Hugh, the duke of Kyle, a man who wants to finally end with the lord of chaos, a group of important men who caused many problems and destroyed the lives of innocents.
In the aftermath of this episode, the duke asks Alf to help him investigate and discover who the lords of chaos might be and the proximity between them makes it clear that despite having grown up in very different ways, they do have some traits in common... but would Alf want to let go of her independence to be with a man so out of her class?

This story pretty much followed the pattern of the other ones, a couple with some things in common but not at all levels somehow find a common ground. 
A common element in most of the pairings is that people from different social classes would become a couple. I liked the romance of this idea even if, realistically speaking, that wouldn't have been very accurate for the time (18th century) or, at least, not always regarding the peers and common people.
In this book things go a little far because Alf doesn't have any family, whether them being poor or not. The duke is, just looking at his title, from a different background and although his origins aren't as strict as others in some regards, he is the son of the king. I mean... I loved the fact two very different people got together and, to be honest, the difference of classes was never a huge deal in the stories but at the same time, it was a little difficult to imagine.
Or, perhaps, the story didn't focus on the right elements for this one to be so heavy on my mind throughout the novel.

I liked Alf and Hugh together, I liked how they shared a need to protect others, to seek justice, to use their strengths and intelligence to reach the goals they needed. I liked how they were different physically but that didn't stop both of them from pursuing the villains and facing them.
I liked Alf was a sweet girl along being a fierce and independent one. I liked Hugh seemed to be a bit of a brute but he was also caring and attentive to his young sons.

I liked these two people were not used to have someone truly caring for them, even romantically, but they managed to find a worthy partner and one they could trust and share things with.
However, I kind of would like to see more of Alf's position as a woman in Hugh's life, as a female in his social circle. I don't think their attraction and emotional suitability was that stressed out as it could and sexual intimacy isn't the only (nor best) way to showcase how close to one another they can be.
I guess I wished there would have been more romance, more evidence by others that Alf and Hugh are a good match. The reader knows it but it wasn't very obvious all the time.

The plot isn't complicated and I'm actually happy the biggest situation to solve seems to have been dealt with while at the same time our protagonists got to evolve as a couple and as individuals.
As expected, some clues point out about whose couple might come next.
I missed some more emotional impact from certain issues but overall, this was just as good as one might imagine. I wanted to feel even stronger feelings by everyone around so I can't say this was one of the best of the series for me. Good but there are also some wasted opportunities (in my POV).
Grade: 7/10