Wednesday, November 25, 2020

P. Dangelico - Bulldozer

Amanda Shaw has pulled it together. It’s taken a couple of years, a boatload of hard work, and a ton of self-discipline, but she finally has her problems in a headlock. Her yoga studio in the city has become so successful she’s opening one near the beach, and her relationship with her ten year old son is improving every day. The last thing she needs is a monkey wrench thrown into her smoothly running life.
Grant Hendricks is one big monkey wrench. The four time Defensive Player of the Year, three time NFL sack leader, and all around football god has officially hit rock bottom. A devastating back injury means he may have to retire and that scares him more than doctors telling him the next hit could leave him paralyzed. All he needs is a quiet place to think and his teammate’s beach house sounds like just the place. Problem is, the woman already living there.

Comment: This is the third book in the Hard to Love trilogy by P. Dangelico. I liked the previous books enough to want to conclude the trilogy but I wouldn't go as far as to say they were amazing books. they were all entertaining and included interesting scenes but now I've read them all, I have to say they won't e stories I'll want to re-read all the time.

In this last story we have the focus on Amanda, she's the sister of the hero from book #1. Amanda needs to stay with her son for a few weeks in her brothers' house near the beach, where she will be opening a yoga studio with a friend, to keep up the success of their first. She also needs to deal with her ex and his desire to bond with their son by having him with him as well. What she wasn't counting with was that a fellow teammate of her brother would be staying at his house while recovering from an injury. They seem to butt heads at first and that is another thing to worry Amanda but as they get to know one another, won't it be fun to realize they can be each other's best support?

For those who have read the other installments, this one is pretty much along the same lines and, so sadly for me, it's also narrated in the first person by the heroine. I don't think her thoughts/words are always that amazing that I feel this is the author's best option... anyway, this is clearly a story with opposites attract but the fun is in how they go from one behavior (antagonists) to another (friends of sorts). I still think the overall plot could have been done much better or could have been focused on different ideas.

Amanda is a recovering alcoholic. I liked how she kept thinking she had flaws but she worked on them to become a better role model for her son. It's difficult not to appreciate such a character but when she is the one describing these things it's also hard not to see her as weird by sharing these things the way she does... well, she has to, she's the narrator - and that's why I tend to dislike 1st person - so she comes across as sometimes vain, sometimes oversharing, sometimes too focused on unimportant detailing every thing she notices about Grant or about the chores she performs... it just doesn't seem natural or important for the type of worries she apparently has (like with her ex being in her son's life, work, etc.).

Grant is obviously more difficult to understand for we only have his side of the dialogues and his attitudes screened by the heroine's POV. He is made to be the perfect counterpart to her, the perfect gentleman when she needs help but also an alpha male she can't help but be attracted to. Basically, he has no personality besides the necessary and even his troubles, more heavily addressed towards the end of the book, are like a prop to make him make certain decisions. I understand the tactic but having his POV or having a narrator showing us his personality would have been much better.

I didn't dislike reading this story, despite my critics. I think that in the right mood, this can work very well for those who like the style and I was definitely entertained but I don't think it quite reaches memorable status. I actually think some moments in the book were boring. It was also a bit repetitive if one has read the other books too. I suppose the author might have wanted something cohesive but the narrators' voices in all books aren't always addictive to be with, to want to be in their heads. At least, it wasn't so for me.

Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Gena Showalter - The Darkest King

To become a king of the underworld at long last, William must resist an irresistible beauty--or a curse
will ensure his end... A merciless prince feared by all... Cursed by a vengeful witch, William of the Dark will die if he ever falls in love--murdered by the woman who steals his heart. His lone shot at redemption is a book filled with indecipherable code. Break the code, break the curse. Now, centuries later, he's condemned to a string of one-night stands...until he finds the only woman in the worlds able to set him free. A rare creature of myth and power... One of the last living unicorn shifters, Sunday "Sunny" Lane works from the shadows as a cryptanalyst, on the run from assassins and poachers. Then the darkly seductive William abducts her, holding her captive in Hell. The closer they get, the more she hungers for his touch...and the stronger a mystical desire to kill him becomes... But which desire will prove stronger--lust or death? And who will give in first?

Comment: This is installment #15 in the Lords of the Underworld series by Gena Showalter. With some clues here and there depending on the year the books were written, this has been a more or less consistent series, featuring men and women who got possessed withe demons escaping the box Pandora opened. The world created by the author has been quite original among the myths and general premises one tends to think about when recalling the main notion in which the series is based upon.

In this story we have William as protagonist. He is a fictional creation of the author, someone part of the world where the lords and the mythical character live in. William has been raised as an adopted son of Hades and he has been part of too many adventures, and a big part of his arc is centered on a book he has, where the curse that weights on him is written. William knows he needs to decode his curse so he can be free of it and the only thing he knows is that his life mate will be the one to decode it but that means she will, then, try to kill him.

That's how he now comes in contact with Sunny, a rare unicorn shifter who can break codes and who also has reason to want William dead, after what happened to her village, because of him. However, thew more time these two spend together, the more they realize their opinions of one another might not be correct and there might be a reason why they are life mates after all...

Looking back on what I wrote above, it would feel as if this is a cute romance between two opposed personalities feeling attracted to each other and putting aside all the buildup on William's relationship with the desired by the fans hinted at heroine Gilly (whose previous installment's story ended up being a positive one for me), this romance with Sunny seemed it could special enough to turn his long awaited book into a good one.

In fact, William's presence in the series has been long. Always hints on his curse and the book he carried, on what it meant to him... always some kind of focus on him as a character, on how fun he is, how witty, how special... It's quite expected that this installment was quite anticipated by readers of the series and if the hopes of seeing him with Gilly were crushing for so many, then this installment has to be a great one. However, for me, it wasn't so... I just couldn't avoid being distracted by the things I (now) tend to find annoying in the series/writing style so, the way this is told didn't wow me after all. It's quite a pity, though, especially because Gilly's book ended up being good to me so I know the author can do an amazing job.

I'd say the big issue for me is on how the characters are being characterized lately. In the first books there was quite a focus on their dramas, the things they wanted but couldn't have, the curses he suffered because they "hosted" the demons...the challenging part was to see how the author would turn a bad situation around. I have fond memories of some of those dramas in the first books while the main characters were a perfect mix of strength and vulnerabilities.

Now, generalizing, it feels as if they can do anything, fight any adversary, and it feels rather silly how they can't just get/do whatever they need, so great are their abilities all the time. William can't undo his curse but he can defeat pretty much anyone, it just doesn't make that eager to see how his problems are going to be solved. Even his "softer" side feels like a concession... I think the author could have done a better job in developing him. His heroine too, as well as practically all the other female characters, has the power to do great violence, to battle enemies, to win fights, etc...when they say they feel weak or unrecognized or unappreciated, it just feels things aren't in sync.

I suppose the writing choices can be a part of this. Sometimes the writing feels a bit too silly, other times a bit too childish, in some books too polite, I suppose it depends on mrs Showalter's mood and preferences while writing...I don't think it has been a consistent style throughout the whole series. Someone commented on her writing other genres and that it might have influenced this series too... I also would add that the inclusion of sex scenes, sometimes every single book has had, can be distracting because not always those scenes feel meaningful (even more so by how promiscuous almost all characters seem to be before they get their book).

In this book, it also caught my attention how the first half of the story, more or less, felt just like a very bid hide and seek between Sunny and William while they exchanged cringe-y and pointless dialogue. Had the author planned this better or had she introduced Sunny before, even if not naming her, perhaps it would be easier to accept their banter and quick developed relationship. I felt the interesting part only started from the middle of the book on, and too much time is spent on sex and sex talk and things that feel superficial... I think the writing lacks the intensity and focus of the fist books.

I mean, I'm glad William got his HEA and I still like knowing things from this universe the author picked and exploited according to her imagination, but... not all books feel as good to me. Again, I'd say, no real consistency...

Grade: 6/10

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Jana Deleon - Damned

When young priest Nicolas Chatry took his vows, he thought the hardest thing he’d have to deal with was accomplishing his duties from a wheelchair. Until a murderer steps into the confessional. Unable to recognize the voice or maneuver quickly enough to get a look at the killer, Nicolas has no way of identifying who admitted to such a horrific deed. And even if he did, his vows prevent him from telling anyone about it.
Unable to live with the knowledge that a predator is walking the streets of New Orleans, Nicolas breaks his vows and hires Shaye to do the impossible—find the killer before he strikes again.

Comment: This is the 7th installment in the Shaye Archer series by Jana Deleon. This is mystery series with very light romantic elements but I've come to appreciate the simple writing which doesn't allow for nonsense and I've been happy to know one more story was waiting for me.

In this story Shaye has a new special client, someone who can't keep a vow taken without thinking how that might put more people in jeopardy from a killer. As the clues pile up without any obvious link to allow her investigation to have a course of action, she decides to keep as close as possible to her client once he starts to be harassed by the apparent killer. At the same time, Shaye's boyfriend Jackson is investigating the case of a missing girl and the suspects he and his partner gather seem to have alibis and things don't make sense, at least until he realizes some details seem to match the investigation Shaye is conducting. Could it be they will need to work together once more?

 I think I might have said this before, but the books in this series are better read in order. Actually, each installment works on its own, with a main case/mystery to solve, but there are also a few scenes related to Shaye's personal life. Although any new reader can probably get the important information out of each one, it does make it easier to understand a few things and, even, several details that seem to come out of nowhere. With the previous books read, most things don't get the readers out of hand.

This to say, this story has a beginning, middle and end which has a good enough resolution but there are a few comments, a few hints, which may sound weird in context but make sense with previous knowledge. I think I can, therefore, say too, that one of the elements in these stories I've come to appreciate a lot is how simple and without any fluff or ramblings. The author writes what is important, her style is clean and smooth and it does feel good to read something without too much going on. However, the other side of this is that the personal side of the story (the focus on Shaye and her boyfriend, or instance) can seem quite distant and overlooked.

The plot of this story was intriguing enough because, as usual, a good part of it is centered in the client who contracted Shaye's services. It's quite nice to know more about a certain character and why that person is special/important for the story. Since the author didn't give in to exaggerations, the characters aren't usually very layered nor too complex and I suppose this might annoy some readers expecting more things or elements to make the story richer or with more things to wonder about. I can understand this but, in the big scheme, I don't believe it matters because the author has a plan and when the story I finished, her choices are simplistic.

I confess I suspected the character who ends up being the killer but the reasons why were slightly...unlikely if possible in real life. It's just the process on how it happened... as for the other suspects, some red herrings were clever, others a little too far fetched but everything got solved in quite an easy bow. The closure one gets when everything is solved was positive, in my opinion, and I could imagine Shaye's client as part of the team organized by her mother in relation to the social work she is managing.

The romance moments are very, very tame and lacking much development. This is not a story focused on how the romance is evident nor on how they go from one step to another... although, by the end, the last scene does imply they might take things to another level.

However, I've read the author isn't planning on writing more novels in this series because they have not been as successful as the publisher would have wanted. If this is, indeed, the end, I'd say it works because what is left up in the air can allow readers to get their own conclusions and imagine whatever. Nevertheless, I hope at least a novella or a freebie on her site could be made available at some point, or something like that, so that the series can have a fully ended HEA.

Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

TBR Challenge: Roan Parrish - Out of Nowhere

The only thing in Colin Mulligan’s life that makes sense is taking cars apart and putting them back
together. In the auto shop where he works with his father and brothers, he tries to get through the day without having a panic attack or flying into a rage. Drinking helps. So do running and lifting weights until he can hardly stand. But none of it can change the fact that he’s gay, a secret he has kept from everyone.
Rafael Guerrera has found ways to live with the past he’s ashamed of. He’s dedicated his life to social justice work and to helping youth who, like him, had very little growing up. He has no time for love. Hell, he barely has time for himself. Somehow, everything about miserable, self-destructive Colin cries out to him. But down that path lie the troubles Rafe has worked so hard to leave behind. And as their relationship intensifies, Rafe and Colin are forced to dredge up secrets that both men would prefer stay buried.

Comment: A few more reads gone, more days passed, still a lot of worry on what is going on in the world, but it does feel nice to have routines to continue. It's time for another TBR Challenge post and this month the theme is the all encompassing "series". It wouldn't be difficult for me to find a book to suit this theme, the problem would be to pick one but I ended up choosing this one simply because it was next on my list of books to read.

In this book we meet Colin Mulligan, a very troubled man who isn't in the best of places in his life. He is a closeted gay man who has spent his whole life being who he felt his father would have wanted him to be, which would include mocking one of his younger brothers precisely for being gay. Colin now lives on his own and that means it's easier for him to escape once in a while to a bar where gay hookups often happen. He is not in a good place so his hookups are always attempts to punish himself, until the day Rafe, a guy who watched as Colin is attacked, helps him. Then, since Colin is a mechanic along with his father and his other brothers, Rafe leaves his car and a note for Colin, which is the first step into how they start working together to help a group of teenagers at a youth center Rafe works in. But will Colin be able to let go of his prejudices, of his fear, of all the negativity he carries and grab happiness?

This is the second installment in the Middle of Somewhere series by Roan Parrish. I have read the first book back in 2015 (yes, I know...) and although I no longer remember details, I remember Colin was featured as the most antagonist character because of how he treated Daniel, his younger brother and the protagonist of that first book. I think I got such a bad impression of Colin it felt hard to imagine a redemption, but now, years later, I finally got to it and I should say I liked this story more than I did the first one.

I felt this book was much more emotional than what I expected but, for me, this was a good thing. I liked how the author portrayed Colin's feelings and his POV on what was happening. Colin has fixed himself in such a way, he can't seem to get out of a denial spiral over his feelings and his thoughts. He is gay but he feels his father, the person he most admires and doesn't want to disappoint, would not like him anymore. Throughout the novel, we have glimpses of why Colin got to evolve with such thoughts and how the conflict of who he is and who he pretends to be started to cause him so much pain.

One method to escape this, was to mistreat his brother Daniel, especially when he came out to the family and moved away. Colin felt this was something he couldn't do so he took it out in anger and verbal abuse. Seeing things from Daniel's POV in the other book certainly made readers dislike Colin but everything can be seen in so many different angles, having Colin's made me feel sorry for him. There are sections of the book where his head space is really down, he has depression, he has panic attacks, his thought process is so set on a way, he physically feels the effects of all that pain.

Obviously, since this is a romance, once he starts to interact with Rafe, his mind opens up and we get to see his softer side. He feels attracted to Rafe, he knows Rafe is gay but he would not be OK with being with him romantically.. well, until it was clear they were into one another. I think the evolution of their relationship was believable, within the confines of a novel of course, and I think both their issues were addressed as it was possible without moving this book into a silly or a miserable level. Sure, some things might not be as realistic as one could imagine, but I liked how the author made them talk, spend time together, start to trust one another...

Closer to the end, there were some scenes/situations I wasn't too fond of, but although they didn't ruin the book for me, I felt they weren't as well accomplished. Still, putting aside the details I would change, it felt the author did think about how to develop things in a way I liked reading. Following Colin's mind in some chapters was quite hard, what he said/thought made me feel like crying because I could understand how easily someone can let go and follow dark thoughts. At the same, time, I felt this added more layers to Colin and made me appreciate him more and how he manages to turn around and slowly becoming someone more stable.

All things considered, this was a book that worked out for me. There's a third book too, I might get to it next month or soon, but I admit I'm not eager... hopefully, I will be positively surprised as I was with this one. I think the author is talented and if something clicks, then that makes it easier to appreciate the book. If I like the next book too, I might invest more in the author's other work.

Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Mini - Comments

I've recently read two books I don't feel like writing too much about. 

(Between natural laziness and lack of interest to either gush over or rant about...)

One is a non-fiction and the other a romance but both had in common the fact they felt like just a way to pass the time and I'm certain they won't be that memorable a few weeks from now...

In Stephen Fry's vivid retelling we gaze in wonder as wise Athena is born from the cracking open of the great head of Zeus and follow doomed Persephone into the dark and lonely realm of the Underworld. We shiver when Pandora opens her jar of evil torments and watch with joy as the legendary love affair between Eros and Psyche unfolds.
Mythos captures these extraodinary myths for our modern age - in all their dazzling and deeply human relevance.

Comment: This was not a bad book, but when I saw it would be a retelling of the Greek myths written by a renown comedian, I confess I expected something more in the comedy area too. The author, surprisingly, takes a very academic path into this, even though he does add a few side notes here and there and he does interact with the readers as if we are all in a fascinating conversation on the theme. I was entertained and some of the myths - which the author tells based on historical works on them - certainly take on quite a meaning now I'm not reading them because they were adapted to children nor summarized to focus on secondary elements. Some of the myths made me sad to think so many people could are are represented in such metaphors of despair and unfairness.  There's nothing wrong with the choices the author made to present the information but I admit I thought this would have a different tone.

Grade: 7/10

 * * *

Eliam Prince is finally where he wants to be in his late father’s shipping enterprise: at the helm and ready to navigate. However, when a mysterious car tries to run him off the road on his first day as CEO,
it’s clear he needs a personal bodyguard—even if the idea annoys him to no end.
Winter Wyn has built a thriving personal security business after surviving a horrific tour in the Middle East. Eliam is just a routine middle-of-the-night call—until she arrives at his penthouse, where it’s clear her strict policy of not mixing business and pleasure with her clients is in serious trouble. Keeping this man safe—from sabotage, blackmailers, assassins, and his own stubborn pride—isn’t nearly as hard as protecting her own heart.
But as the stakes rise, Eliam and Winter have no choice but to break all the rules if they want to survive. Fans of Castle will love the sparks that fly on this most unlikely couple’s journey to their happily ever after.

Comment: I saw this book being recommended on a site because it would feature a female bodyguard and how rare that is? I didn't investigate anything besides that and the title having the word "prince" immediately made me think of certain possibilities. Well, how wrong could I be, there's no royalty in this book,the main characters are one dimensional, the plot isn't compelling, the secondary characters a blur in my mind and the romance felt very weak. I think the idea and the fact the main characters were at odds at first, sort of, were the elements that made me fell like keeping up...but I really can't say a lot of good about this story, it simply wasn't to my taste and I disliked how the romance progressed and how the plot evolved. It's better to not try anything else nor continue with the trilogy although there are, indeed, two other books following this one.

Grade: 3/10

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Enjoy the weekend

On my side of the world, the day is quite foggy so far. It calls for a warm beverage, a cozy room or even an inspiring one.... quite moody if one feels like it.

Perfect for some reading and letting go of the huge amount of issues worrying us in "real life".

So, wishing you a good weekend, find a good place to read and... relax, if possible!

(image here)

Friday, November 13, 2020

Simone St. James - The other Side of Midnight

London, 1925. Glamorous medium Gloria Sutter made her fortune helping the bereaved contact loved ones killed during the Great War. Now she's been murdered at one of her own séances, after leaving a message requesting the help of her former friend and sole rival, Ellie Winter.
Ellie doesn't contact the dead—at least, not anymore. She specializes in miraculously finding lost items. Still, she can't refuse the final request of the only other true psychic she has known. Now Ellie must delve into Gloria's secrets and plunge back into the world of hucksters, lowlifes, and fakes. Worse, she cannot shake the attentions of handsome James Hawley, a damaged war veteran who has dedicated himself to debunking psychics.
As Ellie and James uncover the sinister mysteries of Gloria's life and death, Ellie is tormented by nightmarish visions that herald the grisly murders of those in Gloria's circle. And as Ellie’s uneasy partnership with James turns dangerously intimate, an insidious evil force begins to undermine their quest for clues, a force determined to bury the truth, and whoever seeks to expose it...

Comment: Having seen so many positive comments on this story in the recent years, I added it to my TBR and only now did I finally get to it. I convinced my friend H. to read it with me and this was it, although I must say I expected a lot better.

In this historical fiction mystery, we meet heroine Ellie Winter, a medium/psychic who has the ability to see dead people and find things about them but who no longer does seances, especially since her mother died. Her mother, the famous "fantastique" had had only Gloria Sutton as a rival, and larger than life Gloria befriended her closer in age Ellie to find a way to erase the competition. Years after their fall out, Ellie now works as a simple consultant, helping people find lost things but she is as shocked as anyone when Gloria is found dead. Now, with Gloria's brother wanting to know what she can find out, being interrogated by the police and a reporter from her past wanting to prove her a fake, will Ellie be able to find what happened to Gloria before she becomes the target too?

I fully expected a sort of Gothic-type of story. I thought this not only because of the ghosts and the mediums and the seances but because the plot takes place in the 20s and it that is the time where these things seemed to have more impact on society somehow. I imagined complicated motifs, secluded arrangements, family secrets, fear of exposure, fear of the unknown...the kinds of things one might expect from stories where the supernatural could have had a specific meaning for most people.

It's true the plot is centered on these things. A psychic murdered when she was about to conduct a seance, one of the witnesses also ends up dead, the couple that requested the seance disappears... all clues that point out to scaring scenarios of people watching, of people hiding.. my imagination invented quite a lot and although some of these things can be found throughout the novel, I'm afraid I struggled to be interested. I can't help but saying that the element were there, but the overall feel I had while reading was one of boredom. The story is just boring or I wasn't in the right frame of mind, but the scary parts didn't impact me and the reveals felt very, very lukewarm.

I think the overall story isn't bad, sure I could do with different choices by the author and the end, when we find out who killed Gloria, was not the shock I suppose the author aimed for. But the mystery could have worked, I'd say, had the narrator been more compelling or with a different personality or able to find things in a different way, I'm not certain how to express myself. The thing is, for me, Ellie is a likable character but she is not easy to sympathize with. The fact the story is told by her in the first person turned me off from being more partial to what was happening.

The crimes committed and some of the clues we follow along Ellie to know what happened to Gloria are all fine but I missed more on society, more on those Ellie interacted with... Ok, this is a mystery so the focus is on that but I think more setting up, more on the characters and their family bonds, more on Ellie as person instead of just a psychic, more on her own family would have given more clues to understand everyone. It felt as if those characters were only there to fit the role they had to play and it could have been anyone.

There are also what was labeled "romantic elements", meaning the focus is not it, but there's a romance happening. Ellie has some history with her love interest and I thought that, at least, would be cause for conflict or evolution for Ellie, for instance, on how she could become better because she would develop a relationship with that man.Sadly, no, the romance is barely touched apart from some intimacy scenes and some others which we are to take as proof of their feelings but then, 1) being Ellie the single narrator we don't know what the man is thinking and b) the dialogues between them are supposed to let us infer things, not really see them happening.

I still think perhaps this was a case of "me, not the book", I might not have read this at the best time, and I will try another book by the author at some point. However, with such praise, I did expect all aspects of this novel to be superb but it wasn't so, after all.

Grade: 5/10

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Sarah Title - Kentucky Home

In this warm and witty new series, author Sarah Title introduces readers to the down home Kentucky
hospitality of the Carson family and their Wild Rose Farm and Stables. It's a place where love is always possible--and sweeter than ever the second time around. . .
Mallory Thompson and Keith Carson are far from impressed with each other when she arrives at his family's horse farm, fleeing an abusive marriage. Mallory sees nothing but a gruff man who's as patronizing as her soon-to-be ex-husband, and Keith has no time for a city girl who's afraid of dogs. But the struggling Wild Rose is too small to allow anyone to keep their distance. . .
As one by one, Mallory wins the hearts of his family, from his cranky father to his headstrong younger sister and three-legged dog, Keith finds himself more than a little attracted to her stubborn charm. And the longer Mallory stays, the more she realizes Keith is nothing like the overbearing bully she married--and the more she fantasizes about being in his strong, loving arms. Maybe some folks get a second chance to make a first impression after all. . . 

Comment: Another book I can't remember why I added to my TBR but looking at the blurb and seeing what the story is about, I figure I added it because it would have a heroine looking to heal herself after a bad relationship and falling in love with a new place and a man she would not think would like her.

In this story we meet heroine Mallory when she shows up at her friend Luke's house with a bruise in her face. The scene then jumps into Luke's farm in Kentucky where his family lives and where he leaves Mal because he has something urgent to do. While time passes and Mal thinks about her options, she decides to help around the farm but she is not a natural at all. Still, Luke's family - father Cal, brother Keith, sister Katie and housekeeper Libby - welcomes Mal but are still a little uncertain as why she is there. 

Mal feels like she can't really help but she tries even if that causes issues among the farm chores. But the more she talks to Keith and spends time in such a quiet and welcoming area, the more she stats to believe she can accomplish anything and be happy. She is in the process of divorcing her husband but will Keith accept loving someone again after a tragedy in his past?

Apparently, this is the author's first book and it shows. I say this because it feels as if the author had many ideas, many elements she felt like introducing and some feel too much while others were not developed in the best way (according to me).

The story begins with Luke's point of view of what Mal's life has been and his decision to help her. This is fine, but we never have Luke's perspective again so maybe a better option would be to not focus things in his thoughts. Then, Mal is at the farm, she has issues and she feels like trying to help since the family is letting her stay even when Luke's only explanation is that she is his fiancé. I think this was a very poor attempt to create some conflict between Mal and her new love interest, which obviously is Luke's brother. I suppose this was a tactic so that Keith would not feel he should be attracted to Mal and therefore, the acting on their feelings would be delayed?

Mal is a simple character, she is a humble, quiet young woman, she leaned too much on the man who became her husband and their relationship, we discover, was never balanced. His personality was too abrasive and she felt like she had to change for him. This is, clearly, to better contrast with Keith, who suffered in his past so he had another way of seeing things and that means he is much more understanding and suitable to Mal. I don't mind these tactics but thy seem evident and for me this only shows the author had the ideas but was not certain on how to write them. I understand the ideas but they seem to lack some complexity, some necessary layers of characterization, so the characters themselves feel like more dimensional.

The romance is fine, I guess, but because Keith and Mal didn't seem to be well characterized, they don't get to be as special as I would have liked, in the big scheme of things. Their actions seem to be driven to take them to a certain place and don't feel as natural or intrinsic to their lives. They are just there, doing those things...I can't explain myself properly.

As for the secondary characters, some are fine, others are just props, none is as clearly defined as I believe would enrich the story more, but I supposed it was because the small hints we have about them would be exploited in the sequels. However, when I took a peak at the blurbs, the next books aren't about these characters, it's about people who don't how up in this book. I don't know what to think, it just feels as if this book didn't develop all the necessary elements and presented things that don't really matter for the story being told.

Closer to the end some situations happen to "accelerate" the main characters' decision to be a couple and, honestly, I think those were more unnecessary elements. I think the author could have focused on the main couple, explore their relationship with one another and with the secondary characters better and this would have been a much sweeter and romantic story. So, between the things that don't feel important and the ones that should and could have been written better, I have to say I wasn't too impressed. This isn't a bad story overall, but it's certainly not one I'll fell like re-reading.

Grade: 5/10

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Amanda Bouchet - A Promise of Fire

Catalia "Cat" Fisa lives disguised as a soothsayer in a traveling circus. She is perfectly content avoiding the danger and destiny the Gods-and her homicidal mother-have saddled her with. That is, until Griffin, an ambitious warlord from the magic-deprived south, fixes her with his steely gaze and upsets her illusion of safety forever.
Griffin knows Cat is the Kingmaker, the woman who divines the truth through lies. He wants her as a powerful weapon for his newly conquered realm-until he realizes he wants her for much more than her magic. Cat fights him at every turn, but Griffin's fairness, loyalty, and smoldering advances make him increasingly hard to resist and leave her wondering if life really does have to be short, and lived alone.

Comment: As usual, I'm late to the "party" and only now did I manage to read this book, which was so well received and well liked by many readers when it was published in 2016. On the other hand of not being in the middle of the hype, is the fact I can now enjoy all the books without having to wait for them to be published.

In this fantasy story we meet Cat, an apparent inconsequential soothsayer who travels with a circus in disguise. One day, things change because a man seems to be following all her movements during the circus' performances but Cat can't escape and the man, Griffin, and his four friends catch her and force her to do a divination for them in which she discovers one of the men is actually an enemy of the others. Since Cat proves her worth, the leader decides she is someone he needs to help with his family new power status and he sort of kidnaps her. As they travel to his hometown, many obstacles come their way but a bond between Cat and the guys becomes stronger, especially with Griffin, whom she can't see to ignore. Will there be something more for Cat at the end of the journey except duty?

I was really surprised by how much I liked this story. It was a very enjoyable adventure, filled with fantasy and magic and a main couple I had fun seeing falling in love. The story is not just about the suitability of a couple, though, and I had a great time understanding the world the author created and keeping up with rules and the little things that made it so captivating.

The story is quite simple, if one has read other fantasy books before. The heroine is running from her family and her past, where she was ill treated and tortured for who she is and her powers. She is hiding among the members of a circus where some of her abilities aren't that special and she can go undetected. She is the narrator of this story and usually first person is not the best choice in my opinion, but here is wasn't too bad because the focus is on the plot and Cat is an intriguing character, we get a lot not just by what she says but mostly because of her actions and her personality. It's very different when the narrator is someone whose voice is appealing!

The hero was fascinating too. Of course we don't know his thoughts but his behavior and his actions speak for themselves. We realize very early on that he is a man of honor as are his fellow companions. All characters are interesting on their on, even those that aren't as developed. As a reminder, this is the first of a trilogy so although we do get more on the main characters, I bet the secondary characters will play a continuous role throughout the three books which will give them more development.

The romance is sweet and funny and not too quick. In a word: perfect. Both Cat and Griffin hide secrets, she more than he, but although we see by their actions they like one another and feel attracted, this is only depicted as escalating, meaning they slowly get to spend more time together and their increasing intimacy is as slow as the progress of the plot. Besides, it's just so much fun to see their interactions... although their relationship starts because Cat is kidnapped, in reality things aren't as heavy toned as that and the journey has hilarious situations, as well as dangerous ones. It was greet to see them all bond and become friends and care for one another.

The plot isn't too hard to grasp but we aren't told absolutely everything, so the information given is well paced (to me it is). Cat's family will prove to be the biggest hurdle for the plans the main characters want to happen. With this I mean the success of Griffin's role as a ruler along with his sister and his family and the peace between regions.. although there are hints the trilogy will be about more than just this. 

I'm very eager to know what happens next and I hope the author keeps up with this trend and tone.

Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Mary Balogh - Only a Kiss

Since witnessing the death of her husband during the wars, Imogen, Lady Barclay, has secluded herself
in the confines of Hardford Hall, their home in Cornwall. The new owner has failed to take up his inheritance, and Imogen desperately hopes he will never come to disturb her fragile peace.
Percival Hayes, Earl of Hardford, has no interest in the wilds of Cornwall, but when he impulsively decides to pay a visit to his estate there, he is shocked to discover that it is not the ruined heap he had expected. He is equally shocked to find the beautiful widow of his predecessor’s son living there.
Soon Imogen awakens in Percy a passion he has never thought himself capable of feeling. But can he save her from her misery and reawaken her soul? And what will it mean for him if he succeeds?

Comment: This is installment #6 in the Survivor's Club series by Mary Balogh. I've turned out to be quite the fan of this author's series and if I didn't space out her books, I would run out pretty quickly but I'll be finishing this series this year.

In this story we finally get to know Imogen, lady Barclay, better. She has been the only female member of the club - known to the reader from all the previous installments - who has recovered in the duke of Stanbrook's estate after returning from the Peninsula. When the book starts, Imogen is living at her late husband's home in Cornwall, even though after his death another heir got the estate. She lives a peaceful life, with nothing out of the ordinary except her annual weeks with the other club's members and now, besides a roof that seems will never be finished, there's also the new earl of the estate finally coming to pay a visit. 

Percy, the earl of Hartford, decided to see what the estate in Cornwall is like because he feels bored. He thinks he would find something to be restored or severely improved but it turns out the house is not only in good condition but there are people living in it as well. He seems dumbfounded by Imogen and their initial meetings don't go very well but as time passes by and secrets and warnings come out of, seemingly, nowhere, so do his feelings for this woman he believes to be cold and unaffected but who, he discovers, is the woman he has always been waiting for and didn't know. Will they agree they could be happy together?

As I mentioned, this being part of a seven book series (not counting one novella), for fans these books are quite a treat. We are able to follow several characters throughout many books, we see their evolution, we are aware of what happens to them even when they are not the protagonists and among all this, we also get main characters who go from an apparent simple situation to a well deserved HEA. So, for the most time, I'd say this author is a hit for me, personally, although I can't think of a book I've graded as perfect because her style, while thoroughly appealing to me, always has some analytic quality in how the characters deal with one another that makes the story feel less romantic than what it could.

I think this is what I'd say about this book as well,  especially when it comes to how Imogen and Percy start as antagonists, not really seeing eye to eye but when thy decide they changed how they feel about one other, they very conveniently and very maturely talk and discuss the possibility of being together. This is adult behavior at its best but I confess I'd wish a slight more romantic approach and a decisive moment where they couldn't just avoid  how they felt anymore. It's quite the conundrum for me! I applaud how mature all the characters are and how they behave accordingly to the rules of the time but I still wish they were more spontaneous with their affections!

The romance was good enough, despite the small details I'd rather see differently. I liked Imogen and when we learn the truth behind her suffering and why she feels like avoiding happiness, I could understand why she felt she was so. Guilt is quite a self punishment... Percy seems to be the easiest character to read here but he, too, has hidden depths. I liked how the contrast was set between himself and Imogen and I feel their relationship has potential, even if the passage of time since they overcome the final emotional obstacles and the end of the book feels too quick in relation to how long it took to present and deconstruct that as the book continued.

There are two big motors driving this book. We are given very small hints here and there about why Imogen is so cool behaved and why it seems as if she's not moving on from her past and terrible experiences during the war, after so many years. There is also the weird hints about work and maintenance not going well around the estate and why Percy feels everyone is hiding something from him and how could that be related to the smuggling business which apparently ended when the late earl died. Although this is not meant as a mystery per se, and the culprit felt a little obvious to me (I suppose it would be so for any reader who likes mysteries), it still added interesting content for the plot and motivation for the character's choices, behavior, eventual sharing of personal thoughts, etc.

In the end I have to say I liked this one as much as I liked the other installments. There's a reason why the author's style works and why I keep feeling her books are something I don't want to miss.

Grade: 8/10