Saturday, January 19, 2019

Friday, January 18, 2019

Sándor Márai - Embers

As darkness settles on a forgotten castle at the foot of the Carpathian mountains, two men sit down to a final dinner together. They have not seen one another in forty-one years. At their last meeting, in the company of a beautiful woman, an unspoken act of betrayal left all three lives shattered - and each of them alone. Tonight, as wine stirs the blood, it is time to talk of old passions and that last, fateful meeting.

Comment: Another classic under my belt. I saw this book at my local library last time I was there and since this is a short book (the Portuguese edition I read has only 153 pages) I decided I could bring and read it quickly in between my planned list for January. I didn't know anything about the plot, only that the title is well recognized, especially the translation to my language, which literally is "the candles burn until the end"... slightly more poetic than the simple "embers" in english.

In this story we meet the general, an old man who has lived for decades alone with some servants in
his castle in the forest, always remembering the past and the strong friendship he had all through childhood and youth while studying at a private school with Konrad. However, when they were both in their early 20s something changed and after the general married his wife, the close friendship has ended. Now, 41 years after, Konrad returns to have dinner with his old friend and the general wants only to have the answer to a couple of questions... 

There are many reviews by much more talented writers and thinkers than I am, who can express themselves perfectly in trying to explain the philosophical content of this book. This is not a philosophical treaty, though. What I mean to say is that the story and content can be seen through that perspective and in that case, my words wouldn't be the best to explain.

Basically, the book centers around a failed friendship although we only know for certain in the end. There are hints and it's not a surprise why Konrad and the general stopped being friends but the emotional and complex explanation of how and in what way it affected them both, the general in particular, is what makes this book special and intense.
After all, what is the meaning of friendship? What does it matter truly? And why can it leave a bitter taste if it ends on one side and not on the other? I especially liked the melancholy the general expresses in his words, not as much for why - although it hurt him of course - but mostly because he had assumed others would think like him, would respect the feeling and what it would entail.

It must be said the general's personality is obviously a continuity of the author's own state of mind. The author was growing up in a time where the Austrian-Hungary empire still existed (beginning of the 20th century), and his concept of honor, respect, duty were quite in line with the values of that period. However, not everyone thinks or feels the same and in this book it was interesting to see the elements that made Konrad and the general friends didn't last through the difficulties and differences in their characters and values. The concept of friendship acquires then, for different people, distinctive traits and allowances. I can't really explain the whole range of questions the author introduces here but I could summarize by saying that if people don't share honesty in their feelings and expectations, than can it be real friendship? Can it last through the test of time?

Time is also an interesting notion here. I found that the profound melancholy I feel towards the general, a man who has held on to his beliefs to the point of loneliness and isolation embodies all the people who feel irate in their pride and superior thinking without realizing they are missing on everything else. I too, somehow, agree with some of he general's words while talking to Konrad about what it should have meant to be a friend. The provocative aspect of his demands and questions are the true beauty of this story. 

The end is very depressive and although it suits the story and the tone, it still leaves me a little sad to think people too focused on a wrong can't find joy in anything else, they are consumed by their ideas - and ideals! - and no matter how right, they can't go past it. Perhaps this wasn't the key message in this book but for me it was the notion that remained the longest, after finishing the book. While the general and Konrad have their conversation - well, more of a monologue from the general, many issues are debated, the plot is uncovered and, sadly, sadness is everlasting. Still, this is an interesting book that I have liked reading.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Nalini Singh - Ocean Light

Security specialist Bowen Knight has come back from the dead. But there's a ticking time bomb in his head: a chip implanted to block telepathic interference that could fail at any moment--taking his brain along with it. With no time to waste, he should be back on land helping the Human Alliance. Instead, he's at the bottom of the ocean, consumed with an enigmatic changeling.
Kaia Luna may have traded in science for being a chef, but she won't hide the facts of Bo's condition from him or herself. She's suffered too much loss in her life to fall prey to the dangerous charm of a human who is a dead man walking. And she carries a devastating secret Bo could never imagine.
But when Kaia is taken by those who mean her deadly harm, all bets are off. Bo will do anything to get her back--even if it means striking a devil's bargain and giving up his mind to the enemy...

Comment: Usually I can't wait to read the books in the psy/changeling series which is probably one of the top 5 series I like and devour the most. However, this book was released last year but some complications on my order at the place I got it made it impossible for the edition I pre ordered to arrive on time. I decided to cancel it and pre ordered the paperback, since it had been some time already, I might as well wait for a cheaper edition.
Therefore, only now I've managed to read it but thinking positively, the next one won't take as long!

In this second installment of the Trinity sub series we have the story of Bowen Knight, the most prominent member of the Human Alliance, the group representative of humans in this fascinating series by Nalini Singh.
For the past books it was understood humans have always been the weaker link of the three races in the psy/changeling world and the only threat they posed was how numerous they are but without any sort of power, strategically, they seemed to be overlooked. Bowen has always fought to make certain humans saw their rights acknowledged and, more important, that they wouldn't be easily attacked by those stronger, both physically and mentally. What he didn't count on was a shot through the heart but miraculously he doesn't die because he was rescued by BlackSea members, the water changelings who seem to be more active than never.
While resting and waiting for some tests are done to the lethal chip in his head, he meets Kaia, a BlackSea member who seems to have something against him...can proximity change the way they both think about one another?

As always, the author's imagination when it comes to these plots and characters and even better, the complete world building of the series is amazing. This is one of those fictional worlds where I wouldn't mind living in, if only I could be a part of the community/family of characters we've met in the books.

This book has an interesting vibe because it presents us with another group/family which is the BlackSea changelings and I confess I liked knowing more about the water animals they can turn into. Still a little difficult to imagine but fascinating anyway.
As for Bowen's interactions with them, I think he wasn't as amazed as he should, all things considered but I suppose I can discount the wow factor for his suborn and reserved personality. Understandably, he was too focused on the heath issue he's dealing with and all the responsibilities under his belt. I can respect the fact he wouldn't be believable if he acted silly but sometimes he just seemed a little too serious.

Kaia is a very interesting character but of course very secretive. Her past has some bad memories for her but thankfully she grew up in a loving community. Her attitudes and initial behavior towards Bowen make perfect sense, especially because, as the story progresses, we discover more hints about her fears.
In way, though, the fact both these characters faced complicated situations in their pasts unites them somehow but let it be said they both had a great support system during their childhood and teenager years. Both went beyond their regrets and quick growing up to become very stable people. Some negativity they reveal shouldn't be excused by their past, I'd say. But I guess they are cautious... which means the quick way in which they fall in love can look a little unlikely. I understand why but it wasn't such a positive aspect, even considering the demand to help Bowen in a specific time line.

There's a secondary plot going on regarding some treason and hidden moles here and there. I think this aspect was quite negative because it ended up concerning characters we've come to know and not just some abstract or undeveloped villains like in other installments. In a way, I think this made the book more emotional but, at the same time, made it more difficult to put aside the bad feelings.
There's also some advance in the relationships between the characters and the human factor for the balance of the psychic health of everyone, being it humans, psy or changelings.

I think the author was clever in mixing the different details to explore. It can be a challenge to balance the romance, the bureaucracies, if I can call it that, of how things work, of what characters are accomplishing without making it too stiff of a story or too focused on elements not everyone enjoys. I'm very glad this world the author created is fascinating and feels complete, feels very solid because everything in it gets interesting. I think the romance of Bowen and Kais isn't the best ever in the whole series but I like where the plots are at and I liked seeing them falling in love and be part of a strong community.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

TBR Challenge: Elizabeth Hoyt - Once Upon a Moonlit Night

Hippolyta Royle is running for her life. Pursued by hounds on a cold rainy night, the heiress flags down a passing carriage and throws herself at the mercy of the coach's occupant. Whoever this handsome traveler may be, he is her only hope to escape a terrible fate. But should he agree to escort her to safety, he's in for much more than he bargained for.
At first Matthew Mortimer doesn't believe Hippolyta's story, that she's a fabulously wealthy heiress who's been kidnapped. He assumes she's a beggar, an actress, or worse. But once his new travel companion washes the mud from her surprisingly lovely face, and they share a breathtaking kiss, there is no turning back.

Comment: Another year with the TBR challenge begins! It wouldn't feel right if I didn't participate in this challenge so once again here I am and hoping the books I choose can be good ones.
For January, as usual, the theme is short stories, whether in format or page count. I picked a novella by author Elizabeth Hoyt, an installment of the famous Maiden Lane series which I have been going through. Since this was next on the list, I waited on purpose to use it for this month's theme.

In this short novella, we finally have the story of Hyppolita Royle, a young heiress whose father made his fortune in India, where they lived for many years. Having recently returned to England, Hyppolita found some difficulty in being accepted by her circumstances and upbringing, if not for the dowry her father will certainly give her upon marriage. However, being sought due to her money isn't enough for romantic Hyppolita.
She also has to bear the bother caused by the duke of Montgomery, someone who showed interest in marrying her but whom she can't stand. Being blackmailed wasn't part of her life plans but that was precisely what led her to be chased by dogs one night and then rescued by a rude man in a coach. Thankfully, her fate seems to finally come around on a positive side...

Structurally speaking, of course this short story has all the necessary elements for it to be read and understood by a new reader or someone who only likes short stories.
However, to be truthfully about the plot and the enjoyment of this short story, I must say this story doesn't really make sense unless the previous books in the series have been read as well. And it's not only because of said enjoyment, although that is always a plus of course. But the reality is that some situations in this book, which will look to be superficially treated by some, only mean more with previous knowledge backing it up.

This said, one can obviously assume this short story or novella suffers a bit from what all the other countless similar short stories have in the past: not enough pages for such a complex plot. Adding the enjoyment factor, the sex scenes factor and the romance factor, then everything does seem a little rushed. However, for me, I was able to put aside some of those technical issues and just be entertained by reading about Hyppolita, a character that has always seemed reserved but friendly and I was looking for to see her find happiness.

The protagonists meet in a coach while the hero, Matthew, is traveling to his recently gained estate and title. He is now the earl of Paxton and he has returned from India too (convenient, I thought) where he was a scientist and researcher to fulfill what is expected of him. He isn't happy to help Hyppolita, thinks she is a prostitute but we can see his good character when he helps her anyway despite his thoughts. I think the way they "bonded" does seem very quick and the coincidences between their pasts and common preferences too much but I suppose in a short story, elements like these make things seem a little more acceptable and a final HEA more believable.

I liked them as a couple, actually. Yes, things happen very quickly between then, and there's a huge amount of possibilities in both of them which means a full length plot wouldn't be a wasted one to have. I understand Hyppolita never was a central character but she had good points to eventually become one and I hope she can still be seen in the stories to come.
The relationship between her and Matthew is quick but we are aware of the common traits which makes us believe they will be a good match even if we only see it superficially.
In terms of them being actively part of the overall plot, that isn't obvious at any point, except when other known characters intervene once or twice.

All things considered, this isn't the best story in the series, it was not the most fascinating for me but from the POV of someone who has liked the series as a whole and has liked knowing about all the characters, this short story was, indeed, a good addition to it. I'm just glad two more characters have found their HEA in this "universe".
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Heather Morris - The Tattoist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival - literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims' arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Lale used the infinitesimal freedom of movement that this position awarded him to exchange jewels and money taken from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he had been caught, he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.
There have been many books about the Holocaust - and there will be many more. What makes this one so memorable is Lale Sokolov's incredible zest for life. He understood exactly what was in store for him and his fellow prisoners, and he was determined to survive - not just to survive but to leave the camp with his dignity and integrity intact, to live his life to the full. Terrible though this story is, it is also a story of hope and of courage. It is also - almost unbelievably - a love story. Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale - a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer - it was love at first sight, and he determined not only to survive himself but to ensure that Gita did, too. His story - their story - will make you weep, but you will also find it uplifting. It shows the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.

Comment: This book has risen to the ranks of best liked recently. I too was quite curious about it and had it in my list to buy when the prices dropped a bit considering the page count (it's a very small book, not even 250 pages). Last week I went to my local library and there it was, on the display shelf so of course I grabbed it and took it with me.
Having now read it, I can say it was a very touching story but not the most emotional one it could.

In this fictional tale based on real life events, the author created a small book on the experience suffered by Lale Solokov, a Slovakian man who was at Auschwitz and Birkenau during the Nazi occupations. Lale had to suffer a lot but he was also able to find the woman he would spend the rest of his life with.
The story is based on interviews and checking of facts but the lessons to learn never hide the terrible fact so many people were treated as no living creature should be...

Stories about the Holocaust or Second World Wars are usually quite emotional and touching, especially if the authors try to insert those themes into romance plots. Even non fiction can be brutal to the point of leaving a reader too sad or horrified. It's always very difficult to not care about the story and not imagine what so many people suffered and how it was happening in the eyes of the world and, still, allowed. Even nowadays so much suffering an wars happen and the world goes on...

This specific story is based on real people, which means apart from some invented dialogues and steps, most of what we read did happen. In my edition the author also included pictures of the main couple in there different stages in their lives and that made it even more real for me. I had never heard of Lale Solokov in particular so it was good to have a specific name to this "hero" and to the tale he was sharing. In the pictures he is always with his wife Gita, who he met in Birkenau, and it's the most disturbing thought for me to imagine that smiling couple was once in a place no one can really describe.

This is a touching story as any reader can imagine but, at the same time, it's just one more of several. The author went for authenticity by basing things on real people and, of course, that gave her the human approach some pure fiction stories sometimes lack, for they rely too much on general knowledge.
However, in terms of description, this wasn't the toughest story about Holocaust I've read. I can only assume the difficulty it was for Lale top talk about this and to remember things he saw and lived through, therefore I can also assume the more superficial tone of the story matches the attempt to respect Lale's memories? If not, I think there's a certain simplicity in the way things are told that doesn't really pay justice to what the situation deserved.

I can accept the fact there was no exploitation of the pain and suffering Lale and Gita and others they met went through. But I also think there's the attempt to minimize some things and the small page count, the lack of descriptions besides the basics offer a not so powerful impact on what the situation must have really been like.
But of course just the possibility of what the story suggests, of what it is we read and not what they really felt and saw is enough reason to not mitigate the feelings involved. Just because the story doesn't stress it, it doesn't mean it wasn't hell to go through it.

All in all, the theme and protagonists of this story are deserving of anyone's recognition but the way the story is told feels a little too clinical and doesn't really convey all the challenges, the heartbreaks and pain those people went though. I can understand why the story is shaped like this but the emotions it could bring forth aren't as strong as they could have.
Grade: 7/10

Monday, January 14, 2019

Sandra Byrd - Mist of Midnight

In the first of a brand-new series set in Victorian England, a young woman returns home from India after the death of her family to discover her identity and inheritance are challenged by the man who holds her future in his hands.
Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her...and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca's name, but her home and incomes.
That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father's investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives—does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, will she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”? 

Comment: I got interested in the book in 2016 after seeing the cover being part of a contest and some readers commented it was evocative and mysterious, very much alike the blurb. I got curious and decided to add it to my reading list. Now, some time after, having read it at last, I must say the blurb and the cover are slightly more appealing than the overall content.

In this book we meet the protagonist Rebecca Ravenshaw,  a young woman and daughter of missionaries in India. After the mutiny that has caused so many english people to die, Rebecca returns to England after years away, to get her family's estate again and start a new life in a society that, for all purposes, is very different from what she was used to.
However, after arriving without much and with a heavy heart, she is surprised when the man in charge of giving her what she is owed tells her another woman had come before saying she was Rebecca but died in somewhat mysterious circumstances. 
Rebecca is amazed and even more so when all clues point out to captain Whitfield, the man who inherited the estate after "Rebecca's" death, being the one who more gained from the situation, The locals are't helping and it seems something strange is on going...

The premise for this story is very intriguing. Plus, the gothic atmosphere and tone certainly added to the feeling something was happening and some secrets were being kept out of our perception. 
What probably made this feel be stronger is the fact the narrator of the story is Rebecca and of course we only see thins through her eyes. I've said before this is very limitative but in thrillers and mysteries it seems it's a good tactic.

The whole story is a constant doubt. Is Rebecca who she says she is? Are the servants at the house being truthful? Is captain Whitfield a liar or a real gentleman? Did the woman pretending to be her kill herself as some say or was she murdered? Why is the room that woman used closed? Is Rebecca's new maid a good woman or not, as some indicate? 
I think the author has managed to create a great atmosphere and I confess what I liked the best was the intrigue and the curiosity over where the author would take things. Since this story is labeled gothic and mystery I expected an amazing twist somewhere and when it came I felt a little sorry I couldn't appreciate it more.

One of the problems - to me - of this book is the pacing. It's quite exciting at first, when things are slowly being presented and put into place but after a while of just suspicions and Rebecca's lack of knowing what to do (socially, I mean), it got a little tiring and because we only have Rebecca's thoughts, repetitive and boring at times.

The other problem is the romance. Or lack of. Yes, this book is also inspirational (but not preachy) which means we only have the protagonists kissing once or twice in the whole book, they hold hands and look at one another very often. I don't mind the so-called "clean" books but I have to say the lack of more romantic situations between them, the obvious need for vagueness because the hero is a suspect and the way Rebecca thinks of him made for a very poor romantic side of things. I just think the story lost some power and impact because the romance wasn't evident. The heroine kept thinking she was in love from a certain point on, but for me it wasn't something I saw.

The end of the story wasn't as amazing as I imagined although the reasons behind some actions and the how some things were done did feel well thought. The author did a good work meshing the suspense and the tone together. It's just too bad the other elements didn't feel as well done. Some details did fail to impress me, overall, and the vagueness of things is certainly a cause for it.
On the other hand, another element I enjoyed was Rebecca's recollections of her time and life in India. It was interesting to see how she adapted to the idea of having left her home there and now being in a completely different country and society.

All in all, good elements, others not so good but always a little too subtle composition that translated a little as boring at times and that is why I probably won't read another book by the author so soon.
Grade: 6/10

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Sarah Granger - The Unforgiving Minute

Ryan Betancourt has got it made: he’s reached the top tier of the tennis world thanks to a wild-card entry to the US Open. Ryan is meeting players he has idolized for years, including his teenage crush, Josh Andrews. But he isn’t ready for the politics and manipulation that come with life at the top.
Josh Andrews is closeted, private, and difficult to get to know. He’s been playing tennis since he could walk, won his first tournament at five, and was sent to Spain at thirteen to attend a tennis academy. Before a knee injury forced him into a year off, he was ranked the number one player in the world. Now he’s back—and intent on winning.
Josh and Ryan first meet at a tournament in Brisbane. Ryan excitedly greets Josh only to be ignored. Crushed, he realizes the golden boy of tennis isn't all he seems. Only in the team-building environment of training for the Davis Cup does Josh open up enough for them to grow closer. Their developing relationship is everything Ryan ever wanted, and he is blissfully happy. But inevitably they have to play against each other, and everything changes.

Comment: This book interested me because I don't dislike the idea of sports romance, even though the majority of them center around the same types. This one featured two tennis players and I was curious to see how the sport itself would be included in the story, considering so very often the sports content is just a minimum and not really part of the plot.

In this book we follow the thoughts of Ryan Betancourt, a young tennis player, not starting his career but only now coming to the attention of the big tournaments after his well done play after gaining a wild card to a tournament.
Now Ryan's finally going to be able to play with people he has admired and looked up for, such as is the case of Josh Andrews, barely two years older but already a huge name in the game. After a not so positive meeting, Ryan is left thinking most big players aren't as friendly and welcoming as they seem but training for Davis Cup makes him see a different Josh and sparks fly. Will they be able to face the professional lives meshing with a personal one?

Thinking about this story globally, I liked it a lot. 
There were some details I wasn't as fond of, such as:
- only having Ryan's perspective, although thankfully it was narrated in third person;
- the behind the scenes politics of tennis although they can be understandable and realistic;
- the miscommunication of the main couple at some point, instead of just talking about their doubts and future.
Besides some situations revolving around these issues, practically the rest of the book was all interesting for me.

I think the best detail about this book is Ryan himself. He is bubbly, eager to do things right, eager to make friends and proof his coach his hard work can be paid off and he wants to enjoy tennis now as much as he did when he was a boy and first started being interested in it. His personality is very approachable and I didn't mind that much the fact his thoughts are the only ones we get because he is very likable and easy to root for.
The other main character is Josh, who obviously presents a much more reserved and quiet personality. The author also did a good job showing the guy's backgrounds without too much exaggeration of melodrama so Josh's childhood and teenage years following in the hopes and firm hand of his father make it understandable why he isn't as joyful or playful.

The relationship of the two of them starts off in a very interesting way, I liked the little details that show the reader there's some sexual tension and chemistry between them but I'm very glad things never went into erotica levels or porn ones. I mean to say, when they get intimate things between them are a part of the relationship, it's not all consuming, all seeing as if sex is the only things to ever exist between two people.

I was also very happy the author included so many tennis talk. Not only do the characters work and play in tournaments and games and we often have Ryan discussing that with his friends, those around him, but we get to learn a few things about the way things work in this field. I don't think it's too much because the plot is well developed in my opinion, but it does offer an interesting side of things. I liked that tennis wasn't just an excuse for them to be near one another or a good match in terms of understanding the other's career demands. I think the details the author used give a good enough feel that Josh and Ryan were, indeed, tennis players interested in their careers.

As expected, there some obstacles in their path to happiness and stability and it felt like there weren't any other more logic alternatives but I still think the miscommunication could have been an avoidable tactic. Nevertheless, I'm just happy I've read this story, the pacing felt very well done and the end of the book hopeful in several areas. Not perfect but close, for my taste.
Grade: 8/10

Friday, January 11, 2019

Mary Balogh - First Comes Marriage

Against the scandal and seduction of Regency England, New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh introduces an extraordinary family—the fiery, sensual Huxtables. Vanessa is the second daughter, proud and daring, a young widow who has her own reason for pursuing the most eligible bachelor in London. One that has nothing to do with love. Or does it? The arrival of Elliott Wallace, the irresistibly eligible Viscount Lyngate, has thrown the country village of Throckbridge into a tizzy. Desperate to rescue her eldest sister from a loveless union, Vanessa Huxtable Dew offers herself instead. In need of a wife, Elliott takes the audacious widow up on her unconventional proposal while he pursues an urgent mission of his own. But a strange thing happens on the way to the wedding night. Two strangers with absolutely nothing in common can’t keep their hands off each other. Now, as intrigue swirls around a past secret—one with a stunning connection to the Huxtables—Elliott and Vanessa are uncovering the glorious pleasures of the marriage bed…and discovering that when it comes to wedded bliss, love can’t be far behind.

Comment: I now consider myself to be a fan of Mary Balogh. I've read two series by her and two older loose titles if I'm not mistaken and I can say I've enjoyed the "voice" this author has to tell her stories. I especially have enjoyed her more recent work thus, I decided to start a new one for this year and chronologically speaking, the Huxtables were next and this is the first book.

In this first installment of a new series, the Huxtable family discovers law has made 17 year old Stephen the heir os an earldom. Stephen and his older sisters Meg, Vanessa and Kate have always been humble but a close family and the news their family isn't a poor one anymore is a good one but none of them starts creating delusions of grandeur.
The bearer of the news is Eliott, Viscount Lyndgate, a cousin of the late earl and someone who has become rather cynic. He still recognizes the family is a close one and that Stephen is a good boy who, if well educated, can become a very good and responsible earl. He wasn't counting on the three sisters going to London too, to the family house, but he accepts they also might benefit from their new station. If only he could ignore or avoid Vanessa, the only married - and widowed - of the sisters...

I liked the premise of this new series. I was interested in seeing how a family who had been brought up under the humble expectations of a small community and in which the family members all found some sort of meaning to their lives, suddenly had a whole new life in front of them and new situations to face.
I was also interested in seeing how the romance would develop as soon as it got evident that the main couple would be the viscount who delivered the news and the middle sister who everyone considered to be energetic and bubbly but not the pretty one.

I think, again, the author has managed to create a fascinating group of characters. The family is a close one and I'm glad they have each other's support through this new adventure. I can know from the start that they will be a good support system to each other as the stories go by.
The secondary characters also provide good plot mysteries and help, like Constantine, the illegitimate cousin of the Huxtables who has many secrets or viscount Lyndgate's mother who was very friendly and quiet in this story but offered what was necessary to make things go smoothly for the sisters, especially, in the first days.

As expected, the main couple is the attraction of the story. Their relationship starts off as being very surprising in how it develops but I was eager to see how their feelings for one another would develop.
Vanessa has emotional baggage due to her previous marriage and her doubts about her looks provide intense but not too dramatic conversations and situations, even with her new husband. I liked the little intricacies of why they are suited to one another and I liked we have a good enough explanation for why they considered the idea of becoming a couple. One could say there was some method to that but the emotions and feelings soon come too.
Eliott has changed - we learn - from being carefree and trustful to a cynical and laughing man. We understand why this happened and why it affected not only his behavior towards others but also his personality. In the end, though, finding a confident in Vanessa helped him process some things and realize there's more to life than disappointments.

After finishing this book, I was left happy that Vanessa and Elliott found common groud for their relatinship and that they wer able to process and put aside previous entanglements in a very mature way, as mature as the conversations they shared. This author writes things in a very polished, polite way but the feelings come across and I'm already eager to read the next story. The story isn't perfect, some scenes/plot moves aren't as interesting to read but overall, it was a good one.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Vi Keeland, Penelope Ward - Stuck-Up Suit

It started out like any other morning on the train.
Until I became mesmerized by the guy sitting across the aisle.
He was barking at someone on his phone like he ruled the world.
Who did the stuck-up suit think he was...God?
Actually, he looked like a God. That was about it. When his stop came, he got up suddenly and left. So suddenly, he dropped his phone on the way out. I might have picked it up.
I might have gone through all of his photos and called some of the numbers.
I might have held onto the mystery man's phone for days―until I finally conjured up the courage to return it. When I traipsed my ass across town to his fancy company, he refused to see me.
So, I left the phone on the empty desk outside the arrogant jerk's office. I might have also left behind a dirty picture on it first though. I didn't expect him to text back.  I didn't expect our exchanges to be hot as hell. I didn't expect to fall for him―all before we even met. The two of us couldn't have been any more different. Yet, you know what they say about opposites.
When we finally came face to face, we found out opposites sometimes do more than attract―we consumed each other. Nothing could have prepared me for the ride he took me on. And I certainly wasn't prepared for where I'd wind up when the ride was over.
All good things must come to an end, right?
Except our ending was one I didn't see coming.

Comment: I got this book for free at a site I registered in. I had also read previously read a book by Penelope Ward, one of the authors of this book, but it hadn't wowed me and I had all intentions of not reading more things by her. Since this was a co-written story, I hoped things would be different.

In this book, we meet Soraya, a very bold and confident woman who one day keeps the cellphone another commuter of the train they both use to work had dropped. Since what she had seen of the guy's behavior didn't make her think he was a good person, she decides to play with his phone before giving it over. She calls someone from his contact list, she checks his photos and she saves pictures of parts of her body when, after trying to give the phone back, she realizes he is a super busy executive who mistreats his secretary.
After this, the two start exchanging messages when he calls the number also saved in his phone, and the content of those messages heats up until they decide to meet face to face. Will there be any hope for these two?

This book is labeled new-adult (NA) which apparently reads as people between 18-30? Is that it? Well, guessing so, I suppose it can be understandable the behavior often found in these books is a little confusing. As with all my experiences reading NA, this book also presented two grown up people who often at as teenagers and not adults. Our world has evolved a lot but it seems the only change between YA - young adult, and NA is the age number, not the age maturity. All often behave very silly and I can't understand why I can't find romances with NA characters that don't have some of the following:
- whiny/loud characters
- characters who equal brash and vulgar to confident and outspoken
- thoughts of everything but real life

What sort of disappoints me the most is the failed expectation. The blurbs and the premises of NA books are always very appealing and except for the ones featuring tropes I dislike anyway no matter the genre, so when I read these stories and they inevitably go towards the same path as all the others and present characters that often behave the same, it can be annoying.

In this story, as usual, Soraya is a very exuberant and captivating character but she does think a lot about sex and she can't think of the hero without associating him with it too. I get it, that's the point of these novels, but for me her personality isn't that of someone I'd like to be friends with. She has a vulnerable side but the emotional content gets lost among all the other superficial sceens about her.
The hero Graham is the same, he follows a pattern of the hero who is smart and confident and rich but there's some hurt i his past that makes act as a jerk sometimes. Only their love saves them both and while it's great that we can see some romance in it, the superficiality of most scenes of them interacting just doesn't really make me want to read more.

The story is alternatively told by the two characters and in each chapter we read things with each one being the narrator. It's great we can have access to their thoughts and also see scenes with them both through different eyes, opposed to only have one of them as a narrator for instance.
I liked the end too, it's a little sugary but sweet and almost like a reward afetr some silly behaviors during the plot.

I don't think this is a bad book but the choices made by so many authors regarding this NA genre baffle me. The personality of the characters, the interactions between characters, the sex scenes and talk and whatever just feel like mechanics otherwise readers wouldn't like the books. So much potential and for me, not enough serious development. 
I'm still hoping one day a book in this genre (with the romance specifics too) can prove my opinion/expectation of it, wrong. It wasn't this one yet.
Grade: 5/10

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wendy Lyn Watson - Once Upon a Wallflower

When Mira Fitzhenry’s guardian arranges her engagement to one of the most scandalous, yet devastatingly handsome lords to ever grace the peerage, all of society is abuzz. After all, the man has left a trio of dead young women in his wake, including his first fiancée.
Expecting to scare the chit away within five minutes of meeting him, scarred and brooding Nicholas, the Viscount Ashfield, is intrigued by the unfashionably lovely Mira, but his family’s dark secret means he must fight his attractions. No matter what his heart wants.
As the wedding approaches, Nicholas and Mira grow ever closer, yet so does the very real danger. Will the truth bring Nicholas and Mira together or tear their love apart?

Comment: I got interested in this story last year although I can't remember where. I assume my interest derived from the fact the heroine is shy and not seen as beautiful. I like shy or timid or less than appreciated heroines so I hoped for a very interesting path for the heroine but the overall plot wasn't as smooth as I imagined.

In this book we meet Mirabelle, better known as Mira, when her uncle decides to marry her off to settle some debts. However, the man who she is supposed to marry is suspected of murdering his former fiancé which makes the situation difficult but Mira knows she will have the opportunity of a lifetime to not only compensate her uncle but to have a family of her own. Will she help her new fiancé discover the truth so that his name can be cleared? Or will the real killer attack again?

This was an interesting story because it mixed the historical elements usually found in historical romances but also some gothic feel by having the characters be immersed in an investigation, albeit not with policemen helping.
I see the author has a career more focused on cozy mysteries but her stepping in towards historical romance wasn't badly done. I just think the story wasn't as smooth as it could.

The plot basically centers around the investigation of the crimes to clear Nicholas' name, the man Mira is going to marry and also the relationship between them.
Mira and Nicholas both start looking at the other not as a potential partner in reality but as a person to not deceive by allowing the marriage to happen. So, that means both try to act as they are supposed to look like for the other ( a murdered that wouldn't be husband material in Nicholas' case and a plain woman who doesn't attract men in Mira's) but as they get to know one another, they realize hey can be a strong team.  

I liked the to protagonists individually although some of the traits they are described as having aren't always as well used and that felt like a shame because the potential was a little lost trying to mix so many elements together. This means some situations were very predictable (like the way we are supposed to follow a line of thought in order to know who the killer is) and the story looses some impact. Of course the sometimes difficult to believe behavior of some characters, the exaggeration of some of them to the point of looking like caricatures (like Mira's cousin Belle) made it more complicated to have the feel this was a fluid story from start to end.

All things considered, this wasn't bad and I liked reading about Mira and her thoughts, it was interesting to know how a person not very appreciated by others saw positive things to enjoy her life the way she could. I understand her decision to marry, to have a family and her trust in Nicholas despite the rumors was to applaud. 
I just think the overall experience of reading this wasn't as fascinating as the blurb promises. Still, not a bad effort, considering this was the first thing I've read by the author.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Alexander Dumas - Queen Margot

Queen Margot is a historical novel set in Paris in August 1572 during the reign of Charles IX. The story is based on real characters and events. The novel's protagonist is Marguerite de Valois, better known as Margot, daughter of the deceased Henry II and the infamous scheming Catholic power player Catherine de Medici. Catherine decides to make an overture of goodwill by offering up Margot in marriage to prominent Huguenot and King of Navarre, Henri de Bourbon, a marriage that was supposed to cement the hard-fought Peace of Saint-Germain. At the same time, Catherine schemes to bring about the notorious St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572, assassinating many of the most wealthy and prominent Huguenots who were in the largely-Catholic city of Paris to escort the Protestant prince to his wedding…

Comment: I've decided to start 2019 by reading a classic. I chose this one because it had been in my TBR for a while and because an uncle of mine had it in his library and also a bit because I liked the 1994 movie based on it which featured a very young Isabelle Adjanini.
Since this was not my first book by Alexander Dumas, I sort of knew what I'd get but I still expected a little more in some regards.

This is a story the author wrote based on real events, mainly the st. Bartholomew's massacre in 1572, France, due to a political maneuver for the Christian king to discredit the Huguenots considered protestants. For a more comprehensive explanation, there are historical sites that give an idea of what it was all about.
In this book we follow the lives of several characters right after the wedding of Margaret of Valois, sister to the king of France and Henry of Navarre, the king of the Huguenots, who also wanted to one day become king of France. However, there would always be people who wished Huguenots would never have any influence whatsoever, like Catherine of Medici, the mother of the king of France and widely known for her methods of disposing of enemies...

This classic story can be read in quite a funny manner because one can appreciate the distance of those existences as historical and not be terribly affected by them. The writing is obviously dated and sometimes difficult to engage in which means that, for me, some passages read very lightly despite the dramatic content and often it's not easy to focus enough to follow every action.
The author also included many real life characters and as any student knows, most of the aristocrats (and even other humbler people) would have this desire to name everyone with very similar names. I found this story to be a little confusing because of the huge amount of people called the same and in more action paced scenes it was complicated to distinguish them.

Of course, one could say that paying attention would take care of that but the reality is that the characters are constantly involved in so much intrigue and backstabbing that may times they don't really mean to do something or they said they did and they didn't and vice-versa.
Adding to the fact the language was sometimes too dated to be easily followed, for me the story lost some impact because the politics and the personal development of everyone wasn't exploited as much as  I would have liked because too much time was spent on personal intrigues and infidelity and poisoning someone. All these details are things I usually dislike in my entertaining stories.

What saved this story for me and why I wasn't as bored as I would have been otherwise was the fact that most of the plot centers around Catherine of Medici trying to poison people, especially her son-in-law Henry of Navarre, and constantly failing. I found it very amusing how she was often annoyed and angry over her failed plotting. Of course she also hits some targets here and then and the feel I've got is that people in those times, specifically aristocrats, were too busy plotting instead of living...
Actually, now I think why this book is titled queen Margot, because Margot herself was seriously under developed and acted very often as a silly woman. However, i did liked to see her behave as a responsible person when she realized her husband death wasn't he solution and she tried her best to avoid it.

All things considered, this book is more a lesson in history than a fictional romance. Of romance it has very little despite the parts Dumas probably invented or imagined in some way. I liked having the experience of reading it but it wasn't as entertaining as I imagined.
Grade: 6/10

Monday, January 7, 2019

My Life in Books 2018

As I have done in previous years, according to a post I originally saw at Christine's blog a long time ago, here's a little game with some titles read in 2018.
Happy reading!

My List of 2018!

Describe yourself:
Bad to the Bone, Debra Dixon

How do you feel:
Nearly a Lady, Alissa Johnson

Describe where you currently live:
Belgravia, Julian Fellowes

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Aleksey's Kingdom, John Wiltshire

Your favorite form of transportation:
The Wind Off the Small Isles, Mary Stewart

Your best friend is:
Something Wonderful, Judith McNaught

You and your friends are:
Nobody's Hero, Bec McMaster

What's the weather like:
In the Midst of Winter, Isabel Allende

What is life to you:
Nothing Personal, Jaci Burton

Favorite time of day:
Awaken the Darkness, Diane Duvall

Your biggest fear:
Shadow Falling, Rebecca Zanetti

What is the best advice you have to give:
Don't Look Back, Amanda Quick

Thought for the day
Truth or Dare, Jayne Ann Krentz

How would you like to die:
Immortal Ever After, Lynsay Sands

Your soul's current condition:
Ruthless, Anne Stuart

Friday, January 4, 2019

Statistics and books of 2018

And now the summary post of the year...
In 2018 I've read 207 books, more in October and November (20 books) and less in July (14 books). This means an average of 17.52 books/month.
All these books mean 63468 pages, an average of 306.6 per book. Curiously, I've read more pages in November (6963) and less in July (4399).

Of all the books read, 124 were by known authors to me and 83 by new authors.

The first book of the year was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, in the middle was Unseen by Jana DeLeon and the last one was Ripper by Isabel Allende.

Of all the books I read, I loved 13, liked 114, thought 71 were so-so, I didn't enjoy much of 9 and none was totally bad for me.
Like last year, the genre I read the most was Contemporary (55), Historical (40), Fiction(39), PNR (28), M/M (22), Fantasy/Sci-Fi (16) and thrillers (6).

I've purchased 77 books, spending around 631,18€. An average of 52,60€/month and 6,4 books month.
I spent more in June (143€) and less in December (7,50€).
I bought one more book and spent 5,61€ more than in 2017...

My TBR says around 600 on Goodreads but some of them I don't actually have yet and I have some I didn't add to the site. I know, it's huge and I can't keep up...and it hasn't improved since last year :/ I don't think it ever will unless I remove books.

Books Read!

->I gave 5 stars to 13 books but mostly because they meant something for me at the moment. I probably would change my opinion were I to read them with a different mood. They aren't all well liked by the majority of readers who tried them but, for me, they really worked. 
Of them all, one was a re-read but I noticed the genres are quite prolific.
Another intewresting note: most of the books I've rad were not oublished in 2018. I'm a "collector" so I rarely have time to dedicate myself that much to new releases. Besides, after a few months or years, the price usually can be found cheaper...
I didn't give 1 star to any book but gave 2 stars to nine books which, in my view, count as "negative" ones.  Of those nine, three are Urban Fantasy that nowadays has to have specific elements for me to enjoy so I probably would have DNF'd them had I started to do it sooner. Of the other six, all have some detail I disliked, so I appreciated them less for both story and execution while the UF ones weren't globally interesting enough for me.

Favorites in order (at this time)
Absent in Spring by Mary Westmacott
Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews
Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews
The Girl Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
Hold Me by Courtney Milan
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Gospel According to Christ by Richrd Zimler
The Seventh Gate by Richard Zimler

Favorite M/M books (no order)
Sumage Solution by GL Carriger
Omega Objection by GL Carriger
Books by Lilah Pace and Lily Morton

Less liked books (from less disliked to not as disliked)
Manwhore by Katy Evans
Spellbound Falls by Janet Chapman
How to Bang a Millionaire by Alexis Hall
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Deeper by Robin York
Deliver Me by Farrah Rochon

Best in general: 
Absent in Spring because the writing is superb and the story so well told and played by the main character, I can't fault it.

Worst in general:
Manwhore because the writing felt poor, the plot isn't well thought, the characters act silly and childish and the end just a way to make readers pay more for something not that good.

💧Globally, I've noticed I'm more attentive to certain types of books now, more focused on stories that I feel were well planned and written. The fun part of reading a new book is the expectation that could be the best yet, ever. It's bad when it isn't but what wonders when it leaves you with a well spent time feeling!
Happy reading everyone, and until this year's statistics!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Reading resolutions for 2019

Unlike many other readers, I don't always plan much on which changes I'd do the years after one ends. 
I have many books to read and I do distribute a certain amount through the months, so that I can follow a list and not get to the point I debate on what's next. However, I don't usually binge on an author for weeks in a row nor do I plan ahead themes I like or a specific genre. I tend to mix everything up so that it feels like I'm getting to all types of books equally. 
Yes, I like to read things in order when I start a series and if possible, I like to space the installments to not get bored or too dedicated to just one style/genre.

I'm a pretty much simple reader when it comes to reading tactics.
However, until now, I have been a firm believer that all books must be read. Whether it was a paperback, or an ebook, a book I own or a borrowed one, I'd look at them all the same.
In some situations, it was a martyrdom to finish some, especially if was borrowed from a friend or if it had been pricier. Books from the library or cheap ones wouldn't give me the same "vibe" but I'd finish them all anyway.

I have always told myself I'd make the effort, that I'd sort of honor the author's work and time put into it by simply reading.
Alas, my goodwill can't last forever. I'm not getting young, my TBR is constantly around the 600s (according to GR but there are plenty more I felt lazy adding there) and no matter the fact I read around 200/year, the waiting to be read it always in the same 500/600 mark. I just can't read fast enough so sadly, I've decided to join the dark forces of those who abandon a book. 😞

I'm starting my DNF career this year - not that I do plan on doing it often of course and it's not like all not-as-good books should be easily put aside! - and part of me feels a little like a cheater, I mean, just because it's not perfect, it should be given a chance!
However, the terrible loss of time and will and fun and enjoyment I felt with the experience of reading some books... I really am going to become just another reader who will not finish books.
Thinking about this, I remembered that over at Book Riot I've read a post about this subject and it can be found here:
It's easier to compute not finishing a book if one feels more people think alike lol

So, for everyone happy reading, happy resolutions and of you also decide on not finishing books not being enjoyed by you, never fear, there's always more in the pile!!
(Images here and here)