Saturday, July 14, 2018

Jody Hedlund - Love Unexpected

All Emma Chambers ever wanted was a home, but when her steamboat sinks just outside Presque Isle, she's left destitute and with no place to stay.
An unlikely solution arises when the lighthouse keeper arrives in town. He's just lost his wife and is having a difficult time caring for his child. So a traveling preacher gets the idea that the keeper and Emma might be the answer to each other's dilemma. After a hasty marriage, she finds herself heading to the lighthouse with this handsome but quiet stranger. Nothing in her aimless life, though, has prepared her for parenting a rambunctious toddler, as well as managing a household.
Emma soon suspects Patrick may be hiding something from her, and then she hears a disturbing rumor about the circumstances surrounding his late wife's death. It seems as if her wish for a home and family of her own could end up leading her once more into turbulent waters.

Comment: I got interested in this book around 3 years ago but I can't remember why... considering the plot, it probably had something to do with a marriage of convenience of sorts. I'm always eager to see how an author plays this trope out and how romantic or realistic it can be. At the time, however, I hadn't realized this would be an inspirational so of course one might call this a clean romance, with only one or two kisses between the characters. Knowing this, I didn't mind, because clean doesn't mean romantic or engaging. However, it wasn't much so, no.

In this story we meet Emma Chambers and her brother Ryan as they are trying to flee a burning ship after it was robbed by pirates. Emma and Ryan's money was also stolen so they are stuck in Presque Isle, Michigan until Ryan gets enough money again for them to go somewhere else. 
In the meantime, Emma is asked to marry Patrick, one of the men who rescued the survivors and who works in the lighthouse. He has a small son, his wife died recently and the reverend tels them they could be a good couple and help each other at the same time.
Emma and Patrick marry but since they are strangers to one another, it takes time for them to trust the other too. However, secrets from Patrick's past might destroy everything this new family has done already to find happiness...

I thought this story had a lot to be successful to me when I started reading. The ship's problems, the pirates, the rescue...I thought the foundations were great t start with but for me, the potential wasn't as well done as I imagined because the focus instead of being the community and the couple's relationship was how problems always follow someone and how Patrick's past was a dark cloud in their horizon.
I get it, this fits perfectly the inspirational side of the novel in which we are supposed to learn adversity must be fought with faith and prayer. But... I thought the story ended up annoying and boring here and there because of the lack of more optimism.

The plot had interesting elements and one can see the author put on an effort to teach us something, namely about how a lighthouse worked, how some details had to be used in order for ships to be guided.
I also think the descriptions were interesting and help the reader have an idea about what the characters are going through, especially the descriptions about struggles and actions.
However, for me, the atmosphere was a little too  dark toned, meaning, there was this sort of cloud of negativity and problems and difficulties which weren't very well balanced. It made the story feel a bit gloomy and not always captivating to read about.

Since this is an inspirational story, we don't have a lot of focus on the romance, only many references to how they wished to kiss the other and how they should trust and so on. Despite the obvious, inspirational romances can still be cute and sweet but I think this one lacked some chemistry and if this isn't evident to the reader it can get to a point where any character would do, and why bother with this couple in particular? I want to care for them and like them and not just because they are both goo people and deserving of good things or because they are believers. I think there are times where the aim to show them as having faith God is more important than their own feelings. One of the issues of inspirational and why only certain authors manage that perfect balance between every element in one.

All in all, this was sweet, had good moments but I think the atmosphere wasn't well balanced, the romance was bland at most and even the plot could have been done better.
Grade: 5/10

Friday, July 13, 2018

Jana DeLeon - Unseen

Madison Avery is a young woman with a huge problem. From her penthouse apartment, she witnessed a murder in the building across the street, but by the time the police arrived, the crime scene had been wiped clean. Unfortunately, Madison suffers from prosopagnosia—face blindness—so even though she had a clear view of the murder, she can’t describe the victim or the killer. With no forensic evidence that a crime was committed and no description of the victim to match to a body, the police have no choice but to close the file.
But Shaye Archer doesn’t have the same limitations.
When Shaye hears Madison’s story, she believes the young woman saw exactly what she claims, and even though Shaye knows finding the killer will be next to impossible, she can’t turn down the distraught woman. Especially when she finds out that the killer saw Madison. Soon, the killer turns his attention to Madison, taunting her to heighten her fear, and Shaye is afraid his sights are set on his next victim. 

Comment: This is the fifth installment in the Shaye Archer series by author Jana DeLeon. So far, despite the tone of the series being a little too trivial to follow considering the themes, I'm having a great time with the stories. I liked how the protagonist is savvy and determined and smart enough to consider others' feelings and their help when needed.

In this adventure, the focus is on Madison, a young woman, marginalized by her wealthy family because of a mental condition called Prosopagnosia, which means those who have it can't memorize faces or recognize people's faces, including closer family and friends. Madison lives in high located apartment for the view and because of that, she sees a murder taking place in a lower house but in her rush to call the police, she turns on the lights in her apartment, making her an easy target for the killer. However, because Madison can't remember the killer's face, he sets his sight on her.
Madison then asks Shaye to investigate for her so they can catch the guy but of course not before he terrorizes Madison and almost kills her too. Will Shaye save the day again?

First of all, I thought it was great that the author chose quite a theme to start up her story. I had never heard of the situation Madison is supposed to have but after investigating, it's very real and can, of course, lead to a huge amount of self doubt and instability for those who have it and stress for those who can't deal with it, even by proxy. I thought the idea was new enough to make the story more interesting because, after all, Madison couldn't be a reliable witness of the crime and that was the starting point for the whole "trying to find the bad guy" action. If nothing else, it was good to learn something new or becoming aware of it.

As for the story itself, as one can expect, the crime and the investigation are the focus of the whole story. If one starts to compare the investigation to other books with similar situations, then I must say this one is rather simple. We read about what they do, we see characters acting but nothing is too explicit, too detailed nor is it explained to the minimal element. This means that, overall, the feel one gets is of superficiality, meaning we get the important parts, we get what matters the most but it's all pretty basic and to the point.
I can't say it's such a bad thing and, personally, I appreciate it. But then, the same thing applies to the characters' personal lives and in this case, too little or too minimal details can give the impression of not strong enough, not enough emotions and I'd like this aspect to be different.

Another interesting element in these stories is the personal life of Shaye and her attitude in relation to what happened to her. She has suffered many things no one would wish on an enemy but she is a healthy young woman now, very driven, very focused and for me the best part is that although her past does shape some of her attitude and influences her choices, it didn't define her personality. I really like her as a character for that (even if in real life, coping can't be as easy).
As always, we have scenes of her interacting with her mother, friends and it's nice. She also has a developing romance with Jackson, a cop, and it's sweet even if quite a slow burn. It's book #5 and they only kiss and say they love one another. Well, it's also believable considering the abuse she suffered too.

The resolution of this plot was rather simplistic. I liked there wasn't a big mess, that this is never too complicated or, at least, that it's not difficult to solve but the motivation of the bad guy escalated very quickly and I don't think we were given enough psychological context for it to be realistic.
Once again, some things were left in air about Shaye's past... I'm still interesting in reading more and it's always a good thing to know what to expect in terms of style from this series.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Jojo Moyes - After You

Lou Clark has lots of questions.
Like how it is she's ended up working in an airport bar, spending every shift watching other people jet off to new places.
Or why the flat she's owned for a year still doesn't feel like home.
Whether her close-knit family can forgive her for what she did eighteen months ago.
And will she ever get over the love of her life.
What Lou does know for certain is that something has to change.
Then, one night, it does.
But does the stranger on her doorstep hold the answers Lou is searching for - or just more questions?
Close the door and life continues: simple, ordered, safe.
Open it and she risks everything.
But Lou once made a promise to live. And if she's going to keep it, she has to invite them in . . .

Comment: As many other readers, I've had quite an experience reading Me Before You, a successful novel by this author and probably what gave her more recognition. The theme was hard, the story richly developed but with many sad layers and readers liked it.
Considering the way it ends, it was no surprise to know readers dreamed about what would happen next to one character and although I can't really say, this story was probably the result of a lot pressure because the other book was well sold. However, now that I read it, I must say I agree with those readers who have the opinion this book was not necessary.

In this sequel, Lou is found working in a bar at the airport and after a long time, she still hasn't moved on completely. Her life is pretty much a depressing one, she still hears the whispers of people who know what she was a part of and she still mourns. 
Everything changes the day Will's daughter Lily shows up at her door and somehow invades her life. Lou can't help but feel protective of Lily, even if she - and Will - have never heard of her existence. But nothing is simple and Lou isn't certain she feels ready to take on such a responsibility even if lily's mother claims her daughter isn't trustworthy. 
Lou also tries to move by joining a group where people discuss their mourning and their feelings and that's how she also comes to know Sam, the uncle of a teenager there. With so much to think about, can Lou really be ready to deal with so many new things?

To be honest, the best element of this novel has to be the mourning process. It's not the same for everyone and in this case, especially after a strong and heavily emotional first story, this sequel had to mention certain issues. 
I liked some passages where Lou talks about or even thinks about it. I think my favorite passage is when she is talking on the phone with Nathan, who was also in the first book, and she asks him if this whole situation is out of proportion in her head, if she only imagined her feelings were that real. This did touch me because it felt very realistic, very well thought and something anyone suffering would think about, only to make it easy to go another day.

However, apart from some passages, some original situations, most of the book is a collection of unnecessary things and annoying ones.
I can understand the need for closure that readers (and even the publisher's coffers) needed to get over the intensity of the first book but...I don't think it was necessary, no. In fact, this story almost felt like the characters weren't the same and I don't think the change was positive. It just would be highly unlikely that this would delivery the same impact as the other and, frankly, that wouldn't be something I'd personally like. The other story was perfect on its own.

I suppose the biggest issue here was how the author chose to keep up with Lou and Will's storyline by bringing up a daughter he didn't know he had. Lily wasn't very appealing to read about even if one can understand her dilemmas. I just think Lily didn't have to be as needy nor as rebellious. I see how the plot moved along in a certain way because of this but I didn't like Lily and that made reading this a little annoying for me. Plus Lou is a great character but she does take on things not her responsibility and the plot felt rather over the top.

I still liked Lou for the most part. She isn't the same as she was in the first book, it's impossible not to compare, and one can understand: who doesn't change if in mourning? I just think the situations she saw herself in were very unbalanced, from her series of doubts on accepting a job, to her dealings with Lily, to how she starts a new relationship... all this is meant to show her face things but I wasn't a fan of her throughout this process even if empathizing with her feelings.
The story ends on a new adventure, but not before Lou faces a very complicated situation with boyfriend Sam (it felt like just a way to increase drama) and a goodbye party to her mourning group which was cute but too sugary to fit the overall story.

I'm not certain about reading the third book... I do feel curious - that's why I also got this one - but I fear I'll loose my likeness for this and I don't want to let go of the emotional high Me Before You left...although i don't think I can read that one again in the near future.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Lilah Pace - His Royal Favorite

James, Prince of Wales, is making history. He's decided to come out to his subjects—and the world. However, telling the truth means exposing his relationship with lone-wolf reporter Benjamin Dahan. Although Ben never wanted commitment, the unexpected depth of his feelings leads him to join James in the media's harsh spotlight.
When the news story explodes across the globe, Ben can endure the mockery and dirty jokes. But after his tragic past is cruelly revealed, his life begins to implode. Can even his love for James be worth this?
James has it no easier. His revelation divides the country and sparks turmoil within the royal family. He must struggle to defend not only himself and Ben, but also his younger sister, who hovers on the brink of a breakdown that could endanger her life.
Is Ben strong enough to survive the onslaught and stand by James' side? And will James have to make a choice between Ben and the crown?

Comment: This is the second and final installment in the duology about an alternate reality where the prince of Wales would be gay and how he would have found love and the courage to come out to his country. I was quite eager to see how this story would play out.

In this second story, the prince tells the nation he is gay and that he has a partner, Ben. However, things are not easy for them, especially for Ben, not as used to the life in the public eye. But despite the adversity and the possible outcomes of James' coming out, the two guys find courage and resilience in their feelings and they face what is thrown at them. Will James still become king one day despite what his did? Will Ben be strong enough to keep on loving James despite feeling he's stuck in a situation he can't control?

I was really happy to start this story. It only took me longer to finish because, sadly, real life got in the way and I got very busy during the weekend, otherwise I'd have finished a lot sooner. I was really glad the story moved along the lines I expected but never went towards silly ways nor to exaggerated scenes just to make things more crazy or dramatic. I really liked how the author used a tone in this story that felt very appealing to me.

Thankfully, this story os pretty much focused on James and Ben as they deal with James' coming out. I think this was portrayed in a very adult and well thought manner, as I'd like to see in real life, were something similar to happen (even if with other public people). Both James and ben behaved well, neither acted silly about this, nor were they put into situations where drama would follow. I think the author did a good job creating scenarios that feel believable with all the protocols that must exist but at the same time, we still had access to the guys' feelings and their emotions and this dichotomy - public vs personal attitude was well balanced.

I was curious to see how such a decision would affect Ben. Of course his life was the one that changed the most but this isn't too different from any commoner who would join any royal family. I believed the way things progressed in his life. I expected a bit more angst but I'm even more glad the author decided to add it in small amounts which means the characters talked, discussed things, never assumed or thought for the other person and that can be summarized as a stable and well meant relationship. I also think the end makes more sense thanks to the fact Ben and James didn't have an easy path but didn't let drama get them.

There are some specific situations both have to deal with but again, I liked where this went. I can understand why the story felt boring to some readers, this is more the validation of something than an adventure of novelties but to be honest, for me it worked, because I liked we got to see their daily lives, their goals come to life. It was also romantic, we keep on having scenes of their personal time and that is both sweet and hot at times.
There were parts I liked less, that I feel weren't as interesting but overall, this was a good story, well paced and well presented.
If one can put aside the unrealistic things, this is quite believable as a whole. For those who like royal stories but not the fluff and fairytale side of it but appreciate twists and solid writing, I think this is a must.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Alissa Johnson - Nearly a Lady

Lord Gideon Haverston wanted to right his family's wrongs. So when he promises young Winnefred Blythe the money that his stepmother had cheated her out of over the years, he expects to be greeted as a hero. But the situation is much more complicated than Gideon had expected-and the task of taming the untrusting Winnefred much more alluring.

Comment: Around four years ago, I got Practically Wicked by author Alissa Johnson and really liked it. Since it was the first book I tried by the author, I wasn't aware it was the third in a series and now that the opportunity came forth, I've started the first one, this Nearly a Lady, which I hoped would be as engaging.

The story begins with Lord Gideon traveling to an estate of his family because he was told by his brother, the marquess, that a ward of him lived there. Upon arrival, he is practically attacked and realizes his attackers are two young ladies, one of them his brother's ward and the other he comes to understand, is the young woman his bother fell in love twelve years ago but never forgot even thinking has had married.
While trying to untangle all the secrets, Gideon lives with the young women for a while, he even got servants for the house after realizing the women haven't been living with the money they were supposed to have gotten. Convincing them to go to London to be presented to society proved quite difficult, especially  because Winnifred, his brother's ward, happens to be a serious but free girl who is witty and friendly but finds no interest in the sort of subjects young ladies do. How will things be between them in London, will they still be friends?

I liked the other book I've read by this author. I found the writing easy and captivating and the story was entertaining. Of course I'd expect the same in this novel and generally speaking, the same expectations were met.
However, the plots are different, even if the characters are connected (although here one wouldn't see how this and the third are connected) and that obviously interferes with the way readers might like or not the stories. I think that this one had a lot of potential and for a while that was met but not the whole story felt as constant for me.

The beginning of the story was very good: the characters meet in an almost funny setting, both parties (Winnifred and Lilly vs Lord Gideon) think something about the other which later proves to be incorrect and there's a genuine feel of respect and friendship between them. I really liked how they met, how they started to interact with one another and of course, as this is a romance, how Gideon and Winnifred butted heads at the same time they seemed to feel good in each others' company. I suppose that, if the story had going more along these lines, this would have been perfect. But at some point, plot reasons make the characters go to London, where they meet other people and see themselves in completely different scenes and situations.

The story started to lose speed when Winnifred saw herself in a situation she couldn't control. There are many ways of dealing with this but I confess I struggled to find the will to keep on reading about her difficulties and actions. It just didn't ring interesting. Then, of course, her relationship with Gideon took a turn into cliché mode and that alone would have brought my grading down, no matter what. The constant indecision, changing of mind, following analytical POVs of what "is expected" and not their real feelings (and attention, no reason why they couldn't admit their feelings or be together except for Gideon's personal views on certain issues) for one another, all that bored me a little bit. In the end, the romance wasn't as smooth as I hoped for after the first pages. The HEA is cute, yes, but I don't think this feels as memorable for me.

Many people seem to criticize the attitudes and quirkiness of the characters, namely Winnifred because they don't resemblance real people from that time. I don't mind this aspect as I thought it gave the story something different to focus on and it wasn't not that exaggerated that would ruin the story. But I agree this was not always a very well thought plot overall and if not for the easy way one can read this and several fun scenes, this wouldn't be as positive for me.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Barbara Bretton - Casting Spells

Magic. Knitting. Love. A new series and a delightful departure by the USA Today bestselling author of Just Desserts. 
Sugar Maple looks like any Vermont town, but it's inhabited with warlocks, sprites, vampires, witches and an ancient secret. And Chloe Hobbs, owner of Sticks & String, a popular knitting shop, has a big secret too. She's a sorcerer's daughter in search of Mr. Right and she's found him in Luke MacKenzie, a cop investigating Sugar Maple's very first murder. Bad news is he's 100% human, which could spell disaster for a normal future with a paranormal woman like her.

Comment: I've heard about this book a long time ago, especially because the Portuguese published has chosen amazing covers for them, something that has never been really obvious but now I feel publishers are betting more and more in attracting readers to romances with cute and colorful covers. However, I was told the story wasn't great nor that well done and I never felt like being seduced by the cover until I saw it months ago with a huge discount and purchased it for 5€. With this price I felt like trying at last.

In this story we have Chloe Hobbs as protagonist and she lives in a small town in Vermont, as the last woman in a line of witches. Her ancestors have created and kept a spell that protects the city from harm and from being discovered by humans, which means the majority of the population is out of this world and fantastical.
The catch is that the spell can only be kept by women from that family line and Chloe should have found someone to love which would kick in the spell's longevity. Since that has been difficult to accomplish, many are complaining about the spell losing "power" and the last evidence of that is the murder of a human woman in the town.
For some reason, the police officer with the task to uncover the mystery is Luke Mackenzie and sparks seem to fly between him and Chloe. The problem is that she shouldn't fall in love with him because he is human and pairings between witches and humans rarely work out...

Small town stories are usually filled with sweet, adorable scenes or situations or quirky characters we practically "adopt", especially if there's a series on the go. This is the first book in the Sugar Marple series and on the surface, it has many ingredients to make it a cute series to follow:
- it has weird but funny acting characters;
-it has a different heroine we are supposed to root for;
-it has people interested in knitting, which is always a symbol of coziness;
-it has a love story which the couple knows it might lead nowhere but that they are helpless to fight;
-it has a plot that barely makes sense but where the HEA is guaranteed.

Considering the above, I had full expectation of being well entertained and I must confess it only took me one morning to read this! (It's both easy and short in pages to allow it.)
Sadly, the story isn't that well thought. One could appreciate the different characters, the attempt to create "enemies" and a bone of contention between good and bad guys, there's also a mystery to solve and a handsome foreigner who will win over the heart of the heroine. I just think the author has interesting ideas but mixed them all too much and didn't add complexity nor depth to any. So the story is easy but pretty superficial so when some issues seem to be talked over and over it just seems...boring.

There are ways and ways of telling a story. I think this one was told in a very simplistic way and the plot was affected by it. Many situations had potential (like the possible angst about Chloe not being confident enough to feel the pressure caused by owning the spell or how magic should have been an extra and not the only thing everyone used/felt like - this means every character except Luke seemed to do things the easy way, so why bother at all?) but there is always an easy fix for things and not enough personality in the characters or complexity to their choices.
Even the bad guys were too superficial and meaningless.

There are cute scenes in the middle of all this. But I feel we missed a lot on having more developed situations, a clearer plot and segments and not even the romance was that "romantic".
Chloe resembles someone we might want to be friends with at times but not always.
Luke I liked and he seemed to have hidden depths but that got lost in the weirdness. 
Oh well.
I don't think I'll read the other installments...
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Martha Woodroof - Small Blessings

Tom Putnam has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life. An English professor in a sleepy college town, he spends his days browsing the Shakespeare shelves at the campus bookstore, managing his department's oddball faculty, and caring for his wife Marjory, a fragile shut-in with unrelenting neuroses, a condition exacerbated by her discovery of Tom's brief affair with a visiting poetess a decade earlier.
Then, one evening at the bookstore, Tom and Marjory meet Rose Callahan, the shop's charming new hire, and Marjory invites Rose to their home for dinner. Her first social interaction since her breakdown, Tom wonders if it's a sign that change is on the horizon—a feeling confirmed when he receives a letter from his former paramour, informing him he'd fathered a son who is heading Tom's way on a train. His mind races at the possibility of having a family after so many years of loneliness. And it becomes clear change is coming whether Tom's ready or not.
A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, Small Blessings's wonderfully optimistic heart reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined.

Comment: I impulsively bought this book at a fair where I found it with a half price discount. Since it was a translated work, I thought that would be quite a bargain and from the blurb I imagined something romantic. However, I'll stop being seduced by promising blurbs because had I checked the grading on this online, I probably would have thought twice before buying it...

In this book we meet Tom Putnam, a middle aged college professor whose wife has serious issues but he is such a decent person he never left her and has been holding on to a one sided marriage. However, when the story starts, his wife dies and that leaves him free to start again, especially since his mother-in-law, who lived with them to help, approves of that. 
There is also a new employee at the university's library and Tom feels quite attracted to her but he fears he might not be what women would of him. Nevertheless, his life takes quite a turn because he gets a letter informing him the only affair he had years ago and which he regrets has given him a son he never knew about. The child is coming to meet him, he is falling for someone and his friends at the university are acting weird. What else could happen?

This story is labeled at contemporary fiction and romance. I know labels shouldn't matter but they do help in making us decide if we want to read something or not. This means I was expecting something romantic and what I got was something more.... weird.
I think the author has many, many ideas but they weren't well mixed together and for me the plot didn't flow well. I can understand the focus on Tom's problems and how the characters of Iris and Russel (his co workers at the university) might happen to connect with him but honestly, it was all so confusing and pointless I feel as if that wasn't necessary at all.

Tom does seem to be quite a decent guy, he only had an affair out of loneliness because his wife has mental issues but he never had the courage to just leave her, so although wrong, I can understand. He apparently has a son but we soon realize the boy couldn't be his. Tom still welcomes the child, still tries his best to protect him and care for him. Of course I liked this, it was a nice side to Tom's personality and I guess it justified the book's title. But the situation wasn't explored in a way that would turn this story into something incredible. There's no flow in the story and we often have random additions and scenes that have no interest whatsoever to what the goal should be.

The romance is with Rose, the new library worker. I think this story could have gained from focusing more on this but because the characters weren't well characterized, I don't think I felt as interested or invested in them as I could have. I liked they had an HEA, it was cute how the last two pages were described but...everything was both superficially done and too vague to fully grab the reader. I got this impression but perhaps others thought different.

I think the author had many ideas but didn't think of how they would be portrayed together. For instance, the child Tom recognizes as his son brings with him a lot of money. There are many passages just mentioning the man who will solve this issue for them. I thought this was too distracting and avoidable... then, two characters are described a certain rude way and their problems seem to be key to...what? Why does it matter since they aren't protagonists? Actually one of these has a complete turnover in his personality towards the end and that felt really silly, as if the author didn't have a better plan to force the characters into a "final" decision on what they would do to grab their HEA...

All things considered, this was not a bad read, but I don't think it will be memorable. It's sweet, easy and has many elements, too bad about the execution... I've read the Portuguese edition but I did like the cover I'm including here.
Grade: 5/10

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Happy weekend!

The image below, which I found on Pinterest,  does resemble a type of home library I wouldn't mind having nor would it be such a hardship to be in it, reading all day...
If you can, enjoy the weekend and read a lot, even if only dreaming you would be in a library like this one.
Happy reading!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Kim Edwards - The Memory Keeper's Daughter

On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down's Syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split-second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret. But Caroline, the nurse, cannot leave the infant. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child herself. 
So begins this story that unfolds over a quarter of a century - in which these two families, ignorant of each other, are yet bound by the fateful decision made that long-ago winter night. Norah Henry, who knows only that her daughter died at birth, remains inconsolable; her grief weighs heavily on their marriage. And Paul, their son, raises himself as best he can, in a house grown cold with mourning. Meanwhile, Phoebe, the lost daughter, grows from a sunny child to a vibrant young woman whose mother loves her as fiercely as if she were her own.

Comment: I was given this book as a Christmas gift but it's practically July and only now did I get it to read. Although this is a high rated book on GR, the average isn't that amazing so I guess this put me off a bit about starting it. Still, I read all my planned books for the month and this is another one I just started impulsively, hoping to be proven wrong on letting it wait.

In this book we meet doctor David Henry, a man who still mourns the death of his sister and how that affected his family life, when he is about to become a father. During the delivery, his wife has twins but while the firstborn boy is as healthy as expected, the girl being born after has Down Syndrome. Since the action starts in 1964, there was still a lot of prejudice and along with David's fears of seeing his daughter wasting until dying and allowing his family to suffer, he decides on his own that the girl will be sent to an institution. For this he asks a nurse who was assisting the birth to do that before his wife realized what was happening, telling her later the baby girl died.
Throughout the years, the lives of all the characters involved will be affected by this action of David. Or won't they?

Well, the question I wrote above is actually how I'd summarize what we are supposed to read between the lines about this story. Does this story really have a different meaning if we could imagine David's actions should have been different? As one could imagine, such an one sided decision shouldn't have been done but once it did, how does it affect everything else?
In my opinion, if this is the aim of the story, to let us make our own minds about the right choice, then the author shouldn't have spent most of the more than 400 pages (of my edition) of this story with the character's behavior and thoughts and more about the actions to reunite the child who was given with the others.

The story can be divided into years, being the first 1964 and then the plot moves along until 1989 when the book ends. In each year we have scenes about the characters, where they are in life and how their minds and emotions are too. We have a third person narrator but the story flows from character to character, so we have David's thoughts, Norah's (his wife), Paul's (the twin boy) and Caroline's (the nurse who took the girl-Phoebe).
If on one hand this is quite interesting because it allows us to understajd where everyone is at, it also gives us glimpses of their motivations and actions.
I guess that, overall, I found this to be an easy way to move along but quite irritating at times. You see, for me, despite how understandable their thoughts and feelings, I just didn't like being in any of their heads. Except, maybe, Caroline's.

All characters had flaws, and of course we are supposed to see how that made them human because everyone makes mistakes but we, the reader, should also find compassion towards what happens to these people, mistakes notwithstanding.
Paul and David were annoying because they could have had a great relationship and the reasons why they didn't don't seem valid, considering Paul's happy childhood.
Then Paul changes and the main reason has something to do with a situation regarding his mother. Why he felt like he should punish his father, I don't know (David's secret action was not known yet).
This means, to me, the worst character was Norah. I can see why thinking her child was dead could have been so devastating. Were she suffering, I would have understood. Were she to react on it with weird behaviors too. But since we have access to her thoughts, we can see how she rationalizes her actions and that makes her decision, when Paul changes into a moody teenager, stupid, pointless, annoying to no end.

Therefore, while reading, most of my antagonism went towards Norah and not David, although his impulsive decision was the reason behind all problems.
Unfortunately for me, the story was mostly spent in analysing the characters' lives through the impact of David's decision. I feel a lot of growth was lot in this tactic, rather than making the story more about the characters knowing about it sooner and how they would respond to the fact the twin girl has Down syndrome and that would affect them all.
The end of the book was bittersweet and under done, I'd say. I just can't find true emotion about this book and some plot choices felt really missed chances to turn this into something more spectacular.

All in all, entertaining, but certainly not as amazing as it could have been.
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Rainbow Rowell - Eleanor and Park

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.
Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.
Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Comment: I wasn't that eager to read this book (it's YA, the genre I tend to stay away from) but I found it with an interesting discount at a book fair in the beginning of the month. Since I managed to read all the books I had planned for June, I started this one (it's not that big in my edition).

This story presents us Park and Eleanor, two teenagers who meet in the bus on the way to school because Eleanor is the new girl and she has no place to sit in the bus except next to Park. 
Eleanor is easily noticeable because she doesn't dress like most girls and her red hair makes her easily spotted too.
However, as the bus travels go on, Park starts to realize Eleanor checks out his comic stories and he feels he should take longer so she could read too before he turns the pages. While others talk or tease or mock os act silly, the two seat partners start to find common tastes to the point Park feels he needs to tell Eleanor what he feels and she does the same. But they both have complicated lives at home, for different reasons. Its their friendship and love that will cement their bond even more...

Generally speaking, this YA story is quite interesting, much more than I anticipated. The focus is a lot more on the two protagonists' lives and relationships and not how they are in love and become moody about those feelings. I'm glad because when I think about teenage drama, very often is too annoying (I've been one so I don't want to relive it) but if the main themes are centered on the daily routines, the expectations, often the need to comply with an idea others have of us, that seems to be more interesting to read about and thankfully, this book is more about that.

There is romance, of course, and it's portrayed in a very cute way. I'm glad it's not all about hormones and being in love and thinking that. I liked these characters had deeper thoughts rather than just attraction and dating.
For most teenagers everywhere, the angst, the fear, the social rules are more often about how to behave, how to be accepted and not about romances. There is too much drama in teenager's relationships but that can also be boring and immature and I prefer to read stories about important themes, as it happened here: Park feels he isn't as well loved by his father and Eleanor has a mother who can't respect herself much less others and has a toxic relationship that affects her children's lives.

The story is told alternatively for the most part, between Eleanor and Park. this style allows the reader to have a pretty good grasp on the timeline and the emotions the characters have. 
Eleanor feels a little more realistic, she is bullied, she doesn't have a safe heaven at home and she personifies a lot of the issues most unpopular kids suffer through during the teenager years. I liked her but at the same time she was characterized a little too cynically for me to feel more empathy towards her. Even while understanding her life situation.
Park did feel cuter, he seemed to be more solid but he is a good example of someone who also vacillates at times in doing the right thing. If only we could be as confident as we want, no matter the age we have... but I'm glad Park was there for Eleanor when it counted the most.

By what we "see" of their lives, especially Eleanor's, we know things might not go towards a very good resolution. I can't tell if the sometimes perceptible vagueness and superficial action scenes are on purpose to make things more difficult to define or to make it harder to have a better idea on everything, but for me there is a little lack of aim and notion of what happens at the end. I don't think leaving things up in the air was a good choice but yes, I get it.

This book feels it hit it perfectly when it comes to portray unpopular people, who must dread going to school to face everything and everyone one more day and how tiring that can be if you don't feel appreciated. I liked this aspect of things.
The romance I could have done without and if the book was only centered on their family issues and personal problems along with a strong friendship between them, I feel it could be better for me and perhaps more captivating in general.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Alexis Hall - How to Bang a Billionaire

If England had yearbooks, I'd probably be "Arden St. Ives: Man Least Likely to Set the World on Fire." So far, I haven't. I've no idea what I'm doing at Oxford, no idea what I'm going to do next and, until a week ago, I had no idea who Caspian Hart was. Turns out, he's brilliant, beautiful . . . oh yeah, and a billionaire.
It's impossible not to be captivated by someone like that. But Caspian Hart makes his own rules. And he has a lot of them. About when I can be with him. What I can do with him. And when he'll be through with me.
I'm good at doing what I'm told in the bedroom. The rest of the time, not so much. And now that Caspian's shown me glimpses of the man behind the billionaire I know it's him I want. Not his wealth, not his status. Him. Except that might be the one thing he doesn't have the power to give me.

Comment: In 2016 I've read my first book by this author. I liked it a lot and have all intentions of keeping on reading his work but as any reader will know, TBR lists don't go and get read by themselves... anyway, recently I got this title, in a different series/world than the one of the other book I've read and I was very curious because I wanted to see if the other book was not just a fluke, but the proof this author was one I'd love to be a fan of. However, I'm now debating some things after having read this one.

This story focuses on Arden St Ives and how he, a student at Oxford, is introduced while working the phones in a volunteer event to call people who used to study there in order for them to do a beneficial donation to the university or something like it.
In one of his phone calls - after many "no" and several hang ups - he starts to have a more personal conversation instead of the usual polite words volunteers are expected to exchange with a potential patron. 
After an awkward meeting in person soon after the phone call, Arden realizes the man he was so sincere with happens to be Caspian Hart, an important billionaire. While things seem to heat up between them the more they spend time together, will their differences end up being too much for them to hold on to one another?

Reading the blurb of the book, I expected something in the lines of a "different class" relationship, a type of trope I tend to enjoy in romances. Also, Arden seemed to describe himself as someone not good enough in life and I started to imagine interesting scenarios where that would change with the help of true love. Yes, I'm still a hopeless romantic!
However, I should have guessed things might not be that amazing for me when I realized the story would be only told from Arden's POV and that, apparently, this book is thought to be a version of another famous book out there...

After looking at some reviews on goodreads some details became rather obvious that this was very similar to Fifty Shades of Grey (FSoG), a book I have not read but that is not that hard to have an idea of, considering the fame it got and the fanfic/adaptations/debates around it. I think one doesn't have to read it to be aware of the plot (or lack thereof) or some main ideas.
What I don't know is if this story by Alexis Hall was meant to be a gay version, thus showing of the possibilities if well written by a talented author or if this was parody, in which case I didn't find it so, or if there was a real intent in writing a fictional story about these characters, but if so I didn't like it.

Even putting aside that, the plot actually didn't seem to be that interesting. When they first met, it was nice to see the differences between them but as the time went by, and having only one of their POVs, things got very repetitive, very boring pretty quick. I struggled to find interest in Arden's problems in being focused or in deciding if accepting Caspian's help was the sign of him being an easy lay or taking the chances while he could enjoy being with Caspian. Towards the end, something happens to build up the angst and climax but to be honest, I skimmed some pages (and all the sex) which made me feel a little bad but the story just didn't feel engrossing for me.

The characters weren't someone I liked spending time with. Their actions often felt silly and I can only imagine if that was on purpose for it to be more alike FSoG.
Arden is the narrator but it's difficult to keep up with him. He has a cute side, that's true, but more often I found him to bee too distracting from everything else and his "voice" was often everywhere, I struggled to be able to care about him and about his lack of confidence in some aspects of his life. What I thought would endear him to me wasn't the focus and I started to lose interest.
As for Caspian, who knows, there's an obvious lack of voice in him, and not only because he isn't the narrator nor do we have access to his thoughts. He's too silent, too distant, too mysterious. I can't understand why Arden likes him. So, basically: too much Arden to the point of him being distracting and not enough Caspian.

I felt like this was wasted talent on Alexis Hall side. He is talented, brilliant and that can be seen in the other book I've read but this time, it was a no for me. If I can find positives here, it has to be his ability to write. Sadly, the story felt boring overall and at the end there are things I can't even understand why were included. The end had some interesting details but it was not enough to save this for me. I was eager to finish and I won't read the follow up and don't feel I'll miss much. 
I think I'll go back to other titles by the author to try to find something I'll like again.

So far, my ideas regarding the DNF concept have been solid. I finish all books I read but I'm seriously reconsidering this. I think from next year on, I'll revise this because some books are really a chore, they aren't fun to spend time with and the TBR list is never ending in my case. It's not an easy decision even if for many it is. But books where the story and characters and the "feel" aren't there, it can be quite depressing to just go page after page to be able to say "I finished". This book would have definitely be one of those so I can't say I feel validated to have done so.
Grade: 3/10