Friday, June 22, 2018

Lynda Aicher - Game Play

One night, one time, nothing more. That's all it was supposed to be. They'd agreed their first night together would be their only night together—and Minnesota Glaciers defenseman Dylan Rylie was fine with that. Giant hickeys and claw marks on his ass had never been his style, even if the very memory of Samantha Yates's merciless sexual energy gets him hard within seconds. He needs to focus on getting a better contract, not mind-blowing orgasms.
One night, one time, nothing more. Fresh off representing the US at the Games and with nowhere else to play, Samantha gave in to one night of frantic passion with the Glaciers' brawny hotshot. She couldn't get hurt—not if she controlled the outcome. And she planned to leave Minnesota soon, anyway. She didn't expect to be recruited to coach Dylan after they'd gotten down and dirty.
When brutal on-ice workouts lead to kinky locker room sessions and "one night" falls by the wayside, Samantha insists on keeping things casual, despite Dylan's quiet hope for more. But when Dylan goes down—hard—and his career is in jeopardy, Samantha is the first one by his side. What will it take to keep her there after he's healed?

Comment: I decided to add this book to my TBR list after looking through a sports list at goodreads. I'm not particularly dedicated to this theme but once in a while it does make for interesting reads and I was hoping the protagonists would bond over the sport so that their story felt even stronger.

This is the story of Dylan Rylie, a young hockey player who has started his career with the reputation of being a party boy when the reality is that although he has tried to give that impression he has very serious expectations of the game and of what he can do in his career.
One day he meets Samantha Yates, a woman that has recently ended her connection to a female hockey team, who has represented her country in competitions but who knows there's no professional career for women playing hockey. She decides to get a bit of revenge on this impossibility by out playing Dylan in an event where cameras would be. Their connection ends up being a positive one, they feel attracted to one another and agree on a one time encounter. 
However, Dylan isn't really ready to let her go and he proposes something to his coach which will impact both their lives from then on...

All things considered, this is not a bad story. It has several elements that validate its sports themed label, it has a progressing romance and a HEA. I think the author shows a relatively good knowledge of how hockey works - or it seems so to me, who have no great notion of it besides it's played on ice and can be quite violent - and there are some details about the characters that made them interesting.
After finishing the story what went through my mind was mostly the feeling that this was very common. It read just like any other sports romance and most of the time it wasn't as memorable as I imagined it would be.

I wouldn't call it boring, although there were some parts I think were presented with a slower pace. I also skimmed the sex scenes because they didn't really conveyed any special feelings besides the basic. I just think everything was done very superficially.

There were some details that I enjoyed reading about, no matter how repetitive or under done they might have looked like to me at the same time.
I especially liked Samantha's character and her sense of defeat because she could pursue hockey as a profession, the way men do. Even in many other, mostly team, sports it's all focused on the men's abilities and paychecks and not the women's and I do think this subject was well portrayed. I also understand why Samantha acted a little bitter at times.
She also had a softer side, which does play well into the whole relationship development status but overall, she didn't come across as really likable. Nothing wrong with her but I wasn't always that interested.

Dylan too provided some interesting situations to think about, namely the expectations fans have of players, how they are seen as an asset and not always as a normal person and how the fear of injuries can be difficult to endure and deal with if they happen. These details were the interesting part, which, along with Dylan's personality and memories he shares with Samantha, made me happy when they got their HEA.

Like I said, the story wasn't bad but the sum of all the parts didn't really add up into a very good story, only average. I've read other sports stories and I thinking about it now, I can't seem to have noticed enough details to distinguish this from many others. I'd say this is just one more sports book.
Perhaps this is unfair and I do see by grades that many people loved it but the characterizations weren't always appealing and the relationship wasn't as romantic as it could either.
Or, thinking a little about it, perhaps it just wasn't clear based on the way the author wrote it, that we are supposed to understand the characters' choices and attitudes.

This is one less book in my pile and for that I do feel glad I've read it. But with so many yet to be read, and this not being as strong as I imagined, I don't see myself reading more by the author so soon.
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Lynsay Sands - The Lady is a Vamp

One late night leads to . . .
Kidnapped! When Jeanne Louise Argeneau left work, she never thought she'd end up tied down by a good-looking mortal. More attracted than annoyed, she quickly realizes there is more to her abductor than meets the eye.
One desperate act leads to . . .
Love? Paul Jones has need of a vampire, and only Jeanne Louise will do. He just has to convince this beauty of a Vamp to help him . . . never imagining that he would fall in love. But with the immortal world's answer to law enforcement hunting them, their time together is running out . . . and Paul and Jeanne Louise will need to risk everything to spend an eternity together.

Comment: This is installment #17 in the Argeneau series by author Lynsay Sands. I wasn't very pleased with the previous story but since I have many books left in the series to read, I kept on with it. This books features Jeanne Louise, a character very familiar to faithful readers (as opposed to some that seem to come out of nowhere).

In this story Jeanne Louise is kidnapped by Paul, a coworker in her lab of Argeneau Enterprises. Paul is a desperate man because his young child is dying and he, being aware of immortals like Jeanne Louise, only wants someone to save her. He picks Jeanne Louise and takes her to his house but of course things don't go as easily as he thought. Despite that, Jeanne Louise can't read him and believes he can be her lifemate. 
Reading Olivia, his daughter, does provide a lot of information but before anything is done, Jeanne Louise feels Paul should start to trust her, to better accept the immortal concept as well as the lifemate one. The problem is that her family is looking for Jeanne Louise and if they are found before she can gets Paul's trust, he might be convicted for having kidnapped her...

Comparing this book to the previous, I did like this one a lot more. Like I said in my comments of the previous book, there is a lot I forgot, but thankfully, the stories can be quite similar which allows forgotten details to be remembered somehow.
Regarding this one, it was especially good to have it featuring Jeanne Louise, a character I remember from the early books of the series. I think the more along we go, the more need exists for new characters but that just doesn't create such an impact as the characters readers were used to see as recurrent would do.

I liked this installment because it reminded me of the more traditional approach to these stories, where it was necessary to create a believable situation for the protagonists to interact despite the immortal's secrets. As I've also noticed since a few books ago, the author has also inserted a little serious tone to her stories and many times we must go through certain complicated issues or situations. On one hand, this is great because we can understand the characters more (like Paul's believable need to save his daughter), but on the other, it does detract from the original ai of these stories, more focused on comedy and fun circumstances.

As far as the attraction between Paul and Jeanne Louise goes, I didn't think it was that amazingly done. We know and Jeanne Louise knows he is likely to be a lifemate but it's difficult to avoid the knowledge the immortal character will think that or assume a relationship might happen. From this notion to accepting and influencing it (whether because they want to spend time knowing the other first or allowing room for feelings to develop) is a small step and to me that does remove some of the beauty of the romance. 

If one element knows the other might be it, then there's a very clear intention of letting something happen from there and although the road might be more or less complicated, just that awareness always removes the fun from it.
One might say that it has always been so but in the early books, even having that knowledge, some characters wouldn't seem to affect the other's decision nor would they act as desperate. I feel the more recent the books, the more this need to enhance the fact the immortal is looking for a HEA and that doesn't feel as spontaneous or as romantically achieved.

These details aside, of course everything ends well, like I said, there ar some issues to overcome, some were better done but in the end, things were solved rather easily despite all the conversation about why it wouldn't and the realistic reasons why immortals and mortals might not always find a happy ending.
I also feel a little bit sad I wasn't as captivated by Jeanne Louise and Paul as I was with the protagonists of the early books. I do think there has been a change in style and tone int he stories. Still, it was nice to read this one and I hope the next one will be cute too.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

TBR Challenge: Elizabeth Hoyt - Duke of Midnight

Twenty years ago Maximus Batten witnessed the brutal murders of his parents. Now the autocratic Duke of Wakefield, he spends his days ruling Parliament. But by night, disguised as the Ghost of St. Giles, he prowls the grim alleys of St. Giles, ever on the hunt for the murderer. One night he finds a fiery woman who meets him toe-to-toe—and won't back down . . .
Artemis Greaves toils as a lady's companion, but hiding beneath the plain brown serge of her dress is the heart of a huntress. When the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her from footpads, she recognizes a kindred spirit-and is intrigued. She's even more intrigued when she realizes who exactly the notorious Ghost is by day . . .
Artemis makes a bold move: she demands that Maximus use his influence to free her imprisoned brother-or she will expose him as the Ghost. But blackmailing a powerful duke isn't without risks. Now that she has the tiger by the tail, can she withstand his ire-or the temptation of his embrace?

Comment: This is June's entry of the TBR Challenge, hosted by Wendy, the Superlibrarian. This time, the theme is Comfort Read, which can be interpreted in different ways but for me it means something we can be assured of, something we can more or less expect and trust to be good or something that simply will make us feel good and happy about what we are reading about. Depending on the reader's preferences, this can mean any genre but for me, I tend to always fall into romances where I know I'll enjoy the road towards the HEA.
Besides, I'm currently trying to go through Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series and book #6 was the next one, so i chose it because I've come to realize I absolutely love the mix of romance and world building the author presents in the series, which makes this a comfort reading for me.

In this sixth installment we have the story of Maximus Batten, the duke of Wakefield, a character we've met in previous books and Artemis Graves, a somewhat more reserved character. They come from different places in the social hierarchy but since Artemis' cousin is one of the prospective women the duke might consider as a bride, they know of one another even if they never really interacted.
However, after a silly excursion to st Giles one night, Artemis and her cousin Penelope are attacked and then saved by the Ghost of St Giles. In the process, the ghost loses a ring, which Artemis keeps and later on she comes to the realization of who the ring belongs to, thus discovering the identity of the ghost. 
Maximus only wants to finally catch the responsible for the murder of his parents but it's been a dreary and sometimes depressing endeavor. Now, he feels he is close to finally achieve his main goal but he wasn't counting on taking notice of his bride-to-be companion. But as time goes by and his life gets more and more complicated, especially after said companion tries to blackmail him, he must decide if his priorities are as easy as he always thought them to be...

This is one of those series one should read in order. Of course each story can be read as  stand alone because the plot structure is solid but there's a lot to gain from having previous information. This is why I was so eager to read this book, I've liked the little hints here and there about each protagonist and really wanted to see them together. Although their story was mostly a good one, I also admit I sort of expected even more from this one.

What I liked the best was the fact they came from different social status and I wanted to see how the author would deal with this. Rationally, I know dukes wouldn't consider companions to be possible brides but let's be honest, we read fictional historical romance for such accuracy? Of course we want things to make sense, to respect conventions and the fun part is to see how the story progresses despite those "rules". But at the same time, for me, the fantasy of the whole thing is what makes it worthwhile, I want to immerse myself in a romantic story, even if it's unlikely. 
Therefore, I expected this here and I was positively surprised the author didn't avoid the conversations they had about society's expectations, about the why of their relationship not being easily gave the story credibility when the HEA finally happens, they weren't just silly people forgetting everything else.

However, their relationship wasn't the perfection I envisioned. I liked Artemis has secrets and a personality so I can't dislike her for being a person with feelings but having to comply with her position as a companion and her fear about the things (and person) she wanted to protect and help. I understand she knew she wouldn't have a happy, free life. But it did sort of annoy my romantic expectations she wasn't a bit more fearful about outcomes of her decisions, even if I respect her thinking on it. I wanted things to be romanticized and not as raw as they felt sometimes (I mean their choice of how to deal with the physical side of things vs people's POVs and judgment of it).
Maximus could have also done things differently, he was a serious and aware man regarding his position in life and how he should behave. I think he could have had more consideration for Artemis.

Since both protagonist have secrets, part of out perception about their falling in love is how they managed to trust the other with those secrets and why each one figured out how important those things were for the other. It's always nice to see two different people find balance and trust in one another. But even accepting some little angst about their different class stations (a trope I usually like seeing by the way), I still think that for such clever people they didn't consider some details that well and yes, that ruined part of the fun for me.

One of the best features keeps on being the appearances of characters we came to care about. It's so nice to see none of the characters live in an island, meaning, the story isn't only about them but features those who are close to them somehow.
We also have glimpses of characters who will  become future protagonists and, of course, that keeps the reader's appetite on. As always, the story felt fluid and the writing is easy to follow.

I did like this story when I think about it in general. I'd change some details though, and that's why my grade isn't bigger. But I was so eager to read this one that I feel I couldn't consider it better because of this and, now that I thought about it, the HEA was very cute but felt incomplete. I surely hope to see them again in future books, to better solidify the notion of the everlasting happiness they were supposed to hold on to.
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

M.K. Eidem - Grim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 15, 2018

Jayne Ann Krentz - Truth or Dare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rebecca Zanetti - Shadow Falling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Hester Browne - The Honeymoon Hotel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Laura Lee Guhrke - The Truth About Love and Dukes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Lilah Pace - His Royal Secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 8, 2018

TA Pratt - Blood Engines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Jaci Burton - Melting the Ice

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

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

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

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

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

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