Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Deanna Raybourn - A Murderous Relation

Veronica Speedwell and her natural historian colleague Stoker are asked by Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk to help with a potential scandal so explosive it threatens to rock the monarchy. Prince Albert Victor is a regular visitor to the most exclusive private club in London, known as the Club de l'Etoile, and the proprietess, Madame Aurore, has received an expensive gift that can be traced back to the prince. Lady Wellie would like Veronica and Stoker to retrieve the jewel from the club before scandal can break.
Worse yet, London is gripped by hysteria in the autumn of 1888, terrorized by what would become the most notorious and elusive serial killer in history, Jack the Ripper--and Lady Wellie suspects the prince may be responsible.
Veronica and Stoker reluctantly agree to go undercover at Madame Aurore's high class brothel, where another body soon turns up. Many secrets are swirling around Veronica and the royal family--and it's up to Veronica and Stoker to find the truth, before it's too late for all of them.

Comment: This is the 5th installment in the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn, featuring an adventurous and confident woman and her close friend Stoker. They are both of scientific beliefs and while working on their personal and mutual projects they find themselves in more trouble than they expected...

In this new story, which takes place not long after the events of the previous one, where emotions were running high, Veronica and Stoker are back to their usual routines of work when lady Wellie asks Veronica's - and Stoker's - help with a very delicate issue. It seems perhaps prince Albert Victor might be somehow related to two scandals, a jewel in the possession of a woman who shouldn't have it, and the terrible cases of the killer in Whitechapel. It will be up to Veronica and Stoker, by now very experienced in finding creative and clever ways of investigation, to determine if the prince is as innocent as his personality suggests. However, as they go on about the investigation, others have nefarious plans to develop and some aren't easy to solve...

One of the things I like the most in these novels is their consistency. I know what I'm going into and I feel the author presents a balanced work from book to book, and often in long series that can be harder than what it seems. As always, there are details we read and wish were different and according to anyone's preference it can be many different things, but I'm happy to say it's never boring to read, even if the plot is focusing on things I wish I could have more suited to me of if the characters say/act in a way I'd like to be different.

This time the pair has two different issues to deal with, although they get mixed up at some point.There's the case of the jewel which could be a scandal for the royal family - and Veronica and Stoker have obvious reasons for it to not develop, for it could reach them as well - and then there's the situation regarding a plan to change the monarchy as it is known. This second situation is actually a little sequential to the events on book #1, but I don't think any reader would feel it missing if this is where they start. Well, in terms of plot at least, for the rest is so much more rewarding to go through if the previous books had been read too.

The author also manages to use the timely subject of the killer known as Jack-the-Ripper, which still to this day continues to be a source of mystery, because of the references done to the killer's activities and there is even a small scene where Veronica escapes him almost by pure luck. Obviously, this is the author's artistic licence going on, but I confess I feel quite happy the author didn't give in to the temptation of putting our protagonists in the path of the killer or more directly involved with him, I feel that would lead nowhere and would be too distracting.

I think the plot is quite engaging and easy to follow, not only because things happen in a captivating way but also because while the characters need to deal with very specific things, we still get glimpses of their routines and regular tasks, such as actions some kind of reference to what they have to do. Veronica is the narrator of the books but her "voice" is very appealing and alluring and it is always fun to be in her head. If there is a criticism I see in her is that she is often too focused on the things she believes are the evidence of her free spirit and independence and I would prefer to see a bit more of her vulnerable side/thoughts.

Many might wonder how is the romance going, considering the events in the previous book. I can say nothing is rushed nor simplified because the couple has a lot to worry about but I kind of liked how the pace in the romance happens, is makes everything feel sweeter. Perhaps, and here I can say this is a personal preference, we could have more clear clues about the actual intensity or strength of their feelings, because since Veronica narrates and some things we can only infer, it's still a bit of a blind spot to guess how likely it is for them to last as a couple if they never discuss things or show their emotions in a much more obvious way.

I had a great time reading this story and will certainly read the next ones too.
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Mini - Comments

I've recently read two more books in Portuguese and I don't feel like saying much about either, but since I've appointed this as a diary kind of blog, I like the notion I've summarized all the books I read in the year.
Each book belongs to a different genre and was written by a different author. I've read the children's book for a challenge and the library is quite handy when I feel like I want to finish a task but don't own any suitable choice. The other book I remember I bought years and years ago, when I was still an university student and anything that caught my eye was fascinating but now I realize some aren't really so.

Histórias para os Avós Lerem aos Netos by Isabel Stilwell is a children's book. Literally translated as "stories for grandparents to read their grandchildren" and it was the first book by the author I've tried. She is mostly known here for her work fictionalizing with a heavy amount of historical facts the lives of important historical figures of the country but this book was available and it fit the challenge's theme quite nicely. 
It was OK. I've found the several stories cute but not charming and personally I would not pick them over classical ones for instance. I think only one was truly emotional for me.
Still, it's meant fro children, so the aim might be seen as successful by the actual public target and some grandparents might find it cute too, since the author used her own experience as the base. 
The book also includes illustrations by the artist Marta Torrão but again, I feel I'm being unfair in saying this since I have no talent for drawing, but her style or the style she chose for this book was not sweet enough, for my taste.
All in all, it fit the goal of what I wanted but I won't think of it fondly.
Grade: 5/10

Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks is the sort of sequel to Birdsong, which I've read last year and wasn't too thrilled with, but since I already had this one I decided I wanted to read it and get it out of the TBR. Charlotte is the obvious main character in this story set during WWII and she decides to train for suitability so she can be sent to France and help with the war efforts, at the same time she hopes to find a pilot who crashed and with whom she is in love.
I liked this book more than the other because the violence and the terrible things weren't as graphically detailed and some situations weren't really a novelty after so many books on the theme I've read so far. The writing here was as kind of poetic and interesting as in the other but the style just doesn't captivate me! The characters were also not very special and I've found the writing style not a good one for me to feel empathy with what they went through. It felt easy to maintain my emotional distance from what was happening.
I also wasn't very impressed with the amount of useless details vs important development sequences, which made me think parts of the story were boring. The end also felt a bit inconsequential for all the main characters had gone through. It is true I've found this one easier to read but not enough to look for more things by the author, no matter how factual and pertinent some of the information he uses in his work.
Grade: 6/10

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Friday, June 2, 2023

Kate Clayborn - Best of Luck

Greer Hawthorne’s winning lottery ticket doesn’t just bring her wealth, it also means her chance at a long-postponed education. She’s finally on the cusp of proving to her big, overprotective family that she’s independent—until a careless mistake jeopardizes her plan to graduate. Lucky for her, there’s someone in town who may be able to help . . .
Alex Averin plans to show up for his sister’s wedding, then quickly get back to his job as a world-renowned photojournalist. But when gorgeous, good-hearted Greer needs an assist with a photography project, he’s powerless to say no. Showing Greer his professional passion ignites a new one, and rouses instincts in Alex he thought he’d long set aside.
Can a ceaseless wanderer find a stopping place alongside a woman determined to set out on her own . . . or are Alex and Greer both pushing their luck too far?

Comment: This is the third book in the Chance of a Lifetime trilogy by author Kate Clayborn. I have read and liked the previous novels and, of course, I'd want to read this one too, and now I can know I have completed this trilogy.

In this story we finally have Greer as protagonist. Of the three friends, she has been the most discreet one, shy, and now we get to understand why her personality is more reserved. Greer has gone through a terrible time, she has a medical condition and this affected much of her experiences and relationships with her family and others. Winning the lottery with her friends helped her to give back to the family who supported her, yes, but is also the way for her to graduate and finally have independence.
Alex is the older brother of Kit and he is a modern nomad, never in the same place for long, going everywhere his job and his interest takes him. He is back in town for Kit's wedding and since Greer has a college task she has to fulfill, he is the right person to ask for help, considering his wonderful career as a photojournalist, But Alex has had some issues lately and Greer sees right though them. As they spend time together for her project they become friends, but can they be more than that?

I think the intention of writing about three friends winning the lottery wasn't as predictable in this trilogy as one would imagine. In reality, the girls don't place themselves in situations in which winning the lottery could be a motif for conversation or serious change in their lives, and they acted as I imagine many people who don't win ridiculous amounts probably do, meaning they solve the most pressing worries in their financial life but they don't become vain or glamorous or different overnight.

Greer uses part of the money to help her family - how not to respect that - and part to go to college, so she can graduate, be able to apply to a job already waiting for her. She has everything planned and she is taking care of herself, health wise, she has everlasting friends, what else is there? Obviously, a romance and Kit's brother does appeal to her, but she is aware he is not the settling down type, so she doesn't dream high. However, spending time with him shows her there's more to him and his choices than simply selfishness or a need to not compromise, and I liked this in the novel, this notion they got to know each other at a slow pace while talking and dealing with one another without second intentions.

I say this because while we can expect the romance to deepen, their connection to become stronger, it isn't obvious the path for them has to be a sexual one. This isn't a story where the secondary details about their lives exist just to present a conflict. This story does feel - perhaps a bit more than the others - as a mature, solid read about two people who have had certain experiences in life, how they shaped their perspective and by pure chance they seem attracted. I kind of liked that the author didn't write this in a glaring way where we would only needed to wait until they had sex. 

Well, their relationship does get intimate but I never tog the feeling that was the most important part of why they were good together. I think the story focused more on what else is necessary for a couple to succeed, namely peace of mind and finding pleasure in simple things, while trusting someone to be there for you. At the same time, they for each other so well, especially with all the support and friendship and understanding between them, that I also felt they could have been simply friends, you know, that while is cute they are a couple, if not, no harm done.

There are certain conflicts they need to deal with, certain things from their pasts are now front stage in their lives and in how they connect with others - mainly Alex and his need for therapy and to deal with panic attacks he has had - is key for us to see how they improve and why they should evolve or be "worthy" of a romantic HEA. I liked how the story progressed, because despite being a bit predictable in how things went, it was still cute to see. I also think there's this sense of competency in how the author included certain information and how much more realistic some things were. I'd say, perhaps, the books - this one in particular - miss a bit of a lighter tone here and there and most of the stories feel too intense, more dramatic than balanced.

Despite the things I'd like to see a bit different, I liked reading the book and seeing what the characters would do next. To be fair, perhaps i won't re-read these books much but I certainly appreciate the professionalism of the writing, of the content, of the presentation. I'll certainly read other books by the author at some point.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Fiona McIntosh - Myrren's Gift

For the sake of an imperiled kingdom, the line between "traitor"and "savior" must blur . . . and vanish.
Though barely a teenager, Wyl Thirsk must now assume the role he has been destined for since commander of the Morgravian army -- an awesome responsibility that calls him to the royal palace of the crown prince Celimus. Already a cruel despot who delights in the suffering of others, Celimus enjoys forcing his new general to witness his depraved "entertainments." 
But a kindness to a condemned witch in her final, agonizing hours earns young Thirsk a miraculous bequest, while inflaming the wrath of his liege lord. With war looming in the north, Wyl must obey Celimus's treacherous dictates and undertake a suicidal journey to an enemy court -- armed with a mysterious power that could prove both boon and curse. For unless he accepts Myrren's gift, it will surely destroy him . . . and the land he must defend.

Comment: Another book I purchased years ago (in 2011 to be exact) with the hope it would be a great first book in a trilogy and I'd have more to read afterwards.

In this fantasy story, we follow the adventures and misadventures of Wyl Thirsk, the son of the Morgravian general. His father dies in battle and the king Magnus, who is also a friend, promises him Wyl will be general like his father, even though he is only a young man at the moment. He also promises his son Celimus, the future king, will be a blood brother to Wyl, just like the two old friends have been. The biggest issue is that Celimus is a cruel young man and Wyl, upon arriving at the riyal city, can't seem to hide his opinion. Everything comes to a final twist when old king Magnus dies and his son is now free to do as he pleases. Betrayals and hidden plans follow but Wyl has a secret: Wyl had a kind gesture towards Myrren, a woman condemned and killed for being a witch, and she bestowed a gift on him. When the unthinkable happens, Wyl's gift is finally revealed and he can't believe what he is now able to do. Will there be any way to escape Celimus' influence and terrible pursuit?

There will be some spoilers included ahead!

High fantasy isn't usually the genre I look for the most but here and there, something does catch my eye. However, I must confess that, once more after so long in the pile, I was no longer as excited to read this one and, having had another book in a different genre by the author in 2019 and it being only average to me, I was really more interested in just getting another book out of the pile.

I'll start with what I liked the most: the world building of any fantasy world, no matter the actual genre, is probably the best thing about any fantasy story. It can be true author would use influences of other authors or things but to me it is always such a thrill to think someone had to think and imagine and plan so many details and situations, and often in big books as fantasy ones tend to be, that can certainly be a feat. There were elements in this world I liked, not as much for their uniqueness but for the sheer ability to place them all together in something that somehow made sense.

That said, no fantasy world is as captivating if not for the characters in it and in that regard, I must start my complaints... Wyl is a great hero and protagonist because he is one of those amazing characters who can be only good! Even in doing things we might label as being in "grey areas", his attitude and moral code never falters. The issue is with everyone else, or someone is bad or someone is good but no one has true complexity. Besides, the really bad characters always do awful things and I started to become incredibly annoyed at their actions and reasoning.

The book has four main moments, the way I see it: a prologue, in which we see Wyl's father die and king Magnus making promises; the first chapters when Wyl is starting to live in the royal palace and must learn how Celimus truly is like; then a few more chapters as Wyl must deal with the events following Magnus' death; and then until the end, the events following the big twist caused by the "gift" he received from the witch. All this happens in sequenced chapters, without any graphic clue as to the jump in time, except the chapter's number. It could be a bit confusing to get used to place situations in time in the early chapters.

The plot is very basic, Wyl has to maintain his good deeds while trying to fulfill the promises of helping Celimus any way he could, although Celimus is a master manipulator and doesn't want to change, while also dealing with military issues and then, to act as general when a possible renewal of the war against a neighbor kingdom - the reason his father died - might bring even more problems. One way to delay this might be a truce with the other king, an older man with no heir but with a daughter. Wyl travels as envoy to secure a possible marriage treaty but he falls for the young woman, Valentyna, and can't imagine her with someone as cruel as Celimus. All these steps and sequences are mixed up with countless secondary situations which aren't always interesting, with the addition of many characters who I struggled to like or even understand why they mattered.

Then, among so much cruelty and violence and people dying and many more unnecessary scenes which add nothing to what matters in this story, we finally learn what gift Wyl really received from the witch. It was actually quite exciting to be honest, so Wyl can change bodies if he is killed. When this happened, I was surprised the author would kill off the main character too (others had already been killed for the sake of drama) but then what an amazing twist... however, you know all those special things Wyl could now achieve with this incredible element of surprise? Spying, planning, helping friends, deceiving enemies under the disguise of a new identity? 

Ahh, unfortunately in fact, Wyl is as surprised as we are and he makes mistakes, which he should prevent so others couldn't guess but then some immediately realize the truth and I can't explain how irritating that was, which means Wyl is always running against time or putting himself in complicated situations he didn't have to in the first place! This, along with the confusing parts and the annoying stuff the bad guys kept doing, kind of ruined part of the reading for me. Not even the possible romance between Wyl (in another body) with Valentyna was enough to make me change my mind.

Sadly, this ended up being average for me, as the other book by the author had been. In both I suppose I can say the ideas were great, but not the plot choices nor the general execution. After finishing this one, I've read reviews on the rest of the trilogy and that proved to be quite entertaining. I now have a good idea on how this probably developed and I sigh with satisfaction I don't feel like I need to read them myself to have an inkling on how everything ended anyway.
Grade: 5/10

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Eva Jurczyk - The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections

What holds more secrets in the library: the ancient books shelved in the stacks or the people who preserve them?
Liesl Weiss has been (mostly) happy working in the rare books department of a large university, managing details and working behind the scenes to make the head of the department look good. But when her boss has a stroke and she's left to run things, she discovers that the library's most prized manuscript is missing.
Liesl tries to sound the alarm and inform the police about the missing priceless book but is told repeatedly to keep quiet to keep the doors open and the donors happy. But then a librarian goes missing as well. Liesl must investigate both disappearances, unspooling her colleagues' pasts like the threads of a rare book binding as it becomes clear that someone in the department must be responsible for the theft. What Liesl discovers about the dusty manuscripts she has worked among for so long—and about the people who preserve and revere them—shakes the very foundation on which she has built her life.

Comment: I like books about books or about the book world, whether is bookshops, libraries, etc. When I saw this title and the blurb, I felt it would be something I would like too and I've imagined several possibilities of what the plot might contain. I confess I didn't read anything else about the book, so the impact would be better, but perhaps that was a mistake because this book didn't turn out to go the path I imagined.

Liesl Weiss works at a university library and has done so for decades. She is now taking over the library since the boss has had a stroke and is at the hospital. The president of the university charges her of keeping things running as smoothly as ever, but things prove difficult when they can't open the safe where a rare book was kept. Since the library works with the help of donors, often events are organized to showcase them some of the things most people don't get to see and now everyone wants to see this expensive but prestigious book. When they finally open the safe, the book isn't there. Where can it be? Liesl will have to investigate but in the end, should she call the police or is the library's prestige more important?

This is the first book I try by this author, I had not heard of her before so I was ready to be impressed by the book, her style, and so on, especially bearing in mind the theme I think the overall idea and tone of the story are interesting but when I start thinking about each element on its own... I suppose there is a reason why the average of this book on GR isn't very high...

First of all, I knew this would not be a romance, I've seen all the labels attached to this title, but part of me will always hope some inkling or hint about it might exist, but since Liesl as protagonist, was married and in her 60s if I read that right, the kind of romance I prefer was certainly off the table. Plus, the tone of the novel seemed to be more a mix of small mystery and literary wannabe and that meant that, clearly, the aim here was not the cozy, cute story I still imagined anyway.

The plot isn't overly complex, nor is the actual mystery alluded in the blurb. I think anyone used to read mysteries or thrillers probably guesses the big reveal way sooner than what is shared but as a reader who doesn't only read this genre, part of the whole thing was intriguing enough, even more so when the person who could explain part of the mystery was in the hospital. I still think the author could have done things in a more clever way, or in a way where the books and the library would be a more welcomed place, somewhere where we would be invested to care and want to know what was going on.

In a way, I actually felt a mix of boredom and indifference as things progressed, because the focus wasn't, as I would have preferred, on the whole book investigation but on how each character was affected or was somehow part of the situation. The problem with this is that none of the characters were likable, in my opinion. I can only suppose the author wanted to make them seem flawed and "human" while still being rather professional in the middle of everything. But all of them had some kind of secret and I've found that each person's secret made them unappealing people and not exactly a victim or a character I'd want to root for or to see being redeemed in the end.

Liesl is the one relating the story but I struggled to connect with her. She didn't seem to be that much of a nice person, even when she tried to do good things. I guess I can applaud the author by conveying such impressions on such a small amount of character development, though... as for the secondary characters, all had some kind of flaw like I said, but nothing in this story seemed aimed to make them improve or become more important in the big scheme of things. In fact, some of them and of their actions felt very pointless here and there, which along with a certain depressing vibe regarding all their lives made this less than thrilling to read.

When we discover the solution for the mystery, namely what happened to the missing book and how that connects with the rest of the issues which had been dealt with before, I found myself a bit indifferent, because nothing went in a way that could have made this feel even more of a mystery or anything else. I would say some sections might make me think of this book as a "literary wannabe" project, because some details apparently were aimed to make the story feel more intense and a study on human interactions, but... nothing about it really caught my attention in that regard...

In the end, this was interesting enough, that I can say. The book related conversations and information the author included were certainly something I liked reading about. As for everything else... meh, not as impressive, no.
Grade: 5/10

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Everina Maxwell - Winter's Orbit

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat's rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam's cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.
But when it comes to light that Prince Taam's death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war... all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

Comment: This book has a good number of positive reviews and in most sites a good average rating. I was curious about it too after seeing one or two reviews by people whose taste is relatively similar to mine in certain genres. I was also led to believe this would include a romantic story within the mainly sci-fi fiction setting.

In a system ruled by the Iskat empire, it is necessary to maintain the peace with treaties and political alliances but the recent death of an important officer, who was also a prince in the ruling royal family, demands that Jainan, his Thean born widower, who originated from a planet with less political power, must be married again so avoid insurgences. The emperor than arranges his marriage to yet another prince, this time Kiem, who has no military background. However they are both a bit wary of each other, especially Jainan, and at the same time, there is a lot to be worried about in relation to the repercussion of Jainan's previous spouse. The more they investigate certain inconsistencies, the more they become involved in what seems to be a conspiracy. Will they trust each other soon enough to fight a common enemy before someone else is dead?

The blurb really made me imagine this would be one of those stories where two people who have very different personalities have to work together to reach some goal while battling their feelings at the same time. A mix of opposites attract with marriage of convenience is often one of the best scenarios in romances, because it usually means sparks and chemistry and sweetness all in one at some point. Sadly, I feel the actual focus of this book wasn't exactly on this element...

The romance is quite subtle, perhaps a bit too much, because while I can totally accept the slow pace of such a relationship, even more so when they both assumed things of the other, if nothing really improves for the better, then what is the point? Kiem is a prince, labeled as extravagant and a bit flighty, never truly committed to anything except parties and social relationships. We see him as being "forced" to marry Jainan so that he can be respectful of his royal family and the empire's diplomacy and I hoped being married to someone seen as serious would make him become aware of the need to act accordingly in the right moments, but also for him to show Jainan that it was alright to be playful sometimes.

As for Jainan, he is a quiet, dedicated man to diplomacy, he knows his planet's traditions and position within the empire isn't always understood and he wants to keep a low profile, so that he doesn't cause problems. But he does have problems and we slowly learn most are related to his late husband, the prince Taam. I wish his relationship with Kiem were to be sweeter and way more romantic than it was, because he is the type of person that feels less than appreciated and I hoped being with someone who was more outgoing would help him feel more confident.

The romance can be summarized to this, in my opinion: they talk and don't communicate for the vast majority of the book, then at some point they need to survive a crash and get closer and in the end they say they love one another. This happens throughout all the book but the big part of it is focused on the lack of communication. I feel we didn't have enough scenes with them, not enough clues they might be longing for one another or that they had evidence the other person was worthy of their love, or something like it. If the romance was included in this story, why not develop it in a more romantic way?

Clearly, the main subject was the political plots that were ongoing and the amount of things everyone kept finding. The world building is amazing, true, as often is when it comes to sci fi worlds someone invents and imagines in such rich detail. But then, there were many characters, some not that important, there were many steps everyone had to take from one point to the other and sometimes it felt the scenes were repetitive, the actions the same, the hints at some kind of new discovery would take too long to have a purpose... I would say some chapters had really boring scenes/situations.

I can appreciate the eye for detail, but I also didn't finish the book with the sense that the world in this book was so captivating or special that I'd read any story about it for the sake of the plot, if there wasn't the appeal of a romance. This happened to me in relation to other series, where now I could happily read stories about those worlds even if not focused on a romance. I think I have to agree with the readers who say they wanted this but with more scenes between the main couple or with less focus on political or military details.

All things considered, this wasn't a complete let down, but close. I think if the main characters had been more well fleshed or if the romance had actually been a good one, perhaps everything else would feel even stronger by proximity. I kind of liked the overall effect, but it wasn't as great as I would want. I might read the sequel one day, to compare...
Grade: 6/10

Friday, May 26, 2023

Sarah M. Eden - The Kiss of a Stranger

When Crispin, Lord Cavratt, thoroughly and scandalously kisses a serving woman in the garden of a country inn, he assumes the encounter will be of no consequence. But he couldn’t be more mistaken— the maid is not only a lady of birth, she’s the niece of a very large, exceptionally angry gentleman, who claims Crispin has compromised his niece beyond redemption. The dismayed young lord has no choice but to marry Miss Catherine Thorndale, who lacks both money and refinement and assumes all men are as vicious as her guardian uncle. 
Trapped between an unwanted marriage and a hasty annulment, which would leave his reputation tainted and Catherine’s utterly ruined, Crispin begins guiding his wife’s transformation from a socially petrified country girl to a lady of society. Their unfolding relationship reveals encouraging surprises for both of them, and privately, each of them wonders if theirs may become a true marriage of the heart. But their hopes are dashed when forces conspire to split asunder what fate has granted, and as a battle of wits escalates into a life-threatening confrontation, will it be possible for Crispin and Catherine to live happily ever after?

Comment: I got interested in this book because it would feature an apparent marriage of convenience trope, sort of. Usually, I tend to like the historicals with this premise.

This story begins with Crispin, lord Cavratt, trying to escape the attention of miss Cynthia Bower, who has pursued him relentlessly during the Season and the only sudden way he finds to do it is to kiss a stranger, whom he assumes to be a servant. However, the woman is actually miss Catherine Thorndale, the niece of a gentleman, who sees this and immediately demands he marries her. Crispin is a man of honor and he feels like he should do it so the reputation of the young woman isn't doomed but they determine they might have an annulment soon after. There are some legal glitches to overcome, though, but more than that, Crispin starts to like the company of his new wife, even though she is shy and scared to speak her mind. Can it be that this accidental kiss might turn out to be the best decision of his life?

The element I liked the most in this novel, which was a novelty for me since I had not read anything else by the author, was the simplicity of the story. There are no dramatic or exaggerated details, nothing out of the ordinary. The plot and the characters are succinct and appealing and the focus is only on how the main characters will fall in love and how quickly can they realize it.

It turns out, not that quickly! I mean, I'm glad they don't rush into a relationship just because of how they came to be together and this is a closed door romance, we barely even see them exchanging looks, much less anything else, but there is pace and there is slugging out until something is obvious. After everything is set up and the protagonists see themselves in such a situation, I thought we would have a sweet and romantic development into eternal love but I've found this to be less amazing than I imagined.

It is true there's a bit of problem to deal with, especially related to Catherine's uncle and his terrible personality and goals, but I kind of hoped the main characters would be a bigger focus of things. I'm happy they took their time to want to be with the other and their relationship was mere courtesy and friendship at first, but for this to be a more convincing romance novel, I think they should have shared more scenes and, mainly, more scenes where they weren't talking out of turn.

I say this because they often assumed something the other was thinking and that lead into more miscommunication. I understand Crispin was attempting to not pressure Catherine into something she might not want and she isn't the assertive type of person who would want answers, but while this was acceptable at first, when they were still debating whether this marriage could be a good thing or not, it started to feel too repetitive and slow the more the story advanced.

Apart from this, I actually liked the characters, they are genuinely good people and the interactions with secondary characters believable. I wish they could have had more scenes dealing with friends out of balls or social environments, as well as more scenes between the protagonists in domestic settings, perhaps that could have helped enhancing the sensation they were becoming closer. I think the author could have done a better job in portraying the emotions they were feeling and the inner monologues more complex to make me care more for them as a couple.

The plot regarding the uncle was a also a bit confusing at times, I wasn't always certain about the uncles' motives - his goals seemed obvious - because soon he would say one thing, then would say another, but as an antagonist, he seemed to only be present in "convenient" moments of the story, and some sequences didn't feel very fluid or natural. There are also other secondary characters who act as antagonists to the main couple, sometimes it felt a bit juvenile how they were made to act, so that we could have an obvious comparison between everyone.

I know it might seem as if I didn't like this much, but I did like the story and the simplicity of the story, it's only that in such a type of story, the things I'd prefer changed seem even more glaring by contrast. In the end, all was well as it should and I liked the writing style enough to want to read the next story in this series. I hope it might be better in the details I wish this had been.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Chloe Liese - If Only You

I'm the youngest player on the National Soccer team, the baby of my family, and thoroughly sick of being underestimated, so I've decided to take matters into my own hands . . .
My brother's teammate and best friend Seb needs to save his reputation. I want to give mine an edge. So I propose a fake friendship with real benefits: spending time in the public eye, my good-girl image and his bad-boy notoriety rubbing off on each other. But will it be as easy as I think to keep him in the (fake) friend zone?
My hockey career and sponsorships are in jeopardy, so when Ziggy Bergman proposes a public "friendship" to rehab my image, it's an offer that even a self-respecting reprobate like myself can't refuse.
It's simple: fake a friendship with Ziggy, fix my reputation, and get back to hockey - the one and only thing I love . . . until I find myself falling for the last person I should be: my best friend's sister.

Comment: This is the sixth installment in the Bergman Brothers series by author Chloe Liese. I've been a fan of the series so far and now that we finally got Ziggy's story, thee is only one sibling left!

Ziggy is the youngest sister of the siblings and she knows her family is protective of her, especially since her autistic diagnose. This doesn't stop her from doing the things she loves and she loves playing soccer. However, she understands her personality isn't for everyone and she realizes many still see her as too young so she decides to change things by asking the help of her brother's friend Sebastian, a professional hockey player.
Sebastian's fame isn't great, in fact he is considered a loose cannon and Frankie, his agent, is worried that he might start losing his credibility. Despite this, Seb was surprised when Ziggy offered him the possibility of a kind of redemption by associating with him. With her fake friendship scheme, he gets to be seen with someone people love and she gets to be seen as an adult by others. Of course, in process of knowing who the other really is, they can't help falling in love... 

I liked this one a lot. It's probably a bit higher on my preference than some of the other books I've graded the same, but there is still something which could have made it even better, perhaps a bit more intensity to their moments together or a more decisive way to deal with their issues, so that they could more freely or openly declare they were ready to be with someone in a stable relationship. I feel this happened and was good, but could have been better.

The author is autistic too and she uses her own experiences to shape some of the content used. She also includes a note where she explains she tried her best to present correct information about the several elements related to the conditions the characters have or go through, whether in terms of personality or health wise... part of me is quite happy with this sense of professionalism and respect and while I can't  say if everything is as described, it feels done in a competent way.

On the other hand - and I fully know how unfair this will sound - such well explained information and inclusion of adequate details makes part of the conversations or the settings a bit too perfect and considerate for, sometimes, the type of situation. While I like the correct side of things, it also makes them seem a bit unrealistic at times, as if people in certain moments wouldn't be that proper or that informative in their dialogues. Despite saying this, I got the feeling the author tried to use information in the best way to give the idea the characters were being respectful and understanding of what was going on with others, as a way to show how simple it can be between someone who accepts and respects others.

The plot is quite simple, they both want to help one another, no other motif than their willingness to be in their best behavior, but obviously the biggest gain is for Sebastian who, emotionally, needs confirmation he isn't a lost cause and that there are people who care, unlike the experience he has had with his parents, stepfather and other key figures in his life. For Ziggy, I felt this was more about validating she is a grown up and that she is ready to have personal relationships not only family related. From the moment they become friends, everything seems to fall into place, and even the smallest issues are addressed in a funny or understanding way.

There are times where it feels as if the situations the characters face are too perfectly solved. I kind of wish we could have had a bit more tension or a bit more complexity in how everything is done. For instance, we keto having scenes where Seb would complain about stomach aches. It was obvious he had some kind of medical issue but the way he finds out and how is so anti climatic...I wondered why was there any hint of mystery given to these aches if the way he dealt with it was so practical! Then it wouldn't have to be an issue if it didn't interfere more obviously with his life.

The friendship between Ziggy and Seb is sweet to watch developing and I liked their personalities, I liked how they got to talk and discuss important things with one another and everything but I must say, as a romantic couple, they didn't always appear as suitable. I liked how things were slow, all that but they kept sharing how the other was becoming more attractive and special and I didn't always get the vibe their romance was a demand. There were moments where it felt they could have been only friends and that could be enough, other times the chemistry would be more obvious... nevertheless, in the big scheme of things, I think the romance worked out.

This was a good entry about the Bergman family, especially because there are plenty of scenes with them as secondary characters. I think I can give extra points for the simple pleasure of reading about a loving family doing nice things for one another, even if it's a prank. I'm looking for to read the last book...
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Mini - Comments

I've recently read two books in Portuguese, which I brought from the library the last time I went there.
One of them I picked because I had read some good reviews by other readers, and the other book I chose because it was by a French author and that fits one theme in a challenge I'm doing this month.

Pão de Açucar by Afonso Reis Cabral is a mix of fiction and facts, based on a real case which took place in Oporto, a city in the north of Portugal, in 2006. In February that year, a group of children and teenagers (ages between 12 and 16 if I read correctly) beat and mistreated and eventually killed a transgender woman who was homeless and ill. The case was shocking at the time mainly due to the age of the kids, and the fact they all belonged to an institution for marginalized youths. It was also shocking they didn't grasp the seriousness of their acts and the complete lack of respect for a human being. 
Much was debated at the time and now the author uses information from one of those kids, who felt like making amends by coming forward with his version, but the truth doesn't change: they attacked and hurt and killed an ill person who had no way to defend herself. I found the text to be fluid, almost poetic for the author intended to convey the emotions and setting which propelled this to happen without being judgmental. This was written as if the kid was narrating what he saw and was part of, but in a cleaner, simpler writing. 
I think the quality of the text and the author's effort was quite well done, quite mature, but that doesn't mean the rawness of the facts isn't less terrible. One could say this doesn't add much to what was already known, but it is one more way to remember the woman who was killed and my grade relates to the text and the author's work of presenting it.
Grade: 8/10

A Madrugada em Birkenau by Simone Veil is one more version of her experience during the Holocaust. The title can be literally translated into "dawn at Bikenau" and it refers mostly to how she was deported and what life was at the camp. We also have more information about her years after the camps were released and some of her thoughts on the decisions the made afterwards, mainly the political ones.
This might not be the most comprehensive book on her life and the edition I was able to read also included many photographs and personal notes, but I've found the quick and objective narration an easy one to follow. Part of the text was written by a friend of hers, a filmmaker, and he shares some personal opinions on certain passages and how he got to be friends with Simone, who is still seen as one of the most important French personalities by the French.
I must say I'm grading the selection of information the co author used and how, not the actual content. Nevertheless, once Simone was an adult, married and in the public sphere, she includes here some of the opinions she had on certain subjects and I admit I don't agree with some of her political views, and this inadvertently affected my overall opinion on the book. As for her experience in concentration camps and her personal feelings on what happened, that is impossible to grade.
Grade: 7/10