Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Mariana Zapata - Lingus

Most people would describe Katherine Berger as a responsible girl with a big heart, a loyal friend who takes care of those close to her, and the possessor of a wicked sense of humor. There was something about her that most people didn't know. "My name is Kat Berger, and I love porn."
When twenty-five-year-old Kat is dragged to a porn convention by her best friend, she's both embarrassed and nervous. The last thing she ever expected was to meet someone who makes her laugh like no other. This is a story about acceptance and friendship, and a love born out of the most unexpected of places.

Comment: This is the first book published by this author, who got known for her slow burn romances. I've liked all the books by her I've tried so far and I was quite curious with this one as it would feature a theme not often seen in romances (unless it's erotica or with erotic content), which is the porn industry. Sadly, I think one detail overpowered everything else in my enjoyment of the story.

In this book the narrator is Katherine Berger, a young woman who, along with her closest friends, actually likes to watch porn. When the story begins she is being dragged into a porn convention, something she has always wanted to do but at the same time she still feels a little embarrassed and the idea of finding someone who knows her makes her feel shy but her friend quickly tells her everyone else will be in the same position so the embarrassment can be mutual.
While waiting for her friend to get an autograph of a porn star, Kat sits on the side and she has a weird meet cute with a guy who tells her he's waiting for a friend too. As they talk through chance encounters through the day, Kat discovers she has a great time with him and they become friends as the story progresses. However, will Kat be able to deal with the whole porn world influence?

In general terms, I'd say it can be a little obvious how this was the author's first book. The structure is pretty much the same, we have the slow burn evolution of the romance by having the main characters interact often in diverse situations where we get to see how meant for each other they can be and how their relationship sets in more than just sexual attraction. However, the way this was written did seem a little less polished, less complimentary on the characters and the things they say than in her more recent - and more well thought, in my opinion - work.

The theme is quite interesting. I confess I don't have any interest in watching porn nor does this get into my mind whatsoever, it doesn't bother me it exists but I don't have any specific interest in looking for it. This means it would be a novelty for me to read about someone who likes it but I think, for all this was a very particular preference, the heroine didn't spend much time sharing why she liked it or why it was something she spent time with outside of the basics.
This means that, for me at least, the porn industry here was not as much the focus but the notion it is something very different and handy in this situation.

Part of the conflict is how Kat deals with having a friend she develops a very good relationship with, still working in the area. We don't have much details besides the difficulty it is for partners of those workers to deal with the jealousy, the doubts, the complexes of measuring up. This is all understandable and I can't decide if I think the information was just enough because the author didn't want this to be the huge focus of the story (opposed to the romance) or if she didn't want to go too much into something that is already obvious anyway.

The romance is, of course, slow. We get to see them be together many times as friends, doing things together or just talking. Since the author's trademark in the narration is having only the heroine's POV, some things are obviously a little one sided and not that easy to balance out, although it's interesting to read somethings through the heroine's eyes already knowing the hero has to be falling in love too but some scenes are supposed to be doubtful nevertheless. I don't like the first person that much in romance because it can be a bit silly to guess in scenes what we already have to take for granted...
Anyway, the romance is cute as one would expect and the fact they don't discuss the porn that much felt natural if they didn't want to acknowledge where things were going between them but considering the way they met, it was also rather disappointing.

The story would probably be slightly better than average for me (if one thinks about the star grading in goodreads, this would fall into 4 in my personal scale) if not for one detail. Kat is a woman who likes porn and she even attended a porn convention. I must agree with other readers, then, in being negatively impressed by how she would describe other women in the same convention, especially if their clothing and make-up were more obvious. Why would this matter to her, since she was there in the same capacity as herself? 
I suppose this would be a way for the reader to have something to balance out the fact Kat was quieter, just an average woman who liked something people tend to categorize others for. But then, if so, why would Kat be so mean and negative about other women? This was repeated here and there somehow so no escaping it, in my point of view. It really removed some of the fun and novelty of reading about someone who enjoys watching porn.

In the end, this is a good story, with interesting details and theme and characters captivating enough too. I just think there was way too much negativity and not enough discussion on the merits/favorable aspects of porn, for instance. 
I liked reading the book but it was not as cute or fun as other books by her were before, for me.
Grade: 6/10

Friday, October 18, 2019

A book comment; a suggestion

A book

I've recently read a book by author Roger L. Talbot, whose only personal information I found was on goodreads and not that detailed (not that I have done an extensive research). This author has written a book that, according to goodreads again and some retailers, is only available in Italian, its original publication and translated into two or three languages, none of them English.

I got the Portuguese edition at my library because the cover blurb mentioned famous women and how they all had something in common, they were part of a secret sisterhood. 

Of course, this being a fictional novel, I knew the names referenced were just an exaggeration of the possibilities of the novel but I imagined a mix of historical facts, romance, adventure... however, this story didn't end up being that amazing and the titled suggested in Portuguese (literally it means "the wise ones" felt a little under par to what the content really offers.

Basically, this is a story based on the premise women in History, same very famous, have been part of a sisterhood that aims to control several aspects that could cause world catastrophes. In this book we meet some - not so famous - fictional women who are in special placed situations and how they behave to keep their secrets while teaching possible new agents. At the same time, the daughter of one of these agents wants to know the truth behind her mother's death but she has her oligarch Russian father to worry about as well. And apparently a certain agent has gone rogue...

The story's idea is not that bad and I had an image of how things could happen. The writing is fluid and the many chapter make things seem to happen more quickly. However, the story was unappealing, the characters didn't have any personality beyond the obvious and the structure of the story didn't go as smoothly as I think the author intended. The "feel" of the story just wasn't impressive for me.
Grade: 4/10


A suggestion

I saw this quiz online and thought about sharing with you:

I've done the quiz and I got 5 right.
Well, as obvious as it is, if everyone has read or heard about the books, the chances of getting right answers increases...
Have fun!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

JR Ward - Blood Truth

As a trainee in the Black Dagger Brotherhood's program, Boone has triumphed as a soldier and now fights side by side with the Brothers. Following his sire's unexpected death, he is taken off rotation against his protests—and he finds himself working with Butch O'Neal, former homicide cop, to catch a serial killer: Someone is targeting females of the species at a live action role play club. When the Brotherhood is called in to help, Boone insists on being a part of the effort—and the last thing he expects is to meet an enticing, mysterious female...who changes his life forever.
Ever since her sister was murdered at the club, Helaine has been committed to finding the killer, no matter the danger she faces. When she crosses paths with Boone, she doesn't know whether to trust him or not—and then she has no choice. As she herself becomes a target, and someone close to the Brotherhood is identified as the prime suspect, the two must work to together to solve the mystery...before it's too late. Will a madman come between the lovers or will true love and goodness triumph over a very mortal evil?

Comment: This is the fourth installment in the Black Dagger Legacy series, featuring mostly trainees who decided to join the fight against the same enemies we see the main characters of the original Black Dagger brotherhood series fight.
This series and the original one happen at the same time but, of course, the focus on specific characters and situations changes slightly.

In this installment we have the story focusing on Boone, one of the trainee elements who hadn't yet had his own romance.
Boone comes from an aristocratic family and we get to know he had an arranged mating but by talking to his intended, they decided on canceling it, making it look like she was the one who made that decision since this colors Boone badly but it would be even worse for her, had their roles been reversed.
Boone is now dedicated to his training and the tasks he and the others are trusted with more and more. so when he joins the Brother Butch in investigating the murders of female of the species in a night club, he feels glad he is being active and wants to help. One witness comes froward and Boone is immediately drawn to her, to the point of spending more time with her than what would be necessary.
What will Boone do when he discovers this witness is actually also connected to one of the victims..?

Most times, even when in regards to long series, the authors do try to make things be readable as standalone titles so that when someone unaware picks a random book in a series, there is still some structure to make it easy. I do think this happens here but at the same time, and having my opinion colored by my being a fan, it also feels very unfair to those people. There's a lot to be said about investing in the characters and I feel this series is only good if read in order.

This said, the story follows a very simple premise: there's a small group of characters interacting, some are looking to investigate a crime while we also see them dealing with their personal lives.
Like I said, I'm a fan, so everything gained a special "flavor" for me but I can also see that things are quite simplistic in this plot.
The murder investigation is simple, easy to fix after all when we connect the dots and it's not the most complex situation one can imagine. For me, the interest was not as much in the how or why the crime occurred but in the who was investigating and why it mattered to them.

Butch has always been my favorite character in the series from the start and it was a plus for me to see him have a special role in this novel. It felt like not enough, though but I understand he was not the main focus.
Boone is the main character and we have him doing most of the things and being the main focus, even though the author also set up the next story in the main series. I suppose this is one of the weaker elements of her work: she is so worried to create the perfect atmosphere, to set her characters in the most interesting emotional context that everything else is secondary and the stories/plots lose some engagement, they feel underdeveloped. I'd say this has been recurrent lately and maybe that explains why some readers no longer follow her.

As for the romance in this book, Boone and the witness - Helania - make a connection, they start seeing in each other and despite the fact things happen very quickly, they claim they are falling in love by the end. I confess I don't particularly like how quickly this situation happens. Yes, one can bear in mind the paranormal aspect and how easy things were made up to simplify the attraction between the couples but the authors can find ways to make the romances develop in a more believable manner.
I liked Boone and Helania found common ground but their connection also feels too easy. Considering the emotional hurdles they both claim to have faced, I expected them to bond for longer before admitting things, before it got to matter for real.

I think a lot of these novels sets on fans' loyalty and the fact there are little passages here and there, clues about future situations that make the reader want to stay in touch with this world. The writing is often captivating but there's a lot of focus on difficulties, on some negative situations if they happen, on overcoming bad stuff... I think the positive aspects are a little underestimated so it feels like the only solution is to amp the emotional side for readers to be mesmerized, to be (maybe?) shocked and want to keep reading. I wish this would change and in this book it wasn't as dire as I'm painting it but...yes, some books just don't reach the same level as others by her in the beginning did.
Nevertheless, I love the world, I've invested in the characters... I'll still follow them.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

TBR Challenge: Suzanne Brockmann - Do or Die

Navy SEAL Ian Dunn went rogue in a big way when he turned his talents to a lawless life of jewel heists and con jobs. Or so the world has been led to believe. In reality, the former Special Ops warrior is still fighting for good, leading a small band of freelance covert operatives who take care of high-stakes business in highly unofficial ways. That makes Ian the hands-down choice when the U.S. government must breach a heavily guarded embassy and rescue a pair of children kidnapped by their own father, a sinister foreign national willing to turn his own kids into casualties. Shockingly, Ian passes on the mission... for reasons he will not–or cannot–reveal.
But saying no is not an option. Especially not to Phoebe Kruger, Ian’s bespectacled, beautiful, and unexpectedly brash new attorney. Determined to see the abducted children set free, she not only gets Ian on board but insists on riding shotgun on his Mission: Impossible-style operation, whether he likes it or not.
Though Phoebe has a valuable knack for getting out of tight spots, there’s no denying the intensely intimate feelings growing between Ian and Phoebe as the team gears up for combat. But these are feelings they both must fight to control as they face an array of cold-blooded adversaries, including a vindictive mob boss who’s got Ian at the top of his hit list and a wealthy psychopath who loves murder as much as money. As they dodge death squads and play lethal games of deception, Ian and Phoebe will do whatever it takes to save the innocent and vanquish the guilty.

Comment: This is the first book in a new series, the Reluctant Heroes, which works as a spin off of the well known Troubleshooters, the series that made the author also known for more readers. This book was initially published in 2014 but there hasn't been a second installment yet.
The month of October in the TBR Challenge tends to be the month for paranormal or romantic suspense so I decided to pick something more along the lines of adventure...

In this book we meet ex Navy Seal Ian Dunn, someone who seems larger than life and who is in prison when the story begins. Why he is in jail might or might not be directly connected to the prologue where he and some fellow tam members successfully conclude a very specific mission. However, stronger governmental forces get him out of jail so he can help with a delicate situation and for that effect, that same day, he gets to meet his new lawyer Phoebe Kruger, someone he doesn't know and can't trust immediately.
Phoebe thinks Ian might be just one more brash military guy but there's no denying his allure. She insists in being part of the mission the government wants him to do so she can keep an eye on him. As the dangers amount and the secondary characters join the mission, will she and Ian give in to their attraction or not?

When the Troubleshooters series was at its peak among the readers, I was not yet aware of it. I've started reading the books late 2008 or early 2009 and devoured the ones published until then.
There was a two year hiatus and in 2011 there was another release, and then another one only in 2017. These last two weren't as vibrant as I remember the first ones to be. That means this spin off is the opportunity for the author's talent to shine but I can't seem to help thinking this is a (not totally successful) attempt to rekindle her lost momentum...

Two things to consider in this book (and her others): 1) the focus should be divided between the main couple and the plot and 2) the emotional content should glue the reader to what will happen next.
At least these are the elements I would highlight from her books. The stories are full of adventure, full of incredible situations quite difficult for the average person to imagine but the protagonists and their friends are strong and able and trustworthy to try and do their best while often also dealing with personal issues/feelings.
This, I would say, summarizes mrs Brockmann's books for me and I expected it from this one as well.
However, I would say her work has lost some of its appeal and I can't decide if it's one of those cases of "me, not you" or if she simply changed her focus into the wrong/weaker elements...

The plot is quite confusing and has several scenes with fights, with apparently complicated plans related to the saving of two children and the running from a bad guy and the deceit of another bad guy. Since the story is so long and mixes up different threads, at some point I got confused and simply started to read the action scenes int he diagonal. Let it be said the good guys win after a lot of planning and dodging the bad guys' attempts to get them.

For me, what made me read the books the most was the way the author did the character's interactions and how they revealed their personalities in every thing, especially in the personal/emotional situations they faced or dealt with.
I was looking for to have a good romance but also that sense of family and partnership and even camaraderie between Ian, Phoebe and the other good guys who were part of Ian's team. 
It was certainly good to get to know them all a little, Aaron, Sheldon, Martell, Francine, Deb and Yoshi (who had showed up in other books but I no longer remembered them) and even Berto, who seems to have been set to become a hero or a secondary one at some point.
The interactions between these people were all fascinating but in such a long book, they did seem too many, especially because too many things were on going.

Then the main couple's romance. For me it was done a bit abruptly. We have them spending time together, whether in calmer or adrenaline fueled scenes, but their connection for me never went beyond the superficial even when they discussed details to convince us it was not so. With so many pages I think more focus on them and not as much in all the secondary issues would have worked out better. Phoebe is a person not used to military scenarios so some of her behavior felt unlikely. Ian is such a fierce guy, I liked to see his softer side but he was a bit too perfect in some aspects and not as great in others.

I've seen some comments by readers who praise the author and others who have followed her writing for longer and they hint at some reasons why it feels things changed. Of course, everyone sees things in a personal way but thinking of some details, it does feel as if her writing was affected by her personal life. I don't really mind the messages she seems to want to convey but the stories don't have the same feel.
The suspense side of this book was not that difficult to foresee and the romantic element was not as easy to separate from all the other stuff happening.
So long has passed since this was published, I wonder if something else will come out. Some characters still intrigue me so I might try but time does dilute things...
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Anne Stuart - The Devil's Waltz

When you dance with the devil, you hold hands with temptation... 
Christian Montcalm was a practical man, if a destitute scoundrel, but his plan to bed and wed the delectable Miss Hetty Chipple would take care of that sticky wicket. However, there was a most intriguing obstacle to his success. Annelise Kempton desired nothing more than to come between this despicable rogue and the fortune (and virtue) of her young charge. 
Certainly, Annelise understood the desperation that comes from hard times, but Montcalm would fail-she would personally see to it. All that stands in her way is a man whose rakish charm could tempt a saint to sin, or consign a confirmed spinster to sleepless nights of longing...to give the devil his due.

Comment: This was the book chosen by my friend H. and myself for our buddy read of this month. If I remember well, what made us pick this book was the fact this was story featuring different types of characters: he is a rake and she a proper woman, I suppose the thrill is to see how the author would develop their romance.

In this book we have the story of penniless Annelise Kempton, a woman approaching her 30s who is still single, poor and has no place to stay out of charity for her father died without providing for her. 
Her most recent placement is in the house of mr Chipple, whose daughter Hetty is a great beauty and her father expects her to marry nobility. Annelise is there to help the girl to be a proper lady of society and attract the best suitor.
That man is certainly not Christian Montcalm, a rake of the worst kind who has set his eyes on Hetty for her money. The problem is that by trying to put him away from Hetty, he sets his eyes on her as a good challenge and their interactions confuse Annelise the more time they spend together fighting and being opponents. Will these two find a compromise, especially after discovering certain facts about Hetty's father?

I liked this story for the most part.
The plot was a bit simple, some situations quite predictable but of course what makes it interesting is the characters and heir behavior facing certain situations/obstacles.
This starts as something very simple, with a young and apparently spoiled young girl needing some guidance to be better accepted by those mothers who might see her as a good potential for their sons. She has the beauty but also the impulsiveness of demanding things and that could ruin her father's plans of marrying her well.

As the story develops, we get to learn a lot more about Hetty and her father and their situation in life and I can say they have the money but they aren't exactly happy people. I confess, though, that Hetty was just too annoying to be likable and she fulfills all the expectations of a silly, young girl with thoughts only to her needs.
Her father developed into something a bit darker than what anyone imagines when he first appears on the page. Nevertheless, even his personality was pout aside when compared to the main couple, the real "attraction" of this story for me.

Annelise, for instance, was a fascinating character.
She has been frequently placed in the house of other people to act as a chaperone for young charges, as a sort of governess and companion if needed but always without being paid for she is a lady and it just wouldn't be proper. However, Annelise doesn't let herself be sad about her situation and she dreams of the day she is given the possibility to just spend her older years in a small cottage somewhere.
I liked her personality, how she had her self pity moments but quickly turned her thoughts into some productive and I was amazed by how brave she was in everything. 

Christian is the obvious rake, someone who doesn't act as properly as he should, someone who doesn't act or think like the gentleman he is supposed to be. He will inherit a viscountcy and that is why he wasn't yet completely barred from polite society but everyone knows he is after someone with funds. He has the obvious development from bad/unsuitable to hero and as we learn why he is so apparently mean some things do seem less harmful in his attitude. He is redeemed, as one expects.

The romance is sort of slow burn and I don't think it was because the author wanted to portray such a proper evidence of how society worked back then. I think the deliberate manner in which the main couple interacted here and there while their thoughts and feelings for one another started to change into what we already knew would happen - their falling in love - was well done and my favorite part of the story.
The end has a very sweet epilogue and it did balance well the more negative aspects of the story.
This was the trademark "opposed characters" style this author likes to write about but this was a lot sweeter for me than what I had read before by her.
Grade: 8/10

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Blog anniversary

We're in October and although I wasn't this thoughtful each year, the reality is that this month my blog has its anniversary.
I've started this in 2010 so this little corner of the internet is 9 this year.

I've started it with no real purpose, it was just a way to convey some thoughts on books and things I read. I had in mind when I started something quite simple, like a sort of "hello, I'm here" kind of blog but after a while it stopped being what I wanted.
It got to a point I felt small comments and updates on what I was currently reading were not really my thing nor did I think it would interest anyone. I don't really mind only a few read this but well, Isomeone out there does read some content here and there.
suppose the goal is to know

With time I kept changing a few things, adding others as time went by but it was not long after starting I realized I had to have some structure to my posts and to how I could organize things.
Therefore, I just decided to use this as a sort of diary for the books I read and I have always tried to write my comments in order of reading. I try to mix my books so I don't get stuck in the same genre that long. I used to binge on authors but nowadays what I prefer to do is to space series/authors more, it seems those "last longer".

I've said before, I think, I also like to write down monthly lists with books I have languishing in the pile. It's odd to pick in advance things to read. Sometimes I don't feel like it but I think I'd postpone ad infinitum many things otherwise.
Recently published books part of series I follow or by author I like I always tend to add anyway. It's a weird method but so it is to just pick something from the shelf without order.

Back to the blog, this means my reading choices are not really thought of to suit the blog. I often read hyped books way later so those who like those things rarely find this blog or if they do, it's not because they like what I write but one title, one author might have showed up on google search.
I suppose I thought about this blog more as a way to keep busy, to have an idea of why I liked or not in a book. After some years (in some book's case, months) it can be difficult to remember details or why it was good/bad outside of the generic appreciation. This, I felt, was a good way to keep those details in order without having to hand write, which I don't mind but it's not as appealing anymore to do that often.

I've seen some friends from the romancelandia stop writing in their blogs, taking huge hiatus from them... some I don't see interacting online that much, others use only goodreads... I don't know what I'll do if one day I just don't feel like writing anymore.
What I know is that I definitely want to keep writing my little comments for at least one more year so, all things considered, I'm as surprised as anyone coming here by how long this has been lasting.

Happy reading, everyone!

Images here, here and here.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Sarina Bowen - The Year We Hid Away

Scarlet Crowley’s life was torn apart the day father was arrested for unspeakable crimes. Now the shock has worn off, but not the horror.
It’s a safe bet that Scarlet is the only first year at Harkness College who had to sneak past TV news trucks parked on her front lawn just to leave town. But college will be Scarlet’s fresh start. Clutching a shiny new student ID — with a newly minted name on it — she leaves it all behind. Even if it means lying to the boy she’s falling for.
Bridger McCaulley is a varsity hockey star known for being a player both on and off the ice. But a sobering family crisis takes that all away. Protecting his sister means a precarious living arrangement and constant deception. The only bright spot in his week is the few stolen hours he spends with Scarlet.
The two form a tentative relationship based on the understanding that some things must always be held back. But when grim developments threaten them both, going it alone just won’t work anymore. And if they can’t learn to trust one another now, the families who let them down will take everything they’ve struggled to keep.

Comment: This is the second installment in the Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen. I liked the first book enough to want to keep reading and that is why I've picked this one but, in general, the first one was a lot more appealing to me.

In this second story, we have a new protagonist couple. 
Scarlet is a freshman with a secret behind her that she doesn't want to see coming to light. She has a new name, a new identity and she hopes to just go to class and put aside who she used to be.
Bridger is a well known guy in college for his popularity and energy. However, this new years his friends have noted he doesn't go to parties anymore, he seems to always be busy and even his free time rarely allows him to just hang out.
Scarlet and Bridger become friends over shared class but as they spend more time together, they discover they have some things in common and their relationship becomes more intimate. However, since both have things they don't want the other to know, will they be in the same level when it comes to trust?

This story has interesting elements and the romance, as a whole is sweet. However, I think the themes explored were a bit too complex for such a short story (in terms of pages and objectivity) and perhaps the fact both protagonists were facing such difficult situations felt too much. If one had such heavy issues to deal with and the other didn't or had a "lighter" cross to bear, things might have felt more balanced. The way things ended up happening, it just felt they were too lucky in how their problems were solved and I cannot imagine their emotions ans state of mind were that quickly fixed by love...

The plot was quite heavy on serious issues. Bridger is dealing with her mother's problems and how that affects his young sister, especially because we know social work takes too long and has a lot bureaucracy and Bridger tries his best to not let anything happen to his young sister but, as one can imagine, he is not rich, he has a scholarship and all these elements together mean he has to play with his time just well in order for things to work out. 
Putting myself in his hoes, I thought how it would be like to have so many responsibilities, how could I not be stressed out and worried all the time. Bridger is an appealing character and I wished for the best but in the end his problems went a way that seemed a bit too easy. Maybe I just expected more hardship...

Scarlet had a more emotional problem regarding her father. I could really see how difficult it must have been for her or anyone who is guilty by association even before any proof is found or checked. I can understand her need to change, her willingness to become someone else, to have other chances and some of her inner monologue was intriguing to think about.
The fact her father was well known probably gave a different touch to this but I have to say it felt very tacky how she was treated and how the whole situation developed. It just seems like it was one of those b-movies which aren't done with the same professionalism of other productions. It was over the top and brought down quite a sensitive situation.

Since this is a romance, part of the plot is obviously dedicated to this. I don't think the romance was the best it could have because the other issues were clearly serious and difficult and how they had the head or the state of mind to act on attraction, I can't understand. If it were me going through any of that I'd have tried to be invisible and wouldn't look at anyone in the eye. Still, this is a romance series so the two of them connect. I think the way they met and their first interactions were believable but how they thought they were in love was not as convincing. 
This is complicated to explain but the amount of time focused on the issues they faced vs the romance development were not leveled up elements and the romance seemed secondary, thus less strong.

I still liked some details, I liked seeing the couple from the first book show up, I liked some passages... but as a whole, this wasn't as compelling as the other book. I have hopes for the next one in the series, though, and I expect it to be a great one.
Grade: 5/10

Thursday, October 10, 2019

D.B. Reynolds - Shifter Planet

Specialist Amanda Sumner is one of the first to make contact on the Earth-like planet Harp and discovers she's the only Earthling who can hear the trees sing in the strange forest. Determined to remain and learn more of the planet’s secrets, Amanda sets out to become part of the elite Guild there...
But there is a secret involving some Guild members–one that could get her killed.
Shifter Rhodry de Mendoza wants the Earthlings off his planet before they destroy it—even if that means denying what he feels for the fierce and lovely Amanda. The pair is thrown together in what becomes a fight for their lives. And they might just lose everything–including each other–in their battle for the right to live in peace.

Comment: This book was published in 2015 and I got it months after but only decided to read it. Apparently, I picked a good moment because I just saw there's a second book going to be published soon and I liked this one enough to want to read a follow-up installment.

In this sci-fi story it's the year 4668 and there is, of course, inter-planetary travel and the universe has become somewhat closer. 
The protagonist Amanda Sumner was born in a space ship, she's never been to Earth but her favorite activity is to explore the planets she visits with her ship/crew. Amanda is a specialist and a huge part of her work is related to the planets' characteristics which means the day they stumble on Harp, a planet very similar to Earth, she is beyond curious to go out. In fact, she is even personally surprised with what she finds for she is the only one who can actually listen to the trees.
Welcoming the group and agreeing on some studies and exchanges are the Harp representatives, descendants from a old colony of humans. Amanda decides to stay in the planet for a while, hoping to learn more about it but she also feels her determination and abilities are put into question when she is denied entrance to a Guild in the planet, whose members can travel at will through the huge forests she feels to compelled by.
One of the members who seems to always be in her way is Rhodry de Mendoza and she does think him attractive but after making certain she can indeed try to be part of the Guild, there are still many secrets on the planet some people don't want her finding...

When this author's books got to be more known and people started to read her vampire novels, I too tried one, since I liked PNR a lot a decade ago and for a few years I devoured the genre. To be honest, the book I've read didn't convince me, nor did another one from a different series I also read. This means I was not very eager going into this one but I do try to get books out of the pile..
Anyway, this turned out to be a good surprise and probably the fact I prefer shifter PNR to vampires nowadays did have an impact on my appreciation.

I would say this story is a lot more focused on the adventure part of the plot rather than simple world building or romance developments.
The Harp planet is seductive, has secrets but interesting elements that make it seem alike Earth and that simplifies the images one needs to have an idea of what it looked like. I must say the add of details about the planet felt effortless and fluid.
The descriptions give a good enough idea of what things are supposed to look like but at the same time there are still several things alluded to which I felt were just a bit out of reach (for instance, the constant comments on Rhody's life in the mountains area which we never got to have as part of the actual story).

The planet is intriguing and I liked what the author, in general, made out if.The society rules seem easy enough to understand and most of the plot is focused on Amanda's attempts to be part of the Guild and not much interaction between her and the other members of the ship who remained. Part of this was done to suit her independent personality and now the second book will come out, I assume for plot reasons for it seems certain details are going to be exploited then.
As for Amanda's adventures, they obviously offered a huge clue on how resilient and adaptable she is and in tune with the planet she was too (like her way to understand the trees proved). There are many details of her adventures to create a good image of what it could have been like for her to go through such extenuating trials while using her intelligence and abilities.

Then, the romance. It becomes clear from the start Amanda and Rhodry feel attracted to one another and during the time it takes them to solve their situation in the wilderness, something that occupies a large part of the plot, they become closer until they just agree on being together. I think they make a good couple and as often happens, their personalities complement each other and I could envision their HEA.
I just think that Amanda was too confident on their sexual relationship since it was the first time she was in a new planet I sort of would have preferred her to be more cautious or not as free with her intimacy expectations. When things are finally solved, they admit their feelings at the end of the book but it was so rushed! I wanted an epilogue to show how they could build a life together.

I think this was a story that touched many good points, the interesting and developed at the right moments characters, the setting is refreshing, the shifter element was also fascinating, the descriptions and some situations too. The romance and some world building felt too precise, too easy to fit an established idea the author might have had and I missed a bit more spontaneity, emotion and feelings behind some action scenes.
I hope the next book can add a bit more information not available in this one regarding some things in Harp.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Lorraine Heath - The Duke and the Lady in Red

When Rosalind Sharpe gains the attention of the deliciously wicked Duke of Avendale, she’s torn between her distracting attraction to the notorious rogue and the knowledge that he—rich as Croesus—is the perfect target for a deception that will put her swindling days behind her.
However, Avendale is no fool. After he discovers the tantalizing lady packing up to leave London with his coins in tow, he confronts her with a scandalous proposition: she can have all the money she requires…for a week in his bed.
Desperate for the funds, Rose agrees, but on one condition: he must never question her motives. Avendale quickly sees beneath her mask and discovers she is more than passion and pleasure—she is everything he has ever desired. But claiming her requires he unveil her secrets and lose her forever. Unless he can put his own dark past aside and risk everything for a chance at love.

Comment: This is the 3rd installment of the Scandalous Gentlemen of St James series by Lorraine Heath. As with the previous two, this left something to be desired in how it captivated me and it's more along the lines of the first in how I liked it, being the second so far, one step ahead but not that much. As a whole, I've got to say this series has been the weakest of the author's work I've read so far.

In this story we follow the duke of Avendale, he is the son of one of the heroines from the previous Scoundrels of St James series, from which this spin off one originated. Avendale's mother was mistreated and abused by her husband, his father. Things got solved when Avendale was a little boy so his recollection of those times is not the best but he has believed his whole life his mother was at fault. This means he doesn't want to be close to anyone so he won't have to compare his feelings with those who are happy.
In his life of debauchery he meets many women but none like the lady in red that one days shows up at the club his friend Drake has recently opened up to allow women too.
The lady is Rosalind Sharpe, a mysterious looking widow woman who seems to be new in town and who doesn't seem to care much about Avendale's title. When a game between them gets too complicated and he starts seeing things don't match where she's concerned, will they be able to put aside misconceptions and just accept each other?

It seems the books in this series have a common detail so far: all the heroes are people who had the best of two realities. All of them have had the privilege from a certain point on, to rely on wealth and some power in order to keep up their lifestyles and even the second hero, who had a less good start in his life, managed to be adopted by a well established family.
The other - and more important - detail they all share is that all have had the love, the care, the help, the possibilities of a good environment, of a good family and relationships by their side and they had no reason whatsoever to not respect those who have loved them.

This makes me think about the element in this book I disliked the most. How is it possible that the hero, as privileged and as intelligent as he lead us to believe, waited decades to ask questions regarding a scene he saw as a young, impressionable child but which affected and shaped his behavior completely from that on? I just cannot accept this as a possibility! If his family were mean, unapproachable, loveless, careless, I might have bought it he wanted distance and save his state of mind. But he had people who love him and were there for him all the time! No excuse why this was a so-called "tormented" hero.

Putting aside my pet peeve in relation to this poor choice of the hero's personality and attitude, of course the interesting part was to see him become a better person.
(Actually, I just never warmed up to him so I feel he was a wasted character)
The woman who caught his eye was much more interesting but some of her attitude wasn't as likable as I imagined. She is a woman in need, who swindles others because she needs money not just for herself but for others she is taking care of as well. I can understand why she wasn't an honest person but some of her self beliefs and reasons didn't make her look like a person I'd like to know.
With time and the situation around her unraveled, she became more intriguing and appealing but as a whole, they won't certainly be the couple I'd remember the most.

The most fascinating part of this novel is why Rosalind had to be dishonest. I could believe into her need to help her ill brother and why she felt he was more secure hidden away. I won't spoiler why but all the scenes involving him were emotional and well done, for me. It was also cute how Avendale wanted to help her by becoming friends with her brother and thankfully there was genuine interest from him in knowing a person with such a different life from his own.
This, of course, set off some character development for Avendale and we could see his best side as the story approached its end but for me it was too late.

At a certain point, Avendale solved his inner turmoils and discovered the answer to all his doubts but it was rushed, badly done and I was annoyed. The first half of the story he was an idiot (in my POV) but in the second he was still aloof enough to not be likable. I mean...the execution of his character development really fell poorly done.
Rosalind was, by now, a much more interesting character and I liked her more. However, the obvious difference from who the couple was and acted at first to how they ended...not believable for me, nor was it as romantically done as I imagined.

All things considered, this wasn't a terrible book but the characters could have been developed a lot better, many situations could have happened the same way but without the (unnecessary) drama intended and it would still have been a good story.
I hope the next installment is more romantic.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Abigail Roux - Part and Parcel

Nick O'Flaherty and Kelly Abbott had their happy ending in sight when a friend’s call for help almost ended with them losing it to the blade of a knife. Now, in the aftermath of near-disaster, both men are trying to heal and move on.
Moving on together, though, is harder than either of them realized it would be. Kelly struggles with simply being a lover instead of the Doc, while Nick is mired in his recovery. The distance between them inches along in stilted silence.
Desperately seeking solace, Nick finally gathers the courage to sort through the possessions his dear friend and fellow Sidewinder teammate Elias Sanchez left him when he died. Instead of comforting memories, Nick and Kelly find a stack of letters and strict instructions from Eli that prompt them to send out a call for assistance. With Eli’s letters in hand, Sidewinder sets out on one last mission together, seeking peace and absolution from beyond the grave—and from each other.

Comment: This is the 3rd installment of the Sidewinder series, a spin off of the Cut and Run series, a quite popular work of the author Abigail Roux (and until a certain point of co author Madeleine Urban as well).
In this spin off, the focus is on the Sidewinder team, namely Nick and Kelly, wo have realized there has always been something special between them.

In this third story we basically have the team going on an adventure through the US in order to fulfill the wishes of Eli Sanchez, the team member who is dead and who left a sort of treasure hunt notes for the team to bond over again and to explore what makes them a family, even without them. As the miles pile up, so do strange feelings and past memories.
Will the guys be able to deal with is left between them? Can they keep the groups' spirit alive even without one member?

This is a difficult book to grade and to analyze. I liked it as a whole but there several parts I struggled with what I felt about them so the adding of the parts doesn't give me such a strong feel as the notion of the whole.
I think the biggest issue was the amount of detail given to assumptions and past situations which, I thought, had already been addressed in other books. Some situations had been dealt with, so my first complaint would be why keep insisting... unless there wasn't anything else to add.

Many readers have also complained about some (unnecessary) revelations and the over the top angst scenes as opposed to the purpose of this book: a road trip among friends to remember their last comrade and the good things they shared.
I must say I was not bothered by any of the revelations because they were obviously not important. They were there to shock or surprise the reader, they had no influence in the plot so I cannot imagine the idea of them being much more than that, a supposedly surprising filler.

As for the angst content... I get it, the characters went through a lot, they had to really trust in each other for their work to be done well but now they are free of some obligations I can understand the pressure is off and they can take time to talk, to interact more freely but.. aren't they supposed to be friends? So, of course we have them being so but with a few minor drama details in the mix.
That aside and since they are spending so much time together, the author focused her attention, again, on Nick and Kelly's relationship. The other two members of Sidewinder (Owen and Digger) are not that important, it seems.

My problem with the way things happened, though, is simple. For the story to be meatier, it felt like Nick and Kelly had to discuss once more a lot of stuff which could have been solved in the past two books. Then again, this would only be a novella, so a lot of doubts and little details get between them.
After a while it got annoying they wouldn't be able to do no wrong and still the other one expected it to be so... it gets tiring to read about characters who should have known things before the others said it. I'm glad they found each other, romantically speaking, but really how can this be that convincing when they keep having so many issues even though their initial bond was tight even before sexual attraction was acted on? Things just felt very forced between them and I don't think most of it was that critical to the story.

Anyway, the overall idea I got out of the story is that, obviously, the road trip was also an excuse for them to think of one another and how they have always looked at one another as part of a team and now, as individuals who might be - or not be - close to each other.
The ideas are still alluring because these characters have been part of the fans/readers expectations for a while but the execution didn't feel up to what had been the norm. Maybe it's just my feeling of it.

These things considered, I can't say this was as amazing as I hoped for, although there are some cute scenes to mix things up a little and that turned this into something bearable. But yes, it doesn't feel like the same as when Cut and Run begun and all the amazing feelings/action scenes happened. Time does get people to see things differently...
Grade: 6/10

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Enjoy the weekend

I wouldn't mind, at all, to spend my weekend in the library below. I don't have that kind of scenario around my house but if one is to dream... I wouldn't mind having a cozy day reading in such a place...

Happy reading, everyone!

Image from here.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Philip Roth - American Pastoral

‘Swede’ Levov is living the American dream. He glides through life sustained by his devoted family, his demanding yet highly rewarding (and lucrative) business, his sporting prowess, his good looks. He is the embodiment of thriving, post-war America, land of liberty and hope.
Until the sunny day in 1968, when the Swede’s bountiful American luck deserts him.
The tragedy springs from devastatingly close to home. His adored daughter, Merry, has become a stranger to him, a fanatical teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism that plunges the Levov family into the political mayhem of sixties America, and drags them into the underbelly of a seemingly ascendant society.
Rendered powerless by the shocking turn of events, the Swede can only watch as his pastoral idyll is methodically torn apart.

Comment: I got this book at the library. Something could be said about impulsive decisions regarding picking books one isn't really that interested in reading but between the free availability, the easy access to a title that has been in the literary radar nevertheless and the notion no demands are expected in return, libraries are heaven and I still brought this with me.

In this book we have the story of ‘Swede’ Levov, a man who seems to embody the American dream of living in the 60s, where the spirit of a certain expectation of life propels many to be bold, to be liked, to be amazing. The main character seems to be all this, he is envied by many of his peers but one day everything changes because his daughter does something atrocious and puts the attention of everyone in his family.
From this on, the lives of several people are changed and Levov cannot really get back the control of his own life. The dream isn't that magical as everyone would think....

I DNF'd this book.
I suppose it did help it was not a book I paid for (isn't it interesting that when this happens, in general we tend to feel we have to read it to justify the money spent?) but I just didn't find any eagerness to go on.
It was one of my decisions for this year, to be more focused on reading appealing things, and that could mean not finishing books I was not enjoying. It's still a little complicated, and after nine months this is only my second DNF. I suppose it will do for an interesting post at the end of the reading year how this idea affected my grades... so far only two DNFs, just three excellent books and many average stuff in between.

Anyway, this book was not something I put aside just because. The story was a little confusing because I honestly didn't like the writing style. It was the biggest reason why I didn't feel like keeping up.
I know this author has won many awards, has gotten many accolades, has been seen as a great writer. I was mildly interested in one day reading something by him also because of it. However, his writing style was too confusing for me. He writes as if he were orally telling this and in person this might work if the speaker is gifted. We like ramblings and details and detracts from the main conversation because it gives speeches allure, it makes people feel they are being talked to and not just given an pre recorded text.
The problem for me is that in writing, this means we are reading about one subject, then the author/narrator follows another detail, then another and when I think of it, what are really discussing? The story gets lost so often I started to lose interest in what mattered.

I've read some reviews to understand a few details about the parts I read but didn't get to understand and about what happened after I stopped (around 43% I'd say).
Many have mentioned the supposed message behind this tale and the way the characters behaved. I can see why some of the scenes happened the way they did but it's incredible what can be lost when one fails to concentrate on what's on the page. I do feel a little bad I didn't see in this what so many others did but, well, that's why taste is different. The same things touch everyone differently.

All things considered, this was a fail for me.  I really couldn't get into the story because of the writing. I've read other labeled "literary" works similar to this one in genre I was not as affected by as with this one. But it was good to try, now I feel like I have a reason to avoid further things by him.
Grade: 1/10

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Lisa Gregory - The Rainbow Season

Luke Turner has always been an outcast-known as "bad blood" from his boyhood in a tarpaper shack, to his nights in a prison cell. Sarah McGowan's roots are deep in the Texas soil. But her secret, shameful love for her sister's husband has kept her from happiness. Pride and their love of Texas throw Luke and Sarah together in an unlikely marriage. Then, as unexpectedly as a spring flood, long pent-up passion explodes in a storm that consumes them both.

Comment: This is an old historical book by author Lisa Gregory (also known for her work as Candace Camp), initially published in 1979. This book is 40 years old. It's older than me! It just seems amazing how time flies.
The old paperback covers are really alike the bodice rippers of the time and so unlike what really happens in the plot. I mean, yes the main couple has sex, they are intimate but not to the indecorous extend the covers aim at, like this one on the left. 
Recently, many older editions have been "brought back" as ebook editions, with more conservative (dare I say elegant as well?) covers, like the one below in the text.

In this story we have a very basic story with heroine Sarah and hero Luke meeting after he gets out of jail for a crime he didn't commit. 
Since no one gives him a job, his last chance is Henry McGowan, a man renown as being fair, and if that doesn't work, Luke plans on leaving as soon as he gets a bit of money somehow. However, not only does he get a job but also the concern of his employer and the fascination of his daughter Sarah.
Sarah still lives in the shadow of her more attractive sister and she hides the secret of loving her husband in a way a sister-in-law shouldn't.
When rumors spread and a tragic event shapes the future of everyone concerned, will Luke and Sarah find things in common to have a lasting relationship and prove everyone they aren't just what other think of them?

If one is to base an opinion on what are contemporary views, contemporary things we accept or not, then this book certainly has issues in its content. However, romance is often seen as a means to escape reality and in that perspective, many unacceptable things now had a reason or a tradition that was the norm in another time. It's often complicated to put these things aside: the time when something was written and the time in which one lives.

This said, I wouldn't go as far to say this is a traditional bodice ripper. The characters are quite fair in how they deal with one another and the relationship between hero and heroine is respectable, even when they give in to their attraction. This means, both thinking about contemporary expectations and knowing how some older books were, this one is tame, sweet and more focused on the evolution of the characters than in how the hero can prove he is stronger/better than the heroine.

The plot is not too complicated, is more character driven and wants to show the reader how well suited the main couple actually is. There isn't as much talk about what they did in their pasts, about their overall feelings... but we see in actions, in choices made how they start respecting each other. This was quite a positive surprise, to have the characters be drawn more in relation to how their personalities were than things they said. It's not that often we have as much show rather than tell in these types of books (older and romance focused).

I'd say the two main issues why this wasn't a better book for me - and that certainly affected my final grade - were the following, both plot related:
First, the sense I got we had to be forced to change out opinion on Luke just because he was contrasted to Stu, one supposedly great man, hero potential, the husband of the better looking sister. Sarah apparently loves this man so of course Luke had to be a character developed as in opposed to Stu. I mean, why make Stu such a big deal? Just so we could believe Sarah actually loves Luke and was just attracted to Stu? I found this to be silly and unnecessary.
Second, there's a specific situation which happens and when it did, caught me by surprise on how avoidable and carelessly it was. I can understand why, it forced the characters into a certain action but... why, why couldn't the story follow the same path as it did without that detail? I got furious because it didn't change anything in how the characters behaved from that on.

There wee also some situations between hero and heroine that could have been presented with more tact, more sensitivity but well, there's still the year it was published in and some things were yet acceptable then as they wouldn't be now. I can think of this and not loose my mind over it. It's a dated romance, it wasn't impossible to be redeemed as the relationship between them evolved... but still, the little notion of it remains.

All in all, this was a good enough story, a travel back to an older point in time when things were thought a different way. The story has good moments, some silly ones but overall it were a few entertaining hours at least.
Grade: 6/10

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

M. H. Boroson - The Girl With Ghost Eyes

It is 1898 in San Francisco. When a sorcerer mainms Chinatown's Daoshi exorcist, only his daughter Li-lin can protect the immigrant community. With a peachwood sword and a sarcastic talking eyeball to help her, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.
Full of creepy Asian monsters and authentic Chinese rituals, this critically acclaimed urban fantasy also tells the story of a young immigrant trying to find her place. In a Chinatown torn between tradition and modernity, one woman might be the key to holding everything together.

Comment: This was another gift I got for my birthday last month. It was a huge surprise because never did I imagine I would be given something in this genre (UF), considering I've turned my attentions away from most UFs and PNRs unless they have been in the pile for ages.
It was my friend H, from the buddy reads, who gave it to me for being different. I ended up liking the elements but not the execution that much.

In this book we have the story of Li-lin, a special young woman with the ability to see ghosts and who sees herself in a very tricky situation after an old friend of her dead husband plays a trick on her and she gets stuck in the ghost realm. She feels despaired until the ghost of one of her father's eyes rescues her and helps her get back to her physical body.
Once back, she starts planning a way to avenge the sacrifice her father did for her - if his eye has a ghost is because he had it removed in his physical body - at the same time she decides to protect her Chinatown of an evil wizard who wants to let a dangerous ghost destroy everything in his path...

I hope I got the above correctly. This story was way too weird for me to fully grasp what was happening. I do applaud the fact the author loves Asian cultures and myths and decided to incorporate them into this novel but I don't know if my lack of comprehension of some things and empathy towards what was happening was due to the distance between myself and my (very poor) knowledge of the subject or the writing style itself.

The plot was very action centered as opposed to character's development. I don't think I got to know who Li-lin was besides a good person and someone who tried to comply with her traditional values even among a dire situation that required thinking outside the box.
Each chapter had her facing adversity, ghosts, enemies, problems, complications from other character's actions... this has certainly made for a lively story, always something on the move, always something happening, but it made it more complicated to me to care about the characters, since we had so much superficial elements on them.

Thinking on this, I also started thinking the way the story happens might have had something to do with my lack of connection with the heroine or those she was in contact with. It's almost as if what matters is not Li-lin but her actions, her task, her movements. I know this can be common in UFs or certain fantasies, where the focus is on the amazing settings and rules of that world. However, that might be why I don't always enjoy these types of books, I do like to care about the characters and why they act a certain way, why some things matter to them... I think Li-lin was not as captivating to read about, nevertheless her personality and likeable attitudes.

There's a lot of cultural content about Asian myths and behavior rules of Asian cultures. I don't think the historical setting (late 1890s) was as obvious, though. The mix of beliefs and actions could be happening right now, apart from some descriptions we have, such was the focus on the paranormal elements.
I think the author was very successful in organizing the things he wanted to include and exploit and some were, in fact, quite interesting to learn and know more about. 
However, it is said at the end, in a note, the author hopes this makes people more interested in know even more, or to look for information on these things. I admit I don't really feel like it because the book was so rich, too detailed and didn't allow time for me to just enjoy the character's personalities and lives, I feel lost among the type of content I should look for.

There were a couple of elements I liked. For instance, Li-lin's feelings regarding her late husband made her look more real, more human than her paranormal abilities made her look like. I liked her friendship with her father's eye ghost. I liked she was a total super heroine in some of the things she managed to accomplish and all the martial arts moves she knew how to perform.
I just feel sad I didn't get more on her emotions, on what the future would be like for her except more work, more chores, more (mainly) incredible things she would do.

Between my difficulty to follow some sequences and the lack of connection with the heroine and her experiences, perhaps I failed to really grasp the intent of this book. I liked some things, struggled with others, this ended up being a bit average to me.
Grade: 6/10