Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Graeme Simsion - The Best of Adam Sharp

Adam Sharp met the love of his life on the other side of the world. He was playing in a bar in Australia when Angelina requested a song. It was the start of a relationship he's never forgotten - but not every duet ends on a high note.
Two decades later and half a world away, Adam is stunned by Angelina's message. He thought he was happy. He thought he had everything. Now all he can think about is her.
Adam has sung about second chances - but does he believe in them? And is he prepared to risk everything to find out if they ever come true?

Comment: Graeme Simsion is the author best known for his Rosie Effect books, featuring a hero who has, apparently, Asperger's syndrome. The books have been very successful and many readers were delighted by them, especially by the unique voice of the narrator. This book is the one the author wrote after the hype with the Rosie books and, to be very honest, I don't think it was a well thought book.

In this book we meet middle aged Adam, a British man who has lived in many different countries due to his work but who currently lives in the UK with his partner Claire. Adam's life seems to be pretty much simple, always with the same routines, even in how he and Claire deal with one another.
One day Adam receives an email from Angelina, one of his part lovers, the woman he thinks of as his Great Lost Love, whom he met in Australia when they were in their 20s. Now in their late 40s, Adam is again thinking of her and everything they shared. When she asks if he wants to live dangerously, will Adam accept the invitation? He has a partner, Angeline is married but the spark still seems to exist between them. What will happen if they meet face to face again and nothing changed after all?

I'll include spoilers!!

What a frustrating story. It read, for me, like a train wreck about to happen and I still watched to see it and the question was not if it would happen but how it would happen.
I confess I feel very disappointed with this novel. I assume many readers were, especially on goodreads, considering the average rating.

This book is divided into two parts. Although throughout the novel we have 48 year old narrator Adam telling us about his thoughts, the first part is more centered on his experiences when he was in his 20s and met Angelina who, despite having been married young, was not happy and a chance encounter proved they were perfect for each other.
The second part of the novel is when Adam accepts Angelina's invitation and their present selves meet and deal with what was left behind.

I don't conscientiously look for books with unfaithful characters but the first part of the novel was not only bearable but emotional because I could see the connection between Adam and Angelina and the effort they both did, even when saying they wouldn't, to accept the other and to be happy.
I was more than ready to accept Angelina's decision to end things with her husband, who we could see didn't make her happy, because the emotion and the narration by Adam (the whole book is narrated by him in he first person) were key to make me defend them and hope they could be together. There was a date that could be the end of things for Adam had a temporary job and would need to move on to another place as part of a program. At this point I imagined they could still be together but the emotional separation was touching and not that unexpected really, because of the second part of the story.

Until the second part, I was thinking about grading this as a little more than average, say four stars if one uses the 1-5 star grading system.
However, I can't understand what the author was thinking when he went the path he did with the second part and half of the story. He presumably wanted to be realistic with how couples might be with one another after years together but I was thinking of this primarily as a romance, secondly as a fiction tale of second chances or - naively - I wanted Adam and Angelina to acknowledge they were great but their lives did change too much for them to let go of what they have now to be together.
I don't think it would be such a surprise to discover this is the conclusion they achieve by the end but, sincerely, I can't accept at all how they acted before they got to that decision.

Angelina is married, still living in Australia with her husband and three children, and she travels with her husband to Paris, where Adam, freshly separated from his partner after a misunderstanding, meet them. They will spend two weeks in a house the couple has near Paris, reconnecting and sharing memories.
I thought this would be very difficult, emotionally, for them because of their shared history and the fact that, obviously, Angelina's husband was with them. I really thought this would be the point of the whole book: for them to talk and remember but to finally accept their time had passed and sometimes second chances aren't meant to be despite the good or painful memories.
I did assume this!

However, it was not what the author had in mind. Many readers have commented on this and how the end was too open, too much lacking real closure considering Adam and Angelina's story. Unlike some, I was actually glad they didn't end up together, that they didn't let go of everything to be once more in love. I liked the realistic aspect of the decision they took instead, she had a life and children, he had someone who, we are told, was not really ready to end their relationship so it was realistic they would settle with what they had instead of going back to a youth romance, no matter how deeply felt it had been. 

What bothered me so much was how Adam and married Angelina were sexually intimate with the knowledge and acceptance of her husband. They acted as immature people who wanted to see if the spark was there yet but even though there are reasons why the husband "allows" them to have sex, I just cannot accept this as smart, as a necessary action for Adam and Angelina to know their minds. I disliked this immensely and for me, it turned off every positive feeling the couple could have shared now, as they met again in their 40s. How easily the three people could play with each other's feelings!
Thinking on this, I just disconnected and didn't really appreciate the way things happened.

The author includes songs in the book, which are meant to "guide" the reader through the characters' experiences and this might help to convey the feelings readers should get while reading. I can accept this idea and the feelings supposedly associated with what the characters do or feel but in the end of everything, Angelina disappointed me terribly despite her life and why she wanted to be with Adam now and the amazing Adam from the first part was no better either, after all.
Grade: 4/10

Monday, June 17, 2019

Grace Burrowes - The Virtuoso

Gifted pianist Valentine Windham, youngest son of the Duke of Moreland, has little interest in his father's obsession to see his sons married, and instead pours passion into his music. But when Val loses his music, he flees to the country, alone and tormented by what has been robbed from him.
Grieving Ellen Markham has hidden herself away, looking for safety in solitude. Her curious new neighbor offers a kindred lonely soul whose desperation is matched only by his desire, but Ellen's devastating secret could be the one thing that destroys them both.
Together they'll find there's no rescue from the past, but sometimes losing everything can help you find what you need most.

Comment: This is the third book in the Windham series by author Grace Burrowes.I can see there is a continuation of this series (which seems was supposed to have been a trilogy) but at this point I'm not certain if I want to keep going; I only wanted to read this one and "finish" the main character's stories.

In this story we have Valentine's story, he's the younger son of the three sons of the duke of Moreland and a recurrent character in the other books. Valentine is known for his talent and career as a pianist but when this story begins, he is still feeling very poorly for the doctor told him if he didn't rest his hands, especially his left one, he might not be able to play again as he was used to.
In order to rest, or attempt to, he decides to go to his recently acquired estate, to restore the house and find some purpose. He also meets again Ellen, a widow he had met and kissed once in the past and that he finds out he didn't completely forgot. 
The problem is that the previous owner of the estate wasn't as indifferent to have lost it and there's also the fact he has a connection to Ellen. 
Are they too many coincidences? Can Valentine sort things out and find a new goal for his life?

I won't go too much into this as the book felt like average for me, despite the grade I chose to give it. This was good enough in the average mark but there's certainly something about the author's style that makes her books well structured but also a little too plain... I'm not certain if I can fully explain but the book lacks some allure despite its execution.

I think the strengths of the author - and how they reflect on this book - are basically centered on the details. The plot happens, but there is a lot of explaining what is going on, there are situations that seem unimportant but that end up being so. Of course there are also scenes that are redundant but nothing is fully perfect.
I really like how the characters interact with each other, especially Valentine and his brothers and friends. The reason why some secondary characters are here can be a little forced but it still works and I felt very happy to see how that helped with the story.

I'd say the language used is what probably people in the 19th century would use? I cannot really say so but it does feel very proper and serious and formal and perhaps this is one reason why this author's books can also feel dull. As if characters couldn't be this rigid, even when discussing intimacy. It's not that bad overall and I could abstract myself from it but sometimes it does feel too much on our face.
Positively, there is the fact the main couple actually discuss things makes the usual conflicts useless and it was indeed nice that they talked to one another.

Thinking of the romance, though, despite its positive aspects like what I mentioned, I have to say the majority of it was very boring. I can respect the author's style but her romances have all the potential for the right amount of angst and tension but none happens and I suppose that is a let down.
Both Valentine and Ellen had the same type of personality so they didn't clash, they didn't feel like complements, they suited each other just by their words alone. They were, pretty much, a boring couple. 
I think what they said was cause for separation - mostly on Ellen's side - was easily solved and, added to the solution of the villain's fate, made for a very frustrating conclusion.
Sure, I' happy they found each other but I think a bit more sexiness and passion (not sex scenes!) would have certainly lifted this to an ever higher note.

Because it delivered on a lot of details, I think this is a positive graded book, but as a whole, it was a bit too much on the boring side.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, June 14, 2019

Lynsay Sands - About a Vampire

With immortal good looks and scorching charisma, Justin Bricker has yet to meet a woman he can't win over. His potential life mate should be no different. But instead of falling into his bed, Holly Bosley runs away and ends up mortally wounded. To save her, he has to turn her. And then Bricker learns the shocking truth: Holly's already married.
Holly wakes up with a bump on her head, a craving for blood, and a sexy stranger who insists they belong together. She needs Bricker's help to control her new abilities, even as she tries to resist his relentless seduction. Choosing between the world she knows and the eternity he offers is impossible. But Justin is fighting for his life mate—maybe even his life—and he'll break every rule to do it . . .

Comment: This is the story #22 in the long standing Argeneau series and although sometimes I wonder why I keep with it, I don't think this is one of those that I'd actually give up on despite the less than appealing installments...

In this book we finally have Justin Bricker's story, he has been a recurrent character known for his impatience in finding his life mate while not being that understanding when it comes to those around him in the same situation.
His story begins when he and Decker and Anders (previous protagonists) are dealing with a situation at a crematorium and a part time employee sees them and while running stabs herself in an accident.
Since Justin can't read the woman he is ecstatic she might be a life mate but in his attempts to get on with what he feels is finally his due, he is quite surprised to discover she is already married...

If there is any other series installment that wouldn't seem as out of order as this story is, I don't know. I can totally undertand why it would feel like Justin would be deserving of a romance at last but the way this story was achieved seems to be a little under done for me, especially because there are good ideas but the exection felt very flat for me.

Justin is a character that feels he can't wait for a life mate and his behavior does come across as without patience nor understanding but I confess I felt a little pity for him. He gets a life mate but she's married which, according to the immortal rules, makes it impossible for him to claim her or seduce her as other characters have done in other books.

Personally, I'd say the series has evolved too much into a repetitive method and the romances no longer feel like destined but something the readers have to endure just to have them classify themselves in the end as "in love". There are books where I feel the plot is too much centered around the idea of a character getting a life mate and bringing that new character into the fold, even if both protagonists are already immortals. I just think the stories are all alike and although part of their appeal is precisely how different details work within the same general idea, some stories are getting just too much redundant.

Justin, I felt was put in a very unfair situation. Not because of the married heroine, that was actually a new element that could have been used better too, but because he was put in the position of being considered too juvenile, especially by how his "friends" took revenge on him. I thought this didn't add the comedy side that the author probably aied for and instead it looked forced.
Holly, the heroine, being married could offer interesting drama scenarios in how she would deal with the fact she was Justin's life mate and for Justin to deal with her not being easily available for him to claim. However, i feel both things were misused and there was quite a loss of a great plot but well...

The romance itself was too quick, their interactions not that much beyond the basics and I don't think we really got to know a lot about each of them. As a couple, everything happened in the plan of the dreams that the end felt completely out of sync with the rest of the story and the secondary characters were way much more interesting.
I'd have preferred Justin's story to have happened mater or differently...
Hopefully, the next one will be back to a better place.
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Tessa Dare - Say Yes to the Marquess

After eight years of waiting for Piers Brandon, the wandering Marquess of Granville, to set a wedding date, Clio Whitmore has had enough. She's inherited a castle, scraped together some pride, and made plans to break her engagement.
Not if Rafe Brandon can help it. A ruthless prizefighter and notorious rake, Rafe is determined that Clio will marry his brother—even if he has to plan the dratted wedding himself.
So how does a hardened fighter cure a reluctant bride's cold feet?

He starts with flowers. A wedding can't have too many flowers. Or harps. Or cakes.
He lets her know she'll make a beautiful, desirable bride—and tries not to picture her as his.
He doesn't kiss her.If he kisses her, he definitely doesn't kiss her again.
When all else fails, he puts her in a stunning gown. And vows not to be nearby when the gown comes off.
And no matter what—he doesn't fall in disastrous, hopeless love with the one woman he can never call his own.

Comment: This is the second book in the Castles Ever After by Tessa Dare. I liked the first book in the series so of course I'd try this one as well. It's also interesting that the hero is the brother of the hero of another book (Do You Want to Start a Scandal) with crosses over two of the series by the author, Castles Ever After and Spindle Cove. 
I had already read Do You Want to Start a Scandal which should have been read after this one but, of course, I wasn't aware of it at the time. Nevertheless, this plot is pretty much independent from the other book so no spoilers besides who's protagonist if readers get to these books out of order.

In this story we meet Clio Whitmore, a young woman who has been the fiancée of the marquess of Granville for eight years but it seems the marriage won't ever happen and the to is already mocking Clio for all her wait. She then decides enough is enough when she inherits a castle and no longer needs to rely on a marriage to have a steady life.
The problem is that she needs to annul the engagement and cancel the wedding and for that a formal signature is required. Since her fiancé is in the continent, she searches for his brother, Lord Rafe Granville, for him to do so...
Rafe is a prize fighter and has gained a famous reputation despite his late father's disapproval. He feels he wouldn't ever achieve much so he fought for his money and life. He has always been attracted to Clio but she is promised to his brother. Feeling he can't fail at this too, he tries his best to convince Clio to marry his brother but in the meantime, can he resist her?

This was, unsurprisingly, a very romantic story with a lot of feelings and sweetness involved. The author is known for her sweet and funny style (without getting to silliness) while the protagonists slowly realize they are perfect for each other.
Her stories being historical, there are some rules but this is not the best author for those looking for historical accuracy. Precisely that is what makes her stories engaging and easy to read.

Thinking on this novel from a general point of view, I'd say this was a great story but there were a few details that, for me personally, weren't as well achieved and in the bigger scheme of things, I'd say this book felt it was one little step beneath the previous one in the series.
I liked most of the plot and several parts of it but it was difficult to not wish the situation about the wedding were solved more quickly or that the protagonist didn't have to doubt their potential happy future over some detail after they acknowledged their feelings. Not that these things couldn't be realistic considering what was going on but with such frankness and complicity between them, it felt like the final "conflict" before the HEA was very staged.

The best part of the story (and of the author's writing style?) is obviously how much attention she dedicates to the small things between the main couple. How much we see them interacting, how many scenes we have with them doing things together or in some way related to the other. It makes it look as if they have to be together and they are the perfect match.
I also liked Phoebe, one of Clio's sister and a character I hope might get a story one day. The other characters played their part but none seemed that impressive.

The romance between Clio and Rafe is filled with all the modern devices couple are suppsoed to face nowadays: mutual respect, lengthy conversations, exchange of confidences, trust and many other little things that it's difficult to imagine people back in the 19th century would feel inclind to share or acting in a unlikely behavior. Yes, this puts some readers off, but I think I can abstract myself from that and simply enjoy the story. I do think Clio was quite brave in trying to be happy when she had the means to do so but some of the stories she mentioned regarding how her mother saw her body figure seem a little too convenient for the story.
Rafe was an almost perfect hero, especially by how he thought of the heroine but that second guessing at a certain point, closer to the end, was really dispensable...oh well.

Everything considered, this was a cute story, not as strong for me as others by the author but what a great experience to just spend time reading something sweet and lacking weird or complex mysteries. It could have been better but it was not bad at all.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Z.A. Maxfield - St Nacho's

Cooper has spent the last three years running from a painful past. He's currently moving from town to town, working in restaurant kitchens, and playing his violin for tips. As soon as he starts to feel comfortable anywhere—with anyone—he moves on. He's aware that music may be the only human language he still knows. Ironically, the one man he's wanted to communicate with in all that time is deaf.
Shawn is part of a deaf theater group at the nearby college. Shawn wants Cooper as soon as they meet and he begins a determined flirtation. Cooper is comfortable with down and dirty sex, just not people. As far as Shawn is concerned, dirty sex is win-win, but he wants Cooper to let him into the rest of his life as well.
Cooper needs time to heal and put his past away for good. Shawn needs to help Cooper forgive himself and accept that he can be loved. Both men find out that when it comes to the kind of healing love can bring, the sleepy beachside town of Santo Ignacio, “St. Nacho's” as the locals call it, may just be the very best place to start.

Comment: I got this book a long time ago, when I started getting interested in m/m stories. When I say "a long time ago" I mean around 2009 or 2010 which doesn't sound to be much but since it's now 2019, that's practically ten years already!

In this story we have as protagonist Cooper Wyatt, a young man who is running from his past by not staying too long in any place nor creating lasting bonds with other people. Cooper and a friend were drunk and caused a death and his friend was considered guilty of murder and went to prison. Cooper didn't but went to rehab because of alcohol and a dangerous abuse of substances. He feels he has wasted his talent with the violin for a useless life and now he badly deals with his guilt and sorrow.
The story starts with him arriving at St Nachos, a Californian beach area where he enters a (gay) bar and finds a place to stay and work for a while. He connects with Shawn, a deaf young man he's very much attracted to but doesn't want to have close.
When problems from the past get a hold on him again, can he atone and improve or will he be caught again in the same negative feelings of before?

Now that I have read some stories by this author (admittedly years ago too) and many others in the m/m side of romance, I must say this story felt a little dated. Not in content nor style but in how the story is presented. It feels like primarily m/m romances these days are a lot more detailed and long than this story felt like. 
It feels like the author wanted to include a lot in the same amount of pages as a longer book would have so there's a lot of quick jumps from situation to situation, too many elements compacted and not as much personal development I'm used to see. 
Or perhaps it's my impression because this felt more like a "telling" type of story instead of a "showing" one.

I would say this story had a lot going on. Not that a story shouldn't rely on complexity and when well done, it can add layers that make the story even stronger but here I think the great amount of issues to deal with and the small page count, the amount of telling made this story feel a little too impersonal, as if the struggles weren't as emotional because we didn't have such a good transition from situation to situation or scene to scene.

Cooper is a great guy and he is clearly on a path to redemption, mostly personal which can certainly be more difficult than having those around you cheering so even if some people around Cooper defend him or cheer him on, if he doesn't feel he is worthy of that, he wouldn't ver improve. I liked how he started thinking he is deserving of good things, that he has paid for how wrong his choices were but there is a lot he is dealing with. This could have been a great romance alone if it was just about the connection Cooper has with Shawn and his own view of things.

For me, the problem is that by mixing things with Cooper's "partner in crime" was too much. Too much drama and angst that i didn't think were well dealt with. I can now see the purpose was to create the base for the friend's romance in the sequel but... it was a little too much.
Shawn is deaf which, I thought, would be a great opportunity to see equality in romance and I liked how Shawn is portrayed as nor being shy nor as fragile as we tend to imagine those with some physical impairment. But, again, just this and Cooper's issues could have been enough.

The romance itself was cute and I accepted the fact things felt very impersonal between them at first, after all Cooper was defensive. But as things evolved and we were told their connection was getting stronger, I don't think there were enough scenes where that was happening.
When Cooper decides to deal with his past they are apart for a bit and that didn't help me either in recognizing the strength of their relationship. 
This was a good enough romance but it could have been so much better.

I still liked some of the emotional content, even if for me it not as exploited as I wished. It made me think of several things, it made me wonder how much of out lives is dedicated to regret, in a never ending game of "what if" and "I shouldn't have" that both makes you sad and angry but repetition starts to turn that into something redundant. People are complicated in real life but in romances I could have wished for a bit more confidence in solving things.
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Anita Notaro - No Ordinary Love

Louisa is fed up with every aspect of her life. Boyfriend, job, flat - all these need an instant and radical makeover. And so she decides to change it all in favour of a carefree existence, exchanging her house for a trailer, her car for a motorbike, and her smart clothes for leisure wear. And, most of all, she starts a new business, as a dog counsellor. With her best friends Maddy and Clodagh she embarks on a new regime - to meet different people, discover new places and find a fabulous new man. Her business brings her immediate and extraordinary rewards, as she meets the owners of dogs whose problems often seem to echo those of their owners. But whatever the stresses of her new life, Louisa has the support of her two friends. If only that could last forever...

Comment: I plan my monthly reads beforehand so that I can feel like I'm organizing my time and I tend to be pretty dedicated to that goal but once in a while I also pick books at the library that I don't have in my TBR but something about them catches my eye. That is why I got this one, it was available in the "highlights" shelf they have at the entrance and that I often check for inspiration.

In this book we met Louisa, an Irish young woman who feels tired of her life despite the good material things she owns because of her job. One day she decides to change everything, to stop being a psychologist always hearing bout other people's problems and she decides to become a sort of "dog whisperer" and creating a service for those who can't control or manage their dogs. While entering this fascinating new world Lou learns a lot about herself because she can't just stop being a helper and the more clients she has, the more she sees herself in their owners lives instead of just teaching them how to calm down. But with new experiences come new emotions and there's life... can Lou find stability at last?

By the cover and summary on the back, I expected this to be a chic-lit story. I confess the protagonist's decision to leave everything to a life of the unknown didn't feel as much as freedom but more craziness but I can see the appeal and why it would be a good start. It was interesting she would be focusing on something different, that's for certain.
When the story begins, Lou seems to be a very whiny person and, to be honest, the first chapter was a real turn off, so annoying Lou seemed to be.
I can't tell if the author just wanted to stress that and from chapter 2 Lou seems to change radically or if she wrote chapter 1 one day, out it aside for years and when she started again, her vision was a new one...the reality is that chapter 1 feels like part of a book, the rest of another.

This is the first book I try by this author so I can't compare but the beginning of the story is pretty much on the wave of lightness and comedy and silliness. It was turning out to be everything I imagined and I could see myself just turning the pages without being really connected to the plot.
However, as the chapters advanced, I could tell the tone of becoming different and it felt more like fiction instead of silly chick lit. I actually liked how the story evolved and the "serious" situations the characters were facing even though that wasn't as obviously developed by the author as I would expect.

I confess I was enjoying myself at this point. I was eager to read, the story has flaws but I could ignore that because it was easy to turn the pages and the characters were interesting, even when they went out at night and got drunk. (Thankfully, not often)
Lou is a fascinating protagonist, it's obvious she has issues regarding her childhood and her mother and we see that in how she so honestly advises others, how professional she is while still admitting she should think more of her own behavior. I liked that she was a professional but not an infallible human being.

The secondary characters were key to make this work and some were really special. There's a subtle romance developing but that only gets more obvious at a certain point; I don't think I would have been shocked if nothing had been said between Lou and her love interest since my focus was on her personal development and not that of her romantic life.
Again, I was surprised by how much I was enjoying things. 
Then, the author does three things I don't think were as well done because, considering the tone until then (mildly woman's fiction, a bit chick lit in between), I don't understand the need for drama. There are two events that I felt were used just to shock because there was no advance in the plot; only to show us how emotional Lou really was but that wasn't that difficult to see or expect! Then, another situation regarding one of her clients was also out of nowhere. Could it be someone advised the author to add something for the final pages as a twist? If so, I would say it was a serious miss.

Everything considered, this was a surprisingly positive book for the most part. Yes, I disliked some elements or some choices made by the author but the majority of the time I actually had a good time reading. I don't know if I'll read other things by the author but this was an average good read which I liked a little extra for the surprise I got by this not being as silly as I imagined.
Grade: 7/10

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Elizabeth Hoyt - Once Upon a Christmas Eve

Adam Rutledge, Viscount d'Arque, really rather loathes Christmas. The banal cheerfulness. The asinine party games. And, worst of all, the obligatory trip to the countryside. His grandmother, however, loves the holiday - and Adam loves his grandmother, so he'll brave the fiercest snowstorm to please her. But when their carriage wheel snaps, they're forced to seek shelter at the home of the most maddening, infuriating, and utterly beguiling woman he's ever met....
Sarah St. John really rather loathes rakes. The self-satisfied smirks. The sly predatory gazes. Oh, and the constant witty banter rife with double meaning. But in the spirit of the season, she'll welcome this admittedly handsome viscount into her home. But as the snowstorm rages, the Yule log crackles, and the tension rises, Sarah and Adam find themselves locked in a fiery, passionate kiss. If love is the true meaning of Christmas, it's the one gift this mismatched pair can't wait to unwrap.

Comment: This is the last installment of the successful Maiden Lane series by author Elizabeth Hoyt. After ten full length books and a few novellas or free stories in between, the author completed and ended the series with two novellas, this one the very last.

In the last story of the series we finally have a romance for Adam, viscount d'Arque, a recurrent character who played a minor part in one or two novels. His heroine is Sarah St John, sister of the hero from book #5. They have met before but Sarah considers the viscount to be a rake and she cannot stand them or how they act among respectable young ladies.
They are forced to be civil to each other when his carriage has a problem and he sees himself stranded in a somewhat rural era practically on Christmas day and with his fragile grandmother next to him. The closest house belongs to Sarah's brother, where the family is going to spend Christmas and of course the viscount, his grandmother and their servants are helped and invited to stay until the weather improves or the carriage is fixed. 
The viscount's grandmother is a little sick so they need to stay for even longer than what they had anticipated but the biggest problem is that the viscount never forgot Sarah had having her so near is not easy...

As it happened with the previous novella, I also found this one to be too short for the goal to be met. The author relies on the fact the characters are known to us from previous scenes but that alone isn't enough to sustain a well structured plot with emotional development. I mean, it can be done, I've read (very, very few) novellas where it does feel there's a beginning, middle and end but it's difficult to accomplish. I think that was quite a problem here.

Sarah and Adam are certainly a great couple and I do feel glad they managed to find happiness together not because they suit that much (I was not convinced of that) but because it's indeed nice to finish things with a HEA and a good enough closure sign; here we had two characters who were never key in any story but played an interesting secondary part so they feel like part of the group and it's good they can be together to unite the group even more. At least in the readers' imagination.

If they suit that much I couldn't really tell. She says she doesn't like rakes, he says he doesn't like prudish women but they feel attracted to one another. The author has tried to make them realize this but I don't think the romance was well succeeded, mostly because we haven't had the time to see it develop at a realistic pace. Just because they knew each other shouldn't have to mean their connection was so nevertheless.

Sarah has had a bad experience with a rake and that has colored her views on the subject. She also gets the advice from someone she trusts that she should open herself to happiness otherwise she would end up a bitter woman.
Adam has a reputation and he has always ignored it but now he feels there isn't anyone who could trust him, Sarah especially, to be a good husband. Their personal plights and how this could unite them even further was wasted, in my opinion, in the attempt to have them share intimacy but in this case the sex scene was dispensable and didn't add much to what was already a weakly developed story.

Pity the series ends like this. Both this and the previous novella had so much going on in terms of plot and how it could be developed. I can understand the page limit but especially with known characters perhaps there was something else the author could have done. To be honest, I think she should have just written a full length book for both instead.
This not being the case, it is what it is but it could have been better. What a joy, if I think back on the whole series, it was to rad about these characters and I'll certainly re-read my favorite scenes of them all.
Grade: 6/10

Friday, June 7, 2019

Elizabeth Kostova - The Shadow Land

A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi--and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.
As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by political oppression--and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.
Elizabeth Kostova's new novel is a tale of immense scope that delves into the horrors of a century and traverses the culture and landscape of this mysterious country. Suspenseful and beautifully written, it explores the power of stories, the pull of the past, and the hope and meaning that can sometimes be found in the aftermath of loss.

Comment: This is the third book written and published by author Elizabeth Kostova, whose name got very famous after the release of the successful first book, The Historian. I did read and like that first book a lot but since several years have passed, I wasn't paying attention to her other work and, by reading some comments, if seems her second book didn't follow the good steps of the first. 
This third book was both liked and disliked (by those on goodreads for instance) but the blurb seemed promising enough and I got quite eager to read it.

In this book we meet Alexandra Boyd, a young woman who travels to Bulgaria to teach English but her hidden motivation to have chosen this country in specific is because her deceased brother talked about visiting it one day and Alexandra hopes to honor him somehow. Her experience in a new country starts a little off because her taxi driver takes her to the wrong place and while Alexandra is at the entrance of a much fancier hotel than her booked hostel, she sees three people trying to get a cab and ends up helping them. Only after they leave and Alexandra tries to get her own cab, does she realize she kept one of their bags among her things and discovers human ashes. 
This is followed by a travel adventure with the helpful driver of the taxi she gets next, in the hopes she can find those people again and return them what is theirs. However, as Alexandra keeps going and meeting new people, secrets come undone and danger follows her and those she is close to...

The idea of reading a story about an apparent lonely woman who is still living with the ghosts of her guilt and loss and need to cope with what she cannot undo seemed moody enough to be the base for a great story and, perhaps, a romance. At least this is what I imagined by reading the blurb but now that I have finished the book I can't help but thinking that is very sad this story wasn't more objective or edited because there's a lot of content that was not very appealing in how it was presented.

Overall, this was a good story and it had all the elements to be a solid one: the adventurous but still mourning heroine, a sudden meeting and a flash of attraction to the youngest man of the three people she helps, a friendly and instructed taxi driver to go along and help her in her journey, a good enough cast of secondary characters that offer the clues needed when it's necessary, a sort of villain hidden in the shadows but slowly following what happens, a very rich and also instructive piece of the History of Bulgaria and a twist in the end that is supposed to justify everything the reader has gone through along with the protagonists.

The problem for me was very simple. This is a very detailed story, there are many things going on and I must say the writing is beautiful. The biggest problem is that all this happens through too many pages! There was no need to extend the plot to the point it went, there is way too much repetition, there are too many scenes that don't add anything and it takes too long for the characters to get at certain places, to discover certain information and despite the great prose I confess I was bored many times and that did remove some enjoyment from what mattered most.

I can't tell if the author wanted to add as much details as she could but this is the problem of too much at the same time, one loses focus and things start losing importance. A heavier edition process wouldn't have ruined the prose or the atmosphere the author intended but perhaps it could have helped with maintaining things easier to follow.
Besides, there are two stories in one: we have Alexandra and her pursuits and we have the story of the man whose ashes she carries with her. Both were well mashed but, again, not enough focus on anything.

Part of the story of the man is told by other characters, so things are quite patchy and divided. I found this to not create the suitable mood (which is of suspense and thrill) the author aimed for but instead made me loose interest. When we finally get to the end, I was more eager to finish than to know the secrets and I think I didn't appreciate it as much as it really deserved.
The end was ok, all things considered but I admit I wasn't as moved as I would have hoped for, had the story touched me more or grabbed me strongly instead of me being bored with a good part of it.

The writing, like I said, was beautiful, evocative, the descriptions of Bulgaria were fascinating and do make one feel interested in going there or, at least to google some places mentioned. For me personally is just so sad I couldn't feel more emotional about the plot.
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Maggie Fenton - The Duke's Holiday

The Duke of Montford, cold, precise, and more powerful than the Prince Regent himself, wants things the way he wants them: cross-referenced, indexed, and at his beck and call. And he always gets what he wants.
Until he meets Astrid Honeywell. And a giant pig. And a crooked castle in the middle of Yorkshire.
Astrid Honeywell, staunch bluestocking, has struggled for years to keep her family together by running the estate and family brewery after her father's death. She is not about to let the tyrannical Duke of Montford steal away all she has worked for because of some antiquated contract between their families. So when the priggish Duke comes to call, she does everything in her power—including setting the family pig on him—to drive him away.
She didn't expect him to be so... well, infuriatingly attractive. Every time he scowls at her, she has the most improper desire to kiss him—and a whole lot more.
Montford can't decide whether to strangle Astrid or seduce her. The one thing he knows for a fact is that he must resist his powerful attraction for her at all costs. He has a very proper, very demure fiancée waiting for him back in London, after all. But when Astrid is kidnapped by a disgruntled suitor and whisked off to Gretna Green, Montford will do anything to get her back.
Will these two drive each other to Bedlam... or can they make it to the altar without killing each other? 

Comment: I got interested in this book because it would feature a different class couple and I do confess I like stories with this trope, especially when the hero is more powerful or richer and how authors can make the relationship work in a balanced way. Yes, maybe I need to dream with Cinderella situations in my books, but why not since reality is so unfair anyway.

This story begins with proper and somewhat rigid duke of Montford traveling to one of his estates to personally check on a situation that has become rather shady. He hopes to arrive, solve the problem and go back to his well working routines. However, when he arrives at the estate that, through certain agreements done in the past, is the location where the famous Honeywell ale is done, all he finds is chaos and a decaying castle while the surrounding tenants prosper. He meets Astrid Honeywell who, after her father's death, has assumed the reins of the business but the duke hopes to solve the situation quickly.
The problem is that miss Honeywell isn't a demure, easily swain young woman but instead someone he can't help but be fascinated and attracted to. In fact, being around her makes him change his personal rules so much he quickly sees himself doing things he never imagined. But with such different personalities, can they find common ground to be happy?

Being a fan of historicals and, like I said, of different classes tropes, I was quite eager to read and enjoy this book. I imagined a sweet but challenging acceptance of mutual appreciation while the protagonists finally accepted they are a good couple but my hopes of a situation like this happening were quickly gone because this book is meant to be a comedy.
I like comedies like everyone else but in movies or series. It's so much easier to show on a screen the situation that makes one laugh but in books I must say this is harder for me to like or understand. 

If a book is supposed to be funny and it isn't (as always, it depends on the perception/taste of who's reading) then I usually feel like I'm missing something and I did feel this sometimes with this book. I think the better tactic would be to not center the whole plot on comedy but instead insert scenes or situations here and there and the fun parts would have more impact, in my opinion.
Regarding this book in general, I found the constant attempt to present funny and comedy situations to be more often silly than cleverly engendered.

The main characters, the duke and Astrid had interesting common traits but honestly, I just think most of it was forced on the reader because they were attracted to each other but not really suitable. However, since they had opposite personalities (she is bubbly and determined and sometimes a little too inconsiderate of her surroundings and he is proper and used to have his rules being met and his orders fulfilled) it almost looked like we had to see how perfect they were to one another, how they complemented themselves: she would give him laughter and amusing moments and he would be a rock for her financial and social needs while "bringing her back to earth" when needed.
I can understand the tactic and the author did try many scenes where they would be confronted with their flaws but I was not convinced they were that understandable of each other's more serious traits and personal space.

Of course there were genuinely funny situations and very interesting romantic details and sentences while we see the main relationship develop. The writing wasn't always consistent and I cringed when the villain was introduced and how some characters so easily changed from what we were told they were supposed to be like.
From this book alone, I don't think I could appreciate or endure much more of this author's style. There were some serious moments and dialogues here and there but they were so rare and without a good follow up (like when Astrid's sister Alice explains her reasons for being unmarried yet despite wanting to have a family) that I think this was a fail. If a book is only filled with comedy it can be very easily perceived as too silly and I confess there were moments I felt that.

All things considered, this had interesting elements, a few good situations, it did get me curious on how the characters would evolve but it took me longer than what I anticipated to finish and by not being that eager to read, I could easily do other things instead. It was a good experience to have a little idea of this author's style but I didn't get convinced I should try another.
Grade: 5/10

Friday, May 31, 2019

Ann Patchett - Commonwealth

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.
Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.
When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.
Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

Comment: This is yet another book I've got interested in after reading the blurb which then created some expectations in what I'd be reading but the reality negatively surprised me and this didn't really go the path I hoped for in my head...

This is a fiction story mixing some historical elements and literary content, meaning that one can read it as an historical piece but I'd say the heaviest tone in the story is that of "intellectual" literature and perhaps I'm being unfair but this has certainly read as an introspective text and I can't think of it as just an entertaining story.
Basically we are told about the lives of two families, in how one day Bert Cousins kissed Beverly Reading at the party of the christening of Beverly's daughter Franny and later they split from their respective spouses to marry each other. Between them they have 6 children that now have to learn to live together while sharing experiences and a childhood divided into their parent's houses.

Did you read what I wrote? 
"... we are told..." which means most of this book is about what the reader is told instead of seeing things happen and I have to say I found it extremely frustrating and boring how the author told her story always jumping from the past to the present to all kinds in between and it was difficult to follow who was speaking, what was happening and to whom and this ruined the experience for me. 
I didn't like this story to be honest, but had the writing been more appealing for my taste, I might have endured it more easily. 

The idea of this book was very promising for me. I immediately thought this would be a story in the likes of Transformations by Daniele Steel in terms of content. Two families get together and among difficulties and compromise and maybe good moments, their experience together would shape their lives, perhaps for good in the case of some, and for bad in others.
However, this was not what we get for this story focused on the ways the children were affected but there's no bond visible that made me like them and sincerely, the things they go through were very boring for me to read.

I think there are a few details that were interesting. How grow-up Franny gets to know and be attracted to older man Leon Posen, how the children dealt with a tragedy in their midst, how they would act depending on whose parent's house they were in... but all these things were lost among the huge amount of things being told to the reader, and some were quite unnecessary because it didn't add anything to the plot nor to how we might appreciate the characters more.
I didn't connect with the characters so the supposed  "inspiration" and "tenderness" of this book just didn't grab me at all.

This is where I think the book got to intellectual, because things are written and we are supposed to infer or to interpret or to judge but the writing style was so boring I just wanted to turn the pages and end it already. I don't think I got to like any of the characters. Their lives and thoughts are given sporadically, sometimes I wonder why because everything is pretty much solved in the end. We just need to muse about things, not really be a part of the plot's development nor the character's evolution. Everyone was boring, everything was boring. 
I kept going because there is one situation depicted that originates a big part of the conflict and I assumed something major would happen but... no. We are left wondering on our own the meaning of everything and most of it is not interesting.

I'll certainly not read more by this author. Again, how out expectations can mislead us...I get really enthusiastic about some possibilities when I read certain blurbs but how annoying it is to see not everyone would think like me....oh well, onto another book...
Grade: 4/10

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Grace Draven - The Brush of Black Wings

During a foray into the woods of Neith, Martise stumbles upon a ruined temple and reawakens not only a power she thought lost, but also something far more malevolent. An ancient darkness, imprisoned in an eternal cage, sees a chance at freedom in a woman once held in bondage.
Desperate to save her, the Master of Crows will break the barriers of time and worlds to challenge an entity born of forgotten magic and the remnants of souls—a demon king who once led hordes of the damned across the face of the world.
The destroyer of gods will battle the destroyer of men to reclaim her and discover a truth the keepers of history once conspired to conceal.
A tale of revelation and redemption.

Comment: This is the follow-up novella to the amazing book Master of Crows by author Grace Draven. I really liked the main book but for some reason I procrastinated reading this novella. In a way it seems my instinct was correct because despite the fact this was an interesting story, I just didn't feel as much connection to it as I did with the first one.

This a fantasy story featuring the protagonist of the first book and now that some time has passed since the events of the full length tale, Silhara and Martise are happily married and in love and living very simple lives among all the domestic and magical tasks they work with everyday.
One day, though, while looking for mushrooms in the forest surrounding the castle, Martise stumbles on an ancient rock and somehow wakes up a being linked to the old place. In an effort to get help, she uses her power which causes the being to "wake up"and later Silhara needs to help and save her. What they discover is that the strange powerful being just awakened has a secret and a need and will our couple be able to solve the obstacle in their way?

I won't go into much description of comments about this, since this is a small story. I liked revisiting the main characters after having enjoyed their romance so well in the first book but to be honest. this was a much simpler story and not only due to the page limit.
Having a small amount of content to think of makes things a little too...vague. It was nice to have little clues on the couple and it's definitely great to see them happy.

However, thinking on how much I liked their original story, thinking on how long it's been since that and also bearing in mind I've read other books by the author in the meantime that, although not bad, weren't as addictive for me, I think I can say one needs to really like the style of this author to appreciate specific details.

I'd say my biggest complain with this story is that it feels unfinished. It gave the reader the closure regarding the couple (yay, they are happy) but it created other possibilities in terms of future stories because of what we learn. I think this author really likes to create a good atmosphere, to explain things, to add details and descriptions and often this is enough. But I can't help feeling there's also a slight sense of detachment in how the story is told vs the emotion supposed being portrayed. 
In the first book I didn't feel that but with the other books by this author I did and also with this novella. As if the emotion isn't really shown, just the fact the characters say that. I can't explain well.

This was a good enough story but there are too many things left in the air and if one were to consider this as stand alone story, then it felt weaker than it could have.
Grade: 6/10

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Lucy Parker - The Austen Playbook

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.
She can’t take her eyes off him.
Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.
Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.
As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

Comment: This is the most recent installment in the London Celebrities series by author Lucy Parker. Her romance books have had some hype in the last few years and I confess I share most readers' opinions on them but the third book - and now this one too - were a little less appealing. I still enjoyed reading but yes, for me the stories have lost some of their initial magic.

In this fourth book we don't have such an obvious correlation between protagonists as we had in the first two books but the setting and world is the same for all four books.
Freddy Carlton comes from a known family in the theater industry, especially because her grandmother Henrietta wrote one of the most famous plays in England, even studied in school programs. 
However, Freddy's heart isn't in the dramas and heavy pieces that made her family famous but instead she likes comedies and light plays that make the audience laugh and have a good time. It's no wonder one of the most read critics of the London acting industry keeps mentioning how mediocre her work has been and how much it shows she is uncomfortable.
When the chance to be part of an adaptation  of several Jane Austen's characters in a special interactive play comes forward, this is precisely the sort of work Freddy loves and a potential new project can come from it if she does well. 
It's really just a coincidence the play will happen on the theater a man has built for her famous grandmother and that is now managed by the same critic that has brought Freddy's lack of will for dramas to the public. But between secrets and sudden romantic inclinations, will Freddy's heart endure it all?

If one were to judge stories only for their ideas or premises, this is one of those that would be immediately a great one.
The thing is, since each reader is different, all people can look at the same thing and have different opinions and while I agree that this was another successful story which I enjoyed in its majority, there were also a few details that prevented me from giving it five stars as I did the first two in the series.

I liked the way we got to have several clues on how Freddy and Griff, the hero, were the way they are or why their personalities are like we see them. I especially liked Griff's sense of responsibility and although for many he can be a little too serious and straight, I can accept his need to be in control of things when those around him weren't always reliable. I'm also quite happy how he listens to Freddy at some point regarding his relationship with his brother.
Freddy is also very likable because we can see how she likes to work with comedies but she does feel guilty and in need to match the expectations her father has of her and how realistic can this be? When we love out family, even if have a strong personality, we still want to do things to make those we love feel good too. For this alone, I'd have liked Freddy as a character. 

The romance between these two develops quickly after they start spending time together and that happens because of the play taking place in Griff's estate but the author has cleverly inserted two other chapters where we got to see where the couple met and where they initially interacted. Yes, this is by no means a prelude to their romance but it does give a little glimpse of why they can now be in each other's radar and why their connection can get deeper so quickly. I would say Freddy is quite bubbly and Griff quite unbreakable in his behavior and sometimes it feels like there's no balance or compromise between them but it worked for the most part for me and I was definitely happy for them to fall in love and trust each other.

Unlike the first two novels, though, I guess what this story is lacking is a more obvious declaration from part to part on how in love they are after a certain point of the story. Yes, they act the part and they say the words but because this story also focused on more elements, their falling in love felt more secondary. The transition from "what are we doing" to "we are in love" was a little too quick for how they were acting and I mean this in relation to the moment after their get intimate and acknowledge it. I guess it wasn't as obviously romantic as I felt books #1 and #2 were. This is why I said it can depend on people's interpretations and opinions on the same situation.

Despite my personal pet peeves or preferences in how things could have been developed, this was still a good, entertaining read and since it's more character driven than plot driven (even if in this one the author went that direction), it was very good to spend so much time with the characters and see how they could become better people just because they were together. I liked this about Griff and Freddy.
It seems there's a next book in the works, it will be about Freddy's sister Sabrina and her nemesis Nick so I do anticipate a good enemies to lovers plot!
Grade: 8/10

Friday, May 24, 2019

Kelly Jensen - To See the Sun

Life can be harsh and lonely in the outer colonies, but miner-turned-farmer Abraham Bauer is living his dream, cultivating crops that will one day turn the unforgiving world of Alkirak into paradise. He wants more, though. A companion—someone quiet like him. Someone to share his days, his bed, and his heart.
Gael Sonnen has never seen the sky, let alone the sun. He’s spent his whole life locked in the undercity beneath Zhemosen, running from one desperate situation to another. For a chance to get out, he’ll do just about anything—even travel to the far end of the galaxy as a mail-order husband. But no plan of Gael’s has ever gone smoothly, and his new start on Alkirak is no exception. Things go wrong from the moment he steps off the shuttle.
Although Gael arrives with unexpected complications, Abraham is prepared to make their relationship work—until Gael’s past catches up with them, threatening Abraham’s livelihood, the freedom Gael gave everything for, and the love neither man ever hoped to find.

Comment: After seeing several good opinions of this book in different places, including in some sites in their "best of" lists too, I got quite interested in reading this myself.
This is an m/m story featuring a sci-fi world where there are many planets occupied by humans after Earth stopped being sustainable.

In this story we meet two guys in different places in their lives: Gael is a 30 year old who still mourns the death of his brother and still pays his debts, sadly working for a mob-like family in his planet. He hasn't the stomach for it though, and after a mistake he feels like running away is the only solution. A friend tells him about colonists in distant parts of the galaxy or even other galaxies that are asking for companions (like a mail order spouse or just someone to share time with) and Gael checks some videos and accepts to travel and meet Abraham Bauer, who seems to be a farmer and what convinces Gael is the scenes of that man's farm.
Bram, a man in his late 40s, wants someone to spend time with because he is quite lonely. He asks for Gael because he is gorgeous and his eyes seem sad but he thinks with time he might care about Bram and be a solid companion. If something more happens between them, the better, for he likes how Gael looks.
The problem is that Alkirak, Bram's planet, isn't exactly what Gael envisioned, and a surprise changes Gael's plans a bit. However, there's no denying Bram is as accepting and patient as he seemed in his video and perhaps there is hope for them. Except if Gael's past gets in the way...

This is the first book I read by this author but I think the setting is very well done. Although the descriptions are all products of the author's imagination, the planets and the surroundings seem very vivid. I also really liked how information was given slowly to the reader but not overly explained. The reader has time to think and imagine and what is learned is enough to help create an idea and set up the stage for the character's paths. I think it was really well done how the pace of the story happens and how much information is given without feeling like too much.

The writing is quite good and the pace too but of course it's the characters that make this a vibrant story.
Back to historical stories, usually mail order brides accepted to marry a stranger for security, for financial reasons or for several reasons regarding their reputations. In this book Gael does resemble this scenario because is needs protection from a life and a company that will use him and kill him if not enslaving him first. He knows his future has to be in a place where he doesn't need to look behind all the time and a planet in such a distant location is the solution he needs. I felt for Gael and his past and why he felt like running. 
He is extremely easy to empathize with and to wish he succeeds.

Bram is a more mature man, more secure in his own person but he is lonely and a little shy and lives for his crops, which he hopes one day might help influence the atmosphere of the planet and make it from austere and dangerous into a place with life and prosperity. The reader knows he wants someone to be intimate with but his main focus is on someone to be his companion. If intimacy happens, great, but he won't force anyone nor push for the situation to be so. He likes Gael's looks but the situation doesn't start as he imagined and there is some need to adapt to someone new.

The relationship between the two guys is slow but steady and the end is certainly rewarding. I liked how they talked and planned things instead of rushing to something they might not be ready for. The fact any other option if things didn't work out was so distant, made them think about their closed shared space and the need to be a team.
I liked how their personalities started to match, how they were considerate of one another in small things. I liked how their interactions weren't only related to sexual intimacy but also about all aspects of their lives like what kind of work Bram was doing and why and how could Gael be happy as an individual and not as just Bram's partner.

As a negative detail, I must say that despite how sweet and poignant certain situations were I still felt like they were too restricted to their surroundings and what was going on around them to really feel the love developing. Yes, they shared moments together, they talked but we don't see as many scenes with that as I imagined (for the good pace of the book's needs) so although time passing by happens in a believable manner, their relationship is too sweet and calm. I kind of wish they had had reasons to interact even more or to share more of their pasts besides the necessary for the trust issues to be overcame. 
The fact they are in such a limited place and that there isn't a lot of external situations to force them to react to sudden or new influences or situations makes the story feel a little stagnated.
Unlike some readers, I also would have preferred for the threat to their happiness to not have existed at all and instead the conflict could have be centered on their personalities and sexual tension. The way the story evolved did feel, at times, as too perfect, too much as a staged production.

Overall, this was a good romance and the setting was amazing. Some parts of the plot worked out well, the pace was great for the situation but there are a few details that I don't think were as engaging as they could have. Still, I really had a great time reading, especially thinking about the world building alone.
Grade: 8/10