Saturday, July 4, 2020

Elizabeth Haynes - The Murder of Harriet Monckton

The Murder of Harriet Monckton is based on a true story that shocked and fascinated the nation.
On 7th November 1843, Harriet Monckton, 23 years old and a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, was found murdered in the privy behind the dissenting chapel she had regularly attended in Bromley, Kent. The community was appalled by her death, apparently as a result of swallowing a fatal dose of prussic acid, and even more so when the autopsy revealed that Harriet was six months pregnant.
Drawing on the coroner's reports and witness testimonies, the novel unfolds from the viewpoints of each of the main characters, each of whom have a reason to want her dead. Harriet Monckton had at least three lovers and several people were suspected of her murder, including her close companion and fellow teacher, Miss Frances Williams. The scandal ripped through the community, the murderer was never found and for years the inhabitants of Bromley slept less soundly.
This rich, robust novel is full of suggestion and suspicion, with the innocent looking guilty and the guilty hiding behind their piety. It is also a novel that exposes the perilous position of unmarried women, the scandal of sex out of wedlock and the hypocrisy of upstanding, church-going folk.

Comment: I got this book because I have enjoyed the previous titles I've read by this author.
I knew this one would be a little different because it would be based in true case, Harriet Monckton did live in Bromley in the 19th century and she was indeed murdered. I was simply confident the author would do a good job fictionalizing the main ideas into her trademark thriller style but I must say I was amazed by how much I liked reading this one and how much better than a simple thriller it ended up being for me.

Based on notes she found at a library's archive while searching for something else, the author picked some letters showing details regarding the murder of a young woman in Bromley in 1843. It seems the woman had been killed by prussic acid and the killer had never been discovered, although the police inspectors and the inquest revealed there were some suspects but without enough evidence to condemn them.
While using as much real facts as possible, Elizabeth Haynes created a story which would explain several of the suggestions made during the inquest and what could have possibly happened to Harriet on the fatal day...

It was really easy to read this 500 something pages book. The story flows easily, I was constantly interested in knowing what would be revealed later, on how each character would behave and even knowing some elements had to be invented for plot purposes, I was engrossed and focused on the story. It was also very rewarding how the author included a map of Bromley someone did for her, for it helped to place the characters' movements and where they were going in key scenes.

I also appreciated immensely the afterword in the end of the book, where the author explains her work method, how she got the idea, how she tried to suit the character's style to what was known of them in the real documents and how she felt like developing them the way she did throughout the story. I think she did a good job in allowing me to see and understand the events and the why of many things, even if, we have to accept, it was just a possible idea, just fiction.

The story is divided into different sections, so that we can follow the events according to the factual documents she found at the library but with addition so the mystery could be kept while she developed the characters and their reasoning. The division into sections felt very clever to maintain this a murder investigation where the killer wasn't too obvious.
However, I must confess, because of two or three sentences in different moments of the book, for me the identity of the killer became rather glaring. Did this ruined the experience? For me it didn't because the fascination of a thriller is often how things happen not as much who did them.
I was still devoted to read and see why some characters did the things they did.

Harriet is described differently by the different characters. This had to happen so that the mystery could continue and we wouldn't be easily set on having an opinion on her and on her personality. I think it becomes rather obvious though, as soon as we read the dedication the author used in the first pages and in the end, after knowing all about Harriet's possible path into death, I have to say it is tremendously unfair how some people just aren't allowed (by so many things - conventions, rules, society) to be able to control their own lives and not be judged by hypocrites.

I had a great experience reading this novel. I think it ticked all the necessary boxes for this to work out for me. Of course to each one, their own opinions.
This is an historical novel due to the year in which the events occurred but the story does feel timeless because it's still easier to ignore we, as a group, keep being judgmental towards those we deem unfit. 
All in all, I think the author did an excellent job going towards an historical route and I think this worked out even better than some of her contemporary work.
Grade: 9/10

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Suggesting a quiz

I was googling quizzes and this came up. I had never done and was curious to see my result.
I know, I know... but these things can be entertaining....

Quiz and image from Grammarly.

My result was:

Journey to the Center of the Earth

You have a sense of adventure and an appreciation for other cultures! You are Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. You probably enjoy traveling to other countries, but next time you spend a day at home, read this 1874 novel about a professor who finds a coded note in an old novel. You will never guess what he finds when his journey leads him to the center of the earth!

-> I did read this novel already and it was quite an adventure!
It's certainly a great book to try for those who like fantasy and adventure :) 
Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Mini - Comments

The last two books I've read in June were both by Portuguese authors. 
Neither has been translated into English but I'll just write a few lines about each one just so some acknowledgement can be registered (for when I'm tired of the blog I can always come and reminiscence).

Galveias by José Luis Peixoto
This is the first book I read by this young author. In this novel he shares a fictionalized tale about a group of characters in 1984, who all live in a small village in Alentejo, Galveias (the name in the title) where tradition and a way of living still take precedence to any novelty. There's also a lot of poverty and simplicity in the way of life. What he describes about these characters could be seen in, probably, many other similar villages in the region. 
In fact, the author himself lived his childhood in this village, which actually exists, only the characters were created to embody behaviors and choices and possible mentalities people had at the time.
I liked it because I, too, live in small village in the region of Alentejo and some of the little things also happened here, although only generalizing.
I should say the plot isn't really a plot as this reads like a summary on several characters, who they are, what their life is and how did they get to the point in which the story starts. I think it was worth it by the beautiful prose, the evocation of what it means to live in such a place and the memories that seep in when I remember similar situations being described to me by my grandparents and even my parents still.
Grade: 7/10

A Casa de Eulália by Manuel Tiago
This is short book, the title could be translated into "Eulália's house" and it was written by an author many didn't know whose real identity he had until t was revealed he was, in fact, Alvaro Cunhal, the biggest name of the Communist Party in Portugal, and one of the most cherished members of the Portuguese resistance against fascism.
He only wrote 6 fiction stories, the rest was all non fiction. In this one he shares what could have been the life of three members of the party who were helping the Republicans in Spain, before Franco took the power in 1939.
The story itself is a clear message, is severely politicized but that was to be expected. What I was a little disappointed with was the writing style, the lack of characterization. This reads like a snippet, a little short story but it wasn't truly engrossing thinking of the plot alone.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Isabel Allende - A Long Petal of the Sea

In the late 1930s, civil war gripped Spain. When General Franco and his Fascists succeed in overthrowing the government, hundreds of thousands are forced to flee in a treacherous journey over the mountains to the French border. Among them is Roser, a pregnant young widow, who finds her life irreversibly intertwined with that of Victor Dalmau, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased love. In order to survive, the two must unite in a marriage neither of them wants, and together are sponsored by poet Pablo Neruda to embark on the SS Winnipeg along with 2,200 other refugees in search of a new life. As unlikely partners, they embrace exile and emigrate to Chile as the rest of Europe erupts in World War.
Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning. Over the course of their lives, they will face test after test. But they will also find joy as they wait patiently for a day when they are exiles no more, and will find friends in the most unlikely of places. Through it all, it is that hope of being reunited with their home that keeps them going. And in the end, they will find that home might have been closer than they thought all along.

Comment: I borrowed this book recently and since I try to give the books back not too long after I get them, of course it had priority to others in the TBR.

In her most recent book, Isabel Allende takes the reader through a journey that encompasses several decades of the 20th century.
While explaining the events after the announcement of WWII through the perspective of Spanish people who are going as refugees to Chile while running from dictatorship in Spain, the author has managed to summarize many of the little dates that broaden to a segment of life in the century. From country to country, we can see one side of history that isn't very common in most books, but that has as much richness as any other and at the expense of so many lost dreams...

For those who have read the author's books before, this one is another piece of history wrapped up in a fictional tale. Through the lives of the main characters, Victor and Roser, we follow the events that forced them to leave Spain, to trust poet Pablo Neruda who convinced the Chilean government to accept the left-wing refugees and then, in Chile, to deal with and later on escape the military coup that forced the country into a dictatorship too.
It's true the end of the book is already set in the 90s, when democracy has returned but the richest part of the book is focused on how the world events shaped people's lives.

I'd say that, for a new reader, the author's style can look a little teaching, meaning that there's a sense there is a lesson to be learned, a message to be conveyed and often that is mostly centered on the author's own views or on the left side of things in the political spectrum.
All this is mixed up with fictional characters, but who embody the culture and the thinking of the time (with some avant garde ones of course) while trying to live their personal trials.

In some books I can quite easily focus on the fictional parts but I must say here, some sections did feel as if I was reading an history lesson. The balance between telling and showing clearly pends towards telling, as per the author's style but I don't feel bothered by that. Still, I think that comparing to the previous two books, for instance, which also have a big part of historical context in them, this felt a little more heavy on the history part. I don't mind it because it's a part of history that isn't as broadly dissected as other events set on the WWII years but it might look as if being too obvious for some readers.

Portuguese cover
Victor and Roser are fictional characters but they could have been anyone in those times. Their personalities are significant but what I liked about them the most is that I could see, through them, what could have been the existence of so many.
They are not strict or cartooned characters though; they have ideas and feelings and take actions that make them appear as human as anyone and I admit I even felt a little sentimental towards them, especially as the book was ending and they were already older people, after a long life of struggle and fighting for their beliefs and culture.

It's so easy to think about the countless, anonymous people who might have had the same experiences, who might have gone through the same ordeals or similar. Yes, I don't think this author is for everyone but if the style works for someone, then the story can be so much richer.
It's also a little bittersweet to go along the characters through some moments in history, knowing what happened in real life.

I think this book, if I had to use that example, could be divided 40-60 between fiction and historical context. I liked reading this, I liked spending time thinking about those characters and those history events but I can accept why others might not have liked it.
For me, it worked and I would recommend to anyone who likes historical fiction.
Grade: 8/10

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Tessa Bailey - Heat Stroke

They can't be together. They won't stay apart.
Marcus “Diesel” O’Shaughnessy is a brash, oversized CrossFit enthusiast with a naked lady tattooed on his rippling forearm. Jamie Prince is a private school teacher with an extremely low tolerance for bull. The two men have zero in common. Well, except for three things.
They’re both moonlighting as lifeguards for the summer.
No matter how hard they try, they cannot stay away from each other.
And both of them have secrets they’re determined to keep.
But what happens in the shadows of the Long Beach boardwalk can only remain hidden for so long, before the July sunshine reveals the hot, unrelenting connection they never expected, forcing Marcus and Jamie to decide if they’re simply caught up in a temporary heat stroke or if they’ve found something worth rescuing...

Comment: I saw this book being recommended last year by someone who liked this book and whose words made me curious to read it too. 
I had previously read another book by the author, I know she wrote only m/f stories so I was even more eager to try this one, which features a gay couple, and see how she would do it.

In this book we meet Jamie and Marcus, an unlikely couple since Jamie is quite a nerd, he likes reading, he teaches at a private school and he is only on Marcus radar because of their work as lifeguards on long Beach.
Jamie's brother has a bar, he manages the lifeguard's schedules and for three years Marcus has been saying cute and sometimes silly comments but Jamie can see Marcus is attracted to him without realizing exactly why.
Marcus is considered to be a little dumb by his peers but he has a heart of gold. He can't put Jamie aside of his thoughts and he can't wait for summer to arrive because he knows he would see his friend Jamie. Lately, though, his thoughts haven't been strictly friendly anymore... is this the year where everything will change for them both?

This is the second installment in a trilogy about the Prince brothers, this being the story of the middle brother Jamie.
I haven't read the first story but it doesn't feel like I have to. It is enough to know the younger brother, protagonist of book #1, is now happy. I'm, however, curious to see how the protagonists of book #3 will go on to be together so I consider this one a double success: good story and made me interested in knowing what is to come too.

Reading this story was a blast. Yes, this wasn't perfect but it was so cute, so sweet at times and the sexual tension so great that I couldn't help but rooting for them to understand each other and be together.
I think the author did a good job writing an m/m story because intimacy apart, what really made this special was how the relationship developed and, for me, how great Marcus is.

The story isn't too complicated and the author used some clichés to develop the plot but I can't really fault that since clichés exist because reality hasn't changed that much and there will still exist gays that are attacked by being gay and there will still be gays who don't feel prepared to assume their sexuality nor the step to live as such. This is, basically, what happens to Jamie and Marcus and why their relationship follows some patterned expectations.

Nevertheless, when they are together, when they are being friends - they never stop being that just because they are attracted too - we can feel how much they mean to one another. I liked to see the way the author developed their emotions and desires through well done sexual tension scenes but even better than that, what made their relationship work for me was how they felt comfortable in each others' presence, how they supported one another. Like how Jamie helps Marcus with his business.
It was also very good to see their interactions with their family members. It's not the same experience for both, no, but in the end seeing them being supported by their family was great too.

Where I think the author went perfectly was in the characterization of Marcus. He is seen as a little dumb and clumsy but he is adorable. He isn't stupid, only he has a very special way of thinking and his heart id pure gold. I could empathize with his struggles, with his doubts of who he was and although he did accept things rather quickly looking at the timeline, his personality shone and I could simply be amazed he was able to go through so much and still be a humble person.
Jamie is more self aware, probably because of his experiences but he does not resist much, I mean, how could he do that when Marcus was a well defined and hot teddy bear?
I liked how their relationship developed and no one has it always perfect, always steady, always easy so even the less positive aspects of their relationship felt credible.

This was quite great for me. Some issues were a little dragged, the whole secret thing a little dumb considering how they acted around one another... It felt silly how more characters wouldn't notice based on their behavior around one another.
Still, this was a very good novel and I do hope the author writes more m/m in the future; she has the talent for it.
Grade: 8/10

Friday, June 26, 2020

Pamela Sanderson - Heartbeat Braves

There’s never a dull moment at the Crooked Rock Urban Indian Center.
Rayanne Larson knows firsthand the struggles of native people. Working at Crooked Rock gives her the chance to do good work for Indians living in the city. She has high hopes for the Center’s progress until its new leader hands her special project over to his underachieving—and distractingly sexy—nephew.
Henry Grant’s life is going just fine. Though he knows rez life, he’s always been an urban Indian. He has no interest in the Indian Center job his uncle pushes on him. That is, until he meets Rayanne. She’s attractive and smart, and like no woman he has ever met.
Rayanne is determined to keep her distance but when the Center faces a crisis, the two of them are forced to work together and she can no longer ignore the sparks between them.

Comment: I got interested in this book last year, since it was in a list of titles featuring Native American characters and, apart from those old fashioned historical books, I had not read any recent book with the main characters being Native and much less written by a Native author who could give a realistic portrayal of the culture and the identity of these people in a contemporary setting.
I was really eager to read it, I saw there were a few books after this one so, promising new stories too, but in the end the content wasn't as appealing as I would have wanted it to be.

In this story we meet Rayanne, a very over achiever young woman who has done and still does, everything she possible can to make the Crooked Rock Indian Center a success. 
This being a non-profit organization means they rely on grants and support from a board of directors and the rules can be quite tricky to maneuver for everything to go smoothly.
Then, when she thinks she might be promoted, one of the directors shows up with his nephew Henry, a man who minutes after talking to Rayanne lets her know he isn't much interested in working there, despite his uncle's idea to get him a job.
That job turns out to be what Rayanne thought would be hers but she just goes ahead and even tries to help Henry in his first steps as project manager. The problem is that all the little things that need to be done always have some sort of issue and not eve the attraction Rayanne and Henry share seems to cool down the fact the Center might be in danger.

This is definitely a contemporary story, set in modern times because I have to say it couldn't be more realistic to have a story that focuses so much on the theme of how much red tape is necessary for an association to work, how much headache one needs to bear to wait for things to happen and how much worry goes along it. 
This is very realistic, very easily recognizable to anyone who might have worked in one/or known about how non profits work but despite the idea - an Indian Center for cultural and social activities - the analytical aspects of the process are not fun, are not sexy, are not fascinating to read about in a romance.

I'm not saying the idea is boring, no, in fact it's quite admirable, but to read about it isn't that fun after a while. Had this been light on this subject, even if focusing on complicated matters as it did, the romance could have balanced things out, but I don't think this happened.
First because the romance was below romantic and then because the way things developed felt more like a wake up call to those unaware people who just see things work but don't know how much work is put into it and that everyone should be more dedicated to that idea.

I just don't think teaching so much about a subject that might not be to everyone's appeal in a romance is the right way to go for these books can turn into...well, boring stories as a whole even if the subject is interesting Other authors have done this, spent too much time on the hows and other elements were left behind.

Therefore, the plot was not as much on the cultural aspects of Native Americans, although that is mentioned, and not on how the different tribes (or one) might feel represented nowadays, even though we have glimpses of that as well, but mostly on the workings of a non profit.
Even allowing this to be pertaining and finding some details that can be a novelty enough to make reading about it interesting, I still think the overall writing style was too stilted, too strict and the story lacked spontaneity, lacked the kind of flow that would have made it appealing.

I thought the romance could be a good counterpoint but, sadly, no.
Rayanne and Henry can be a good match in several aspects but their love story was not romantic because we only saw some parts of them. The characterization only went on to present their goals in life (or lack of them), their love for their loved ones and the work and that was it. I don't think we really have a good take on them as individuals. 
Besides, Rayanne feels so overworked and Henry so adrift that I can't see how they might balance one another. People are different, we all have different speeds, different ways of dealing with things, even different awareness of our own worth and that's fine but the way these elements were done in this book, I didn't feel like I was convinced to care enough for either protagonist.

All in all, this story ended up being constructed in a slight boring manner, with unappealing main characters and development and a very depressing tone throughout.
Yes, this can be realistic, this can be a real vision of what is going on now with some Native American's experiences but I expected more of a romance, more on the relationship and not as much a lesson on politics behind a non-profit.
Grade: 5/10

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lynsay Sands - Immortal Unchained

Ever since Domitian Argenis recognized Sarita as his life mate, he’s been waiting for the perfect moment to claim her. Those fantasies did not include him being chained to a table in a secret lab or both of them being held hostage by a mad scientist. Somehow, they have to escape…
Sarita has seen some crazy things as a cop, but nothing to rival Domitian. A vampire? Seriously? But his healing ability, incredible powers, and their mind-blowing physical connection—none of it should be possible, yet her body knows differently.
Now, not only do they have to save each other, but other innocent lives are at stake. Failure is not an option, for Sarita intends that Domitian show her exactly what an eternity of pleasure feels like...

Comment: This is the 25th installment in the Argeneau series by author Lynsay Sands. The stories follow a very large family, since they are immortals, similar to vampires in some regards, and they have very long lives which includes several family bonds and many members.

In this book we meet Domitian Argenis, from a Latin branch of the family and Sarita Reyes, the woman he has known would be his life mate.
Domitian has let himself be kidnapped by the enemy, dr Dessler, because many immortals have disappeared recently and it is feared they might be tortured and experimented on. However, Domitian didn't count on dr Dessler deceiving Sarita and bringing her to his island too so he could use them, as life mates, to do some experiment by observation.
The problem isn't so much their connection for it is true they are life mates, but the fact there are more people in danger and whatever they do, there are cameras everywhere. The moment they find a way to escape, they stumble on something even more unexpected which they can't simply ignore.
Will there be a way to finally stop the crazy scientist?

After so many books wit so many types of plots, it's no wonder the stories start to feel the same and characters are mixed up or forgotten. This means it's not really advisable to read these books out of order, for the world makes more sense if there's some background.
It's also to be expected the tone, the overall sensation of these stories changes with time. The series begun as a fun and sexy PNR and now is more angsty, a little darker, not as giggle enticing anymore and the romance isn't as cute as it used to be.

Why would old readers keep reading, then? Well, many didn't and many complain. I like some books more than others but that's also to assume, after so many stories. It's just impossible, considering the premise of these books, to really run that much from some implicit expectations.
Still, I must agree the romances are quite lacking since the love story stopped being the focus of the plots. With this I mean to say that although the main couple still has to deal with what happens between them, that situation is a given but it's not longer such fun to see it develop for the focus is on the sex and on the secondary things as it happened a little bit in this book.

The sex is to exist, after all this is romance, but I keep thinking the amount of time spent on sex scenes could be used instead to further advance the emotional connection between the protagonists. For several reasons, they usually bond very quickly but I think it would be funnier, more exciting, more special if that part of the relationship could be up, like a reward the characters could have after their mutual emotional connection. Here, despite a vocal no at first, the heroine immediately changed her mind and had sex with the hero in the first chapters because of how strong their connection. It's the way things are between life mates but... it was still lacking novelty.

Therefore, I read these books mostly for the family members and to see how characters are doing, etc. 
The plots can develop for a few books until a new enemy/situation happens and I'm mostly OK with that tactic but yes, some stories just feel like dragging, others are rather boring, others focus on stuff I don't find interest in and it's a pity because looking at our world today and all the problems it has, these stories could have quite a large amount of possibilities.
The plot of this book was OK because it read like a mission to be accomplished ad we discover new things about the bad guy and what he has been doing.
By the blurbs of future books it doesn't seem much will be develop in this regard but...oh well. At least in this installment it was exciting to see something new when it came to plot devices.

All things considered, this was an OK read, some elements were compelling enough to make me keep reading and it is good to see "old" friends. But yes, the story could be so much better, in my POV, were some details to be changed.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Nicolas d'Estienne d'Orves - Orphans of Evil

French cover
Portuguese cover
Comment: This was a book I borrowed from the person who used to let me
borrow books (in our language, Portuguese) she thought I might like. For several months and now because of the virus, we had not exchanged books but recently she saw me and gave me this one to try, since it would be focusing on some WWII themes, something I tend to like in historical fiction.

I found no English translation but basically this is a story of two people who are investigating the Nazi attempts to breed babies who would be part of the new Aryan race, once what was Germany would win the war. The title can be translated into »orphans of evil», following the french original and other translations.
The main male protagonist, 60 something Vidkun, wants to know the truth behind this and its main architect Otto Rahn and how that might be connected to his own life, since he had been adopted by a German family.
The main female protagonist is Anais, a young woman in her 20s who is the reporter hired to write a non fiction book on the whole thing.

This theme sounds kind of interesting, especially because WWII has left the world with the morbid curiosity of the things Nazis did thinking (or pretending) they were going to save Germany.
Although most knowledge, fiction and non fiction seem to be focused on political issues and what kind of horrors happened at the concentration camps, the Nazi regime had the time to broaden its clutches into several subjects, such as the one this book, apparently, would presents is with. At least, I thought so.

In reality, though, I found this book to be a little misleading. This is mostly a mystery with some thriller moments in there, no real romance  - so romance readers don't get your hopes high -, but the actual investigation isn't really centered on the breeding and how that was done, or what kind of impact it had on mothers, babies, nurses. I expected the story to also counterbalance what was certainly going to be hard to read about with the emotional connection we could still have with the characters.

Actually, the book is about the investigation, the red herrings, the whos and whys of the whole thing, several Nazi figures make an appearance, there's the personal lives of the main characters, there's the connection between secondary characters.... I mean, there's a lot.
The author being French - and comparing to other contemporary French authors I've read - lets himself get too wrapped up in his own ideas, a kind of dreamy and vague quality I associate with French authors, which means the story becomes confusing, all over the place and I was easily distracted by the different directions this was going.
(Of course this is an impression, not a critic of French authors as a whole since I haven't read all French authors out there)

At the same time we have the main plot developing, we have alternate chapters with situations in other moments in time, so we can check what matters by the POV of the character that was going through it. It does make sense while we read but... it's not as much about he breeding program or those victimized by it. In fact, the focus is how that came to be and what secrets were behind the whole thing. Sure, this is interesting, but the whole book on it, while the reader has to little step by little step learn what the "bad guys" did to ensure the secret was kept... I wasn't that fun after a few chapters.

The final pages offer explanations which I found too complicated to add to what I had been told (this plot is rather confusing, I said) so I kept thinking "wait, this guy was that guy", "this person was there at what time exactly?" and so on) and the last scenes very... vague, again.
It was a little disappointing.
The method to breed babies in the past (meaning during WWII) was awful, of course, by how the people involved had been brainwashed and forced to it and the repercussions to the children and mothers if the children weren't as perfect as expected.

But the end of this book gives us, besides a climax to the whole mystery and secrets, also a new breeding program on contemporary times and it's something out of science fiction. Really, super weird, shocking too but completely out of sync with the rest of the story. I assume it was there for shock factor and to explain a plot that was going nowhere. Like and add-on to finish the novel with the sense evil is out there, after years, even after the bad events of the Nazism golden era are finally in the past.

All in all, this was intriguing at first, confusing and vague then and ends with a weird sci-fi bang.
The character development is basic and lacks real depth. The prose is readable but not captivating and structured in a way I'd say is cohesive. Oh well, it was entertaining at least.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Dorothy Koomson - The Cupid Effect

Ceri's given up hope of ever finding anyone who'll put up with her various idiosyncrasies. All her energies seem to have been diverted into solving other people's romantic problems. Is she always destined to play Cupid? Or can she use some of her powers where they're needed most - to help herself? 

Comment: On my return to my local library after the weeks in which is was closed due to the pandemic, this was the book I picked. I must say I was not looking for it on purpose and I knew some known friends who had read it didn't have such a high opinion on it as they did about other titles by the author.
However, let's just say the return to the library was slightly annoying and it was just easier to pick a book I knew where was and what style would be instead of playing with my patience trying to find something else.

In this story we meet Ceri D'Altoy, a young woman who decides to leave her old life behind and get back to the university, not as much to get her doctorate but to investigate and she is accepted but needs to teach too.
She is surprised her submission was accepted but she does go back to the place where she had studied and embarks on a new stage of her life.

Ceri is one of those people everyone connects with and looks for to get advice. The fact she studied psychology also helps but there's something about her that makes people want to be in her company, like a special strength that is found just because someone is near her.
The problem is, can she help herself with what she knows or only others can follow her advice?
Having read other books by this author I knew what to expect regarding this one in terms of writing. Again, the story flows easily, the scenes change in a quick and easy manner and the fact this is first person narrator (which usually annoys me) was not such a bother because the author does create likable characters or, at least, characters that one can find interesting to follow.

I'd say that what makes this story different from the other two I had previously read is the tone. This one does feel to be a little bit lighter in comparison but by no means much less dramatic. I guess the events and the tone they are shared is just a little less negative in some moments.
The writing style is the same and the main character does think about her issues just like the other protagonists did but yes, I could notice this plot wasn't so obviously centered on the protagonist.

The story is pretty simple, basically it follows Ceri on her daily routines and the people she meets and interacts with and how being near her might affect those people's reactions and choices. This sounds silly but I think we all have people we know that seem to have a different aura, that are easier to relate to, that we feel at ease with or that we can connect with more quickly.
Ceri is like this and the whole story is how she tries to avoid others from relying on her advice too much because the more she speaks, the more people might blame her if things don't go according to what she says, forgetting no matter good an advice, there are too many variables to just one single option being the right one all the time.
I mean, it was different enough to think such a character. I liked Ceri, her personality was one I could relate to (except her constant talk of her exes and sex and what should she say, etc) and I even liked the psychological elements on the things she said.

However, removing all the quirky and apparently obvious attempts to make this funnier than what it is, despite liking Ceri's "voice", this was still a story narrated by one person, complaining a lot about this and that and putting herself in the position of cupid, even if unaware.
It got to a point that yes, it was easy to read, but it wasn't necessarily amazing.
I've noticed before in other novels too, British characters drink a lot. Every time Ceri goes out she has drinks and do all the other characters. There is also talk of being drunk as a very normal thing - which is kind of is - but I must confess this is totally unappealing to me and was one element that put me off of liking the cast of characters more.

I know, I know, it's ridiculous to even notice this and it can be seen as something cultural, but there it is, I can't help but being a little less impressed when it's so often part of the characters' routines.
The goal of this novel was to present Ceri as a modern day cupid, someone that actually offers solutions to love issues. I can see why this is seen as problematic by some readers, hoping to find a more serious take on the supposed themes the novel seems to address. I found this tactic to be merely entertaining as the quirky factor was never really developed as such. This means the tone of the story is what's funnier about it, not as much the situations themselves. I just saw Ceri as someone with patience to listen, despite her rants on it, not as a special or magical person who can influence others' choices that much.

In the end, some subjects were left under developed and the last pages attempted to fix many loose threads but the fix did look as if the author wanted to get it done. One wonders, after several pages with vague and unnecessary stuff, why more time couldn't be dedicated to fix things properly.
Since Ceri is the narrator, some scenes just felt really unlikely told by her and once or twice I even thought she sounded a little conceited, something I'm certain wouldn't have been conveyed had the narrator been 3rd person.
All in all, this was cute, a little fluffy, not completely balanced in terms of ratio between narrator's voice and plot development but it did allow for some escapism hours.
Grade: 6/10

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Nash Summers - Arrows Through Archer

After the loss of his parents, Archer Hart is consumed by grief. Each day, he struggles his way through classes, parties, and trying to put on a good front for the sake of his best friend. But at night, he falls asleep to the sound of gunshots ringing in his ears.
Mallory is a man fighting a war of emotions all his own. When his son invites his best friend back home to Banff over a college break, he’s happy for the company.
Some time during the late-night talks, subtle smiles, and long, long silences, the two men begin to find solace in one another.
But love isn’t always easy, especially when it strikes you straight through the heart.

Comment: I saw this book recommended quite often in a group I'm a member of because readers keep saying how emotional, heartbreaking this is but also sweet and has a HEA. The story also features main characters with an age gap and I was curious to see how the author would deal with it so I decided I had to try.

In this novel we meet Archer Hart, a very depressed young man who can't cope with his grief after the death of his parents. He also has lost contact with his brother, who can't accept the fact Archer is gay.
Archer finds a friend in Danny, who is there for him and after one attack that puts Archer in the hospital, Danny offers Archer the possibility to recover at his father's house in Canada.
During the time Archer is there, he can't help but developing a special connection with Mallory, Danny's father, but it takes some times until what's between them is acknowledged.
Can these two different people, both going through the process of grieving, help each other to heal?

I think I can understand why many readers have enjoyed this book, it does have a certain emotional content that is difficult to be indifferent to. However, for me this book wasn't as impressive due to mainly two aspects, the first person POV and the writing. I think both were not suitable to this story and the emotional impact we are supposed to feel just passed me by completely. This was both sweet and a little sad, yes, but it was extremely easy for me to put it aside when I had to stop reading for some reason.

Basically, the plot centers on grief and how people can become depressed if they don't cope. I'm not a person who can really comment on this, since I never went through what the characters do (losing a spouse or one's parents) but the depressing states thy both sow is probably the truest part of the story and one I could sympathize with.
The thing is, by the way this was written, I was not fully convinced the characters had such an issue. I don't think the author wrote the story with enough depth to really put me, the reader, in those character's position and to feel as desperate as they supposedly would, Archer in particular.

Part of the issue is the first POV. Some authors do it wonderfully but here, I think 3rd person might have been better because it got to a point I found it very weird Archer would think of certain details, that he would actually be sharing those things, I mean, we don't really think like that and it felt weird he would describe something that way. It doesn't really feel the writing was flowing.
This means that, for me, it was easy to keep the distance from what they were feeling, from what their big obstacles supposedly were... when something that was there for all the angst climax to be obvious, I just thought to myself that it was silly and unrealistic.

Archer is a man in pain, he can't really cope, he is depressed, has suicidal thoughts, carries the gun of his father for sentimental reasons but also because he knows he will be a good sniper in the army or something and is afraid to connect with more people (besides his best friend Danny) for fear he would end up alone again.
Mallory grieves the death of his wife so they have that in common, that intrinsically sad flavor to their days, and they start boding over it. Were they a good couple, despite the age gap (which turned out to be not such a big deal as I imagined considering Mallory is Archer's best friend's father!) and the way each thought about being with the other?
To be honest, for me, not really.

The romance was not believable. Not that they couldn't, that is not the issue. I just think the way they behaved, the way they talked and the silly contrived tool that supposedly was there to make them even more aware of what they meant for one another, they just didn't seem to have real chemistry.
Sure, they had the hots for one another but I don't think the author showed that in a good way, or at least, in a sweet and passionate way.
The story is divided in two parts, Archer and then Mallory's POV and let me say I truly did not believe a man of 44 or whatever age Mallory is then, would speak and think like that. It just didn't convince me he would say and do those things like that.

All in all, this was just an OK read for me. It's readable, one can follow the story very easily but it doesn't flow naturally, the characters don't have depth enough to sustain the weaker plot points and I don't see why so many people love this, although I understand the potential can be enough to infer all the feels people keep defending the book has.
Grade: 5/10

Friday, June 19, 2020

Colleen Oakley - Close Enough to Touch

Jubilee Jenkins is no ordinary librarian. With a rare allergy to human touch, any skin-to-skin contact could literally kill her. But after retreating into solitude for nearly ten years, Jubilee’s decided to brave the world again, despite the risks. Armed with a pair of gloves, long sleeves, and her trusty bicycle, she finally ventures out the front door—and into her future.
Eric Keegan has troubles of his own. With his daughter from a failed marriage no longer speaking to him, and his brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son attempting telekinesis, Eric’s struggling to figure out how his life got so off course, and how to be the dad—and man—he wants so desperately to be. So when an encounter over the check-out desk at the local library entangles his life with that of a beautiful—albeit eccentric—woman, he finds himself wanting nothing more than to be near her.

Comment: I got interested in this book back in 2017 but only this month did I have the chance to start it. I had recommended it to my friend H., since the blurb seemed to promise an original story so we had a buddy read over it.

In this book we meet Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman who suffers from a rare condition, an allergy to other's skin cells, which is to say, she is allergic to humans. She can't touch others with her own skin that her body reacts and even goes through anaphylactic shock. 
This means Jubilee has had a very isolated and lonely life, especially since her mother married again and moved out.
Now her mother is dead and her stepfather won't continue to pay her bills. Jubilee needs a job but she sis scared to go outside and look for it, she thinks she might be agoraphobic after years locked inside the house. Getting everything she needs through the internet doesn't help to ease up her fears.
Then one day she forces herself to go out and she randomly meets an old school mate, who mentions the possibility of a job at the library. Can this be a turning point for Jubilee?

Looking at the blurb, the cute cover and the fact this is labeled both romance and woman's fiction, one could easily create the expectation this would be a sweet but emotional story to follow.
I liked reading this but I confess it was not as much for these things. My favorite element in the whole story was how Jubilee loved reading and discussed some books with the male protagonist. There's something really special for any reader when a book features characters that not only like reading too but mention titles and their opinions on them.

The story is rather original. Jubilee has a rare condition (according to the author's notes, something she made up) and that has influenced her life. It can be easy to compare with real life cases of people who suffered the stigma of their illness or conditions, though, so I did feel compassion for Jubilee and what she endured and why she was somewhat depressed and lacking belief she could have a better lot in life.

Jubilee is the central character of this story btu her interactions with others allow us not only to understand her but other key characters, such as Eric and Aja, a single dad and his adopted godson, two people who have their own issues to go through, as well as some of Jubilee's co-workers, although these more in a secondary fashion.
Jubilee took a chance because she had to but of course, it's obvious enough that the simple step of going to work makes her see and live through possibilities she didn't think she could be part of.

I think the story is very sweet, there are passages I really liked and, as I've said, all the book talk was a huge plus.
Jubilee's relationship with Eric is very slow, they become good friends but there are some issues besides Jubilee's condition that seem realistic to prevent them into jumping into a romance. This makes their interactions feel a little extra special too, I think. 
It was also emotional how they both help Aja go through his grief over having lost his parents.

All the elements in the story seem to be connected in very thin but clear lines. I liked the story although it also felt that the depth and emotional connection to some situations could have been done better. There are some issues I feel were a little rushed, not in how they were developed but in how they were dealt with. I guess I can say that despite the emotion of what was happening, there was still a certain distancing that prevented me from really being immersed in these characters' lives.

I thought this would be a cute story, the romance was more a suggestion than a full set element but that was OK too and then, the epilogue.
I figured the author would have found a better way to end the novel but the epilogue, which happens seven years later! (Years, not months. 7, not just 1 or 2), was completely out there. It seemed that the author had no idea what to do with it, only that the book had to end and she rushed to write down something in the last few minutes possible and...that end happened.
No matter what I feel about the reliability of it, it just doesn't seem adequate to what transpired through the whole novel. It really felt like a bad add-on that just popped into the author's head.

Therefore, a book that was a solid four stars had to be downgraded one whole star for me. *sigh*
Grade: 6/10