Friday, May 14, 2021

Emma Chase - Twisted

Falling in love is easy. Staying in love is hard. In this heart-pounding follow-up to Tangled by New York Times bestseller Emma Chase, Kate reveals that there is trouble in paradise, when unexpected circumstances force her and Drew to "renegotiate" their relationship.
There are two kinds of people in the world. The ones who look first, and the ones who leap. I’ve always been more of a looker. Cautious. A planner. That changed after I met Drew Evans. He was so persistent. So sure of himself—and of me.
But not all love stories end happily ever after. Did you think Drew and I were going to ride off into the sunset? Join the club. Now I have to make a choice; the most important of my life. Drew already made hisin fact, he tried to decide for the both of us. But you know that’s just not my style. So I came back to Greenville, Ohio, alone. Well, sort of alone...
What I've come to realize is that old habits die hard, and sometimes you have to go back to where you began before you can move ahead.

Comment: This is the second book in the Tangled series by Emma Chase. I had read the previous book last year and I liked it enough to want to read the sequel.

In this book, Drew and Kate have bee together for some time, they have had a steady relationship and things might get even more serious one day, although they are content with the way things are now. However, there is a situation which neither was expecting to happen and how each one reacts is the reason behind all troubles. Still, after all they have shared and how in sync they were, how could it be that their romance might going to end, will there be a way to fix things?

Despite the big fight the protagonists have, this is a book to make us smile and nod our heads at the misunderstandings and silliness they face and also a way to warm up when friends and family help and when they reunite. I don't think it's any spoiler to say they have a fight, things seem to be dire but, of course, att he end we only need to focus on the positive things and the "lesson" learned over such an experience.

Drew and Kate had become an established couple in the first book but it's possible to imagine they still could fave adversity and problems. However, I would say the plot of this book is extremely thin and I have to wonder if it was just a means to keep up the hype over the story...even though the biggest appeal  - Drew being the narrator - isn't the focus. The thing is, the reason why they fight is very weak, and a believable conversation would have solved it immediately, which would mean no story whatsoever. In order for something to exist, the author based the whole thing, all the misunderstandings on a ridiculous premise.

I might sound harsh but there is no way that two people in love, with time and a story between them, even if they had self doubts about how the other sees them (who doesn't?), would waste time discussing a subject without mentioning at least once the single word which would have avoided the whole issue? They could still fight over it or not agree on how they felt about it, although by the way their relationship progressed that might not be too plausible anyway, but there would be no silly misunderstanding. Also, besides this, would their common friends also never say the word that could explain it all out loud? It's very unlikely.

Well, after a long part of the story on the problems, which had their interest, especially on how Kate emotionally reacted over some details, the couple finally talks and they work on being better partners to one another. I like the writing and even though this is first person narrator, the author has talent to let the characters be witty and appealing and it's no hardship to follow their thoughts, although sometimes they appear to be a little over the top. This to say the bones of the story are good enough, the whole of the book is both funny and emotional at times, but separating each part or situation... ehh, perhaps not as wonderful as the first.

All in all, despite my critics, I had an easy time reading this and it was one of those "feel good" books if one puts aside the dramas, but the tone and the end more than make for that. I'm not certain I'll read more books by the author but I'm happy to end this one on relatively a positive note.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Tess Gerritsen - Bloodstream

Lapped by the gentle waters of Locust Lake, the small resort town of Tranquility, Maine, seems like the perfect spot for Dr. Claire Elliot to shelter her adolescent son, Noah, from the distractions of the big city and the lingering memory of his father's death. But with the first snap of winter comes shocking news that puts her practice on the line: a teenage boy under her care has committed an appalling act of violence. And as Claire and all of Tranquility soon discover, it is just the start of a chain of lethal outbursts among the town's teenagers.
As the rash of disturbing behavior grows, Claire uncovers a horrifying secret: this is not the first time it has happened. Twice a century, the children of Tranquility lash out with deadly violence. Claire suspects that there is a biological cause for the epidemic, and she fears that the placid Locust Lake may conceal an insidious danger. As she races to save Tranquility—and her son—from harm, Claire discovers an even greater threat: a shocking conspiracy to manipulate nature and cause innocents to slaughter.

Comment: This is one of Tess Gerritsen's stand alone titles which I still had in the pile and I finally added it to my monthly plans.

In this book we have the story of dr Claire Elliot, who had moved with her teenage son Noah to a small town in Maine, after Noah had been in some trouble and she thought geographical distance from bad influences might help. However, the town's inhabitants are suspicious of strangers and not even having taken the place of the late doctor's practice fully made them trust Claire. Things change when suddenly, and for apparent no reason but teenage dramas, some of them start showing violent behavior and quick burst of anger. After collecting some information, Claire takes into her own hands the investigation of the cause in all this situation and how it relates to a very similar case fifty two years before, in the same small town... but will she succeed if other secrets are in the way of people knowing the truth?

The author can certainly think of ingenious plots. She also writes her novels with interesting characters, who face issues, who have a family life and all the little compromises that might involve. That means that, for me - and for the most part of her books - I'm ensnared not only by the thriller or mystery part but also by how the characters are developed, and that is a perfect mix we have here.

Claire is a great character, someone we can rely on to do the right thing but she is human and I liked how she wasn't seen as the perfect savior, she had flaws and that made it easier to identify with. I liked how focused she was in discovering the truth and the plot had some tense moments which made it difficult not to keep reading but I must say, in one way, the author picked too many things to exploit. I'm talking about the plot and the characters' plights, because although I do like these elements in the books I read, I think here there was just a little bit of too many things and then, in my opinion, some weren't dealt with enough detail as they deserved. Therefore, a great story but with some lacking of editing, perhaps, or a consistent evolution.

The plot itself is quite clever and the big mystery isn't so much what caused the violence but how of if it was intended. Let me just say that I have watched enough episodes of "monsters inside me" on TLC to be able to follow the suppositions made at some point because some things might seem too far fetched but nature has so many secrets, it's incredible. On one hand, I liked how things evolved in this regard, although the end could have been done much better, with a more solid development. On the other, I kind of wish the mystery about the teenagers' violence could be made even more weird so that the investigation could have been demanded by more people...some characters seemed too resigned to the problems...although there's an element the author used to explain this as well.

As a whole, this was a fascinating novel, I had a good time trying to see where things were going, the personal development of Claire's life, how she felt in the middle of all this and her own son's issues made for a stressful experience but of course all has some sort of reason. 

This was a good experience with a standalone by the author - I have loved the Rizzoli and Isles series but some stand alones weren't as bright - and I'll check some more of her books to see if more titles catch my eye but this one was definitely a good bet, even though there are things I feel weren't well achieved.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Mariana Enríquez - Our Part of the Night

Portuguese cover
Comment: This is another book I borrowed from a person who often lends me books she believes I might like. Sometimes that happens, others not so much...

This book hasn't yet been translated into english (it's in the works from what I saw) so I won't take too long talking about it when there isn't a lot of information. The title I used for the post is a literal translation.

In this book we meet father and son as they travel though Argentina running from something because the father, Juan, is trying to protect his young son from the influence of those who control him and his special abilities. As the story develops we learn Juan is a medium, he is able to contact a strange being, which we know as the Darkness, some kind of demon which demands sacrifices and Juan knows when he is too weak or when he dies, his son will be persuaded to take his place an he wants to protect him from such fate. However, this is a complex story and situation, there's more to it than good vs evil. Will Juan succeed or will his son be trapped like he is by the power of the powerful family who ants to control the Darkness?

I thought this would go in the way of a classic good vs evil kind of plot but the truth is that the author is known for her complex and intricate stories - I'd use the word "confusing" - which means this isn't as easy as that. What I summarized above is the starting point of the book and at first I was enjoying it, there seemed to be this weird urgent feel to Juan's attempt to protect his son and the reasons why weren't as obvious as that right away. I was quite curious to see what was actually going on, why such secretive behavior and unsaid words. The whole vibe was quite addictive and I was turning the pages eagerly, to discover what was the big secret.

I should say this is my first book by the author, so I can only compare with other readers' opinions and, for the most part they are positive, that this is epic and amazing and how she included so many themes that this is more than just a story about a father and a son. I can see why people say this now that I have finished but that special feel I had from the beginning didn't last much longer. There are some time jumps, from the present to past and so on, giving context to some things but I started to lose interest. Everything was turning too confusing, the direction of what was happening went everywhere and for me, that peak moment I hoped for never seemed to happen. 

Exchanging some words with the person who lent me the book, I can see why the endgame of this was the son's salvation but the path to that certainly didn't appeal to me, it was just too confusing, disperse... I think this could have gained with a more direct approach in how to go from one situation to another. 

I'd say the issue for me is the narrative line. Some things really felt like weren't important for what was happening and it seemed like it was just the way the author could insert political and social content. Which is fine, actually, but then the story felt too conflicted and spread into too many directions and I stopped managing to keep up. The writing itself and the mood, the characters and some situations were all good but the way the plot advances certainly ruined things for me. It gt to a point I wondered what did this even matter, what was the point of all those things the author included which seemed to have no impact on the main plot?

I suppose it is my own fault, that I wasn't able to understand the book conveniently and I can conclude it wasn't for me, but that aside, there were still interesting scenes here. I just don't think I'll remember them fondly enough to want to re-read at any time.
Grade: 4/10

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Loretta Chase - Last Night's Scandal

After surviving the perils of Egypt, Peregrine Dalmay, Earl of Lisle is back in London, facing the most dire threat of all: his irrational family....and Miss Olivia Wingate-Carsington. A descendent of notorious—but very aristocratic—swindlers, the delectable redhead has the ability to completely unhinge him, and a long history of dragging him into her scandalous schemes.
Olivia may be Society's darling, but she's aware a respectable future looms menacingly. And so when Lisle is forced to go on a family mission, she sees this as the perfect chance for one last adventure—even if it is with the one man in the world she can't wrap around her finger: but really, she only wants to help…
Which is why Lisle and Olivia find themselves in a gloomy Scottish castle inhabited by spiteful ghosts and craven murderers...and a shocking secret: the greatest peril of all may be burning within their own stubborn hearts.

Comment: This is the last installment in the Carsington brothers series, although none of the protagonists is a Carsington sibling. However, they are familiar characters, for they were an integral part of the plot on book #3, being the motivation behind some events. Olivia and Peregrine (now know as Lisle, from his title) were children on an adventure on that book but now, years later, they are grown ups and this is their romance, which tidily wraps up the series...

In this final book, Olivia and Lisle finally come face to face after so much time apart, since Lisle has been in Egypt for most of his life. The last time they had been together was five years prior, because of one of the many family events . Now the reason is the same, the birthday of the oldest member of their family, but neither is prepared to see in the other someone they only thought of as a childhood friend. Five years is a lot when so much physical changes occur and the reaction they both have confuses them. Still, they have been best friends since they were children and met on a museum and have been corresponding all these years, sharing each other's thoughts and cementing their friendship. However, are they ready to finally realize there's more than just friendship between them?

This is a fine last book in a series. It provides closure to several things, it tidies the loose threads one might have thought about while reading the other books and it allowed the reader to go on one last adventure with these characters. In fact, if there is one major critique I'd have about all the books - but especially so in this one - is the lack of scenes between family members. They only happened in the key moments and were not lengthy. I suppose many can say it wasn't necessary but I like the feel of united families caring for their members and would have liked to see it more often.

I believe that would have the cherry on top in this book, because the reference to this and that about one or two people just wasn't enough for me. I'd have liked to see more demonstrations of family love or, at least, in a more obvious manner. I understand the focus had to be on Olivia and Lisle but a bit more about how the others have been doing would have been good too.

The plot isn't too complicated, as per the author's style, there's adventure and confusing feelings running through our protagonists until they go past their own doubts and just admit they care for one another far more deeply than just the letters exchanging would have let them realize. There's a task Lisle feels he has to do, regarding a family state in Scotland, which propels the development of he plot but it was a nice touch that part of it involves a journey, so a romance on the road is a nice way to link who they are now with how they became friends as children.

I won't go into any details about it, but let it be said there are plenty of shenanigans, fun moments, silly scenes and some mild misunderstandings and pining. I suppose it's quite obvious fro the reader Lisle and Olivia would have to end up together but I admit the way things are written felt rather too strong in trying to convince us they had to be a couple, or that they could only ever be one. That should be easy, should be natural but we are sort of forced to see it that way. I think the scenes they share where we could see that are too often on the underdeveloped side, barely touching  the complex emotions they had to be feeling.

I guess this is what disappointed me a little here, I wanted their romance to be the perfect peak of the series, the best love story ever, with their history and family background, which has been set up practically since book #1. I wanted more deep conversations, more moments where they would see one another as how hey really felt, and perhaps that the sexual side of things would be delayed even more, so that it would be like a reward for all those feelings instead of another complication in the midst of all the confusing things they felt for one another. They are characters in their 20s, we are told they have dealt with proposals by other people (in the sense they could have been in relationships) but they behave like teenagers. I would have liked to see more emotional complexity, yes.

Nevertheless, despite the things I'd change, I still liked reading about them and how their personalities evolved from how they behaved when we met them, how they became good people, even among all the ridiculous situations they saw themselves in while going to Scotland and after being there. I'd say this book means more to me due to the sentimental value because of the whole atmosphere the author created than because of the romance, which I think could have been better.
Grade: 7/10

Monday, May 10, 2021

Annabeth Albert - Connection Error

It's typical of video game programmer Josiah Simmons to be the last one on the plane on the way to the biggest meeting of his career. Though he's (mostly) coping with his ADHD, he can't handle another distraction. But he also can't ignore his rugged seatmate—especially once he learns the military man's a fan of his game.
Ryan Orson refuses to let his severe injuries pause his career as a navy SEAL. He's got hours of grueling physical therapy ahead of him, and no time for anything that might get in the way of his return to active duty. But that doesn't mean he's above a little first-class flirtation with geeky-cute Josiah.
When a delay strands the pair in St. Louis, they agree to share a hotel room and a night of gaming. Neither expects their new connection to move to the next level in the light of day. Opposites may attract, but is this game over before it's even begun?

Comment: This is the third installment in the gaymers series by Annabeth Albert, featuring a cast of characters somehow related to a game company. I liked the previous books and have decided to finish the series.

In this book we have the story of Josiah Simmons, whose behavior in the previous novel made him look rather scatterbrained but in this novel there is a slight focus on his ADHD and that means  he sometimes  can't remain focused long enough to realize how others might be reacting. He copes, though, and tries his best to not lose track of things. When the story begins he is boarding a plane on a work travel and that is how he meets Ryan Orson, his seatmate. He thinks Ryan is very attractive but he also knows he can't get distracted from what he is doing although they flirt a little. He can't avoid his immediate reaction, though, when he sees Ryan is in a wheelchair when the plane has to land over a weather issue. He has a chance to try again when Ryan kindly lets him share a hotel room and they indulge in their love for gaming but could it be more between them than a sudden and temporary attraction?

I liked this book. I don't think I'll remember it as being a favorite down the road but it had an interesting story and personal themes for each protagonist. The author does seem to think about ways to make the books feel fresh and engrossing even when some tropes have to be repeated.

The story line isn't too complicated although there are some elements of improbability that could only work in extreme situations (like inviting a stranger to share a hotel room) but in this case I went along with it because of how the conversation between Ryan and Josiah happened during the flight. I think the author did well in allowing us to be surprised by Ryan's condition and how Josiah couldn't fake his sudden reaction. As with everything, it's by getting to know more about something that we stop thinking of it as different and, in a way, that was what Josiah had the chance to do.

Josiah is an interesting character, I think his deficit attention wasn't such a big deal in the sense the author didn't use this to justify his flaws or the things he didn't accomplish. It was just something he had to live with but wasn't the only extent of his personality. Josiah is cute and a little too nice but I think his transition from someone trying to be the dependable guy into someone with more confidence in himself was done well enough.

To me, the biggest point of interest in this story was actually Ryan. I'm not saying this because of his physical issues and how often people see him because of that although the author did things in such a way that we also gt to see an example of how people in wheelchairs are often treated as incapable by others, as if they lose their adult self due to their physical dependency. What I found more interesting was really his look at life and how he worked so hard in physical therapy to reach a goal his body might not be able to accomplish. I think this side isn't often seen in novels, or the characters are resigned and used to a life of limitation or they miraculously recover. In this case we have the situation in between and I think it added a very emotional and unique look to the whole thing.

The romance was quite a compromise because they both had something to deal with, they both think at some point they might not be the best partner-to-be but they talked about those things, they worked though issues even with some minor setbacks, and I think it was very positive to see how focused they both were in trying to be a good person to be with and not just the best romantic partner.

I had a good time reading this book despite one or two things I wasn't too keen on but the overall impression is a positive one. I think the author had a solid plan with the series and of the three I've read, I'd say this and the 2nd are hand in hand in my appreciation, being both slightly better than the first. This one was a very entertaining story and I also liked the somewhat slow development of the romance.

Grade: 8/10

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Happy weekend!

Another weekend is here and I want to wish you all happy times and happy reading!

Nothing compares with reading a book and spending some quiet time :)

 

  (image here)

Friday, May 7, 2021

Christy Lefteri - The Beekeeper of Aleppo

In the midst of war, he found love
In the midst of darkness, he found courage
In the midst of tragedy, he found hope
What will you find from his story?
Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo - until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain. On the way, Nuri is sustained by the knowledge that waiting for them is Mustafa, his cousin and business partner, who has started an apiary and is teaching fellow refugees in Yorkshire to keep bees.
As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all - and perhaps this is the hardest thing they face - they must journey to find each other again.
Moving, powerful, compassionate and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit. Told with deceptive simplicity, it is the kind of book that reminds us of the power of storytelling.

Comment: This book got on my radar last year, and the theme was what made me want to read it because not only it is a current theme we should not forget but even more so, we should not ignore and the author used her experience in refugee camps in Greece as inspiration to present one possible history of the countless ones each individual passing by through there certainly carries within... 

Syria has been devastated by war and a lack of interest by the ruling forces in what happens to its citizens. Those living in Aleppo aren't an exception and, like so may countrymen, they also decide to escape from an impossible situation. That is how we meet Nuri and Afra, a couple who goes though the process of leaving their country illegally, trying to follow the route of the refugees wanting to live in Europe. As they travel and stop in places with so many other people in similar situations, they get to know some of their stories but the truth is that they carry the loss and the sadness with them. There is a friend waiting in the UK who will help them, but will Nuri and Afra be able to reach that place, where dreams might become reachable again?

I don't want to use this blog as a way to vent my political or social views on what is happening in places I don't really know - and how true it is that TV influences and manipulates the way information reaches those so far away - but how not to be impressed by the situation in countries which are so beautiful, so culturally and historically rich and those ruling don't care in a attempt to gain or maintain power over others. I'm a believer the problem of the refugees is not stopping them from traveling, but finding a way to solve the issues in their countries but, of course, those who can't won't and the interests of some affect the reality of many...

This said, it is obvious the author used her experience working in the transition camps - where refugees stay for a while between travels to yet another waiting place, to highlight the fact we so often ignore that those people aren't just numbers, they are humans whose lives turned upside down and with traumas we cannot imagine.

The author has been inspired by the many people she met and she came up with the characters of Nuri and Afra, a couple whose personal reactions to what happened to them were quite different. When the story begins, Nuri and Afra are already in England, waiting to go through interviews and such in order to see if they will be granted asylum. Therefore, we already know their journey was successful but that didn't detract from the fact, as each chapter goes by, that Nuri, as the character whose POV we get, goes back into his memories of what happened in key moments of that journey, from the moment they decided to leave their country until this (hopefully) last stop.

As one can imagine, this book is heavy on sadness and hopelessness but I can imagine the author talking and spending time with those she met and "collecting" stories, memories, descriptions...the way she writes about what Nuri and Afra had in Syria before the war clearly means there's love and pining for what used to be and I can only suppose it would be what I would feel were that reality to happen in my own country. I think humanity nowadays has a severe difficulty in thinking how to be in someone else's shoes so we believe it couldn't happen to us... but what if it did?

The harshness of what happened in Syria and during their journey escaping isn't easy to go through. However, I must say - can't tell if it was my personal and systematic desensitization towards what is everyday on TV or the fact this was the author's first book - the writing was easy but didn't pull my emotional strings. I felt compassion and sadness over the situation, not the fictional tale or how the author told it. I think I was more moved by the idea this is real, this can and certainly does happen to real people, but otherwise the writing allows the reader to stay out of characters' traumas.

There's a plot, even though that isn't too complex. It basically tells us about the couple's travel and how what they see influences their reactions but there's this expectation on what exactly have they seen and lived through and why certain details remain mysterious regarding their actions at present (while they are waiting to do their interviews). I confess I wasn't too worried about that, as this was worth it more to me due to the experience rather than the outcome, but for a first attempt, I think the author managed to include some doubts here and there.

Perhaps the pace wasn't always well executed, and for such a set up to take the couple to England the end was rather rushed and short but, like I said, it's the story of the couple and their lost dreams and lives which get the focus. I think this was a fine way to honor those she has met and probably allowed for more liberty than, say, writing a paper or an essay but overall, despite not being the best it could, it was still quite a journey for the reader as well.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, May 6, 2021

James Breakwell - Bare Minimum Parenting

This isn’t a book about overachieving at parenting. This isn’t even a book about achieving exactly the right amount. This is a book about doing as little as possible without quite ruining your child. Overachieving parents want you to believe the harder you work, the better your kid will turn out. That lie ends now. The truth is most kids end up remarkably unremarkable no matter what you do, so you might as well achieve mediocrity by the easiest possible route. The goal of “bare minimum parenting” is to turn your child into a functional adult with only a fraction of the effort spent by super moms and dads. If you do it right, your kid will be no better or worse off than their kids, but with more free time left for you. That's more valuable than all the participation trophies in the world. In Bare Minimum Parenting, amateur parenting expert James Breakwell will teach you to stop worrying and embrace your child's destiny as devastatingly average. To get there, you'll have to overcome your kid, other parents, and yourself, all of whom will push you to do more than is absolutely necessary. Honestly, by reading this far, you’re already trying too hard. But don't stop now. You're exactly the kind of person who needs this book.

Comment: I got this book at the library. The Portuguese cover is catchy and cute and there's a sentence saying the author "is the funniest father on twitter". Honestly, I had never heard the author's name before and not having twitter, it really wasn't on my radar at all. Still, I imagined this would be a comedy of examples on how to do the least amount possible and still be a parent for your child.

In fact, this is how the author presents the book. A sort of set of tactics on how to behave so that someone can still be a parent but not doing too little or too much, just the necessary. The whole book is divided into themes, from school to sports, among other things, and how parents should do the least possible so that they wouldn't have much work but also so they wouldn't influence their children in negative ways.

I can see how the author thought about this book, its structure I mean, and how to give advice in a funny way. There are countless graphics and columns with pointless information which is supposed to be a comedy, especially if the reader has children and can see the amusing factor. However, despite not being a parent myself, I still believe the goal was not quite well achieved. What does it matter how the author says something is what he says isn't relevant? I think the joke or the fun side of this would only be accomplished if the information given would still be something people could relate to. For me, though, it felt as if the author relied so much on clichés and pre conceived ideas, and the fun was not a factor at all.

Portuguese cover
It's true some of the things in the book are commonplace so some situations described can give parents a chuckle and one or two chapters do seem insightful on how the behavior of parents often has an impact on their children and how they face the world. Some ideas do make sense, yes, but the way this is presented, as a big joke, just didn't convince me, even though  I knew from the start that the goal with the comedy tone was precisely that.

Another thing I felt would be here and wasn't were personal examples. The author has four children but apparently, they are all young, under ten if I read correctly, so of course he couldn't give real examples of situations which will happen as they get older, unless he thought about other people. It was a little disappointing, since the reference to "the funniest father on twitter" made me immediately think of what kind of adventures/shenanigans he would be in with his daughters.

In a way, I can see the appeal of this book, there's almost a hidden moral message under all the unimportant parts and the attempted jokes. If one thinks about it, some things can be made so because they happen in real life and perhaps some parents shouldn't take being parents as something so rigid or so strict that they can't simply enjoy their children's personalities or the journey of living along side them. However, the interesting elements get lost among so much weaker content and not even knowing the author's goal was to write something fun and ironic changed my mind.
Grade: 4/10

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Teri Wilson - The Accidental Beauty Queen

Charlotte Gorman loves her job as an elementary school librarian, and is content to experience life through the pages of her books. Which couldn’t be more opposite from her identical twin sister. Ginny, an Instagram-famous beauty pageant contestant, has been chasing a crown since she was old enough to enunciate the words world peace, and she’s not giving up until she gets the title of Miss American Treasure. And Ginny’s refusing to do it alone this time.
She drags Charlotte to the pageant as a good luck charm, but the winning plan quickly goes awry when Ginny has a terrible, face-altering allergic reaction the night before the pageant, and Charlotte suddenly finds herself in a switcheroo the twins haven’t successfully pulled off in decades.
Woefully unprepared for the glittery world of hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras, Charlotte is mortified at every unstable step in her sky-high stilettos. But as she discovers there’s more to her fellow contestants than just wanting a sparkly crown, Charlotte realizes she has a whole new motivation for winning.

Comment: This one had been in the pile only since last year, so it didn't have to wait too long but I confess I picked it up because I had finished the books I had scheduled for April and wanted a final one to end the month which wasn't too big and this one, in my ebook edition, didn't quite reach 200 pages.

This is the story of twin sisters Ginny and Charlotte who, about to turn 30, are in different places in their lives when it comes to their jobs. Ginny has always been the "beautiful one" and she has been honoring their late mother by being in the beauty competition world, participating in several "miss" contests and being a beauty influencer on social networks and such. Charlotte has taken a more traditional route and her love for books took her to work as a school librarian. Their relationship hasn't been perfect but being twins, they have made it work and when this story begins, Charlotte has just arrived at the hotel where both will be staying, so they can spend some time together in the midst of one of Ginny's contests and Charlotte's vacation. Te problem is that Ginny has an allergic reaction and she begs her twin to take her place just until her face gets to normal and reluctant Charlotte accepts thinking this might bring them closer...but how could she guess what would happen....

This was a cute story. It felt more focused on the twins' experience and mostly Charlotte's thoughts (she is the narrator) on what was happening than in the plot itself but it was still a fun story to follow. I found the writing to be fluid, easy and simple enough to put the events at evidence.

I think it won't be any surprise here that the fact the sisters have such different personalities and ways of living is 1) the reason for the biggest emotional conflict, which started around the time their mother died and how they coped individually with it until their adult lives and 2) how that colors their opinions of one another, mostly Charlotte's of Ginny and how much of an impact being in her shoes will have on her.

Between these issues and Charlotte being the narrator, this book has the classic trope of mix of identities with some inner growing for Charlotte because she realizes what she has thought about her sister's work and lifestyle isn't too bad and her opinion on beauty contests certainly changes. I think that, despite this side of the story being rather predictable - and Charlotte being bookish was quite a contrast - there was still a certain emotional weight to this and even of the sisters with their parents, well their father and stepmother. I think, in general, the relationships between the characters was OK, considering the twin's choices but at the same time, there were moments where things felt a little rushed or not developed as much as they could.

In fact, I'd say this was the element I found less appealing, how the way Charlotte and Ginny interacted and how they dealt with their inner struggles and mourning for their mother - even though she had died when they were children - shaped their relationship, their connection. I think the author probably wanted to highlight how different they were without making them fully apart from one another or estranged but I feel their sibling connection wasn't really worked on, and by the end, when a strong scene played out, it felt more like something dramatic had to happen, instead of being a natural progression of things which could/should have been addressed during the book. 

Another reference to Charlotte's love life, which is also a key situation in the story: I don't mind she and her love interest seemed to have a more emotional connection than a physical one and that the only intimacy scene happened off screen, so to speak but despite the (not that many, actually) scenes they shared, I think more details on their time together should have been included, even if nothing too explicit. I believe they had a connection, Charlotte's descriptions allow us to have that impression, but I don't know if I was fully convinced their was an everlasting love...

All in all, this was cute, quick, provided the intended moral lesson or message, there were a couple of very good scenes, others more or less interesting... as a whole, I liked reading this but I also think some elements could have been done much better. 
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Jennifer Ashley - A Rogue Meets a Scandalous Lady

David Fleming, Hart Mackenzie’s right-hand man, seeks refuge with an old mentor only to find the mentor’s beautiful niece, Sophie, has sought sanctuary as well. In the quiet spaces of the countryside, David finds some peace from his reprobate existence but now faces a new problem–he’s falling for Sophie, Lady Devonport, a lady with a scandalous secret.

Comment: I was quite happy to notice some day that another book in the Mackenzie and MacBride series was coming out. I admit I'm not the best follower of authors and I'm not always aware f when a new book is coming out so it was nice to see this book was going to be released.

I was even happier that it would be a story set in the same time line as the other books I liked. I know there were some stories about family ancestors, set in a different century, but those didn't excite me to read them, so I'm glad this one was par with the current family members.

This is the story of David Fleming, Hart's best friend and fellow partner in all things adventure and scheming. David has had quite a blow to his own self when Eleanor chose Hart instead of him but he can't hate neither because he knows they are in love and good for one another and also, he likes he gets to keep their friendship. Still, sometimes he thinks about it and when this story begins, he is in the middle of a complicated matter, of which he is embarrassed so he avoids the couple by traveling to his mentor's house in the country. That is where he meets his niece Sophie, a young woman who is herself in the middle of scandal. However, helping others by devising mad schemes is his call in life and he does try his best to turn things around for Sophie, but will she appreciate that? What about this weird connection that so quickly formed between them?

I'll be honest, I didn't remember David at all from the other books but, then again, it has been some time I've read them. It was very nice, though to see some of the beloved characters of past books make appearances, although some were only mentioned. Still, this sense of family and closeness which I have come to enjoy in the series was still here and I liked the cozy sensation it provided.

This wasn't a big book, it barely reached the 200 pages in my ebook edition and I must say what felt a little underdone in such a small amount of text was the "falling in love" part. I can trust they are a good couple and that the problems they faced individually got them closer for shared pain over something they could not fully control and I can believe physical attraction and the enjoyment of similar tastes got them in the same path but it still felt that they didn't spend enough time together or getting to know each other even more before their feelings seemed to have become fixed.

David is, indeed, a schemer, but his actions are often a way to help others, who are being wronged, although he doesn't hide the fact he helps Hart getting what he wants, both politically and personally. I liked him for the most part but, since this was a story on the smaller scale, I feel his character and personality weren't developed as much as it could, so he felt a little rushed to his fate, namely finding happiness with Sophie.

She, on the other hand, felt more fleshed out to me, although more development would have certainly have helped to maker her look more confident in her strength to be a good companion to David. I think her problem was a complicated one, and at a time women really had no advocates in justice. The plot also revolves mostly around the attempt to solve her problem with her husband, who wants a divorce on the accusation she has been unfaithful. Of course we know better and it was amusing at times to see she had such good defenders on David and the Mackenzies.

It should be no surprise that the conflicts are solved rather quickly, comparing with the time it takes for David and Sophie's relationship to develop too. I understand the author probably felt she didn't have to waste time on unnecessary things and what does happen, happen with precision but as a big picture, I do feel things could have been done better. For instance, even the choice of cover colors and design... I can't understand how that dress and style could ever be a match for Sophie or her personality. I ca imagine a different look as well as the content which isn't written but it would have been better for certain, were those things to be there instead of the ones which aren't so good.

As a whole, this is worth it to me more for the family bonds and the significance of meeting friends again, after a while. In terms of plot and development I think the author could have done a more emotional work, considering the backgrounds of both main characters and their inner struggles to appear stronger than what they really feel for a large part of the novel.
Still, a good enough experience reading this one.
Grade: 7/10

Monday, May 3, 2021

Hailey Turner - In the Wreckage

After surviving a horrific chemical attack that turned him into a metahuman, Captain Jamie Callahan got a second lease on life. For three years he’s been working for the Metahuman Defense Force and leading Alpha Team—all against the wishes of his family. The job requires his full dedication, so it’s no surprise Jamie doesn’t have time for a relationship. An enticing one-night stand with a gorgeous stranger is all it takes to show Jamie exactly what he’s been missing. When a mission to take down a terrorist cell brings that same stranger back into his world, Jamie’s life gets complicated.
Staff Sergeant Kyle Brannigan was only looking to relieve some stress after a long mission. He didn’t know the hot guy he picked up at a bar was the leader of the MDF’s top field team. When Kyle and his partner get seconded to Alpha Team to help fight a terrorist threat, he has to balance his desire for Jamie against his duty to keep his secrets safe. That gets harder and harder to do amidst regulations both are tempted to break.
Giving into passion could cost both their careers. Abiding by the rules will only result in heartache. An attack on MDF headquarters brings with it a choice Jamie and Kyle can’t escape—duty, or love?

 

Comment: This is the first book in the Metahuman Files series by Hailey Turner. I saw good opinions about it and by those and the blurb, I felt confident enough I'd like the story so I gave it a try. I'm glad it worked for me, for the most part.

The action takes place more than two centuries in the future, and the world is the same, with wars and geographic and social differences, but technology improved as well as biochemical weapons. During a mission gone wrong, Jamie Callahan's team was attacked and hit with the chemical Splice, which kills humans but a small percentage of them are affected differently although no one knows how. That is how Jamie and four of his team mates survived but now they have enhanced powers, which are handy in military missions. However, there are others out there who have been affected too, and no one can tell how the chemical will change them. Now Jamie is in charge of alpha team of Metahumans, a group of people who survived Splice, and they work all over the world doing what is needed. However, the team has always struggled to work with snipers even though the team needs one. That is how Jamie and the team meet Kyle and what a surprise that was for Jamie...

The best thing about a new world in fiction is to get all the details and interesting ideas the author might have as the story develops (or the stories if it's a series). I'm a goner for series where this happens and where th author also writes in such a way I feel compelled to know more about thee world and more about the characters in it and how their lives are and how they interact with each other.

In a sense, this book accomplished this for me and I had a great time turning the pages (lol, clicking the button on my E-reader) and wanting to see what was special and unique about this world. I liked it that the author set the story in a future not that changed from the actual but with enough time to make the paranormal changes more acceptable within the rules we already know and have for military procedures, social interactions, coping with certain issues...

In fact, my favorite part of this book is precisely that, how the world works, how detailed the action scenes are but in such a way I wasn't bored by all the military slang and tactics. I was invested in the characters' lives in this world and how they did things and why it mattered. The chemical that changed people is described in a realistic way, if one thinks about biochemical weapons, and I was happy with the enough descriptions of how those who survived were affected and what kind of repercussions they might have had.

I also liked Jamie's personality. He is a good character, he wants to protect his team and I was happy by how his interactions with them all were portrayed. I got the idea of each individual and what they are like although the secondary characters aren't as developed as Jamie and the focus isn't on them (nor the POV). Jamie has a background I could understand, the family pressure, his sense of duty and his personal feelings after having to deal with turning into a metahuman.

I'd say a big part of the book worked well for me and I enjoyed imagining the scenes play out. What I feel wasn't too well done - along with some lack of more emotion from the writing's style - is the romance. Jamie and Kyle are the leads here, it's no surprise, and how they meet and how they learn who they are is a proven method to keep things interesting. I liked how they interacted and how they clicked so well at work, as well as with the rest of the team and even Kyle's brother, who also comes along to be part of the alpha team. Two strangers into a established team could be tricky but I liked how they all meshed in their own way.

But the romance disappointed me. Emotionally speaking, even if one, like me, sees romance in everything between a couple, including innocent conversations about work, this didn't work out well. Jamie and Kyle have chemistry, they synced well together both at work and privately but they never expressed their emotions in a way I'd feel was acceptable (even allowing for their military positions and usual reserved personalities). They had too much sex and despite their words while with one another, intimacy between them didn't fully work for me, although I should say it's my personal preference the couple doesn't get into the type of behavior they have alone (mild BDSM and some kinks). I just don't think, however, that the physical matched the emotional - or vice versa - so it felt like they weren't as invested in their relationship because it had such an erotic side to it.

Still, apart from that, there are enough elements here that made me happy I was reading the book. I think it was a well thought idea and the author managed to put on paper all the interesting details which make this an engrossing story line. The romance wasn't one I liked much but I feel the rest more than justifies continuing with the series, which I will do, at some point.
Grade: 8/10