Wednesday, July 17, 2019

TBR Challenge: Molly O'Keefe - Can't Buy Me Love

A girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Tara Jean Sweet knows that opportunity will never knock; she’ll have to seize it. Elderly Texas rancher Lyle Baker has a dying request: He will give Tara Jean a stake in his leather business in exchange for a little family subterfuge. All Tara Jean has to do is play the part of a gold-digging fiancée to lure Lyle’s estranged children home. The mission is soon accomplished. 
Now Lyle’s gone—and his ridiculously handsome son, Luc, an ice hockey superstar sidelined by injuries, is the new owner of Crooked Creek ranch. He’s also Tara Jean’s boss. But being so close to sinfully sweet Tara Jean does crazy things to Luc’s priorities, like make him want to pry her deepest secrets from those irresistible lips. But when Tara Jean’s past demands a dirty showdown, will Luc stay and fight?

Comment: Time does seem to pass very quickly and it's again time for the TBR challenge post of the month.
This time, the theme is contemporary, which could encompass a huge variety of titles. I picked a long standing book in the pile for no special reason except it would fit the theme.

In this story we meet Luc Baker, a professional hockey player whose career is about to end because he has a brain injury that, as more hits he gets while playing, the more serious it can get. He is angry he is being forced to end things before he won the major cup in the sport and even more so when his father, a man he never respected and who hit him when he was a child, decides to marry a gold digger.
Tara Jean Sweet is certainly not a gold digger but she needed the money Lyle Baker offered so she accepted to play the role of a vain, empty headed woman only interested in money so Lyle could reunite with his children before he dies. 
The plan only works to some extent and Tara and Luc don't get along at first but the more time passes, the more attracted they feel and the more time they want to spend with each other. If only Luc could see past his own doubts and someone from her dubious past didn't suddenly show up to make things worse...

It's the first time I've tried a book by this author. I saw great reviews some years ago and that is probably why I thought to add it to my TBR but it has been waiting a long time. 
I had no real expectations about it, the only detail I had fixed in my head about the book was the fact the heroine wasn't what others thought of her and this "trope" usually is one I tend to like, if done well. She was not in disguise but those around her imagined the was more spoiled and vain than what she really is.

The idea of this story was cute enough. However, the older man Lyle wasn't a nice person while he was younger and able and he seriously mistreated his children. This means the possibility of having Luc and his sister Victoria going through a dramatic turn in the relationship with their father was lost and, for me, made things a little too unconvincing between them and after Lyle dies. I mean, the biggest point of conflict is gone, so what is left is the character's own behavior and self doubts and issues which could be a little too annoying at times.

From early on, the focus is on Luc and Tara as individuals. they feel attracted, it's clear they will develop a relationship and while I liked some steps of it, I couldn't avoid thinking they made many things, took some decisions behind the curtain. I mean, they would do things and the reader would know about the outcome later on or in another chapter. 
This wasn't happening all the time but it also reminded me a bit of Susan Elizabeth Phillip's writing style. The heroine is often a beaten down woman, whether financially, emotionally, physically and she finds a new strength in her dealings with the hero and those she accepts closer to her (like Tara accepted Luc and his mother Celeste, the housekeeper Ruby, etc) and she often would do stuff that would have a repercussion later on, like her decision in the end regarding the business deal that was so important to her and that we only see what happens after.

The romance wasn't anything special, I thought. They weren't getting along at first for obvious reasons and despite Tara Jean pretending to be more arrogant than what she is, I felt the balance wasn't achieved in all their interactions. They were a match sexually and we saw how they tried to connect emotionally as well and although this was obvious in some scenes, it was not in others. I just felt their relationship moved on too quickly for the type of personality they both had. It wasn't as easy to believe such headstrong people, with serious issues in their lives would want to be that vulnerable with one another so soon, even outside of sex. Still, I'm glad they got happy, of course, and I can say several scenes were good enough to make me keep reading.

Some decisions they took through the novel were a little annoying to me. How Luc put his life in jeopardy over a situation he couldn't control (how certain are you that in a team sport, you can determine the outcome of a season?), how Tara had a problem from her past and in a point she was having bonding scenes with the hero, she didn't trust him with that when they had discussed similar details... I can understand these inner conflicts help the plot move on but then, when things are solved and the HEA approaches, it feels a little uneven.

The secondary characters were mildly interesting. Eli, for instance, was mysterious enough for me to ant to get his story right away. His HEA, though, will be with Victoria, Luc's sister. We get plenty scenes with her and it's obvious she feels guilt and shame over something not her fault and her path will be one of self discovery but I admit I found her irritating here...
As for the major problems Luc and Tara Jean face, in the end there's nothing true love can't deal with... it was the expected ending but I finished the book and thought I certainly expected some more magic and romance from this. I might read the other two books in this trilogy one day...
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Julie Klassen - The Maid of Fairbourne Hall

To escape a scheme to marry her off to a dishonorable man, Margaret Macy flees London disguised as a housemaid. If she can remain unwed until her next birthday, she will receive an inheritance, and with it, sweet independence. But she never planned on actually working as a servant. And certainly not in the home of Nathaniel and Lewis Upchurch--both former suitors.
As she fumbles through the first real work of her life, Margaret struggles to keep her identity secret when suspicions arise and prying eyes visit Fairbourne Hall. Can she avoid a trap meant to force her from hiding?

Comment: This is the fourth book by Julie Klassen that I try. Despite some things I liked more than others, her books have been impressive enough to make me want to keep reading so here is another attempt.

In this story we meet Margaret Macy, a young woman whose stepfather wants to see her married to his nephew so that they take charge of the inheritance Margaret will receive in her next birthday.
To avoid this fate, she decides to run away with her maid, recently discharged for a mistake she didn't commit. 
In order to hide and not being forced to marry against her will but knowing her younger siblings might be in jeopardy if she can't wait, she decides to travel disguised as a maid but without nay help whatsoever, she has no other choice but to actually work as a maid at a mansion. This proves to be quite the task for Margaret, previously used to have others do things for her instead. To top it off, she finds work at the house of a man she had arrogantly refused, not caring for his feelings. 
Will Margaret succeed in avoiding a situation she wouldn't be able to change? Will she be able to pretend she is a real maid?

If one wanted to simplify, this book's plot is basically about a woman pretending to be someone she's not and when caught, the climax of the whole thing is to see how she reacts to others discovering her identity. The thing is, usually it's the other way around and often is the maid pretending to be an aristocrat. In this case, Margaret has good reasons to avoid people who might know her or being in a place those more familiar with her would recognize her.

The beauty of things is, of course, how the author makes Margaret go though an inner change, meaning, during her experience as a maid, she is able to understand the other side, she is able to see a a side of things she didn't imagine not had she contemplated it before having to actually live it.
I'll be honest, this was the aspect that made me so eager to keep reading and after a not so special first chapter, the idea of having someone putting herself in a position where she had to be humble, she had to make do, she had to "suffer" the treatment she would often impose on those working for her family... I was quite eager to see how the author would "redeem" a very arrogant and somewhat conceited Margaret into someone we could care about.

Most of the book was focused on this. I really liked the lessons Margaret had to learn and how she slowly but steadily lived the experience of what it was like to be powerless and defenseless against certain situations.
The plot follows the usual parts of hide and seek, sometimes Margaret would be almost found, sometimes it would be too silly how she was not, then some characters learned her secret but kept it, through her eyes secondary characters would flourish in their roles...
The romance, obviously, was not quick. It took time for both main characters to simply accept their feelings and since this is labeled inspirational, nothing really happens on the page. I must say the romance was sweet on its own way.

This was moving towards - I felt then - a very good read, it was engaging, interesting to follow... but then, a secondary plot started to have more focus. I thought it would help with a certain detail but no... it actually ended up in noting that would be important for the main story, which had been the focus so far. Many pages centered in this followed and, to be honest, besides being pointless to me, they sort of stole the show from what had been an amazing story.

Sadly for me, the time it took for this secondary plot to be solved (quite quickly, it turned out) meant that the amazing story ended up rushed, with situations not well explained and things solved so easily it almost mocks the time it took to set it up.
Then, the parts I loved about Margaret's experience were not as well used in the end, she went back to her "real" identity and I felt what she went through was not that important anymore, nor were those she had befriended while working as a maid. I mean, talk about disappointment!

I graded this well because for the most part, this was a very engrossing tale. What a pity things didn't hold on as well towards the end.
Grade: 7/10

Saturday, July 13, 2019

LH Cosway - Showmance

Damon Atwood was Hollywood’s golden boy. Having won an Oscar at the tender age of thirteen, he had the life many could only dream about. But his success came at a price, and after a short but fruitful film career, he chose to live a life of obscurity on a remote Scottish island. Almost a decade later he’s finally ready to make his return, starting with a lead role in a musical on London’s West End.
As a choreographer’s assistant, Rose Taylor has always faded into the background. She watches shows come to life from the side lines, but has never craved the attention of stardom. When rumours begin circulating of Damon’s involvement in her latest gig, she doesn’t predict how she will be thrust into the limelight, nor how the mysterious and strangely introverted man will need her to teach him how to be a star again.
Rose knows that show crushes don’t last. Actors fall for each other during the intensity of a production, often losing themselves in their roles. These kinds of affairs burn bright and then they fade. The question is, should Rose let herself shine with Damon, or guard her heart from being broken after the final curtain call?

Comment: This is another title chosen to be read with my friend H. 
I had previously read another book this author wrote with Penny Reid and was not impressed. Since then, I've read a book written only by Reid and wasn't impressed either and now this one, only by Cosway, and was more to my liking. It seems things are shaping out...

In this book we have the story of Damon Atwood, a young men who has won a Oscar while even younger but who has disappeared from the movie scene to live in a propriety in the isle of Skye. Now he is back for a West End production of Moulin Rouge but his people skills aren't very updated.
To help him we have Rose Taylor, the choreographer's assistant and someone who is friendly and supportive. 
The two start a cautious friendship but the more time they spend together, the more it seems their feelings are getting stronger.
While processing inner issues and the outside forces of those who can't let go of what could be gained by being with them, can Rose and Damon put fears aside and just assume they are happy together?

What made me initially interested in this book was the premise. I was really looking for to read a story about an actor who got disillusioned with the movie industry to the point of leaving it but a new will to try making him brave enough to go to London to participate in a musical.
Of course his abandoning his career at a point it felt he wouldn't get anything wrong had more to do with his family and the money/fame pressure, rather than his own choice. I think Damon's motivations and experiences were well inserted in the plot.

This obviously happened because the author uses alternate narrators, we have Rose and Damon's POV and this helps immensely to not only be able to know some things in a much more realistic and easy way and, at the same time, it makes me feel more connected with the characters and their issues when it affects them.
If only all romance writers would think of this detail!

The romance isn't complicated. Both Rose and Damon have had not so good experiences with partners in the past and both are quite cautious now they are spending some time together. It's interesting that it can be so easy to imagine real people in this situation slowly seeing a side of someone because of close proximity and that can change how feelings evolve. I could see how their feelings might change from simple friendship to real love. I think the actual admission of this was sweet and romantic but I would have preferred a more spontaneous situation for this part.

Rose is a very intriguing heroine, very approachable and with vulnerabilities I could sometimes sympathize with. Sometimes she did act as a somewhat boring person but for most of the time, I was rooting for her.
Emotionally speaking, Damon is more complex. His experiences in the past, what he has gone through until he made adult decisions is certainly complicated. I might not seem so compared with other things but we all have our crosses to bear.

The secondary characters offer very good interactions with the protagonists. I think they've embodied interesting details and character traits. There's a sequel with a fascinating character of this book and I'm curious to see what the author chooses to make him do, I'll read his story one day.
The pace of the narrative was well achieved. It actually felt like more time had passed than what actually is described.

In the end, despite some flaws which I'd say are more personally-related than related to the actual story, this was quite an entertaining romance. I had a good time reading and with the help of my schedule, I managed to read it very quickly, which wouldn't have happened anyway if this wasn't a fluid and easy story to go through.
Grade: 8/10

Friday, July 12, 2019

Tessa Dare - When a Scot Ties the Knot

On the cusp of her first London season, Miss Madeline Gracechurch was shyly pretty and talented with a drawing pencil, but hopelessly awkward with gentlemen. She was certain to be a dismal failure on the London marriage mart. So Maddie did what generations of shy, awkward young ladies have done: she invented a sweetheart.
A Scottish sweetheart. One who was handsome and honorable and devoted to her, but conveniently never around. Maddie poured her heart into writing the imaginary Captain MacKenzie letter after letter … and by pretending to be devastated when he was (not really) killed in battle, she managed to avoid the pressures of London society entirely.
Until years later, when this kilted Highland lover of her imaginings shows up in the flesh. The real Captain Logan MacKenzie arrives on her doorstep—handsome as anything, but not entirely honorable. He’s wounded, jaded, in possession of her letters… and ready to make good on every promise Maddie never expected to keep.

Comment: This is the third story in the Castles Ever After series by Tessa Dare.
I liked the other two books, being the first one my favorite and after finishing this one as well, it remained so. I liked this story but more along the lines of the second, meaning it was cute but not as amazing or special as I imagined.

In this story we meet another heroine, Maddie, who has inherited a castle from her godfather. Since Maddie has also fabricated a story about a military fiancé to avoid attending balls and being around many people, it is understandable she would feel like going to a castle in the Highlands to "mourn" the death of the man she wrote to for years. 
Maddie is, therefore, quite surprised and somewhat suspicious when a man, saying he is the captain McKenzie she has wrote to all those years, arrives at her door. 
Apparently, the name she invented is rather common among the Scottish and a man has indeed received all those - sometimes silly - letters and now wants to provide for his fellow soldiers and that means the land where Maddie's castle is. 
Since everyone already assumed they were sweethearts... why not making it real?

This is where the author's books are both silly and amusing: some premises are just too unlikely to have been possible and even allowing for some leeway in a time before videos and cameras and the internet recording all clues, it's still difficult to imagine no one would suspect of Maddie's scheme for so long in a more obvious way.
Still, it is what makes it possible for this funny story to exist and part of the fun of the author's books is precisely how it can work.

Even admitting some of the silliness of the plot, of course the author has cleverly created a situation where it can be understandable why captain Logan McKenzie would feel he could live with the fellow soldiers of his company who had no place to go or who had been maimed and left abandoned. His is a worthy goal and the lack of money or estate after the war sent so many Scottish men away only to return to "occupied" estates by the English lords who were excused had to be solved. I mean, this was a very interested critique to do, so there's always some little gems of insight or even of characterization to look for among the most silly or funny scenes.

Maddie is an interesting heroine. She is a bit of an introvert and I liked how this was portrayed. She is, of course, a sweet young woman, whose flaws aren't that negative, just aspects she hasn't worked on. Meeting and dealing with the hero improves her considerably for she finds strength in being with someone who challenges her and supports her. She is cute and funny and I could relate to some of her behavior but she is not over the top special.
The hero is more interesting for me, emotionally. We learn about his past, his lacks and how he tried to better himself despite what was against him. I obviously liked he cared for his friends and had the thought of doing something unselfish and even a little mean (to scare Maddie into a real relationship) in order to make a right (helping those worst than he).
Their romance was a sweet, funny one, quite balanced even despite the (in my opinion) too many sexual innuendos and thoughts they both had but that was to be expected anyway.

Some sequences weren't very well done, I'd say. the insta-love is explained, after all we have them interacting and seeing good things in each one, which brings them closer but the reasons why just don't work all the time. It's still too quick because they are strangers, even having the letters Logan has read to know more about Maddie. Other situations seem to be solved so quickly, without fuss...
I liked the book as a whole but there are details I think would be better if different.

This was an enjoyable, fluffy read that suits its style perfectly. Those who like the author's style will certainly appreciate this cute story.
I liked other things by her more but in general this was a good way to spend the time.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Lisa Shearin - Armed and Magical

My name is Raine Benares. Until last week I was a seeker—a finder of things lost and people missing. Now I’m psychic roommates with the Saghred, an ancient stone with cataclysmic powers. Just me, the stone, and all the souls it’s ingested over the centuries. Crowded doesn’t even begin to describe it. All I want is my life back—which means getting rid of the stone and the power it possesses. To sort things out, I head for the Isle of Mid, home to the most prestigious sorcery school, as well as the Conclave, the governing body for all magic users. It’s also home to power- grubbing mages who want me dead and goblins who see me as a thief. As if that’s not enough, Mid’s best student spellsingers are disappearing left and right, and I’m expected to find them. Lives are at stake, goblins are threatening to sue, mages are getting greedier, and the stone’s power is getting stronger by the hour. This could get ugly. 

Comment: This is the second installment of the Raine Benares series by author Lisa Shearin. I've read the first book back in 2014 and didn't really like it. 
July, however, is usually the month reserved for the big clean up of the year in my house so I always take the chance to clean and organize my books. I've decided to read this one, although I was not really eager, so that I could put it in a corner somewhere or even exchange it through Bookmooch. I must say that, despite not being as bad as I imagined, I'm glad I read it, so I can think of it as out of my list.

In this second story, Raine is still at the place of the previous book's action and she is trying to work with some experts to determine if she might be able to cut her link with the stone the sort of "bonded" with in the events of the previous story. It seems that might be more problematic than she expected and the influence of the stone, despite bearable, is quite annoying most times.
While at the island, Raine also has the problem of those who know about her bond with the powerful stone and want it for themselves. Therefore, she must dodge traps, enemies and political maneuvers while working alongside Mychael, the military-like sorcerer that seems to be a great match for her and also protect those in danger. Will she do it before the stone has too much influence on her?

To be truthful, this wasn't so bad. Perhaps the fact I was able to focus on reading this book more than I probably did with the last one has helped, but this was certainly easier to go through. Maybe it's one of those cases where things improve as they go but the at the same time, I don't feel like reading the rest of the series to try it.

I was able to appreciate the plot of this book more. I still remembered some details from the other book but a lot of things felt new and maybe my impression wasn't as prejudiced.  
Nevertheless, I felt it was packed with action and it almost took a bit of breathing room because there was always something happening and that made it difficult to have scenes where the characters could interact at will (some interruption would always shift things) and where I could feel they were being given some more depth to their personalities.
I suppose the genre might explain it but I would have liked more down time to know the characters more beyond the basics of their roles.

As for the action itself, it was intriguing but I was more interested in how what was happening affected the characters and not as much the details of why some groups were more powerful than others and so on. I guess I could say the "politics" involved were too boring at times because they were not mixed with more domestic scenes or, to repeat myself, characterization to show the character's evolution.

The book is, again, narrated by the protagonist, which means we only get to see things from her perspective. It's very complicated to do this well but several authors I've tried did do. In this case, I think the focus is so much on what Raine does, on what she thinks and how she achieves this and that. Of course this means that our perspective on other characters has to be gained by their attitudes regarding Raine or through dialogue. I always feel it's such a loss...the story could gain more strength with a third person instead.
Raine is seen as almost perfect even when she does a mistake or causes a bad situation. I don't think she's always as humble or as approachable so that I could  appreciate her more. Since she is the narrator, it can also be frustrating to want to follow an idea or just a more romantic scene but then her focus changes and we loose it.

All in all, I think this was a better book for me, compared with the first one. I still won't read the others even though I liked this 2nd one better. I can't explain but there isn't any detail that would make me feel like investing on this. It feels it might be too predictable and not as wow as it could.
Like I said, one more out of the pile.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Nora Roberts - Stars of Fortune

Sasha Riggs is a reclusive artist, haunted by vivid dreams and nightmares that she turns into extraordinary paintings. Desperate to understand her visions, she finds herself drawn to the Greek island of Corfu.
She has only just arrived when she encounters Bran Killian, an Irish magician with a warm charisma and secrets dancing in his eyes. Sasha has never met Bran before, but she knows him only too well - because this is the man from her dreams. The man she has painted over and over again. The man she seems fated to be with...if she can find the courage to accept who she really is.
Sasha soon discovers that four other strangers have been lured to the island. Like Bran, they are all desperately searching for a mysterious jewel known as the fire star - before it falls into the wrong hands. Together, they might just succeed. But first they must learn to trust one another, and reveal their deepest secrets.
On the sun-drenched island of Corfu, love and magic are sparked into life. And for Sasha, nothing will ever be the same again.
Comment: This is the romantic trilogy that Nora Roberts has published between 2015 and 2016 and that I have waited to read in following months. Since Nora Roberts is still one of my favorite authors, I need to plan ahead reading her books otherwise they would be all read and the wait would be harsher (thankfully, she's prolific)!

In this first installment of the Guardians trilogy, we meet artist Sasha Riggs, a young woman who has started to have weird dreams about special stars, about a team of people, about tasks they are supposed to perform and she feels like drawing the things she sees. After another compelling dream she makes the decision of traveling to the island of Corfu, something she can't really explain but she does it anyway.
Soon after arriving, she meets two of the people she dreamed about and they decide to explore the reason they are together. It's not that long after the rest of the group shows up, with a strong need to be in the same place, so they find the stars, which are very special and precious gems, and avoid their enemy to get it. Through this adventure, their bond strengthens and each element starts to reveal the secrets they have and why they are part of the group...

Any fan or reader of this author would very easily recognize the formula behind the story and the whole trilogy. As all her trilogies so far have shown, there are always six people who form a group but of the six, they all form couples too. There is always a task or a situation or something that makes them need to be together (like the previous romantic trilogies with some PNR elements) or simply a state of things that unites the group (like the series where the family members unite to battle a bad person or to make a business succeed).
No matter the style of the trilogy or quartet, the ideas are often the same.

I must say, though, that in the past it felt like the characters would be so much more vibrant and "alive". It might be just my impression but the recent books (for around years back) seem to be too polished, the characters filing their roles too perfectly. Things feel a little too perfect, too mechanic in how they are happening. I don't think this is just the consequence of having a formula or following an idea repeated series after series. Perhaps I'm being unfair but it feels like the words are there but the scenes are just something to give us an idea now and not as emotional as I remember from other books.

In this book this happens because the characters meet each other so quickly - and even knowing this is how it had to be to make things move on - which felt too quick for strangers to connect so easily. Even the romance portrayed felt too quick. Not as much insta-love because of the dreams and so on but I missed more scenes with them being romantic together or doing more mundane things. I mean, this happens, we see them quite often making meals and such but the atmosphere is much more dedicated to the action and the group's skills than a realistic time consuming relationships that would develop between each couple and the whole group.

Nevertheless, my personal preferences or impressions aside, this was an easy story to follow, it's pretty basic in terms of main structure and development but it was nice enough to uncover the character's secrets as they came. Some were a bit too silly but nothing a reader wouldn't expect from the author.
I liked Sasha, she has some characteristics I liked, how introverted she behaved at first and how she feels vulnerable. Her romance with Bran is too quick but acceptable because of the whole "team" thing.
Bran is quite special but to be honest I don't think we get to know him that well. We just know and accept he is a good guy. Perhaps this isn't it but the characters are too superficially developed.

As a whole, this book fits the bill for the style and genre but I'm used to it, I can appreciate it even when some details make me think it could be so much better. It's complicated to describe it... I think I'm grading it more because this is something I like, as I've enjoyed the majority of the work by this author, but as a single title this probably isn't her best.
I'm still reading the rest because not reading Nora Roberts' books wouldn't just be possible, even accepting the flaws and/or problems in them.
Grade: 7/10

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Goce Smilevski - Freud's Sister

Vienna, 1938: With the Nazis closing in, Sigmund Freud is granted an exit visa and allowed to list the names of people to take with him. He lists his doctor and maids, his dog and his wife’s sister, but he doesn’t list any of his own sisters. The four Freud sisters are shuttled to the Terezín concentration camp, while their brother lives out his last days in London.
Based on a true story, this searing novel gives haunting voice to Freud’s sister Adolfina—“the sweetest and best of my sisters”—a gifted, sensitive woman who was spurned by her mother and who never married. From her closeness with her brother in childhood, to her love for a fellow student, to her time with Gustav Klimt’s sister in a Vienna psychiatric hospital, to her dream of one day living in Venice and having a family, Freud’s Sister imagines the life of a woman lost to the shadows of history with astonishing insight and deep feeling.

Comment: The last book I borrowed at the library was this one. I had never heard of the author not the book but my local library has a special highlights shelf at the entrance where they put some books their book club has read and the books chosen were the ones most members have liked.
This one got me curious because it would feature world war II, a theme I usually like reading about, and Freud somehow, and I also like psychology/psychiatry elements.

In this book, winner of a literary prize in 2010, the author tells the story of one of Freud's sisters who was rumored to have died at a concentration camp. Using true registers and notes, the author has created a fictional story based on real life events where we can learn a little bit about Freud's younger life and especially how his sister Adolfina, the only one who didn't marry, saw their family life and the events that led to Austria's annexation by the Nazis. 
The book is filled with straight affirmations but also a lot of philosophy and remarks about how people have seen their surroundings and how his brother's views on the world have influenced others as well.

This is a complicated book to define or to explain.
I thought it would be more centered on the fictional content, which I assumed would have been what the author imagined could have been Adolfina's thoughts and steps through life until the most known detail: how she and her sisters died in a concentration camp but their brother had left Austria with visas that had not included his sisters because he thought things wouldn't be so dire.
The reality is that although we have a lot of what could have happened to her (I imagine the author investigated and used true documents to base his story in) but also a lot of ideas regarding subjects not always directly connected to Adolfina.

Yes, this is a bout Freud's sister so we also have a lot of his character but... I don't know, I thought this would be focused on Adolfina's experience of going to a concentration camp (the first chapter was) but it turned out to be the story of her life and how recurrent it was to see the depiction on how people are depressed and sad and not just because of war or its consequences.

In terms of emotional content, I think the author has achieved his goal. There are many situations that made me think and made me imagine how much suffering those people went through, because of war and also because of how it affected their families.
There are also sections dedicated to the narrator's experience in a psychiatric clinic, where she enrolls freely and where the has contact with other patients. This served to show how vulnerable many people often are, especially those who suffer maladies or have mental issues that weren't easily diagnosed back them nor treated accordingly.

In a way, this was almost a study on people's behavior, seen through the eyes of Adolfina. She talks about her family, the closest friends and people they would interact with, and this would be used at each stage of her life equally. I just think the often analytical issues, the constant depressing narrative about people who suffered from depression or others issues was just too negative altogether. 
I don't mean to say the story should be about happy things instead but the writing style, which has some repetitions (I assume on purpose but the effect felt annoying) and so many descriptions and explanations about philosophy, psychology and other more clinical situations made it impersonal at times.

Thinking on Adolfina, she is an intriguing character but I wasn't always that much interested in her actions. Her thoughts were interesting but she did face many repetitive situations through her youth and adult years and that made for a little boring read at times too.
I still liked it when it comes to how emotions were portrayed, in how certain situations were described and how they impacted what came after. In general, things were captivating enough to make me easily read and turn the pages. I just think it could have felt way more personal than what it was.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, July 5, 2019

KJ Charles - Unfit to Print

When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.
Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.
Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together...

Comment: I've liked all the books by this author I've read and some of them were almost perfect stories for me. I was, therefore, quite eager to read this one as well but despite the amazing writing as always, this one just didn't grab me as much.

In this book we have the story of Gil Lawless and Vikram Pandey, two men who have met while both were attending school until fate intervened and Gil had to leave. The problem is that he never talked to Vikram and he still wonders what could have happened to his friend.
Now, years later, they find each other again when Vikram visits Gil's shady business looking for clues regarding a boy from his community who has disappeared and all points out to a possible connection to pictures taken because of the boy's "profession".
As grown ups it seems there's anything in common between Gil and Vikram again, except the fact neither is a white privileged man. Will they be able to have a friendship again? Maybe more? Will they find the lost boy or is he gone because of his line of work?

Thinking only on the writing, this is another amazing work by the author. It does seem so easy how each word fits whatever information we are given perfectly and it's so very polished and pleasant, as it happened in all the previous work by the author I've read.
The theme is intriguing, one I have never thought about before, how pornography was seen in the 19th century, not juts because it was illegal but the way it reached people and how it was understood by people... how interesting it could be to see the evolution through time and based on cultural backgrounds. I bet that would be interesting to see the differences compared with today.

However, the "romance", which I consider to have been secondary element to this book, felt like too little for me. Gil and Vikram have a youth in common, have had some experience with being intimate by having touched each other, have confided thoughts and wishes to one another but now are men with goals that don't exactly match. 
On one hand, it was good they weren't immediately "matchy matchy"so that the evolution of their relationship felt more important for each one individually, as if being together felt a stronger decision because of what wasn't easy. On the other hand, though... I don't think their personalities would suit that much, not long term.

In the end, one of them makes a decision opposed what he had defended in some sections of the story and even contemplating the idea that people are free to change their mind or that they only have some specific types of opinions when they let fear and resignation or even disillusionment speak, that can mean it's positive they might want different things at another time, but for me this didn't work as easily as I expected from the practically perfect fluidity of the story when it came to character's behavior.

The main character's personality was strong for both. Gil appears more laid back but his past isn't easy to accept although I think the author really stressed out how likely and realistic it was.
I actually liked Vikram better and did identify with him with the sense I'm a little like him when it comes to follow the rules. Many think he is too rigid, too set on his ways and doesn't accept grey areas like just accepting people might be fine liking pornography instead of judging them by that. This was a little exacerbated for plot purposes but although I couldn't care about those like porn, I too think it's not a substitute for love or other sometimes called "idealistic expectations" of relationships.

Vikram wasn't always right no and Gil provides interesting arguments for his opinion but I still would have liked more focus to have been on Vikram and Gil as a couple but this was a bit too secondary.
Things end relatively well for the couple and the HEA is more an indication than an obvious fact but I liked it enough. I just think that, thinking about the enjoyment reading plus the story line and the characters, this is probably the weakest book by this author for me.
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Scarlett Cole - The Strongest Steel

Harper Connelly never expected to find herself outside of a tattoo parlor at one in the morning. The scars that decorate her back are just one more reminder of things she'd rather forget, the past she wants to leave far behind her, but before she can move on, she needs him.
Trent Andrews has his own reasons for specializing in inking over scars. And there's no way in hell he's going to turn Harper away. Not when a swirling mix of tenderness and desire slams into him every time her sees her. Being with Harper is like going ten rounds in the ring—exhilarating, powerful, and dangerous. She stirs feelings in him he thought were long gone... if he can only get past her carefully constructed defenses.
Running was the only thing that saved Harper last time, but each session at Second Circle Tattoos brings her closer and closer to Trent. His lingering touches seduce her, making her believe in a life without fear, where she can be happy, whole, in love. But when cryptic messages start appearing on Harper's phone, strange deliveries arrive at her door, and Second Circle is vandalized, Harper is convinced that her ex-boyfriend has tracked her down, and worse, that he knows about Trent. She ran from her past once before; this time will she have the strength to fight back?

Comment: I got interested in this book because it would portray a supposed fragile heroine who decides to do a tattoo and I admit there's some catnip in this scenario for me, to imagine someone who wants a tattoo and by forging a relationship with the guy who tattoos her discover they have a lot in common, especially the tattoo artist has tattoos himself, there's an interesting dichotomy between what people usually think of two supposed opposed people being together.

In this story we meet Harper Connelly, a young woman who works in a coffee house and lives with the scars of an attack by her ex, now in prison. The story begins with her approach to Trent Andrews, a tattoo artist known for some work he has done with scars. At first, it takes some time for her to trust Trent but as their professional relationship develops so does her enjoyment of talking with him and just spending time. Their feelings develop and it gets to a point where it seems they are much into one another.
The problem is that the scars are only the visible part of Harper's terrible experience and when hidden threats start to arrive her way, can she trust the new friends and the new man in her life with what happened to her?

I'm quite glad this didn't end up being one of those classic cases where the hero comes as the knight in shining armor to save the heroine. She saves herself by trusting and sharing things with those around her but nothing is ever perfect and this only happens after a few stumbles on the way.
Nevertheless, if the purpose was to write a story where the main idea is to present a person who has all reasons to hide and be afraid, renovate herself, improve and makes choices, then it was achieved.

Harper is an interesting character in the sense she does have reasons to be afraid but she is still out there, trying do something, even if away from her family. Throughout the book we know why and often I felt had I been in her shoes, I might not have been as brave.
To be honest, part of why I didn't give this a higher grade is precisely the apparent ease in how the heroine went from afraid to trust the hero. I felt we didn't have enough scenes with her indecision or convincing herself it might be a good idea. I suppose this would be too boring for many readers but the moment she acts on her wishes, it seems things develop too easily.

The romance is sweet enough and I liked the hero not only because he was a great guy with many tattoos, something still not always accepted by many people, who add tattoos with a certain style or label. I liked how great Trent was and I liked knowing about his thoughts and family and why he decided to be a tattoo artist.
His group of friends was cute and supportive enough and I do wish the author could have spent a few more scenes giving them a stronger personality instead of, for instance, adding up to the supposed chemistry between hero and heroine which already was a given.

The way abuse and the outcome of it was portrayed was well enough. The time is more spent on how the heroine has lived with what has happened and not her remembering or reviving each detail. I liked that this information was only the necessary for us to understand the impact it had on her and was not really exploitative.

The overall effect is that this story has many good details, but something in the way the characters so quickly and so easily go from mildly aware of one another to trusting to be in love didn't feel as fluid as it could have been. I'm probably picky but this could have been a more engaging story if the main couple had had more scenes interacting in different levels instead of just "romance". I wouldn't go as far as to say this should be a slow burn type of romance but slower could have been the key to make it even better.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Agatha Christie - While the Light Lasts

Some of Agatha Christie’s earliest stories – including her very first – which show the Queen of Crime in the making…
A macabre recurring dream … revenge against a blackmailer … jealousy, infidelity and a tortured conscience … a stolen gemstone … the haunting attraction of an ancient relic … a race against time … a tragic love triangle … a body in a box … an unexpected visitor from beyond the grave…
Nine quintessential examples of Agatha Christie's brilliance are contained in this collection of early short stories - including the very first one she ever wrote - and provide a unique glimpse of the Queen of Crime in the making.
Comment: This book is one of the few by Agatha Christie I hadn't read yet. I've been writing down more titles by her I want to read too and one day I'll finish my collection. This one in specific wasn't such a priority for me for it was simply a good set of stories but I'm glad to have read them.

In this volume, we have a collection of short stories by Agatha Christie, written in different years and with different types of content, from just psychological content narratives to the investigation of incredible Poirot.
In my Portuguese edition, there were also a few notes after each story where we got to have some extra information about when the story was written, how it was connected to the author's career and where they were originally published.

The nine stories are the following, I'll just include a short summary, comment and grade on each one:

The House of Dreams
A young man has a boring job, is not considered important enough but the daughter of his boss is intrigued. Upon visiting he meets her friend and falls in love at first sight. However, that woman has a complicated family history when it comes to health and she refuses him. He travels to Africa and dreams about the house where they be living...
Very moody, more suggestive than creepy, quite dramatic.  6/10

The Actress
A famous actress is recognized by a man who used to know her when she was not famous and he knows a secret that might destroy her, so he decides to blackmail her. While proving she is really an actress and not just a beautiful woman who achieved her success through looks, she invents a plan and saves her reputation.
Using the "we only see what we want" notion, this is a study on how we can be influenced by our fears rather than logic. 7/10

The Edge
A "proper" woman who has waited for the man she loves to choose her, sees him marry someone who is not so reserved. One day she discovers that woman's secret and blackmails her by provoking comments here and there until the woman takes on a decisive solution.
Quite intriguing psychologically speaking and similar to the last story in terms of resolution to a problem. 7/10

Christmas Adventure
A story featuring Poirot and his clever and often simple deductions, where a crime is staged at a house party. Secrets, thievery, misleading plans...this is a more classical story in the lines of what the author is famous for. 6/10

The Lonely God
A man and a woman meet while admiring a little statue in a museum. The common interest makes them talk and it seems thy are falling in love until the woman disappears. Many years later they meet again.
This is supposedly romantic and a little dramatic, there's some paranormal clues if one reads it as such. Not the strongest story in my opinion. 5/10
Manx Gold
A couple participates in a treasure hut with two other family members so they can determine who gets their uncle's inheritance.
Based on a request Christie has accepted on behalf of her husband to promote tourism in the Isle of Man, this was predictable and a little boring. 6/10

Within a Wall
An artist becomes famous for some paintings until he does one of his wife that he dislikes. Their daughter's godmother financially provides money even when that puts her in debt. When she dies, he discovers the whole truth regarding her and his wife expensive habits but is unable to escape an unbearable situation. 
Very intriguing, psychological interesting about only knowing things too late and, again, not recognizing what's in front of you. Interesting subjects to debate. 6/10

The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest
Another Poirot story, also included in another collection of tales, this is a smaller version of a man murdered, a wife worried and her male friend accused of the crime. Wanting to help save him, she asks Poirot's help and the solution is quite simple in the end. 7/10

While the Light Lasts
A woman goes back to Africa, where her great love died. She later married another man but upon returning, she discovers he is alive and they meet and he plans on being with her again, if she leaves her current husband. She seems to initially agree but is later reluctant and he wrongly assumes why, something she does not explain properly. He solves the matter but at a high price.
Very thought provoking, more psychological and dramatic than mysterious. 7/10

❃All stories have good points, I obviously preferred some to others. The ones I liked most had some sort of read between the lines vibe, some hidden meanings and explanations and things that characters could have avoided "if only".
The psychological aspects of the novels is what made them interesting but in their majority they don't fit with what readers more often expect of this author's work. 
Nevertheless, this was a good read, the writing is in most of them well done and I did like the time spent reading the stories.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Sandra Brown - Sting

When Jordie Bennet and Shaw Kinnard lock eyes across a disreputable backwater bar, something definitely sparks. Shaw gives off a dangerous vibe that makes men wary and inspires women to sit up and take notice. None feel that undercurrent more strongly than savvy businesswoman Jordie, who doesn't belong in a seedy dive on the banks of a bayou. But here she is . . . and Shaw Kinnard is here to kill her.
As Shaw and his partner take aim, Jordie is certain her time has come. But Shaw has other plans and abducts Jordie, hoping to get his hands on the $30 million her brother has stolen and, presumably, hidden. However, Shaw is not the only one looking for the fortune. Her brother's ruthless boss and the FBI are after it as well. Now on the run from the feds and a notorious criminal, Jordie and Shaw must rely on their wits-and each other-to stay alive.
Miles away from civilization and surrounded by swampland, the two play each other against their common enemies. Jordie's only chance of survival is to outwit Shaw, but it soon becomes clear to Shaw that Jordie isn't entirely trustworthy, either. Was she in on her brother's scam, or is she an innocent pawn in a deadly vendetta? And just how valuable is her life to Shaw, her remorseless and manipulative captor? Burning for answers-and for each other-this unlikely pair ultimately make a desperate move that could be their last.

Comment: Sandra Brown is probably one of the authors with long backlists that I have dedicated myself to more often. At a time I was devouring romance, this was one of my favorite authors to read and I practically have all her books in my shelves. I've been savoring her latest releases to space reading them and this month I picked Sting.

In this book we meet Shaw Kinnard, a mercenary who partners up with another man to do a job. However, things don't work that well and Shaw ends up kidnapping Jordan Bennet instead. The two of them seem to have a weird chemistry, considering the situation but Jordan wants her freedom more than anything. The issue is her brother, who got himself in a complicated situation with a very wealthy but uncompromising man. Jordan wants to help but there isn't a lot she can do if her brother doesn't help himself.
When things get to an unbearable point, Jordan discovers something that changes the way she thought about what happened until then. Can she actually trust Shaw? Has he been using her to get to her brother?

I confess the blurb of this book didn't make me that eager to read the book. I don't tend to like heroes or heroines that are on a grey line when it comes to fair/unfair or doubtful morals, such as a hit man, for instance. I was a little reluctant to read about a man who might only reform himself for love or something but then, I should have thought about the fact it could be likely that this scenario would be possible or, also, that he might not be who we assume. 
This shouldn't be such a surprise, after all mrs Brown takes chances in how her characters are defined but usually they are all naturally good, although sometimes the shades of grey can be questionable.

It also took me some time to get into the story. I usually just go all speed into one of her novels, because I'm used to the style of her writing but this time  just didn't seem to find eagerness to read. The story reminded me of another one which I cannot place now, whether by her or another author, whose story line was quite similar. I think I only really got into the flow of it from around half way.

I'm actually glad the villain wasn't as sadistic or morally doubtful on the page. I mean, the villain was always bad from the start and not one of those you can't really trust because he also has a good side. I think this helped me to move on; if he had had a "double agent" type of behavior I think it would be too annoying.
The secondary characters played their part, they certainly didn't steal the show from the protagonists but at the same time I wish hey could have had a bit more development, they didn't seem to have been that fleshed out. I can understand it's just not possible to put everything on the page but the characters in this book were under developed in my point of view.

The romance had its moments and if there's one thing the author is excellent at is how she portrays sexual tension. Even if the characters aren't very likable, they do seem to have chemistry. This happened in this book and a fan can easily recognize the tactics to convince the reader how in sync the main couple is. I think it can be pretty obvious how they are connected and how they can be a team but I always wonder how their lives would be if their HEA holds. Usually the characters meet in situations filled with adrenaline or stress and that does exacerbate people's reactions and behavior. In a steady or slower mode, could the same people be that balanced?
Still, of course I liked how their relationship evolved and how they were able to trust each other after the conversation that solved how they felt about one another.

In terms of personality, a friend commented Jordan's wasn't that complex and in a way I agree. Shaw has more to him than what we initially assume but it is a pity we don't really get to connect with these characters in a more emotional level.
The plot is solved rather easily, the final twist wasn't that surprising for me although I admit for a while there I thought about an idea... not a good one but I guess I let myself be mislead by the way the information about secondary characters was given.
All in all, a good enough story but I've read better by the author.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, June 28, 2019

Gena Showalter - The Darkest Warrior

Possessed by the demon of Indifference, Puck the Undefeated is unable to experience emotion without pain…until her. According to an ancient prophecy, she is the key to avenging his past, saving his realm and ruling as king. All he must do? Marry her.
Gillian Shaw has suffered many tragedies in her too-short life, but the worst is yet to come. To survive a transition into immortality, she must give herself to a monster who both intrigues and frightens her…and become the warrior queen she was born to be.
The more he learns about his clever, resourceful wife, the more he craves her. And the more time Gillian spends with her protective husband, the more she aches for him. But the prophecy also predicts an unhappily-ever-after. Can Puck defy fate to keep the woman who brought his deadened heart back to life? Or will they succumb to destiny, losing each other…and everything they’ve been fighting for?

Comment: This is the 14th installment in the Lords of the Underworld series by Gena Showalter. As it often happens with long series, some stories are better for some readers than others but thankfully, this one was much better than the previous one, which I've read last year. I'm also glad that this book provided a lot more in terms of characterization and also interactions between characters, even with a limited cast.

In this story we finally have the evolution and romantic relationship of Gillian, a recurrent character who I confess I forgot when first was introduced. Gillian is a young woman who, we wee told, has suffers abuse at the hands of stepfather and his sons, and now lives with the lords and their mates while trying to get past her insecurities and hold ups.
Her friendship with William, another popular character, has been one of steadiest relationships that have developed through the series but Gillian sees her story develop after a situation she can't control, that puts her in jeopardy and William wants to help but it's Puck, a recently introduced character possessing Indifference, that ends up saving her, originally, for his own purposes.
What happens after is that Gillian and Puck find out they have something that unites them despite the prophecies that guided Puck his whole life...but will their connection be enough to sustain happiness?

Personally, I feel quite glad this turned out to be a successful book. I think it was engaging, it was easy to read, the action going on felt necessary and interesting and while I was reading, I had the feeling things were moving on, were developing, something the previous book seemed to have missed.

This story has originated some extreme reactions from readers. For many, the fact Gillian and William don't end up together after many books where that was hinted and where it seemed things were being done to make it happen, suddenly the fact it was not made many angry at the author's choices. I, too, believed the couple was meant to be but perhaps two things have sort of made me feel not as affected by the change: the trust in the author's ability to "sell" the Gillian/Puck team and, mostly, the fact a long time is passing between releases, even more so now that first the books come out as hardbacks.

The fact it takes long for the books to be released, that there are other books we read in between to distract us makes it difficult to focus on just one issue. 
Now that I've finished the book, I think it was well done. I think the way things happen made sense and the author tried to simplify things when it comes to Gillian and William's relationship. Of course those angry readers can say it was a cop out or an excuse to put them in the best of the friend zones to minimize the impact of them not being mates but... I could accept how that happens and I could enjoy the romance of Gillian and Puck.

The author was also clever in how she made it possible for Gillian to overcome some of her issues. This could be complicated and I assume the William fixation is because he is a ladies' man but would have respected Gillian's feelings. I think the way things ended up happening was positive as well and by the end of the book, I could trust that Puck's feelings were real and he was a good enough mate for her. In fact, their relationship pretty much follows the examples of the previous ones in regards to them being a team and not just a couple.
Gillian is a good heroine, I liked her evolution as a character and the fact she wasn't suddenly acting crazy or wild as some other heroines have been portrayed.
Puck too, was a good hero, I liked his vulnerable side and why he had the goal of getting his kingdom back.

In this book the secondary characters didn't see to be as vital as in some others. Especially the other lords didn't make an appearance except Torin. I suppose this helped in thinking more on the main couple's romance. I mean, there are many interactions between characters but it felt like they played necessary parts.
As for plot, most of it is dedicated to Puck's demand to get his kingdom back, to how Gillian improves and grows up to being an amazing heroine and very sporadic did we get other situations deserving air time. All in all, I think this was a cohesive story.

I don't think this is perfect, some things did feel exaggerated like how long it took for Puck and Gillian to really communicate and bond, part of their relationship was a little too quick, not in how it happened but in how it supposed made them feel towards each other.
In the end, though, I think this was a successful story that worked quite well for me.
Grade: 8/10