Wednesday, December 19, 2018

TBR Challenge: Anthology A Victorian Christmas

Five holiday stories set in Victorian England or America that reflect the old-fashioned romantic charm of this popular era. This collection features tales by Patricia Gaffney, Bettina Krahn, Edith Layton, Mary Jo Putney, and Patricia Rice.

Comment: It just can't be possible that this is the last TBR challenge installment of the year. When older people used to say "time flies as you get older" I thought it couldn't be true but I have to admit, it does. The more responsibilities you have, the less time there seems to exist for all our daily routines...
Now it's time for the last theme of the year, as usually it's Holidays. Wendy does say we can choose one of several but in December it always feels better to go with Christmas.

This time I picked an anthology published a long time ago (1992 is old, who would say it to me!). In this anthology there are five short stories featuring Christmas settings or loosely connected to the Christmas holidays. Of the five authors I had read two, Patricia Gaffney and Bettina Krhan. Of the others I had heard about Mary Jo Putney and Edith Layton but never tried anything by them and Patricia Rice is the only really new to me author.

This anthology wasn't one I was eager to read but it was one of those I got second hand and since it had Christmas stories, I thought why not choose it to be my pick for this month's theme.
All stories have some connection to the season but they focus mostly on the characters and not exactly on the time of the year as a key element to move the plot forward. I'd say the Christmas element is more a prop than a driving force. Also noted by the title is the fact all stories are set during the Victorian period, thus historical and following certain "rules".
I believe it will be easier to just leave a few comments on each story in order of appearance.

Edith Layton - Bird of Paradise 
This is the story of a young woman, who is the only woman working in her company, she also has to take care of her younger brother and who is counting on her Christmas bonus in order to pay for some things on time for Christmas. However, her cheapskate boss gives her and the other employees a turkey and not money. While despairing but trying to carry the big bird home, she is helped by a man who often sees her movements from and to work, admiring her form but mostly her friendly behavior to everyone. Eventually this man is the one who helps her the most at a time of need.
I liked the story overall but it never got explained why the man was taking note of her movements, why he was important (we get he is rich) and his behavior felt a little too much like stalking. Their "romance" is not even at subtle level, the understated it felt.

Patricia Rice - A Christmas Angel 
Here, we have an American man who got an English title after the death of his grandfather, and he imagined a certain scenario but is proven wrong when the estate is facing difficulties and some people, namely a specific young woman, are a little sad and bitter about the lack of opportunities for the poor village where they live. 
This story had many interesting elements to exploit, like the different social and cultural backgrounds of the protagonists, the doubts they faced on their pasts...I think a short story wasn't enough to properly explain and redeem certain emotional aspects.

Patricia Gaffney - Second Chance
My least favorite despite a surprising scene towards the end. Two sweethearts reunite on the eve of the heroine's wedding to another man but the bride hasn't forgotten the man she used to love despite the way he disappeared from her life. He comes back, explains why he did what he did and she must think if she really wants to marry a man for the wrong reasons. 
This one wasn't very good to me because I tend to dislike lovers reunited plots - even if these two never got to that point. The secondary characters had a part to play but things were so one dimensional except for the protagonists I felt this wasn't enough page count to fully present a balanced story.

Bettina Krahn - Kidnapped For Christmas 
This one was cute. A young teacher at a girl's school gets kidnapped before Christmas when all the other teachers and the girls go home for the holidays. The kidnapper is the father of a young girl refused entry at the school due to the father's not to proper reputation. 
The interactions of the main couple were interesting and the whole "vibe" was one I liked, it felt like their relationship was moving at a good pace. I'd would have loved a bigger books about these two. It was also a little romantic despite some less than reliable behaviors. The characterization made the protagonists likable and I was happy they found an HEA.

Mary Jo Putney - The Black Best of Bellaterre
As many other readers, this was my favorite. Another retelling of the Beauty and the Beast where the hero helps the heroine escape her father's greedy but careless hands by offering marriage so she doesn't have to marry another man. 
I liked how the hero tried to protect the heroine by marrying her even while promising it could be a marriage in name only. As time goes by they of course find something about the other t care and even love. There was a moment where things go wrong and a bigger book would have smoothed this more but in the end, the pace of their romance and how things go is extremely captivating.

-> Of the five stories, I liked two a lot, one wasn't positive for me overall and the other two were more along "meh". Still, I appreciated some reasons behind the content of them all, so all things considered, this was average for me. I do feel interested in reading more by the authors whole stories I liked the best so I'll check their back lists.
In terms of Christmas content, like I said it was mostly randomly used and only to give us that sense warm feelings were in the air. Nevertheless, the stories were a good enough reason to spend the time reading.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Jaci Burton - Nothing Personal

It was nothing personal, just a business arrangement.
Ryan McKay is a multi-millionaire with a problem. He needs a bride to fulfill the terms of his grandfather s will. Unfortunately, the one he chose just bailed on him and he s hours away from losing his company. Enter Faith Lewis his demure, devoted assistant. Ryan convinces Faith to step in and marry him, assuring her their marriage is merely a business deal. Ryan is certain he can keep this strictly impersonal. After all, he s the product of a loveless marriage and for years has sealed his own heart in an icy stone. Despite Faith s warmth, compassion and allure, he s convinced he s immune to her charms.
Faith will do anything for her boss, but marry him? The shy virgin sees herself as plain and unattractive, a product of a bitter mother who drummed into her head that she wasn t worthy of a man s love. But she agrees to help Ryan fulfill the terms of his grandfather s will, hoping she doesn t lose her heart to him in the process.
But love rarely listens to logic, and what follows is anything but business.

Comment: This is the last book I've read by this author to read. I've read several books by her which were part of a series but this one is a stand alone. It's also probably one of very few she wrote not focusing on erotica.

In this not very long story, we meet Ryan McKay, a young man who is very successful, very driven and has had the control of his company for a long time. However, he is about to lose it because his grandfather, the main sharer of the company has left in his will the clause that if Ryan isn't married and a father until a certain period, he will lose his company for someone else.
Close the big day, his supposed bride has enough and leaves him which means he needs to find another woman soon. Going into it as a business deal, he convinces his shy assistant Faith to act the part.
Faith knows she is not a captivating woman and she is still dreaming about romance and love but she has secretary loved her boss for a while so she agrees to enter a marriage with him to save his job and because she would be compensated. She feels she won't find anyone to share her life with so she might as well care for a man she already loves even if he doesn't reciprocate. However, they need to become parents and Faith isn't certain she can be intimate with him so soon and without love...

When I started reading romance and before I entered full speed in the notion of buying books online, my guilty pleasure was buying little harlequin stories, which would feature couples in the most exotic and sometimes clichéd scenarios in their attempts to find love. Most stories were predictable, easy to follow and presented situations where often heroines were seen as being in need of protection or help or the man always had the bigger control of their relationship somehow, whether due to having power, money, influence or charisma.

This basically is the main setup for this book by Jaci Burton. It fulfills all the wishes for a romantic read based on old fashioned criteria. The guy is rich and the girl is poor. He is confident and controls a lot, she is still doubting herself and has a simple life.
There's nothing between them that would convince the nowadays reader they should be a couple. I can understand the appeal of a formula and the Cinderella-style plot is sweet and sugary but none of the characters nor their actions provide any sort of development to justify one's good opinion.

I thought this would be a sweet story, probably a little predictable but I really struggle to imagine how the author who wrote some erotic stories also thought about writing this simple and under developed plot: basically they agree on marrying, he decides to buy her new clothes after hearing bad gossip, they go to Hawaii in their honeymoon, they start falling in love (apparently) and after the good old "misunderstanding over a mistakenly seen scene", they separate then get together again,  the end.
There wasn't anything in this book to make it an enjoyable read. It's cliché after cliché and the only thing I liked was that the heroine starts liking herself a bit, she kind of embraces her new self but doesn't change her sweet natured personality.

It's a real pity that the characters are all one dimensional. The know these people go through the motions but apart from the most basic descriptions, we never see these characters develop, evolve after being together. They only seem to change without actually doing it. I can't explain well, but everything feels very static. The villain also couldn't been more cliché.
I can understand the goal here but I don't think the author made a strong enough effort to give the best story using the details she chose. And this is a story from 2007, not 1987...

I think some elements are just too unlikely, things didn't progress in a fresh way and the main couple's interactions albeit somewhat funny here and there weren't good enough to improve this novel into a higher level (in my opinion). I can recognize the attempt but I don't think things wet that well, thus a very weak five, mostly because of the heroine's thoughts.
Plus, a little note about the cover, this one I feel was a miss, because it just doesn't remind me of the content nor the style...
Grade: 5/10

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Tessa Dare - Romancing the Duke

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.
And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.
Ugly duckling turned swan?
Abducted by handsome highwayman?
Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh. Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?
This one.

Comment: This is the first installment in the Castles Ever After series by author Tessa Dare. Having enjoyed immensely the majority of the books in another series (Spindle Cove), and knowing the last one in that series has a crossover with a story in this series too, I wanted to read it soon and here it is, the first book.

In this book we meet Izzy Goodnight, a young woman down on her luck because of her father's bad decisions making and an inheritance going to the male heir. However, Izzy received a letter from her godfather (who she doesn't know) telling her he has left her a castle in his will. Having nothing to lose, Izzy travels to the castle but only finds a very rude occupant, its former master, the duke of Rothbury.
Ransom Vane, the duke, is still physically recovering from a duel although a consequence seems to be quite final, namely his lack of sight. He only wants to be left in peace to wallow in his misery but Izzy showing up makes him think about scenarios he didn't believe hew could be a part of. But the longer he must endure Izzy's presence, the more they try to solve the problems of the inheritance since he never sold the castle in the first place, the more they get to know one another and trust begins to be shared.
Can these two let go of past expectations and just find happiness in the present? 

One of the biggest critics some readers have about this author is her lack of realism regarding what it meant to live in the 19th century. Many say the heroes, heroines, plots are too modern in relation to what was possible and what was appropriate in that society's time. In a way, I can understand this and it does scream at the reader here and there but I must also say this really doesn't matter if one wants to be entertained by fiction because the author does this beautifully.

Counterbalancing the anachronism of some aspects, we the have the other side of the coin:  the stories are richly detailed and the romance is cute and "romantic".
In this novel, both protagonists have to deal with some issues in their past (as expected, things are mostly emotional in a way) disguising their feeling with actions related to the plot taking place. I just think that the author cleverly writes things in a way that the reader has to like the couple, has to be on their side and understands their difficulties. The best course of action to make this happen is to create a background for both that gives us plenty of reason to care for them and to see them succeed.

Izzy has a very interesting background, apparently she is quite famous because her father wrote books for children/young people inspired by the adventure tales he told Izzy when she was a young child. The stories got a lot of success and there are even many people who consider themselves fans and followers of the world created by the author (modern, huh?) but that puts a huge pressure on Izzy to not defraud them despite her father lack of reliability for daily life matters.
Ransom's reasons for his sulkiness take longer to be understood but he decided he was better off without anyone to care about after his loss of sight. Of course the reason why he changes, the reason why he feels he needs to live isn't only his love for Izzy, but also the fact he realizes he still has a lot to live for himself and, combined with the way the plot points connect, their mutual journey was cute and romantic in my POV.

The romance is cute and the pace believable but I'd have liked to see them more in sync at the end, right before they admit their feelings. I can understand why there were some issues closer top the end, plot conflict demands, but it wasn't as smoothly dealt with as I imagined. It didn't really feel like it had been part of the plot. Still, for the entertainment of it, I liked the way the author connected the loose points and solved things.

The couple's connection, which feels like went at a very steady pace and rhythm, is a very good point in this novel. It was fascinating to see them interact and slowly grow more confident in themselves because there it was, someone to trust. The details about each main character and why they could be a good couple were well done. I had a great time reading this novel and, sometimes, that is the best feeling we can get.
Grade: 8/10

Friday, December 14, 2018

GL Carriger - The Omega Objection

Can a gentle giant with a trampled heart show a man who’s been running all his life that sometimes there are monsters worth running towards?
A werewolf walks into a bar.
Tank is working as a bouncer when he notices something odd about the new sexy-as-sin bartender. He’s odorless, he’s amazingly popular with shifters, and he’s terrified.
A man without a smell.
Isaac is trying to escape his past. He hides in San Francisco because everyone knows that there are no werewolves in the Bay Area.
Until one walks into his bar.
Can Tank figure out Isaac’s secrets in time to save him? And can Isaac forgive Tank for being a wolf in time to learn how to love? 

Comment: This is the second installment in the San Andreas Shifters series by GL Carriger. Once again, we are able to see what else happens in the lives of the pack members even if the focus is in one specific couple.

In this second full length story, the protagonist is Tank. He has always had the impression he was redundant in his old pack, just a number there and not unique enough. In this new pack what he really liked about it is that everyone is special, everyone is friendly and Tank likes hanging out with people who like him, even if he recognizes he isn't that important.
One day he meets and smells a man at the bar while working that night as part of his pack's contract. Isaac is popular among shifters and he seems to have a kind word for everyone but Tank probably wouldn't even get his attention...or would he?
Isaac knows shifters can't smell what he is and that is a good thing, considering what he running from. But Tank seems to match all his preferences in a partner except the fact he is a wolf. When danger returns and Isaac feels like running again, can he really let go of a guy he can't seem to stay away from?

Some readers have focused their reading of this book too much on specific details I suppose and that can explain some lower ratings. However, despite some of those details being a little annoying (I'd also change this or that), the majority of this novel is so appealing, so vibrant and so addictive, I actually struggled to put it down when necessary.
Again, different books work for different people for a multitude of reasons and for me, this book, worked out very well indeed.

The best element I love about this book (and the previous one too) is the amazing characterization of the characters. They are so well fleshed and have so much depth, it's both interesting and captivating to keep reading about them, so that we can discover a little more about them.
Then, there's also the pack interactions. If there is one thing any and all writers out there should do when creating paranormal worlds featuring families/communities/groups is that if they don't mesh well, if they don't seem to interact, the story doesn't seem as solid.
When this happens, the whole world feels populated, strong, alive (see Nalini Singh's psy-changeling series with shifters or Larissa Ione's Demonica world with a multitude of species). I'm very glad I was able to have this feeling with the world GL Carriger has created.

There's a romance, of course, between Isaac and Tank. I think a little detail regarding their relationship wasn't as necessary to exist as we are led to see but it's sort of explained. I dislike bdsm types of stories and in this case I didn't really like Tank was so submissive sexually but gratefully the focus wasn't this.
Isaac and Tank are a good match because, as cliché as it sounds, they do complement each other. Tank is someone who explains why a pack exists: he is the reason why other members have their own positions. Without pack members, why bother? Isaac, on the other hand, is an omega which means he is someone who unites, who helps the others bond and be calm. It was very good to see that as their relationship got stronger, so did the importance of each one of them individually.
I think I'd have preferred their sexual connection to be more balanced but well, nothing is perfect.

While the plot is developing, we get to learn several things about how packs work, about personal expectations (I really liked how Tank's personality was created) and why certain situations in this world with shifters happen. The story itself isn't that complicated but the author has added so many details, every character becomes alive and part of this, not only being just a prop. The reasons for Isaac's mystery aura aren't as impossible as I imagined but it did allow some more characteristics of the world to be presented.

All in all, a very good installment, wonderful scenes to devour and now I'm very eager to read the next one, it will feature an unlikely couple and I want it now but alas, it only comes out in the second semester of next year...
Grade: 9/10

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Jael McHenry - The Kitchen Daughter

After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.
A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them

Comment: I got interested in this book around three years ago because it was probably mentioned in some thread somewhere where readers were discussing characters with disabilities, whether physical or mental, and this one's blurb caught my eye. The main character has Asperger's and I was very curious how that would translate into a romance/fictional story.

Ginny is a young woman with Asperger's who has never been diagnosed but whose parents tried their best to help and educate. Ginny has always lived with them and ow that they are dead, this is the journey she takes into keeping herself sane among so much change.
Her sister Amanda wants to sell the house but since it is part of Ginny's routines, she doesn't want to let go of everything it means. At the same time, Ginny once more uses her coping mecanism - food - to deal with all the new things going on and through some recipes, she also discovers some secrets and grief hidden behind apparently normal behaviors. Can Ginny really cope and deal with what others want to label her with and what will that mean?

It was quite an emotional journey to read this book. I think the author really wanted to showcase one way others could see someone with Asperger's. What i mean to say, this is not a text book on how people with the syndrome act or live, it's only one of certainly many examples of how people cope and exist with something that obviously makes them different in relation to the norm. 
I also liked how the author introduced the notion of "normal" because apart from scientific labels, "normal" is  relative and it depends on how people consider it to be so. Ginny might not be "normal" according to society's standards but she is a human being, like all the others and she normal in he own way.

This is not a long story so all the situations are quite compacted into a very emotional story. We follow the grief Ginny and he sister go through after the death of their parents, but also how strong and lasting it can be, namely portrayed in another character. Is there a way to react in a "normal" way to grief? Is Aspie Ginny not as "normal" to react to her parents' death with her own personal coping mechanisms (by cooking and staying with their things in a closet) or is another character by sticking up for years with the feelings of despair and grief, not allowing any other feeling take root until something can't be undone?
I really liked the sort of inner debate many of the subjects addressed provoked. The story is not as simple as its page count could indicate and even the less interesting details are a cause for thought.

There's a little magical realism in this story, which I suppose was the author's tactic to make some things happen which otherwise might not be possible to see on the page. It also added to this feel of expectations, of what is normal, a theme constant in the story. At the same time, it was a path towards a certain plot move, which ends up being very emotional. 
This is mainly fiction, yes, but some passages are very strongly done.

Ginny is a fascinating character. I could empathize with her a lot, even if my way of behaving would differ from hers. She is grieving, she is trying to explain certain things her analytical brain can't help but have and I think the path through self doubt, fear and change was very well done. The whole cast of characters offered something to the plot and that was good too.

I cried a few times reading this, some scenes really touched me but since finishing I'm thinking the tone was a little too depressive, I think this story lacked a more positivism to balance the not so easy things to read about. There's also a situation I found offered no closure and since it was mentioned so many times by characters, I think it's a negative element.
I think this was an interesting hidden gem and I'm glad I was able to know about it to read but yes, some things are a little too despairing. Thankfully Ginny sees things differently from most people and she could learn something about herself in the process.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Sandra Brown - Fat Tuesday

Burke Basile is a cop with nothing left to lose. Haunted by his partner's death, his marriage and his career over, he focuses on his nemesis, Pinkie Duvall, a flamboyant attorney who helps killers evade justice. Burke's shocking revenge centers around kidnapping Remy, the lawyer's trophy wife. But Burke hasn't planned on the electric attraction he'll feel for this desperate woman, who rose from the slums of New Orleans to marry a man she can never love. Nor can he predict the fierce duel that will explode as the clock ticks toward midnight on Fat Tuesday when all masks will be stripped away--and Burke must confront his own terrifying secret.

Comment: Another book by Sandra Brown, an author whose work I've enjoyed a lot in the past and still like to keep track of. This is one of her older romantic suspense titles I hadn't read yet. Somehow the plot never "seduced" me that much but since her style if one I usually love, I decided to give it a try.

In this novel we have the story of cop Burke Basile, one of the remaining few uncorrupted cops in New Orleans. When the story begins he is feeling guilty over the death of his partner Kevin during a mission going bad. The guy who used his partner as a shield still escapes conviction of the crimes committed while the mission was going on and that only exacerbates Burke's desire for revenge. The problem in his way is Pinkie Duvall, a defense attorney who everybody knows does things against law even if for the main public he appears kind and generous.
One day Burke decides to quit the police and do things his own way, and a weak point of Duvall is his much younger trophy wife Remy, who always has a bodyguard while in public. Kidnapping Remy should only be a means to an end but what about Remy's secrets and what that means to a still caring heart like Burke's?

As a whole, this story didn't feel as successfully done for me as other by the author have been. I still think the usual expectations: a couple sharing chemistry, a villain capable of despicable things, strong willed characters, tense but active scenes moving the plot forward, were all met in this book as they have in previous books I've read by this author. But I felt the main character was little too centered in revenge that some what made him a good guy was overseen and the romance despite having a great HEA didn't fully convince me while it was developing.

Burke is a very typical hero if one has read mrs Brown's work. He wants goodness to be done by people and he is angry when corruption eats up people's time and intentions. In a way, he can be the portrayal of all of us who would wish we wouldn't have to play by the rules. In real life, doing something bad has a consequence and when it doesn't we feel justice wasn't done so I can understand the appeal of a man going against his own personal conduct to try to do some good out of bad things. 
However, Burke does compromise his values here and there and I didn't really appreciate it. I wish the author would have included some safe way for the hero to not compromise himself that much. I know this wasn't written at this time of "politically correct" and "equality for fair decisions" but it's also fiction so a tool to have the bad guy really punished in a way that wouldn't interfere with the hero's conscience... although this is the point, I know.

The romance, like I said, wasn't the best the author created. Of course it's reassuring that people in bad moments of their lives can still find love and someone to understand them, which is clearly the goal with Remy and Burke being put together but we see all them discussing the reasons why they can be each other's other half, we see them being attracted but they don't really talk seriously about the future, we just know they will be a couple. This is mrs Brown's trademark but in some other novels this aspect seemed to be more obvious somehow.

Once again, as it usually happens with suspense I think we spend too much time inside the villain's head. I know it's supposed to let us know why some things happen, why some things are but for me it's annoying because I like when the plots center on the hero's actions. Bad always exists, we know there are bad things, why do we have to know about them by the villain's thoughts?
The end of the villain was too easy. Why can't good guys find a more clever way to punish someone?

All things considered, this was a good enough read, except for the bad guy's POV, but the story didn't feel as smooth in some scenes, the romance wasn't as strong as I imagined and corruption is always a complicated theme: we know it exists and it's not easy to eradicate but the solution is so simple, why can't people be clever and honest? Oh well...
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Alyssa Everett - An Heir of Uncertainty

Lina, Lady Radbourne, thought being a countess would rescue her from poverty. Unfortunately, her young groom failed to plan for the future, and his drunken accident left her widowed and pregnant. Now Colonel Winstead Vaughan--Win--will inherit her late husband's fortune...unless she gives birth to a boy. Win is her natural enemy, so why can't she stop thinking about him?
Win is stunned to learn he stands to inherit a vast fortune. He's even more surprised to find himself falling for the beautiful, spirited Lady Radbourne, who is the one woman who stands in the way of a life he'd only imagined.
When someone tries to poison Lady Radbourne, suspicion falls on Win. There's a clever killer in their midst, and if Win doesn't solve the mystery fast, Lina may perish. He needs to win her trust, but how can he prove it's she he wants, and not the fortune?

Comment: I got this book because I've liked reading another one by the author and I also saw some positive comments about it in some reviews. I was eager to see how it would be like for me.

In this story we have Lina as the main protagonist and one night she is awaken by someone to be informed her husband has fallen from high heights on a dare and was immediately dead. Lina and her younger sister Cassie now must leave their house for Lina and her husbands have no heirs which means the estate will go to the next male of kin, which happens to be a cousin.
However, after a lengthy trip, Winstead and his small daughter and his brother arrive at the apparent new estate he will inherit - hopefully in good enough conditions to help him take care of the estate he already had and left to inherit this one - discover the lady Lina happens to be in a delicate condition, which means they have traveled all this way and now everyone needs to wait to see if the baby is a boy or a girl.
The problem is that Win sees in Lina all the opposite others tell him she must be like and it also seems someone is trying to stop the estate from going to either Win and Lina...

This was a goon enough story and I liked some elements. I liked spending time reading this novel. However, the romance was a bit lacking and that sort of had n impact in how I was able to enjoy the secondary situations.

What I liked best in this novel was the fact both Lina and Win had very good reasons to want to keep the estate. Neither had a stable past in the financial sense which means we have a set of protagonists who not only deserve to have something of their own but are also trying to have stability for the ones they care about.
I thought this premise alone on the situation would be the perfect starting point for a great romance but the truth is that I found it to be very luck warm.

It's always a positive point for me when the characters have some financial difficulty but by good character (if not just hard work) they manage to be worthy of having something extra in their lives. Lina comes from a disgraced mother and she has tried to do what she could to stop her younger sister from poverty.
Win has managed to keep a smaller state which already have problems and now things are dire and Win spent a lot just to travel. We obviously know he will take good care of this inheritance too.
I really wanted to see how this natural need to provide, to take care of others would be the merging element between the main couple but what I didn't count on was how they lacked sexual chemistry.

Now that I've read the story I must say the way the author decided to put the main couple interacting - even if properly adjusted to the time of the story and based on logical behaviors - in a very boring scenario. The scenes they shared just felt... so boring and when they finally give in to some of the attraction they (supposedly) felt, I got the feeling it was badly done and especially Lina's reaction tot he whole thing not in par to what her life and expectations had been to that moment. She reacted in a very non-wise manner. I guess I can understand but it didn't help me liking to see them together.

This book has a mystery going on, someone is trying to stop Lina and Win from being alive to inherit the estate. I confess I had a suspect until a certain point, where I believe the real villain becomes so obvious it's amazing how it wasn't so before. The whys are sort of understandable in the way usually not very sane villains carry their agendas...
The two elements - romance and mystery - should have been a great combination but the mystery always felt "stronger" for me, and more compelling.

All in all, this was a good effort, there are some good elements in general but I wish some situations/details could have been used more (like the main character's personalities, their sense of self and being worthy and also Win's younger brother having what we could say was Asperger's). Still, a good enough historical for when one is debating what to read.
Grade: 6/10

Saturday, December 8, 2018

An idea to consider...

I was checking some book sites and memes and saw this one here.
Not that this is rule for life but it does allow interesting ideas to consider... lol
Enjoy the weekend!

Farrah Rochon - Deliver Me

Monica Gardner is starting over. The broken-hearted St. Louis native has nothing left at home any longer: her future is being an ER doctor at a New Orleans hospital. Her first day makes for a bumpy start as she continually runs into handsome but irascible Dr. Elijah Holmes—a man who could make her change her mind about finding true love.
For years, Dr. Eli Holmes has been living up to his own high expectations—and is burning himself out in the process. The only time this “Super Doc” ob-gyn slows down is to notice the beautiful eyes of a newcomer, Dr. Gardner. He’s pleased to know that she’s more than just a pretty face, she’s also an ace physician. When they work together, sparks fly. But with both Monica and Eli trying to hard not to fall in love, they realize they can’t resist this affair of the heart.

Comment: I've decided to read this book after seeing a positive recommendation about it on a site
somewhere. What made me interested was the fact this was described as an enemy to lovers trope and this one happens to be one of my favorites so I got the book and now, months later, I finally started it. However, it didn't end up being what I imagined.

In this novel, we have the story of Elijah Holmes, an OB doctor who is considered by many as brilliant, friendly and caring about his patients.
Then, in comes Monica, also a doctor who moved to New Orleans after a bad breakup. Monica is wary of being so attracted to Eli when they met but a quick reaction by him during a medical situation makes her dislike him too which means they don't get a very good start in terms of dealing well with one another.
However, the need to work together in one of the hospital's committees finally provides the opportunity for them to know each other better. Will they be able to overcome their personal fears and accept the other as the perfect partner?

From the start, this book has many ingredients to make it a good one for me: two people who meet each other under a stressful situation, which causes a misunderstanding that is the reason behind their animosity but they work in the same hospital so there would be plenty of chances for them to interact with one another and deal with it.
It also featured a second couple that hopefully would act as a bonding tool for the main couple and the medical setting would be a good one to exploit.

Sadly, for me, none of the above worked out. 
The story has a good enough structure, meaning, the way the scenes are linked together is good enough, some things make sense but since I struggled to enjoy the character's actions and decisions, this element didn't really stand out.
I've read this was the author's first book, so I can imagine how she has improved in her abilities but I just can't sem to muster the will to try another.

The main characters, Eli and Monica, are never really developed, I'd say. They both have things in their lives that cautioned them to be wary of relationships but the way they deal with that is just simply annoying at times.
Eli is a bright doctor and we see him in several family situations to notice how solid his upbringing was and how dedicated he is to his mother and brothers so he can't claim his attitude towards life and relationship has a bad or inconsistent past. He acts like a player would and it annoyed me that he didn't even consider changing his way of thinking, even while connecting with Monica.

Monica is a good heroine for the most part and I liked how she "disliked" Eli on principle and I looked for to see their interactions slowly making he change her mind. This didn't happen, and Monica started to like Eli, started to think about his physical attributes very often to the point of practically letting go of her reasons to just be a jealous girlfriend. Why dis she have to change so quickly just because he is attractive? Especially after her break up and lack of trust, can physical attraction really demote your brain cells that way?

The romance lacked impact, the committee they are involved in never caught my attention as a tool to make them be together. 
The medical setting wasn't used well, in my opinion, and the secondary couple we also see communicating - she is a patient of Eli - has a complicated situation to solve but they do it and never in relation to Eli nor Monica so why were they there in the first place?
Then we get to the end of the book and after jealousy, miscommunication, Monica making decisions for the two of them, Eli never coming clean about his ex girlfriends, suddenly in two pages all problems are solved and we see..... nothing.
The story stops there and that's it. 
I can assume we'll see more of them in the following book about one of Eli's brothers but it's just not the same thing.

This family didn't win me over enough to want to follow their adventures so I think I'll just stop here because I don't feel like going through more of the same - even admitting a different book might be better.
Grade: 4/10

Friday, December 7, 2018

Kazuo Ishiguro - The Buried Giant

The extraordinary new novel from the author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize winning The Remains of the Day. The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards – some strange and other-worldly – but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another. Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.

Comment: I got this book at my loal library the last time I went there. This is the fourth book by Ishiguro I've tried and I must say of the four of them, this is probably the one I struggled the most with.

In this novel, the author uses an almost fantasy scenario to create a story about lost memories and the outcome of war.
An older couple, Axl and Beatrice are presented to us when they decide to momentarily leave their village to go see their son, who lives in another place. It's been years since they saw them and for Beatrice is imperative that they travel to see him.
The circumstances of their life at the village are odd but even more so is the journey they embark, especially because of the people they encounter and the things they see and learn along the way. 
In the end, the couple must decide if the journey was worth it or if the secrets uncovered during it don't justify the high price paid...

I'm not certain I can translate into words why this story felt a little unsuccessful to me. The author is acclaimed for his novels on the memory theme (for the most part) and how characters react to things around them by remembering past events, situations and so on. It's almost as if the character is looking for something somewhere and the solution for their dilemmas is in their past experiences. I know this can sound vague and in this novels' case, even redundant since the whole book is centered on the couple's physical journey but of course what matters is their emotional one.
I just struggled to follow the points that matter because there are too many weird elements in the novel.

Some readers have commented that this story led nowhere and there are no answers to get from the whole experience. Axl and Beatrice go on their journey and during the time it takes the story to be finished they uncover some truths about themselves and things they did in their past. Some aren't what we would expect but the thing is, all these things are told to us in such a vague manner, almost dreamlike, that I was never certain about what it was supposed to mean nor if there is a specific lesson/point I should have understood. I still can't tell if some things were real or not regarding the couple's lives.

There are also some interesting and weird elements throughout this novel. The setting is clearly the time after the Roman empire leaves Great Britain and there is a lot of talk about the Arthur legend and some characters. 
The tone of this story is mysterious, there are things that, while unclear in general, add to the atmosphere of the story. Others are simply too weird and I can't understand why they would matter (such as some paranormal effects) unless the purpose is to confuse the reader all the time.
I just think there was this crescendo of expectation, of a quest that would end in a certain goal but the goal never really happened.
We discover some things about Axl and Beatrice's life that explain some of these inconsistencies int he novel but it was never really satisfying after so many pages.

I could see how the author would want to impress on the reader certain subjects by having all this vagueness and weird elements but some things don't really seem to be connected. I also read somewhere he used a lot of subtlety and I must say not only do I agree but would say is too much.
If one can't connect with the characters, their goal, their lives, how can the story be a cohesive one to be appreciated? Just my opinion.

The other books I've read by the author were interesting enough but in all I expected something more (except Remains of the Day, which was awesome) but this one felt a little less strong overall. Still, it had a scene here and there that was quite well done.
Grade: 5/10

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Maya Banks - Never Seduce a Scot

Eveline Armstrong is fiercely loved and protected by her powerful clan, but outsiders consider her “touched.” Beautiful, fey, with a level, intent gaze, she doesn’t speak. No one, not even her family, knows that she cannot hear. Content with her life of seclusion, Eveline has taught herself to read lips and allows the outside world to view her as daft. But when an arranged marriage into a rival clan makes Graeme Montgomery her husband, Eveline accepts her duty—unprepared for the delights to come. Graeme is a rugged warrior with a voice so deep and powerful that his new bride can hear it, and hands and kisses so tender and skilled that he stirs her deepest passions.
Graeme is intrigued by the mysterious Eveline, whose silent lips are ripe with temptation and whose bright, intelligent eyes can see into his soul. As intimacy deepens, he learns her secret. But when clan rivalries and dark deeds threaten the wife he has only begun to cherish, the Scottish warrior will move heaven and earth to save the woman who has awakened his heart to the beautiful song of a rare and magical love.

Comment: Years ago (probably between 2008/09), when I started to increase my reading horizons towards erotica and m/m, I've read a book by Maya Banks that was quite innovative for me at the time, in terms of a menage plot using a romantic setting. Since then, I had never read anything else by the author because that book was so-so for me but not that amazing to make me want to read more.
Now, several years later I've read somewhere (most likely in a recommendations thread in some site) that the heroine of this historical book had a physical limitation and I'm always up to see how authors deal with that in a romantic context, so there I went!

In this story we meet the clans Montgomery and Armstrong, two of the most important clans in Scotland. However, they are sworn enemies for several reasons but this series being set in a time of peace, the king has ordered the two clans to unite themselves so that Scotland can be even stronger. Therefore, the king cleverly decides that there should be a marriage between two of the clans' members and thus Graeme Montgomery will marry the daughter of Tavis Armstrong.
Neither clan is happy about it but both know to refuse the king could be dire for their futures so they reluctantly accept it, especially because everyone knows the potential bride isn't as "normal" as desired after an accidental fall while riding a horse.
The thing is, Eveline Armstrong is actually deaf but she has reasons to hide that from the others. Marrying Graeme doesn't mean her life will be simpler or quiet but she hopes it will be safer...

I always thought that Maya Banks was an erotica writer but looking at her work, I see she can be quite diverse and has series in different genres. I still had the expectation any series by her, no matter the genre, would focus more on erotica but I was positively surprised to see this is any average romance story type.

The premise of having two families not getting along being forced to unite themselves by marriage gave me all kinds of ideas about how the members would interact, start to trust one another... then the notion that the heroine had some disability that wouldn't stop her from being liked and cherished and even loved by the hero was real catnip for me.
Generally speaking, these two elements were well combined and the story was quite balanced for the most part but some scenes felt very superficially done.

I can understand the focus was obviously in the relationship between the main couple but the secondary characters were key in some scenes. I think the whole scenario was very realistic in how everyone behaved and reacted to this situation, after such a history of opposition between the two clans. But I also hoped for a gradual acceptance of Eveline by the Montgomery people in a sensible manner and not because she was placed almost in the role of victim.

The romance was cute enough, Eveline has a problem but that doesn't stop her from being a sensitive and brave woman and Graeme can be the "chief" of the clan but he is not a brute and respects what he thinks are Eveline's boundaries. Of course their slow realization both were intriguing and gradually special for one another helped them cement their marriage. I liked they were a good team.

However, things weren't as smooth as it could in this regard, because directly connected with their marriage is the reason why Eveline chooses to act dumb and not reveal she is just deaf and also the way the Montgomery clan members differently react to her presence in their midst.
I guess I'd have liked Eveline to have been better accepted or that this was exploited in an angsty way that could be slowly overcome by kindness. We are told Eveline is an angel and tries very hard to be part of her new clan but the scenes around this revealed very basic approaches to why some clan members behaved badly towards her.
I understood better why she was afraid to tell she was deaf but of course this led to a situation filled with clichés. As for her disability having any impact whatsoever in her romantic relationship, I'm happy things were dealt with the way they did and that Graeme was careful about it.

All things considered, this was a good enough story, many interesting elements and characters but there's just something about the whole setting that makes me afraid the other books are as clichéd at times... to consider if I'll read the rest of the trilogy yet...
Grade: 7/10