Friday, April 3, 2020

Lewis Carroll - Through the Looking Glass

As Alice steps through the looking glass she enters a world of magical creatures and impossible logic where nursery rhymes and chess pieces come alive, meeting Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the White Knight, among others. She learns about running fast enough to stay in the same place, why there is never jam today and about the importance of believing six impossible after breakfast. In fact, as she sets out on her quest to become a Queen of the Chess Board, it is not surprising that Alice becomes confused as to who is dreaming at all.

Comment: I had this book to read for several years. I think most children - and adults - would have heard of Alice in Wonderland so when I saw this book was the continuation of that other book, I was sold. Of course, though, years have passed before I actually decided to go for it. It was now...

This is the follow-up to the story Alice in Wonderland. However, this is not another adventure of Alice there, this a different adventure in a different place but once more we are able to see amazing things Alice is going through.
Will Alice come out of this new story with as many lessons learned as last time?

I'll be honest in this very short comment. I liked the previous book a log time ago but I'd say the whole hype surrounding it also helped to be connected with the story and to appreciate it.
This second one not being as well known as the first story, though, means I felt a little more difficulty to get into it. I also think the english version didn't help me, the language is easy to understand, yes, as being it appropriate for children, but at the same time it didn't make it easier for me to like it.

Alice goes through a mirror and has interesting adventures on the other side. There's a twist at the end but I felt very indifferent to it and it wasn't as impressive as it might have been. 
I think this is one of those cases where the movie adaptations can grab the reader's attention more easily than the writing story, after all, this is all so imaginative and spectacular, the visual does help bring some things to life.
I missed that here: I imagined things but there were so many details, so many little things that I struggled to follow what was happening.

This is a very short story so it didn't take too long to read but to be fair, it was not a very enjoyable read and it felt it took twice as long to read. I'd say I endured reading more than I did enjoy.
I can also recognize this is a very well thought world by the author. However, I don't think this was as interesting nor captivating as the other story (or even stories for children by other authors).
To finish this, since I don't really have much to say, I think the magic was lost for me when it came to Alice's adventures. 
Grade: 3/10

Thursday, April 2, 2020

JR Ward - The Sinner

Syn has kept his side hustle as a mercenary a secret from the Black Dagger Brotherhood. When he takes another hit job, he not only crosses the path of the vampire race’s new enemy, but also that of a half-breed in danger of dying during her transition. Jo Early has no idea what her true nature is, and when a mysterious man appears out of the darkness, she is torn between their erotic connection and the sense that something is very wrong.
Fate anointed Butch O’Neal as the Dhestroyer, the fulfiller of the prophecy that foresees the end of the Omega. As the war with the Lessening Society comes to a head, Butch gets an unexpected ally in Syn. But can he trust the male—or is the warrior with the bad past a deadly complication?
With time running out, Jo gets swept up in the fighting and must join with Syn and the Brotherhood against true evil. In the end, will love true prevail...or was the prophecy wrong all along?

Comment: This is the most recent installment in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by author JR Ward and it seems it was the end of the arc. At least, the plot seems to indicate so.

In this book we have the story of Syn and Jo, as well as the concluding events that lead to the final battle against the enemy that has plagued the brotherhood since the first book.
Jo is a character that has been referenced in the past books, she even got page time here and there and we finally understand how she is connected to the main characters apart from the obvious fact she is about to reach her transition.
Even before that, she meets Syn, one of the members of the Band of Bastards who has joined the battle a few books ago along with his fellow "warriors" but who also gives in to his need to kill by accepting contracts on the side.
As these two bond over common traits and an attraction not that easy to explain, will it be possible to finally reach the peace everyone has wanted for so long?

I'll include some mild spoilers!

I have mixed feelings about this book. I have said many times, probably on each new book's release, how I am such a fan and how I have been devoted to this series since book #1, which I stumbled upon around 2008, when there were five books out and the next one about to be released.
For these past twelve years, I've been dedicated to the series, to the amazing world and the characters, even when the stories went towards paths I was indifferent to but many were not fans of.

Now this book arrives, it's clear it's meant to be the end of an arc, if I can say so, because it finishes the main plot that had been on going all this time which is the fight against the lessers and the Omega.
To be honest, I don't really mind this as I've felt this part of the story was completely unnecessary. I think the series would have had a lot more to gain had it been just a story on the vampire life, culture, dynamics, all the things we already had besides the fighting. The bad guys, the lessers could still exist in the world, after all the warriors would have needed a purpose, but in an abstract way somehow.
Anyway, so this is over. 

At the end of the book, though, we have a new enemy coming out and I really dislike who that character is. I don't think it's a surprise to say it's a character already seen in another series by this author. I think to myself, was this really the way to go? Why? Why this enemy, why like this, I dislike how things are going. A villain that has more protagonism than the main characters? No wonder so many have been critics the series was no longer a romance.

This brings me to this book's main couple, then.
I liked Jo and Syn as a whole, I think they had a lot of potential to be a strong team but to me it was really a pity we see them before Jo's transition and not as much after. I understand why, after all the focus would have had to be different but I love these books for the world, for the family/community relationships. I'd have preferred to have more scenes with them getting to know each other than villain moments.

Were the first books in the series better in this regard? I have to say yes based on how the balance between plot and romance developed. I've also said this didn't bother me and it's true, I don't mind having less romance pages to have other types of interactions between the characters. But to replace them with the bad guys' POVs? Then, I don't think it was such a good idea.

This book feels like it had a goal: to finish the main idea, to tidy some of the loose strings (why was Bo special, for instance) to prepare things for a different approach.
There were several scenes that reminded me of the god old days, when the books were so emotional I couldn't help being emotional myself. Of course I liked the references to all the other characters although, like many other readers, the constant emphasis on the special relationship between V and Butch gets on my nerves. I think everyone already got it and maybe more scenes between V and Jane would not be enough to counterbalance this now.

I don't know what's to come, I'll still read this series no matter what because what I felt with the first books cannot just disappear but, sadly, for me this book was not the wonder I expected and wanted to have, being it the last of an era (of sorts).
I hope the author can have better ideas for the next ones and not giving in to silly stuff.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Maeve Binchy - Heart and Soul

Clara Casey has more than enough on her plate. Her daughters Adi and Linda were no problem during the usually turbulent teens. Now Adi is always fighting for or against something: the environment or the whale or battery farming; while Linda lurches from one unsatisfactory relationship to the next. As if this wasn't enough, Clara, a senior cardiac specialist, has a new job to cope with - and now her ex-husband wants something from her...
For Ania, meeting Clara Casey is a miracle. She never intended to leave Poland - but perhaps a new job in a new country will mend her broken heart? Declan is looking forward to joining the clinic - but what should have been a straightforward six-month posting brings him far more than he expected.
Then there's Father Brian Flynn, whose life is turned upside down when his reputation is threatened; and the beautiful, cheerful nurse, Fiona, who can't leave her troubled past behind...

Comment: Years ago, a friend gave me this book fr my birthday and I'm ashamed to say I only now picked it because I always had this idea the books by this author were dramatic and tragic.
I was proven wrong and although I don't consider this an author to follow religiously from now on, I had a good time reading this book.

In this book we follow the lives of a set of characters, all connected in some way although most of them work in a new clinic for heart diseases.
The main focus is on Clara, the responsible for the clinic for at least an year but who knows what will happen after that. While we follow what happens at work and in her home, we see how every character is important in the big scheme and how simple or complicated relationships can be, depending on one's behavior or choices.

I've written, in my small comment on this book in my goodreads page, that this book makes me think I could be sitting in a cozy cafe drinking tea and listening to gossip on all these characters. The writing style and the way this story develops is very segmented, the plot doesn't follow a linear flow, it's like we gave glimpses and moments in these people's lives and from chapter to chapter we see them getting one step further in their existence.

I feel the negative side of this is that, now that I've finished the novel, I never really connected with the characters. I'm not indifferent to them, but we just read about what they do and what they go through, we don't have time to bond with them, nor to feel they have evolved as characters.
The author's style clearly is telling a story, as if this is still a set of those tales of Irish tradition where the story teller just says it like it is, for the listener to make their own mind without the narrator putting their own ideas on anything.
The Portuguese cover
The problem of now being shown some things, then, is that the characters remain strangers and distant and very flat.

I shouldn't have liked reading this, then, since it doesn't go anywhere, all the actions the characters do are already premeditated, we just read about it. However, I was interested in reading, I wanted to see what they would do next - even if often predictable - and I wanted to see if the small things we couldn't foresee would happen one way or another.
The end was basic, nothing to gush about but after turning the last page, I felt like I just had known those characters for a little bit and that made me feel settled.

Despite the fact the chapters tend to focus on a character at a time and those closest, this is actually a web of connections related to the clinic where most of them work. I particularly liked the segments related to Ania, a polish emigrant who struggled at first with the language but turned out to be my favorite character in the story.
We do have a lot on the background of each character as the story moves along.

Some characters did show up, apparently from nowhere, who had been in other books by the author but I never felt like I had to read other things to follow this one.
While checking the author's book list (quite big, in fact) I saw there's another book that mentions two characters from this story. I'll definitely read that one to see how the connection is done. 
As for this book, no it's not the best thing ever nor is it as intricate as it could but I had a good time reading, as if just laying back and knowing what was going on with these people...
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Umberto Eco - The Name of the Rose

The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate.When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey where extraordinary things are happening under the over of night. A spectacular popular and critical success, The Name of the Rose is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but an astonishing chronicle of the Middle Ages.

Comment: Several years ago, a certain national newspaper here had the initiative of releasing classic titles in a collection which was sold along the newspaper, during a specific period of time. This title was the first one to be published and, to captivate readers, was free if one bought the newspaper. 
I can't remember exactly when this was but at the time I had already watched the movie and was curious about the book it was based on.

In this book, set in the 14th century, we meet monk William of Baskerville and novice Adso as they travel to an abbey in Italy to investigate the possibility some heresy is on going there. What they find is a rich abbey, several monks dedicated to their tasks and prayers and also a dead man. 
During the seven days they stay at the abbey, seven monks die and the mystery surrounding their deaths seems too complex to untangle. At the same time, political actions will be taking place there and there's also the allure of the amazing library, where secrets abound and monks dedicate their time to translate and design the perfect work.
What is really happening in the abbey? Is the killer the same person who is the culprit of heresy?
How can the truth be discovered?

I had a good time reading this novel. I thought it would be boring and difficult since the setting was the middle ages and unlike other authors of historical novels, Umberto Eco has a reputation for detail and some challenging writing.
However, I felt this wasn't so in regards of this novel, to me. I could focus on reading this story and it was not only a good mystery but also a great take on religion and philosophy in general.

I must say the political setting, the conversations about heresy and the machinations within European countries/kingdoms to make things happen weren't very interesting, simply because this is not the type of intrigue I like to read about. It was a little bit boring, in fact, but thankfully it wasn't the main focus of this novel and I could overcome those parts well.

This is not a story for one to settle on the characters' development nor how they improve or whatever.
The characters embody a certain emotion/trait/belief but I still think they were fleshed enough to be convincing and to make me wonder about what would happen next.
This story is based on a manuscript the author got and that he decided t expand, deconstruct somehow to offer readers and easier reading. I don't think most people (or most of the target audience of this fictional book) would be really concerned where the story came from, but it did add a bit more interest for me to think a monk centuries past might have lived through what now seems like a well imagined plot.

Like I said, the story is basically divided into two segments: the investigation of the murder and the
search for heretic monks within the abbey. Obviously, the two things do have some connection but to me the wonder in this book was not so much the method to look for clues - it's a really poor imitation on nowadays' CSI tactics - but the considerations everyone has on several subjects and how some things are food for thought, how others can be seen as red herrings and the doubts are installed through the book. I'd say that, for those devoted to crime books, looking at this through thriller eyes, the villain is actually very obvious.

I really was rooting for William and Adso, as they went through their days investigating, being William a former inquisitor for the Inquisition who now didn't do it anymore, and Adso personifying the "green" guy in all this, learning from the master.
The Portuguese cover
We get to learn a lot about their personalities as they investigate and discover things and how each new clue and all its meanings affect their ideas and their beliefs.
My favorite parts were all the considerations they had and did on religion - which we know was even stricter than in current days - and philosophy. I also liked how much talk there was on books, on translation and libraries and knowledge. It was a feast for my literary taste.

Some readers have said it's too obvious how the author put his ideas and self knowledge on all these subjects in the novel and that it forces readers to follow his ideas and not an hypothetical scenario. To be honest, I don't care if this is so; I had a great time reading, I liked most of the story's content and the pace was slow but believable, the writing challenging in the sense it was rather inquisitive instead of action packed but to me it worked wonderfully.
I'm very curious to see the movie again (I did decades ago) after having this much richer perspective.

The end of this book was a little sad and my current preferences would have liked the author to make things end differently but at the same time, it's believable for the type of setting the characters were in. I don't think I'd say this considering the rather demanding task that certainly is to read the work of this author but I will definitely try another book by him, some day!
Grade: 8/10

Friday, March 27, 2020

Lora Leigh - Nauti Boy

Too weak to resist young Kelly Benton's attempts at seduction, Rowdy Mackay left home eight years ago. Duty as a U.S. Marine put a safe distance between Rowdy and the nubile Kentucky vixen with persuasive desires of her own. Now, he's returned home, his fantasies fueled, ready to engage the young woman in the kind of erotic games that have earned him and his two cousins Nauti-boy reputations in three counties.
Once, it was Kelly's dream, too, to feel the heat of the boy she desired. But a brutal attack from a stalker still on the prowl has left Kelly terrified of the dark unknown and of a man's touch. Now, as fear and desire converge, Rowdy fights for the only woman he ever loved--to save her from the deadly threats of a stranger, to rid her of her demons, and to satisfy a hunger more powerful than either can imagine.

Comment: This is the first book in the Nauti series by author Lora Leigh, featuring a family living in Kentucky. This is the story of Rowdy and Kelly and how they went from possible sweethearts to solid couple.

Rowdy and his two cousins have had quite a reputation among the people in their hometown. However, they are good people and they take care of those they consider friends and family, including Kelly Benton.
Rowdy has always had a ting for Kelly but she was only 16 when he started to pay attention to her so he goes to the military to be away from her. Of course, he never forgot about her and even thinks of the day they can finally be together. When his time with the marines ends, he decides it's time to start a relationship with Kelly but he is surprised to find out that while he was in his last mission, Kelly was attacked in her house and almost raped. Can they now talk and become a couple? Is the man who attacked her going to let it go?

A little bit of history.
I've started to read erotic novels and things outside my usual comfort reading around late 2007 and 2008. I started to buy more books online which allowed me to read a lot more genres and things not so easily found in my language and to find and buy those books in english really started to make a difference.
Lora Leigh was an author that got on my radar for her supposedly taboo types of plots. I gave in to some of these books before adventuring into m/m, which I came to appreciate immensely.
Way before even having the blog, I already had read some stuff by this author, namely several books in her back list. So far, besides this title, I've also read several books in her Breeds series and the Men of August trilogy, being that all have erotic content but the Breed series is fantasy/sci-fi and he other books contemporary.

All this to come back to this book.
It had been in the shelf for twelve years, actually, since I got it in 2008. Now that my general taste for erotic books has disappeared (I might read an erotic novel but only if it has been in the pile or if well recommended), this didn't feel like such a great story anymore.
It's true reader's taste can evolve/change but if a story is good, then it might still be enjoyable, right?
To me, sadly, this one turned out to not be good.

The story follows pretty much the same basics as the trilogy Men of August did, which is the main couple has a solid connection but they still have sex with one another somehow for some weirdly explained reason, here because the three cousins learned about sex with a mature woman and in the Men of August series to deal with trauma.
The author has a fixation with sharing and anal sex, which always is part of the erotic scenes somehow.

Besides this no longer feeling appealing to me, it is rather odd one would heal oneself with more sex, and if kinky, the better. I'm no expert myself and I did read other books when I was looking for erotic stuff where author would do this well, some character improving, healing, getting past trauma with the help of patience and therapy, a lover/partner who was considerate and a better experience with sex.
In this author's book things are not so obvious. Yes, this is escapism, this is not a book on proper counseling and therapy but the message... it's still there. I'm not even going to go into the whole rape thing because I think anyone would think of it as wrong and the fact in this book it was a means to and end, just.... I'd say that what could be seen as taboo or kink or dark erotica just felt wrong here.

Now, I could embark on this whole escapism idea had the plot been a fascinating one.
It was not, though.
Basically Rowdy comes back, goes on seducing an already willing Kelly despite her trauma, the cousins watch or whatever, they have plenty of sex and the bad guy is finally caught. There's no real plot. There's no real advance on the character's growth into better people. 
Therefore, lack of interest, lack of a plot, lack of character development and themes I no longer enjoy made for a very weak story for me.

I could have avoided reading but after so long, I'd feel sad I didn't at least try.
However, I have no plans on continuing with this author. I still have a book on the Breeds series to read, one I have been waiting for - like many other readers - and I hope that is a good one. As for the rest of her work, this is it.
Grade: 3/10

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Patricia Briggs - Storm Cursed

My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic.
And a coyote shapeshifter.
And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack.
Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn't stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae.
The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death.
But we are pack, and we have given our word.
We will die to keep it.

Comment: This is the 11th installment in the Mercy Thompson series by author Patricia Briggs, a series I'd say is one of the best fantasy/UF out there. This book was released last year and the 12th very recently but that I haven't got yet.

In this story, Mercy has to deal with black witches coming to the Tri-Cities now that the territory has become very interesting since Mercy and the pack have taken charge if it.
As the weird problems amount and conversations between humans and the fae are being planned, Mercy asks the help of her friend Zee and even that of vampire Wulfe to win over the battle against the witches, who have also created zombies.
Although it seems the problem might be easily solved, there are too many lives at rick but Mercy did promise she would help anyone who needed it..

As usual, I had a good time reading a story by this author. I'm a fan of the world this author created, both for this series and for the Alpha/Omega one, which concur.
I think the author has a good imagination but more than that, she is extremely talented in putting things together. It also keeps on fascinating me how every scene, every sentence seems to be important for what is happening. This means all parts of her stories have meaning and are great to read. It's the same feeling I get when I read things by Ilona Andrews, for instance, another favorite.

The problem for me, in relation to these books by Briggs in general, is precisely that: since they are so complex and well thought and where every single detail matters, it's really easy to forget stuff, to not pay enough attention to the point of remembering all those scenes. I have an overall idea about things, I keep remembering things from book to book if the characters mention them and some come to mind while reading. But I think the time between read sort of dilutes the meaning of some things and this means that while I like the story immensely, I sort of feel distanced from it anyway.

I'd say, now, that each story in this series is like a little chapter in the characters' lives. There's still an on going thread regarding the character's place in time, meaning they do evolve from book to book, but the passage of time feels minimal. It's just another day/week/adventure for them.
I liked this one enough because the physical impact of everything on Mercy was minimal (as opposed to books where she really got quite a kick for her efforts) and there were several scenes between her and Adam to make me glad they are a happy couple.

The plot is, as I expected, intricate and all the little dots connecting make for a very intriguing read. I kept thinking how was it possible some things happened like that but, of course, the author kept adding explanations that, within that world, made all sense. 
Zee and Tad, Wulfe, Sherwood and the witch Elizaveta are the characters that most help Mercy and Adam in this new adventure. Of course one could not expect happy endings for just everyone but I'm glad to say no good guys with key roles were affected. OK, perhaps one if we consider all the installments so far, but none I'd feel terribly sad about.

After some build up on the problem at hand, I sort of expected the resolution to be a little more... explosive but in reality Mercy and her team solved things rather easily. Don't be worried, there was a lot to think about following that and I'm certain some things will be addressed somewhere in the future books but in relation to this one, I'm just glad it was possible to fix the problem with minimal impact. As often happens, there are also some lighter scenes/dialogues to keep the anticipation leveled.

I don't feel like going into much detail, it's difficult to think what might be considered spoiler or not. One thing, though, is for certain. Explaining too much would be no help for new readers. This is definitely a series which has reached the point of being frustrating or even uninspiring if one starts so late in the series. There is a lot that is understandable but a whole lot which I believe would not be so if someone reading this has not read the others, the first book is the (addictive) way to begin.

All in all, for a fan, this was a good, steady novel in the series.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Anyta Sunday - Cancer Ships Aquarius

Dumped by the fifth girl in two years and abandoned by his best friends, Reid Glover is alone and in need of a home.
Desperate, he interviews to become a live-in manny aboard widowed Sullivan Bell’s yacht, the Aquarian.
The job? Not to look after thirteen-year-old Joanna. No, this child-mastermind needs Reid to befriend her dad, urge him to participate more in family life, encourage him to date, oh, and become his closest confidant and help him unleash his bottled emotions.
No pressure.
At least he’s not entirely out of his depth.
Okay, so he may have a slight aversion to the ocean. And possibly attract more than his fair share of misadventure.
But he is a pro at crying.
Watch out, Sullivan. Reid is on his way with a family-sized carton of tissues. He will help Sullivan through his fears. Will help him find love again.
Will absolutely not fall for him in the process . . .


Comment: This is the 5th installment in the Signs of Love series by author Anyta Sunday. As I did with the previous books, I also liked this one but, all things considered, this one wasn't as addictive to read as I expected.

In this story we meet Reid, a man who has had plenty of rejection in his life but he hides his hurt under a lot of quirkiness and smiles.
His girlfriend dumped him, his best friends are going on a journey around the world which means he is about to become homeless so he replies to a manny announcement. The "child" he is supposed to take care of is actually 13 year old Joanna, is a clever mastermind and lives with her father in a boat.
The problem is that Joanna doesn't need a manny, she has accepted that fact in order to actually find someone to befriend her father Sullivan who, since becoming a widow, hasn't had a lot of fun.
Through misunderstandings, crossroads and presumptions, will Reid and Sullivan really be a good match?

This story has enough elements to make it a successful one. It also follows all the rules one might expect after having read the previous books:
- Somewhat oblivious/clueless main character ✓
- Mysterious/serious second protagonist ✓
- Weird dialogue filled with innuendo ✓
- Missed opportunities to clarify the situation the characters see themselves in ✓
- Obvious connection between the protagonists only they don't see ✓
- Supposedly funny situations ✓
- A sweet slow burn romance with a romantic HEA ✓

Having all these things should be enough ingredients to create a wonderful plot and they do work. 
I think, since we are sent on a specific path with these characters, they have to work out, there's no deviation from that. Sullivan and Reid complement each other, not only because they clearly have opposed personalities but mainly because we see through their scenes together and their sharing of personal stuff, they found their match.

I think, for me - and after reading all the other similar types of plot, the problem here was that everything was very predictable and often some scenes seemed quite forced. They didn't feel as spontaneous nor as realistic as in the other books. It felt as if we had to be convinced they were put in the right spot at the right time but in fact those two didn't seem to be that way naturally.

Since Reid is the narrator here, I couldn't help but compare him with all the other quirky/funny narrators in the series. All share a certain vulnerability that makes them be eager for roots, for a connection, for a relationship that feels right. The thing is, for me, Reid seemed a little too needy and way more dependent on someone else's approval to be happy. I can understand why, he does explain it through the novel, but... then, it made me think his actions and reactions were a little too much, too dramatic, too extreme. I didn't see him as a "twink" but getting there and I think often his behavior was rather childish.
Unlike the protagonists of the previous books, I couldn't really match properly the two sides of him: the baffled guy who couldn't understand why life was causing him trouble with the responsible adult he is also supposed to be.

The interactions between characters make sense within this rather crazy plot. All the talk about the boats and such were a novelty but it wasn't always easy to imagine it.
Joanna is a cute character, she behaves a lot more maturely than a 13 year old should but I could put that aside.
The other secondary characters weren't really memorable for me.

The romance follows the pattern of all the others, they keep the innuendo strong, Reid is unaware of how hos words can be interpreted and I cannot imagine a relationship like this being that common. It's one thing to be naive or to not really believe you could entice someone else like that, especially if you don't have such a high self esteem or impression of yourself. But to talk to someone like that and not realize it? I found the relationship between Sullivan and Reid to be a little unlikely.
At the same time, of course I was happy for them and glad they found each other.

Like I said, this book is good to read, particularly if one already enjoys these type of funny plots. However, in terms of overall impressions, I think this one didn't quite reach the mark as the others did. I'll keep reading the author's books, though, so this grading doesn't mean I dislike what she wrote, only that in this book the mark wasn't quite there.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Christine Mangan - Tangerine

The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.
But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

Comment: I got interested in this book back in 2018, before it was even released because I saw some good comments on it in some sites I follow. This year I got the book and this month I managed to start it. I was really looking for the mystery inferred from the blurb to dazzle me but in the end, for me, this story didn't really reach its best potential.

This story starts with Alice Shipley, a married woman who traveled from the US to Tangier, Morocco, opening her door to Lucy Mason, a former friend from their times studying at Bennington college.
They haven't seen each other for some time and Alice isn't certain of how she feels Lucy has traveled on purpose there to spend time with her. 
Alice feels Tangier isn't the place for her but her husband has loved the place from the start so she has endured despite her loneliness. Will have Lucy there help her? Will she be even more depressed, after al their friendship suffered a hard hit before and that is one of the reasons Alice put distance between them. But Lucy is there, again trying to be part of her life...

This is an interesting story. It quite clear the author got inspiration in some thriller plots already seen in other places (this means the story itself is not very original) and she constructed her own scenario on it. She thought of possible ways to develop her story and she used a fascinating method to make it happen: she picked an exotic enough location and she keeps suggesting certain things as the story moves along.

We are told in little clues here in there, why Lucy and Alice were such great friends and why they are not anymore. We are told the behavior Alice shows is not just a result of her imagination although at times it might seem so.
I think the problem is that the reader is told so many things, is promised a certain kind of idea in relation to these characters that, in my opinion, never actually happens.

My favorite aspect of this novel was the Tangier setting. I really think there are moments one can feel the heat, the dust, the suffocation in the air, the feeling of being displaced, the notion one could not belong, the idea that one can loath and worship such a place at the same time. I've never traveled to Morocco but I did to other - not so "exotic" places, in the sense that they are more obviously culturally different from our own - countries and it's both fascinating and depressing to like a new place, to enjoy being there but wanting to get home to the familiar again.
I think the setting and the differences were enough to sustain some part of this novel's worth.

However, it's because the setting is so specific that the characters failed to impress me. I'm not eve going to comment on the little things that don't make sense, or the choices the characters make in certain situations and that should be different, were they thinking properly, namely Alice.
I get it that some things are just weird on purpose, to enhance the vibe of mystery and confusion.
I can also accept these two things being combined (the odd choices and the purpose of some choices) to make the reader suspicious of everything.

Like I said, though, the build up of every situation, the strangeness of what each character does never reaches a climax because the reader is being told about everything. We are always privy to the characters' actions and thoughts and the mystery is not about the whom and why but ends up being the how. With some authors, this can be brilliant I'm fully aware of that, but I don't think the author here went with this in the best way.
What's the point, then, of all the weird vibe, of knowing all the steps characters took if the end was that predictable and obvious? There was not unexpected twist, no surprise to tell us we were thinking about it in the wrong way.

Alice is exactly who she is when we meet her. She doesn't improve. Lucy has a more interesting development and the reasons for her behavior the surprise part but we know all about her from a certain point on so... why should one be bother to read until the end if the end was so... deflated?
I think this was a case of building up the expectations but in the end there was no way to solve the issues created through the novel. 
I believe, had this been a true mystery where the characters were always portrayed in one way until the final scene or with a heroine (Alice) who would change/improve, this story could have been way better achieved.

In the end, things happen, but nothing really does in fact. I mean, no real surprises, no real climax on all the threads finally reaching closure. I think the story got too complicated for the author to solve in an original manner.
I liked some parts but in the end, this one just didn't quite meet the expectations.
Grade: 6/10

Sunday, March 22, 2020

These days...

Dear readers...
The world is facing hard times. It still seems incredible what we could only find in a sci-fi book is actually coming alive in our midst.

I hope you're all safe, as well as your families.
Be well, protect yourselves, stay home.

Let's hope this pandemic can end, although, sadly, how can our lives ever be the same?

Stay home, read books!

(image here)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Sarah Lark - Island of the Red Mangroves

Island of Red Mangroves is the follow-up to Sarah Lark's tumultuous novel, "Island of a Thousand Springs," set in Jamaica, 1732.
-- Jamaica, 1753: Deirdre, daughter of Englishwoman, Nora Fortnam and slave Akwasi, lives a sheltered life on her family's plantation. Her stepfather, Doug, has welcomed her into his life as his own. Despite Deirdre's scandalous origin, the men of the island flock to the young beauty, but she shows no interest. That is, until she is charmed by young doctor Victor Dufresne, who asks for her hand in marriage.
-- After their lavish wedding ceremony, Victor and Deirdre embark to Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola, where Deirdre can live without the burden of her mixed background. But what happens there changes everything ... 

Comment: I was given this book for my birthday last year and only now had the chance to start it. I must say, based on the blurb and cover style, I had a pretty good idea about the overall style of how the story would be like but, of course, I had never read anything by this author so I was expectant about how good it might be. 

In this historical fiction story we follow the life of Deirdre Fortnam, a sheltered young woman who lives with her mother and adopted father in their plantation in Jamaica. Deirdre is a free spirit but she isn't fully aware of how others see her, especially those who know about her origins. The thing is, Deirdre is the daughter of a white woman and a black slave but her adoptive father never saw her as less than a real daughter which means she is raised as the princess of the house, even if the rest of the white society doesn't see her that way.
However, when she turns 18, her family organizes a birthday party and she meets doctor Victor Dufresne, with whom she falls a little in love. After they marry, they travel to Hispaniola, where Victor's parents have a plantation and where Deirdre finds her destiny...

This book is the second in a duology and I haven't read the first one. I think, though, that it isn't necessary to read the books in order because the plot of this one takes place years after the other and although some characters from the first one show up here, the plots are not directly connected.

I didn't enjoy this book due to several plot choices and the characterization of the characters so I feel like being critic of how this book felt like to me. 
Of course others saw it differently, that's the beauty of to each their own.
But this means I'll include several spoilers in my comment/rant.
I went into this read with the notion the story would be based on historical facts and that is very visible because the author manages to create quite an atmosphere and setting and with the notes at the end of the book, we can also understand how some events did happen and how she consulted several sources to come up with her plot.
The plot is obviously centered on the lifestyle and the ruling of whites over blacks and the slave's uprising in the Caribbean islands back in the 18th century. This means the theme often mentions/showcases/describes racism, prejudice, injustice of some over others, as well as violence and crimes.
There's no escaping this subject, since it was, sadly, real facts and real life for people back then. Slavery, however, is a sore topic because I feel impotent about it and it's not pleasant to think so many people suffered so much. 
Therefore, I hoped the author would balance the heavy theme with some wonderful characterization but, for me, that failed.

The Portuguese cover
The characters are pretty much basic. They follow the patterns of behavior expected of them, they go through the motions and react the way they are supposed to, but there was no depth or emotional response by them in the way that would make this a richer novel.
I can accept everything was different, people didn't have the same worries or understanding as we might have now but who cares, most characters are fictional! They could still adhere to the customs of the time and still be unique.

My biggest disappointment comes from Deirdre, the main character. The description of her in the blurb should be indication enough but I wanted to believe she would be a wonderful character but she is, so disappointingly for me, a spoiled brat who didn't think of her actions.
She knows she is lucky to be accepted by her family, she is aware others see her differently. She is entitled to her personality despite these things but she never seems to think properly about her life and how someone else made it possible for her to have her freedom of actions. 

After she marries, she keeps acting as everything is the same in the new place she goes to live with her husband, even though her family is no longer there to act as a buffer.
But Deirdre meets another guy and they have an affair. I just could not respect the heroine any longer because she had no reason - nor material, nor emotional - to cheat on her husband. She never feels sorry, she never seems to be ashamed and not even when she finds out her lover is actually her brother, she dismisses him! I mean! The customs could be different and the author can have all the logic in the worlds with talk of similarities being reason for two people to be attracted but, come on!

I just couldn't enjoy the story any longer and everything that happens after that only felt like filling to me.
The fact the other guy is involved in the slaves' uprising (no matter how valid) was just annoying because he was a pirate too and this topic and all the descriptions of piracy just flow through my head since I have no interest in it. Had the characters been captivating, that could be endured, but this way... no.

I keep thinking this was a missed opportunity. The author gave in to silly content, she picked some notes about subjects here and there and she dumped them into this plot.
The characters could have turned this into an epic book but for me this didn't happen.
I kept wishing for the characters to act accordingly to what was right, to be emotionally aware of their actions... like, say, in Susanna Kearsley's books, often the historical parts convey scenes/customs of the time and the characters still behave in an acceptable manner.

All in all, this was a frustrating book, and not even the historical data and facts made it a good read. I admit this is easy to read, the writing style is simple but, then again, perhaps that is why no depth seemed to be conveyed to the characters.
I don't think I'd want to try another book by this author.
Grade: 3/10

Friday, March 20, 2020

Juliet Marillier - Tower of Thorns

Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn's bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking them out.
A noblewoman asks for the prince of Dalriada's help in expelling a creature who threatens the safety and sanity of all who live nearby from an old tower on her land--one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim.
As Blackthorn and Grim put the pieces of this puzzle together, it's apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest soon becomes a life-and-death struggle--a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.

Comment: This is the second installment in the trilogy Blackthorn and Grim. I've read the first book last year and being a fan of the author, of course I would keep up with the series. This second book is, as predictable, another engaging and compelling read.

In this installment, Blackthorn and Grim are asked to be at court with Prince Oran and his lady, the couple who needed the help of Blackthorn in the first book.
Now a lady from a slightly distant part of the territory needs help and as Blackthorn is forced to help those in need as in agreement with the fey with whom she has a contract, she might not be able to refuse even if is something she feels might not be a good idea.
She believes she won't have to help after all, despite the obvious need in the lady's eyes, but a friend from her old life suddenly appears and what he tells her makes her change her mind. But are this friend's intentions good ones? Is the lady in need telling the whole story? Blackthorn and Grim must again unite strengths to see if they can solve these mysteries.

This story can be read as a standalone but I think any reader would gain so much more by reading the first book too. Some references and even some relationships have a better meaning in this book if one knows all the nuances of what happened in the first story.
Nevertheless, this story follows the usual pattern of all the author's books: a case/mystery to be solved while the protagonists slowly uncover all the details until the very end.

For those who like fantasy and Irish/Scotish/Celts tales, this is the right author for you. Her stories pick many old tales related to the fey, the old traditions, the old ways of those areas and she spins a fantasy story that enraptures the reader to want to know what happens next.
This is another book where we can see this, the lady that arrives with a request for help has some mystery to her and as the book moves along, we slowly uncover everything, even the things she doesn't share.

This story has a classic mystery structure, the surprises happen slowly while the tone and vibe indicate something is going on that we can't put a finger on but the author eases things up a little with the secondary plot about Blackthorn's friend. I confess I didn't care much about that part and I think this was here mostly to lead Blackthorn to a point where her personal life/inner struggle reaches a point of no return regarding her desire for vengeance. The next book is the last and this issue is certainly going to e solved there.

Blackthorn is, again, a fascinating character, her will for justice quite a demand we feel is fair but this means she remains a little unaware of her surroundings and of those around her. In some moments she also appears a bit obsessive but that might be just a personal opinion.
I should say there's a really small development in her relationship with Grim, one that readers very likely will welcome but it's not too obvious in the big scheme of things. Still, the feelings between them are strong and there are a few clues here and there about that, even if they don't act on those feelings.
I felt the evidence of this was easier to spot here, though, because we learn things about Grim and his past and why he has the personality he does... I have to say Grim is wonderful, no doubts on it!

As for the resolution of both plots, the one concerning Blackthorn's friend goes the way I imagined from a certain point on but doesn't affect things in a big way.
The central plot, though... that gives us a lot of food for thought and having finished the book, I still think about those characters and how things went for them. What happened belongs to the realm of many old tales and one could say, it was a fair ending. I just think it feels a little incomplete because the reason why the problem existed was not dealt with, as if it didn't matter. 

Anyway, all things considered, this was entertaining, addictive to read, the three different narrators made the plot mysterious not only because of the secrets each one had and how they didn't share every single detail but because it allowed the story to progress at a steady pace. There was some sluggish pace in the middle, yes, but my attention didn't waver...
I liked this one and I'm curious to see what happens in the last book.
Grade: 8/10