Thursday, March 30, 2023

M. M. Crane - Bold Fortune

Quinn Fortune is the official protector of all the unspoiled beauty in Lost Lake, Alaska, as the head of the community trust. A rugged frontiersman through and through, he doesn't do soft. But he can't help his fascination with the pink-clad professor who shows up in Lost Lake seeking his approval for her cheerful outsider's proposal about land that isn't hers. Still, he agrees to consider it--if she can handle a month of good old-fashioned Alaska living. He's betting she'll head back to the safety of the Lower 48 within the week.
Violet Parrish is a thinker, not a doer, but desperate times call for extraordinary measures--like taking on the Alaskan wilderness. In January. Off the grid. With a mountain man hot enough to melt a glacier. The frozen Alaskan tundra should be no match for Violet's determination, but the sheer immensity of the Last Frontier takes her by surprise--as does her attraction to gruff, impossibly handsome Quinn, and the unexpected heat that burns between them during the freezing Alaska nights...

Comment: I've seen some positive reviews on this book and that is why I've added it to my list, especially because it would feature opposites attract and, when well done, these types of stories can be really fun to read.

In this story, activist/professor Violet Parrish is determined to work on a deal with Quinn Fortune, the person responsible for the mine rights and the community in Lost Lake, and Alaska region, classified as preserved. Quinn has refused any contact so Violet, after knowing someone she trusted betrayed her, feels he must prove herself and travels all the way to Lost Lake so she can present her case personally.
Quinn knows this Outsider should be treated like all the others, being tested until she cracked, but among all the pink and positivism, he sees someone who entrances him like no woman has done before and day by day she keeps surprising him. When their feelings start to become stronger, can they find a way to be together or the expectations of Violet's institute will prove to be the reason they can't be together?

Oh, I loved this one!
This was such a fun and romantic story and had all the ingredients I tend to like in an "opposites attract" type of story. Violet and Quinn are very different, personality wise, but deep down they see each other as someone special and much worthier of love and consideration than what others might think. It does sound like a cliché but they certainly felt like complementing each other.

First of all, I loved the Alaska setting. I'm not crazy over it because I would love to live in the wilderness but the landscape descriptions and the sort of activities one can do and the so-called communion with nature do seem to have been highlighted here. The fact Alaska as a region was important for the plot was also perfect, since the need to safe keep certain regions should never be questionable if on the other side one only has profit in mind. Still, I think the author used enough amount of information to not make this feel like a moral lesson.

Then, the main characters were really special. Of course they both had their reasons, their POVs, but the fun part of these stories is to see them interact and discuss things in a way that is only challenging because of their differences. Quinn is used to the place and he has had negative experiences when he was studying and in the expectations regarding a woman he cared about but who didn't want to stay in Alaska. This obviously colors his perception of what any one woman might be like, but what fun it was to see him happy when Violet was amazed by everything around them.

Since Violet is the newcomer, "outsider", the fun is to see how she deals with every new thing. I must say I struggled to think of myself as happy as she seemed to be if I had to be in the type of conditions she has, when Quinn is testing her but it was so sweet to read about her thoughts and love for the region anyway. Violet is a naturally bubbly woman, but she also has quite a vulnerable side and, of course, I loved how she got to be herself but still attempting to be a stronger person, doing things she liked and along with someone she felt she could trust.

I liked them both as individuals and as a couple, so many romantic scenes and I loved to know their inner musings, thoughts... these are more than likable characters and it was great to be "in their heads". Obviously, not everything is perfect, each one has doubts and worries and we just know that at some point everything will have to be dealt with and some of that met more cliché situations, but I feel it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story. The plot isn't complicated and some things were not very original (how Violet feels guilty over the role she is playing after she gets to fall in love with Quinn and with Alaska) but nothing seemed badly done.

Closer to the end, the author used some devices to enhance the drama and while I liked how this made the characters think about their behavior and feelings, it wasn't the best way to bring originality to the story. Again, I can't say it was bad but it could have been better for certain. There some cute scenes and love declarations which I found a bit exaggerated but I was just so happy with how things had evolved, especially on the emotional level for them, that I could just savor the overall story.

I really liked this one and I will read the next one too. Since it seems the stories will be focused on the Fortune siblings, I hope the author won't forget about the ones still single!
Grade: 9/10

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Rhys Ford - Sinner's Gin

There’s a dead man in Miki St. John’s vintage Pontiac GTO, and he has no idea how it got there.
After Miki survives the tragic accident that killed his best friend and the other members of their band, Sinner’s Gin, all he wants is to hide from the world in the refurbished warehouse he bought before their last tour. But when the man who sexually abused him as a boy is killed and his remains are dumped in Miki’s car, Miki fears Death isn’t done with him yet.
Kane Morgan, the SFPD inspector renting space in the art co-op next door, initially suspects Miki had a hand in the man’s murder, but Kane soon realizes Miki is as much a victim as the man splattered inside the GTO. As the murderer’s body count rises, the attraction between Miki and Kane heats up. Neither man knows if they can make a relationship work, but despite Miki’s emotional damage, Kane is determined to teach him how to love and be loved — provided, of course, Kane can catch the killer before Miki becomes the murderer’s final victim.

Comment: I got interested in this book after a recommendation by a friend. I had previously read another book by the author which I didn't like that much, but I've decided to give this one a try and I liked it better than the other one, but still not as much as I hoped for.

Miki St John is the singer in a successful band and when the story begins, they have just gotten out of the Grammys but a terrible accident kills the other three members, leaving Miki very hurt but the sole survivor. Then, some time later, Miki is a recluse in his home, he knows he should try to get better, especially emotionally, but he can't forget how things used to be and about the loss of his friends. His neighbor is detective Kane Morgan, from the San Francisco police and they finally meat each other when Miki's dog leaves his house and invades Kane's space. Although Kane tries to be stern with Miki about dog leashes, he can't help but feel attracted to him but everything is put aside when a body is found on Miki's car, in his garage. Upon investigation, the body belongs to a man from Miki's past, someone who abused Miki when he was a foster kid. Kane decides he should help Miki but when the person doing these things escalates, can it be Miki is in danger too?

I can see why this is a popular book among the several the author has written. Miki is a vulnerable but snarky guy and it's compelling to want to see him finding peace and happiness. Kane too is a reliable character and quite appealing,not only because of his protective role but because he is part of a large family and all the allusions and dynamics make for a cute and vibrant story. The contrast between their pasts makes a possible relationship amusing to see happen.

In fact, that was probably the element I liked the best in this story, how Kane's family - so many siblings and almost all in the police forces - being Irish is fun and loving and how that provides Miki with another side to things. This makes him realize he doesn't have to be isolated nor away from others and I liked the scenes where he met Kane's family and they started to be closer. The romance was cute and Kane always quite considerate of Miki's experiences and past but he never coddled him, making him aware he was a grown up man and he was able to choose what and who he wanted.

This said, it's true I had an easy time reading the book, but the writing style is hard to explain, I liked it but it isn't "magical" in the sense that it made me eager to know what would happen or eager to understand what was going through the protagonist' heads. Some writers can write about the simplest of actions and make everything effortless and smooth and while there's no problem with this author's skill, I just didn't feel the impact of what was happening.

Since I've found the writing wasn't always as special, the plot also looked a bit superficial. Miki went through a lot and although this addressed, I feel the emotional content wasn't always up to what was being described. Some times yes, others not so much, and that means it felt as if Miki could quite easily go between lighthearted and worried and that jarred me. Kane has had a better childhood and it shows on his behavior and personality but I still don't think I got to have a good grasp on their thoughts, their true selves.

As for the plot, I could say some details feel s bit too easy, a bit predictable regarding the bad guy's identity, but the psychology of everything isn't that terrible. I suppose I just didn't feel very invested in this because it was a given something would happen and that the police would find the culprit or do their job somehow. One could say there's some mystery ongoing but nothing really complex as we would see in a more thriller focused plot.

It also seems as if the author's books have to include some (light) paranormal aspect and that was shared right at the end in what I assume is a sort of cliffhanger. I wasn't overly surprised because I remember the other book by the author also had some similar content, but here it looks as if it is coming out of nowhere. I bet it will be the start of the next novel in the series but to be honest, right now I don't know if I want to read it. Perhaps one day if I feel like revisiting this author.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Serena Burdick - The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey

England, 1898. When Evelyn first married the famous novelist William Aubrey, she was dazzled by his brilliance. But their newlywed bliss is brief when William is gripped by writer’s block, and he becomes jealous of Evelyn’s writing talent. When he commits the ultimate betrayal—stealing a draft of her novel and passing it off as his own—Evelyn decides to write her way out of their unhappy marriage.
California, 2006. Abigail always wondered about her father, his identity forever lost when her mother unexpectedly died. Or so Abigail thought, until she stumbled upon his photo and a message that her great-great-grandmother was the author Evelyn Aubrey, leading Abigail on a journey to England in search for answers. There, she learns of Evelyn’s shocking disappearance and how London society believed she was murdered. But from what she uncovers about Evelyn, Abigail believes her brilliant great-great-grandmother had another plot up her sleeve.
Rich in atmosphere and emotion, The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey tells the story of literary secrets, a family curse and the lengths women will go to take charge of their future.

Comment: I am one of those readers who tend to like books about books or where books are an important part of the plot. Thinking about that and the fact this would have a dual time story I've agreed with a friend to do a buddy read. However, I don't think the execution was as great as I imagined it could...

In this book we have two timelines: In present day Abigail is still wondering about her father, someone she has never met. Searching things about him leads her to England, where he is originally from and, on the process, she stumbles on the name of Evelyn Aubrey, known for being the wife of famous author William Aubrey and for a small book of poems. With a photo, Abigail realizes her father is a descendant from this couple but everything is mysterious, especially how Evelyn is believed to have disappeared and no one knew how guilty her husband might have been.
At the same time Abigail investigates, we have the other timeline with Evelyn's story, a young woman who wants excitement and freedom and breaks up her engagement to marry William, someone who seduced her with all the possibilities of how a marriage between them would be marvelous. However, reality isn't as simple or vibrant...

On paper, the idea seems great. However, I don't think the author has managed the dual time sections as smoothly as she should, to make reading about each one as excitingly as it could have been. It's true that usually one time line is more appealing than the other but here, the one I liked the most wasn't always that engaging either, so... I don't feel properly impressed.

The historical section was very captivating. It is practically a given that when Evelyn, a woman with an independent spirit and a real talent for writing, decides to cancel her engagement with a man we are told is not very exciting, things can not go well. The man she chooses instead is vibrant and seductive but we get the idea that might not last or that it was just a way for her to feel seduced. As the pages go by, we get to see the tension and the stress accumulating and how too far apart they are and the lack of mutual trust. I cannot say this always so, but some situations were a bit predictable in how they played out.

The contemporary section was too bland for me. Abigail felt like a whiny and irresponsible person and while I can sympathize with her need to know more about her father, the fact she has been raised by grandparents who love her, I also felt annoyed she wasn't more receptive or understanding of their POV. I also think she was too immature emotionally, and nothing about her "voice" convinced me this was just because she didn't get to know who her father was. I think her decisions and personality only revealed someone I didn't care about.

The chapters alternate between the historical and the contemporary sections but I don't think this really helped the plot. I mean, I get it that the author did it so both times could be paced and the reader would feel interested but I'll confess that if this had been simply about the historical story, even with flaws, I'd have graded it higher, butt he mix of the two, while making some sense, just wasn't done well, in my opinion. The historical section is intriguing for the most part despite the obvious things, but the contemporary is just too boring.

I was also a little put off by Abigail's sudden decisions, even admitting she hasn't a lot of money, there she goes to England on a whim, she barely lets people know about this, and once there she just randomly finds the right place, conveniently can stay with the people - some sort of cousins of her father if I read it right - that now manage the house where the Aubreys used to live, doesn't have to pay anything - they don't want payment -  and at the same time this is like the perfect scenery for her to think of the ultimatum made by the man she loves, who loves her but with whom she felt she couldn't commit to. Too many convenient details...

The historical section was more engaging because it is obvious William will not be a good husband and there's some mystery on how Evelyn disappeared... on the contemporary  setting we only know this, not how she disappeared or of she was actually killed, as presumed. To be honest, I've found the resolution to this to be quite obvious from a certain moment on, just not exactly how. Still, the emotional content here was certainly more interesting to follow, and part of me wanted Evelyn to simply figure out how to do the right thing. Sadly, I think the author wanted both shock factor and drama, and she took things into a path with villains and greedy people and not really any kind of emotional HEA.

I mean, it's not like as if every story has to end well or with a HEA but the way things happened, this might have brought a more romantic/sweet expectation to how things might have been and, instead, it was more drama. I just feel the end was too confusing and with too many details which weren't that special. I lied some elements, yes, namely the way Evelyn felt about writing and all the possibilities of her life and how that part might have been, but the rest, rather meh.
Grade: 5/10

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Nick Bradley - The Cat and The City

In Tokyo – one of the world’s largest megacities – a stray cat is wending her way through the back alleys. And, with each detour, she brushes up against the seemingly disparate lives of the city-dwellers, connecting them in unexpected ways.
But the city is changing. As it does, it pushes her to the margins where she chances upon a series of apparent strangers – from a homeless man squatting in an abandoned hotel, to a shut-in hermit afraid to leave his house, to a convenience store worker searching for love. The cat orbits Tokyo’s denizens, drawing them ever closer.

Comment: I got interested in this book the last time I've visited my local library. I tend to like books with quirky characters  - is not a cat one? - and I've checked the blurb so I knew the setting would be in Japan. Adding cats, and Japan and having read previous stories featuring Japanese characters made me curious about this one too!

In this book we have a multitude of characters and their lives becoming intertwined as everyone goes on about their days in Tokyo. The point in common is a cat, apparently walking without direction from place to place. As the cat passes by or briefly interacts with strangers, we get to know more about who they are and why their lives have gotten to be that way. At first it seems as if the connection is just the cat, but the more we read, the more links start to become visible among all the characters, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not...

This is the first book I try by this author. I had not heard about him nor this book before finding it in the library but the theme caught my eye. I think it is inevitable that the inclusion of a cat and the setting being in Japan would make me have some pre conceived idea about what type of story this would be and, in part, I wasn't surprised that this was a quirky and sometimes odd novel, but I also expected to be more impressed, having had previously a very good experience with a read featuring the exact same themes.

This book wasn't as linear as I imagined. It's true we can see a sequence of events or of situations described but this felt more like a collection of vignettes or short entries, which the author attempted to put together using the cat as connection. That's fine, author's artistic licence and all that, but I think the method feels jarring, too obvious and the characters too isolated, even when we are told how they interact or how they have more in common than what seemed real. Actually, this graphic way of presenting the text reminded me of another book by a Japanese author, which I didn't like as much as the one I referenced in the link above.

To be honest, I can't remember all the characters and/or their stories. I keep thinking about the taxi driver, who was my favorite character and Flo, the translator, because of some of the issues she mentions about her work and her being in a very different country, culturally wise. I think this is what I can sort of identify with the most, although I have not lived in a foreign country, but the words and what is said feels very realistic. What made me think about the story the most was this and the fact everyone is kid of alone - sometimes even lonely too - and while I can understand people in Japan are not as demonstrative as in other countries, it still feels weird.

The writing isn't hard to go through but I can't tell if the author wanted to be different by adding other types of graphic information such as a small manga story or if this was truly the only way the story could be told. Then, later on, some situations become more relatable - to how I was reading, at least - and others felt more emotional. I thought the end would be more along the lines of a more traditional type of novel, but I will admit I was confused by some of the cat related scenes. I would not say everything was too weird, but some details definitely were.

I've seen some readers commenting on the way Japanese culture was portrayed and that it isn't as fair as it should and of course I can't say so, but I agree some stories  mentioned things which sound a bit too much like clichés or perhaps he might have exaggerated what could be simply scant but was made to look as if it was a given among all Japanese people. There were two or three stories which I actually disliked and some weren't very memorable.

All in all, this was a quick read, something I imagined would be a lot better but in the end wasn't as brilliant as I hoped for. I also agree with readers who said this isn't as "feel good" as the title might suggest, and with the cute cat on the cover. I suppose expectations should be adjusted in that regard. I can't say if i'd read another book by the author but if it ends up at the library, perhaps.
Grade: 6/10

Friday, March 24, 2023

Karen Rose - Quarter to Midnight

Good cops. Bad cops. Only one will win.
After completing her tours with the Marines in Iraq, Molly Sutton knew she could take down any bad guy she met. But when a family tragedy exposes the dark side of her local police, she joined up with her former CO Burke Broussard, who left New Orleans PD to set up a private investigative service for people who couldn't find justice elsewhere.
Gabe Hebert saw the toll that working for the NOPD took on his dad and decided instead to make a name for himself as one of the best young chefs in the French Quarter. But when his father's death is ruled a suicide after a deliberately botched investigation by his former captain, Gabe knows his dad stumbled onto a truth that someone wants silenced.
Gabe goes to his father's best friend, Burke, for help. Burke assigns the toughest member of his team, Molly, to the case. Molly can't believe she's being asked to work with the smoking hot chef whose chocolate cake is not the only thing that makes her mouth water. Sparks fly as they follow the leads Gabe's dad left them, unraveling a web of crimes, corruption, and murder that runs all the way to the top.

Comment: This is book #26 in the long romantic suspense series by Karen Rose. Although not all the books are IN sequence or have obvious connections, there's still a linear string making it all feel understandable if one starts from the start. It has been quite a commitment but I have enjoyed the books a lot - of course some more than others - and I do plan on reading this author for as long as she writes.

In this book, the author picks new characters and a new setting in New Orleans. Gabe, a now famous chef in the area, hires a PI firm to investigate the death of his father, which was classified as a suicide but Gabe thinks this was unlikely. Molly is the investigator in charge of the case but everything becomes more complex when Xavier, a young man in Texas, contacts Gabe following the instructions of his late father. Years ago, Gabe's father rescued Xavier during the aftershock of Katrina and Xavier confessed he had seen a murder. Someone is now trying to "clean house" and Xavier might be next...can the PIs and their friends and connections help Xavier? What about Gabe, who wants to know what happened to his father and is now feeling something for Molly, the more they get to spend time together?

I think, by this point, that my appreciation of this author's books isn't much if I like it or not. I already consider it a given that I will like reading the work by this author but sometimes the challenge is to see if the content is more or less interesting or appealing, depending on how the plot progresses. Here, the crimes being investigated aren't the most gruesome the author has invented which, for me, puts this book in that middle road between tame and hard to swallow.

There is still a slight connection element to sort of connect it with the previous book. Two of the secondary characters were also secondary characters in that other book and it was nice enough to see them have a role here. But, of course, the main ones are new, live in a place that is introduced as new as well and it was quite fun to try to get an idea about everyone. I would not say it was exactly bittersweet because the books are simply engaging, but it did made me think about everyone else, characters I had gotten used to already...

As for the author's style, it's obviously still the same, whoever reads one of her books kind of knows what to always expect. I like her style,lots of details and time dedicated to the characters' actions and I know this can feel a bit repetitive to many readers and too long or too boring at times. I would not go as far as to say I'm bored but it is true some situations just take too long. I suppose the idea is to use all the moments to enhance what is going on but perhaps letting the plot happen in a longer period of time might help? What the author still includes and I still dislike and would completely remove is the lengthy entries narrated by the villain or from his/her POV. Totally unnecessary for me.

The case being investigated was more on the tame side for me because it was about a murder and corruption (as opposed, for instance, to the crimes of sexual abuse and similar which some other books had and that, to me, are harder to read about) and the need to see justice happen is easier even when there were some obstacles. I don't mean to say this isn't as serious or bad to read about, especially when we empathize with the characters but there are definitely harder books to read by the author.

As for the romance content, that isn't exactly the focus and feels like it happens a bit too quickly. We also must bear in mind the action scenes and the adrenaline make the plto feel as if it's busier, that it has a lot going on and while this can help the romance feel like it's a natural development because of the close proximity and such, it can have the opposite effect. I liked Gabe and Molly and, for a novelty, at least one of them ins't in the police or any kind of legal authority profession. Did I think they were the best couple? Not close to my favorites, but since this the beginning of a new series... actually I'm more interested in reading about the couple who will be protagonist of the next book set in new Orleans...

Basically, this was a good novel, probably will appeal more to those who already love the genre or those who are familiar to the author's style.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Claire Delacroix - Fallen

The Eyes of the Republic are Everywhere.
When her estranged husband's mysterious death is declared an accident, Lilia Desjardins knows that it is a lie. She leaves all she knows to risk the dark heart of the Republic -- only to find that she herself has been targeted by forces unknown.
Adam Montgomery will do anything to complete his earthly mission, even if he has to tangle with the enigmatic Lilia Desjardins. But when his contact is murdered and he must rely on Lilia’s silence to save him from the slave dens, Adam knows that his wings were only the first sacrifice required of him.
As danger and intrigue surround them, Lilia and Adam realize that they must work together -- body, mind, and soul -- in order to save the world.

Comment: Another PNR/UF book I had in the pile for years. I've tasked myself the reading of at least two of these books per month which have been languishing in the pile, so that I can get it over with, whether it's a good or a not so good read. Sadly, this one wasn't addictive as I hoped for.

In this book, the world is a complex and terrifying place, the result of nuclear wars and radiation. Some areas of the planet are livable, others not so much, but always some people fight against the tyrannical governments which arose from chaos. In such a state lives Lilia, who wants to find out why her husband was killed in a radioactive zone and his body cut. She knows investigating might be risky but she just has to know what happened. 
Adam Montgomery is an Angel in disguise, whose wings were clipped so he could blend in. He knows his mission is dangerous and if he dies as human, he won't return to his angel status, he will only be another soul in Heaven. Nevertheless, he and his fellow angels want to protect humans and especially the innocent ones, including the "shades" who have weird mutations and differences, deeming them "inferior" or without rights. When Adam and Lilia meet, they are both wary of one another but equally attracted. Can they join forces to discover who might have killed her husband?

I think the idea of this book (and series) is actually quite good. Not truly original, but interesting enough to make me curious to see how the author would develop things. I was even more interested since this author also writes as Deborah Cooke, whose dragon PNR books I enjoyed a lot. However, the aim here didn't make me think romance, but more UF and I can't help but saying some chapters were quite boring to me.

I liked the story's idea. No matter the details, the classic trope of good vs evil, whatever the shape used, is a guarantee that we will want to root for some characters, even if the conflict is only the search for solutions or peace. Thinking of this, I would say the story line here is pretty basic but, unfortunately for me, the content wasn't as appealing as I imagined. The writing isn't bad nor difficult, but the plot choices and the characters as a whole just didn't wow me. I think the story could have been more engaging with the reader, in the sense that I wish we could have more positive elements to counterbalance the obviously despairing vibe of the world these people live in.

I also liked the story includes angels in disguise but to be honest, not much is shared abut them beyond the generic. They are portrayed as these amazing bus distant beings, and living among humans can only be their downfall if they develop feelings, so it was a bit annoying to have to accept this when everyone could have been done in a less basic manner, or the author could have given them all more complex personalities or a more likable hierarchy or something, to make them more approachable.

Adam is characterized as special, simply because throughout his mission, he does develop feelings for Lilia but for the life of me I can't understand why if all their interactions were superficial and even their monologues stuck mostly to plot details or the very basic lust. The romance part clearly felt underdone to me and knowing about the author's work in PNR, I think she could have done a more balanced job of it here too. Adam never really felt alive to me, I didn't really connect with him, but I was even less impressed by Lilia.

She is a good person, so likable enough, but I think her good qualities don't mean she is an easy character to like reading about. Adding the fact she is often doing things that might be unlawful or complicated because it has to be secretive, made me think of her as a hidden super heroine, and I feel I only got to know her for her secrets and her goals. I feel her character and personality weren't very well fleshed but perhaps that was just my impression.. I should say she has some pain and sadness following her over some events in her past, so I guess this can be seen as depth, but not enough to win me over.

The world in this post apocalyptic series can't be cute and joyful, I understand. But it's all just on tones of bleakness and while this is realistic to the information we get, I still wish the author had introduced other elements to make things more appealing too. For instance, instead of just focusing on the bad and offering small glimpses of hope, why not set this at a time that the world had already gotten a more stable structure? The story itself isn't bad, but I struggled to feel interested in the people, both good guys and bad guys and everyone else.

I probably won't read the rest of the original trilogy intended, nor the other two stories which followed them.
Grade: 4/10

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Jenny Ashcroft - Beneath a Burning Sky

When twenty-two-year-old Olivia is coerced into marriage by the cruel Alistair Sheldon she leaves England for Egypt, his home and the land of her own childhood. Reluctant as she is to go with Alistair, it's in her new home that she finds happiness in surprising places: she is reunited with her long-estranged sister, Clara, and falls - impossibly and illicitly - in love with her husband's boarder, Captain Edward Bertram.
Then Clara is abducted from one of the busiest streets in the city. Olivia is told it's thieves after ransom money, but she's convinced there's more to it. As she sets out to discover what's happened to the sister she's only just begun to know, she falls deeper into the shadowy underworld of Alexandria, putting her own life, and her chance at a future with Edward, the only man she's ever loved, at risk. Because, determined as Olivia is to find Clara, there are others who will stop at nothing to conceal what's become of her . . .
Beneath a Burning Sky is a novel of secrets, betrayal and, above all else, love. Set against the heat and intrigue of colonial Alexandria, this beautiful and heart-wrenching story will take your breath away.

Comment: I got interested in this book some years ago, after seeing a positive review. The way the person described the book made me curious and now, using the excuse it would fit a topic in a challenge I'm doing, I finally picked it up.

In this historical fiction novel we follow Olivia, a young woman who is coerced into marriage with a man who had his eye on her sister Clara. Olivia says yes because she feels she has no choice and also because she travels to Egypt with him, which is where her sister lives with her husband and child and she thinks they might become friends again. Although they spent their childhood there, they got separated and their relationship was never the same. However, live with her husband isn't a happy one for Olivia and everything changes when he welcomes an officer boarder, with whom she falls in love and seems to be reciprocated. At the same time she is dealing with these emotions, her sister is kidnapped and no one seems to do the necessary to find her. Olivia investigates but it's not easy...especially since it feels someone is trying to keep Clara hidden, but what will Olivia do when she finds out the truth?

I felt the beginning of this novel was a slightly confusing one. I struggled to understand why Olivia's husband would want to marry the sister of someone who rejected him but I suppose this was just another way for us to see Alistair as the villain. Nevertheless, the whole situation felt oppressive and unfair, which I assume was the point but I'll confess sometimes everything was just too bleak.

In fact, I'd say this is the tone of the book from start to finish, bleak. The characters lead miserable lives, have complicated feelings towards Egypt and its culture but it's also what they know,not only because this is set at a time the British had control over the region but because that meant many British officers, their families and who knows who else, were living there for years and established roots. Of course, living near to Egyptians, who have different ways of seeing life and dealing with it, would always crash with the British mentality and I feel the author didn't try to ignore this. 

Therefore, the more cultural/political aspects of the novel weren't superfluous or badly done, but when in relation to the fictional characters I just found everything to feel a little frustrating. Olivia spends the book being worried about her sister, trying to discover clues on her whereabouts and trying to understand why someone would have wanted to hurt Clara. She is also falling in love and she feels trapped in a situation she can't control, since her husband is so domineering and imposingly cruel. But what about how she behaves outside, when dealing with Egyptian people? I found some of the passages too convenient for the plot, others too slow... it wasn't always easy to maintain my interest in what was happening.

The reason why Clara disappears is slowly revealed as the plot moves along. As soon as I've finished, I thought everything was just too naively done and would such a simple motif cause such problems, but then the author explained another doubt and it felt as if everything had more sense than I imagined. This is an interesting blend of a mystery novel with an historical one, but to my personal taste, I'd have preferred more captivating characters. I can't tell if it's just the writing style - quiet, unassuming, slow - or the characters themselves, all more or less irritating, but I wasn't fascinated by them.

Olivia is a good heroine in the sense she embodies all the positive aspects of a tragic heroine, trapped in a loveless marriage, but still trying to do the right thing, devoted to her sister despite the years they weren't together, but her personality didn't win me over. She was too frustrating to think of, always with morose thoughts and actions, even while trying to investigate her sister's disappearance. As for the love interest, the boarder at her house... well, my first impression of him wasn't a good one and while he proved to be "honorable", I still feel I didn't get to know him that well to care.

Overall, this was interesting at times, a little annoying at others. I was also a little annoyed when things would seem to finally reach some sort of conclusion or turning point and then it would all stop (an interruption, a character who doesn't answer questions..) and I would think, more waiting... On one hand this is a good tactic to delay having the explanations too quickly, but I don't think the way this is written benefited from this choice. The secondary situations or even the characters alone just didn't interest me that much for this to be bearable, it was simply annoying.

All in all, there are good things yes, but I was disappointed over some plot choices, the characters weren't "alive" to me and immersed a they all seem to be in complicated or miserable lives, I didn't felt much joy or dedication in reading. It was passable for me.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Hailey Turner - In the Solace

Jamie Callahan is looking forward to spending the rest of his life with Kyle Brannigan. They’ve overcome impossible odds, and the only thing left to do is walk down the aisle together. Despite the happiness they’ve earned, their enemies haven’t all disappeared.
Colonel Liam Wessex is thrilled his best friend is getting married, but it’s just further proof that his own life is breaking apart. With his classified identity revealed to the public, Liam is struggling with the transition into civilian life. Becoming reacquainted with MI6 Agent Oliver Archer forces Liam to reconcile his past actions with a future that just might be the answer to all of his problems.
Oliver thought he’d done enough to cut Liam out of his life. When their professional lives collide, he’s forced to accept the fact that Liam is no longer the spoiled prince he once knew. When terrorists target London and the unthinkable happens, Oliver and Liam learn that second chances come with a price neither can afford to pay.

Comment: This is the last installment in the Metahuman Files series by author Hailey Turner. I have enjoyed this series quite a lot, some books more than others, but I was obviously interested in reading this final one. I think I've read the author wasn't planning on writing more after the shorter stories before this installment, but since thee were still some loose threads, she did so and we are able to have Liam's HEA as well, for he had been an interesting secondary character.

In this final story we start by following the wedding day of Jamie and Kyle, finally rewarded their formal HEA even though it was already a given they would take this step. One of the guests is Liam, their British connection, who has been friends with Jamie for years. Liam is facing the same situation as Jamie, his family is pressuring him to retire from active duty since his identity is now known. Liam feels this isn't what he wants but he knows he can't just put others in danger because of him either, so he is reluctantly thinking about it. There's still time for one last mission, the fight against potential terrorist attacks in the UK and that is how he is, again, working with Oliver Archer, someone he knew since they both attended Eton. However, things didn't really go well back then between them... could it now be time for them to finally talk?

For those who, like me, have liked the previous books, this is another good read and a good addiction tot he series, simply for the fact it continues the story line and has the same tone of the other books. It's something to be expected and it delivers exactly that. The plus side is that it offers the HEA of a different couple and it's is always nice to see a new type of romance develop.

I liked Liam and Olivers's story well enough. We knew, from the previous stories in which they were secondary characters, that something had happened between them to make them behave with animosity towards one another, and I was looking for to wade through the angst to see them become a couple. This did happen so I can say that, in the romance department, things went the way I hoped. As for why they weren't friends now, it was understandable, for they have an history.

Some might label this a "second chance romance" but to me it felt more like "enemies to lovers" and I like this trope way better and, besides, they weren't friends now trying to make it work, they were both reluctant but we know they would change their opinions after a serious talk. As one can imagine, this wasn't done too quickly, so we get to see them interact a bit and do other things while "processing" which, to me, makes the final HEA so much more believable. At the same time, I feel they didn't have enough situations in which to think of the other unless it was under stress so, maybe that could have been done more convincingly.

The romance is tender in some moments and I liked they tried to go past who they had been. I especially liked Oliver's personality and character and I feel he is a nice addition to this "world". Their personal lives were complex enough to make me think how them being a couple in the future might be like, not impossible but with some challenges and I think the author addressed the issues enough. not as much as I would have liked, considering everything else, but I was glad they ended up together.

What probably made me dislike this book a little was the inclusion of the intimacy scenes between Jamie and Kyle. One of them was way too long for a book not centered exclusively on them and, to be honest, I just don't enjoy reading about their sex life as they have a dynamic I don't find appealing at all, so I skipped the pages in which these things happen. When they are interacting with others or to each other among others, that is different, and of course I like knowing what they are up to.

As for the plot development and closure, I don't think it's any surprise to say the good guys find a way to solve the problems and to deal with the pending subjects. The author does plan the action scenes quite well, they are detailed without being too boring or complicated and I tend to go through them more or less easily, which adds this "professional" vibe to the overall story line. Things end well for those we are rooting for, of course.

Thinking about all the elements the author included in this book, comparing to what I felt like about the other books, I must say this wasn't my favorite. There was a bit too much attention on elements I wasn't too fond of, in detriment of I wanted more of, but it's true that this book was as easy and addictive to read as the others, so, in general, still a good story and a good enough finale for the series.
Grade: 7/10

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Carole Matthews - The Chocolate Lovers' Club

The Chocolate Lovers’ Club brings together four very different women with one thing in common: they can't resist chocolate. This is an irresistible novel for anyone who wishes they were a member! Lucy Lombard can't resist it - rich, creamy, sweet, delicious chocolate. For her there's nothing it won't cure - from heartache to a headache - and she's not alone. Sharing her passion are three other addicts: Autumn, Nadia and Chantal. Together they form The Chocolate Lovers' Club. They meet in their sanctuary, Chocolate Heaven, as often as they can, and with a cheating boyfriend who promises he'll change, a flirtatious boss, a gambling husband and a loveless marriage, there's always plenty to discuss!

Comment: I was given this book for Christmas but only now did I manage to fit it into my monthly lists. It's also the first book by the author but I knew beforehand the author writes fun romantic comedies bordering on women's fiction.

In this book we meet the members of the Chocolate Lovers' Club, a group of four different women, who meet often at the Chocolate Heaven, the best place to buy all kinds of chocolate and where people can also sit and eat. Lucy Lombard is the founding member and she leads a very average life, where chocolate can work as therapy for her in all kinds of situations and the truth is she and boyfriend Marcus have had many ups and downs. The other members are quiet Autumn, confident Chantal and tired Nadia, who all have their own issues but, if necessary, they are there for one another and often get themselves in the craziest situations but thankfully friendship and chocolate can help solve almost everything...

I admit I had some expectations about what kind of story I'd find here, considering the covers of the author's books alone. All are cute, sweet, colorful and immediately make me think two words: easy and light. I just assumed the stories would not have a lot of depth, which is something I like in fiction, even if it's a simple romance story, and I must say I was definitely proven right of my assumption.

This is a very forgettable story and I'm sad to think that the inside does not match the beautiful covers... extrapolating, since I have not read other books by the author nor do I plan to, probably that explains, in part at least, why there are so many books by this author... I can only suppose they aren't too hard to develop. This is a pity for the idea isn't too bad, friendship and chocolate aren't an original pairing but many authors have made it work, even when these aren't the main elements.

The story is told mainly by Lucy but we do have scenes shared by the POV of the others. All have much more complicated lives than what one would expect and Autumn and Nadia in particular have difficult situations to overcome, regarding family members. I can only imagine how the story might be more appealing, emotionally, if it had been focused mostly on their side of things, but sadly Lucy is the main narrator and she is quite silly at times and very immature at others. As for Chantel, she has very pointless problems or - maybe I should say it in a different way - she has perceived problems which she isn't dealing with in a mature way as her age should indicate.

Lucy and her boyfriend have had a rocky relationship since he cheated before. Obviously, it's no surprise to discover on chapter 1 or 2 right away that he is doing ti again. Then, I thought this would be a tale about Lucy letting go and moving on, but the writing and the supposed love interest didn't feel very likable and I was thinking to myself, is this where the story is going, because if it is, I really won't be able to think this has enough substance. Well, it ended up being my final impression, really. I also know the aim here isn't to write the best British novel ever, but if it's being published, some structure and content had to be planned for it to be successful, no? Well, the author has many books published so, what do I know!

As the plot moves along, the main characters see themselves in may silly and childish situations which I've found too demeaning and some things were even caused by irresponsible behavior. I was wondering what the point would be but when the story reaches the end, we don't have any definitive resolution to Lucy's romantic life nor about anything else. Apparently there are three more novels about these four friends, and each book isn't focused on one, I have to assume. We would have to read them all to have the beginning, middle and end of each one of their lives/paths. I don't think I'm that interested.

As for the chocolate content, the women surely eat a lot of it and that doesn't have to be a problem but the way the author wrote didn't make it always appealing and how can this be.... I like chocolate so a book about it would be mouthwatering, I thought, but it turns out that writing can be good or bad - of feel like that - no matter how much one likes or dislikes a subject. 
To summarize: I didn't finish this book liking the writing nor the characters in general. The idea and some scenes regarding Nadia and Autumn felt like having potential, but I'm not as curious as that to read more to find out.
Grade: 4/10

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Maria V. Snyder - Poison Study

Choose: A quick death… Or slow poison...
About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.
And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.
As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear...

Comment: This book was well hyped a few years ago but since it's labeled YA I never felt very interested. However, someone whose opinion I trust has mentioned certain aspects about it which convinced me the YA elements were not as glaring and that I might like it and I got it later on. I'm very happy to say this person knows me well and that is exactly what I thought about it!

In this story we meet  Yelena, a young woman accused and convicted of murder, which is a crime punished by death in the fantasy world created by the author. However, there's a possible solution, the Code of Rules allows the next prisoner to be executed to be offered the chance for salvation and Yelene is next. She is asked to be the poison taster for the Commander and if she refuses, she will be executed as planed. Clearly heroine Yelena isn't one to miss an opportunity and she accepts, and starts to be trained by the ruthless but charismatic Valek. At the same time, Yelena can't help but feel her life is in danger still, for the man she killed was the son of the "benefactor" general in whose district she lived as an orphan. Now that man wants revenge but can it be he might want to use Yelena as motive for even higher plans?

This is the first book of what was originally a trilogy and that later became a series. I say this because the first three full length stories were written between 2005 and 2008 and the other later three between 2015 and 2017. I have not investigated enough why but it feels as if the second half of the series might have been thought of later as well (as opposed, perhaps, to an original plan for six books in 2005 when the first one was published?).

Anyway, I had the fear this would be just one more YA story with an immature and "special" heroine dividing her goals into lust and megalomaniac odds of doing something groundbreaking in the world. Thankfully, my own sense of the whole thing was quickly put to rest when we are told the heroine is actually 19 and as I kept reading, I could see her focus wasn't on romance but on surviving and in finding a way to feel worthy and discover more about her origins and why the man who everyone thinks as a good person by taking care of orphans is actually quite a villain.

The idea for this story - and the subsequent ones I imagine - is quite engaging and I was engrossed by how this was developed. Yelena becomes a poison taster for someone who caused a revolution, brought down the monarchy which was, for all purposes, unfair and corrupt, and now installed a sort of dictatorship but where the Commander often makes fair and realistic decisions. I think this was an interesting element, for we assume any dictatorship can only be negative by the meaning of the work alone, but the way this happens, despite the system not being perfect as we learn, still helps to maintain order.

The region is divided into north (where the Commander rules 8 districts) and the south, where other clans still live. One of the interesting differences is that there's magic in this world and those in north consider it bad and exploitative and why the previous king had so much power. I don't think anyone would find it  such a surprise to know Yelena, as an orphan, has mysterious origins and she is clearly of a magical family line! This has certainly allowed for interesting developments in the story to happen, some more important than others.

Yelena is a good heroine, we see things from her POV and she isn't whiny or selfish despite her past experiences, but she isn't so hard of feeling that she wouldn't accept kindness of others. Of course much of the plot helps us to create this idea of her but so does the notion she is genuinely a likable person. I can only assume we will see other sides of her in the next books, especially considering how this one ends and the fact she will certainly explore her magical side.

There are some hints of romance until closer to the end, obviously regarding Valek, and this being fantasy and specifically aimed at certain plot scenes, I didn't find it weird they are more or less boss/employee. In fact, their roles start to blend a little as the story progresses but he does remain a little mysterious as any romantic interest must be like, at least until the drama of the plot reaches it's peak. We do learn some interesting tidbits about him and about the world building in general which make this a very well planned story after all.

I might read the second book although I don't own it yet. It's really not a priority but one day I might want to see how this would continue....
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

TBR Challenge: Nicole Burnham - Scandal With a Prince

A one night stand. A lifelong obsession.
One magical summer, Megan Hallberg met—and loved—Prince Stefano Barrali. But his royal duties took him home, and when she discovered she carried his child, she also discovered he was engaged…to a beautiful, worldly aristocrat.
Ten years later, Stefano runs into Megan at the grand opening of a Barcelona hotel, and it’s his every sensual fantasy come to life. His memory of the stunning blonde and their passionate summer has haunted his dreams, and a night under the stars gives him the perfect opportunity to reclaim the woman he thought lost to him.
Megan finds herself torn between passion with a prince and a fierce need to protect her daughter. Can the man who captured her heart so many years ago be her destiny…or her downfall?

Comment: The days just keep passing by... it's time for the TBR Challenge post once again and for March the theme is "baggage", which is vague enough to be interpreted in many ways. For me, I thought of the idea of someone having some kind of information/situation not shared with someone else and in the case of this novel, the heroine has not told her past fling that there was a baby. So, I thought, isn't the secret baby trope the most interesting type of "baggage" one could carry?

In this book we meet heroine Megan Hallberg who, ten years ago, was doing volunteer work and that is how she met prince Stefano Barrali. They had a wonderful summer romance but when the summer ends and they have to go back to their routines, Megan discovers she is pregnant. Unfortunately, she can't get Stefano to call her back, despite the several attempts, and she accepts he just isn't interested and has moved on, since he announces his engagement soon after. 
Now, they randomly meet again at the opening of the Barcelona hotel she has helped to design and manage and it seems as if their attraction never ended. It's true he didn't marry after all, but can she trust him once more, especially since there's their daughter Anna to consider as well?

I mean, this does sound as if it's a pretty basic story line in one of those Mills and Boon books... I've seen the author wrote for Silhouette but I think her more recent books are self published? I could not find precise information on this but, anyway, the story is as basic and linear as one would imagine from the blurb. It's not that category books are bad or weaker than anything else, but it's also true one might have expectations on them. I can't remember why I added this but I suppose it's another example of a "royal romance" type of book I wanted to try.

As for the "baggage" detail, I also think that is very obvious and exactly I picked this one for the challenge. I actually liked that, unlike so many other similar books, in this one the secret baby wasn't a terrible secret hidden on purpose. There's a sort of mix between bad communication and realistic expectations by Megan, after all she did try to contact him, but it was also quite refreshing that, now, after seeing him again, she didn't try to hide it as soon as she thought on the subject.I say this because it would be so easy to keep the angst and the secrets but they went for talking and trying to find a way to make a relationship between Stefano and Anna work, despite their different lives.

I'll be contradictory, though: since they acted like adults and discussed this, it became obvious as well where this would go and part of the conflict ended, being the focus now on how soon they would reconnect, both emotionally and physically. To me, at the same time I liked this, I think it made the plot quite boring. It seemed as if the path could only be one, so the constant discussion of issues, the supposed encounters to make Anna spend time with her father and the fact he disguised himself so he could play tourist with them in a crowded Barcelona... it just turned boring.

In part, this feeling of being bored comes from how Megan and Stefano are characterized. They are good people, under all the professional and personal personas they present but there aren't that many layers to them, nothing really "special" except the reason why they have a bond and the baggage they have to solve is all emotional and in how can they be a couple, considering Stefano's identity and the demands on who and what he is. It's true he belongs to a fictional royal family, in an also fictional city state - funny how it is said if the line of Barallis ended, their city state would revert to Italy - but the author has put an interesting twist in this.

Therefore, the story is rather basic, things go slowly but steadily to make them feel like a couple, perhaps a family in the future, and the way this is headed will certainly mean Megan will be part of the royals too. But I thought to myself, where is the conflict now, why is everything so easy if only people accept their choices (such as Megan accepting to work in the city state or Stefano accepting he can make decisions and not just following his parents decisions)? This reconnecting also happened in a very short period of time, so I got the feeling they didn't really work for the changes, they just did plans and hoped for the best.

I can't pinpoint exactly why this felt too bland and boring, but perhaps, for me, it would have more fun to watch the interactions of these three, as soon as Stefano and Anna's relationship had been established, with Stefano's family... but this didn't happen, so there were no new elements to be added.
The end is also a bit abrupt and while one can imagine well enough, it's just not the same. At the same time, I can't be that bothered because I wasn't fully impressed and I don't plan on reading the following installments.
Grade: 6/10