Saturday, February 16, 2019

Friday, February 15, 2019

Heather Cullman - For All Eternity

With all of London at her feet, Sophie Barrington could have any man she desires. But the pampered heiress is in love with the foppish Julian, Lord Oxley, and is completely uninterested in the man her family is pressuring her to wed—Nicholas Somerville, the wealthy Earl of Lyndhurst. Then she discovers why her family is so set on Nicholas: She’s penniless. She must either marry the odious Lord Lyndhurst or face debtor’s prison. A clever scheme to save herself erupts in scandal, forcing her to flee town.
Nicholas always imagined that the wife he chose would possess sense and sensibility. Instead, he finds himself courting a spoiled society chit who’s far too beautiful for her own good. When Sophie publicly humiliates him, Nicholas returns to his ancestral manor to regroup. There he discovers that the newest servant at Hawksbury Manor is the object of his desire—and mortification—and he plots to pay her back.
Witty, sensual, and filled with powerful emotion, For All Eternity is romance at its most beguiling.

Comment: I saw some comment somewhere about this book and I got interested because it would feature two of the elements I usually like a lot in romances, the enemies to lovers sort of trope and the heroine in economic difficulties but who improves or changes her lot by being humble and a good person (that's the intention, I mean!). Although these two elements are present in the story, there are a few details about it that didn't fulfill my expectations completely.
Thankfully, the Open Road Media Romance is re-publishing some novels by this author in ebook format and I could find it easily.

When this story begins, young lady Sophie Barrington is living the life of a popular debutante and is also in love with a man she considers the best of men. She is also having the attentions of lord Lyndhurst, an earl who her family wants her to marry. However, Sophie doesn't like that the earl isn't very good looking and that his conversation is boring. 
Everything changes when her not very demonstrative cousin and aunt tell her all her dowry is gone to pay gambling debts and she must marry a wealthy man. Thinking the man she likes, lord Oxley, will be happy to help help by marrying a little sooner than expected, she runs from lord Lyndhurst but is surprised to know lord Oxley only wanted her while he thought she had money too. Fearing the possibility of going to prison and abandoned by her family after the scandal gets known, Sophie is forced to become a servant, and to her horror, precisely to the man she jilted publicly...

 This is cute romance in its premise. I was very eager to see how a vain heroine like Sophie must change her way of thinking when her station in life is obviously challenged and she has obstacles to overcome. I was really looking for to two things regarding this novel: how Sophie would "grow up" as a character and how her relationship with the hero would improve when close proximity would force them to talk and get to know each other properly.

Being an orphan and raised by an aunt who was never very demonstrative, Sophie is everything a young lady would want and her vanity and arrogance make her a not very friendly person. I confess I struggled to like Sophie at first and her vanity wasn't just a mask or an excuse she wore. She was childish and vain for real and this means her change into a heroine I could care about and of whom I could be fond of never really happened. Yes, I can say she does change her mind on several things but when it happens is so clumsily done, I don't think it was very believable.

I suppose part of the problem is the writing and type of story usually published in the 90s, which followed certain patterns but overall Sophie's improvement and change of heart wasn't very smooth. Then, there's also the telling things instead of showing ratio which made Sophie's actions a little lacking in strength because they weren't always seen.
One detail in this story is that Sophie becomes a servant with all the humiliation that situation would provoke on someone used to be the upper class. I think the author only barely approached this theme and Sophie's thoughts on this when she accepted being a maid were a little too harsh and made her "change of heart" unbelievable in its veracity. Yes, we do see Sophie slowly learning the value of every person, being them servants or not but it could have been even better.

Part of the interest of the novel is, of course, the romance. As expected in these sort of stories, after some time butting heads, Sophie and lord Lyndhurst finally start seeing eye to eye. The fun of this is how Sophie starts to realize the lord she met was playing a role but the man behind the title is very worthy and has qualities she wouldn't think of. Then, she starts seeing his beauty of character and that makes all the difference. The process of them falling in love was quite sweet to watch.

The romance just wasn't stronger because of some almost vulgar tactics in the final part of the book. I also would have liked to have an epilogue to show how strong the character's change in perspectives had been but no.
All things considered, this wasn't a bad story, it did include all the expected trope and conflict situations I imagined but Sophie didn't repent as quickly as I would have liked, her character wasn't as humble as I would have preferred and that did influence my enjoyment. Still, a cute story.
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Elizabeth Hunter - The Staff and the Blade

Warriors. Lovers. Enemies. Legends.
Their union became pivotal in Irin history, but to understand Damien and Sari's ending, you must go back to their beginning. Four hundred years ago, a young singer and a hardened warrior met and loved each other, but their life was torn apart by violence.
Love. Desire. Grief. Betrayal.
No matter how much pain and anger stain their lives, bonds in the Irin race cannot be abandoned. Damien and Sari will never truly leave each other, because those who are destined cannot be ignored.The Staff and the Blade is a four part stand-alone book of approximately 480 pages. It is the fourth book in the Irin Chronicles.
DREAMS: Damien of Bohemia was a legend content to live in obscurity. Weary from a century of human and Irin bloodshed, he took shelter among those who would not question his silence or the martial spells he wore over his body. Until an earth singer of raw power and no delicacy came to the village where he hid. Sari of Vestfold wasn't intrigued by the mysterious warrior or his moody silences. And she wasn't interested in listening for the whisper of his soul. Even when those whispers promised a connection that could tie them for eternity.
GHOSTS: A new posting in Paris during Napoleon’s reign leads Sari and Damien back to familiar faces and the Council politics Damien has tried so hard to avoid. But the Irin world has changed in the two hundred years since their mating. The singers have become more isolated. The scribes are more martial. And the Grigori flood growing cities and lay in wait. When Sari’s sister envisions the future, she sees emptiness, chaos, and a darkness that threatens to overtake their world.
MEMORIES: Hidden from Irin society, the Irina have learned to take their revenge on the Grigori. They answer to no one. They ask for no mercy. And forgiveness? That’s the last thing on anyone’s mind. Two hundred years after the Rending, Damien and Sari are thrown together to face a new threat, a girl who might be key to the healing of the Irin race. If they can survive the anger and grief that has separated them for two hundred years.
VISIONS: The Irin and Irina are together again. Society is being rebuilt. But what do you do when the foundation of your world has crumbled? Where do you go when all the boundaries have been redrawn? For Damien and Sari, charting a new path into the future means confronting the demons of the past. They’ve forgiven each other, but can they forgive themselves?

Comment: In the recent years I've read what was supposed to be a trilogy written by this author but which has evolved into a series. The original three books centered in a specific couple's journey to love but now there are a few more stories out featuring secondary characters readers met while the original three were on going.

This is the story of Sari and Damien, two characters who are mated but when we originally meet them in the other books, their relationship is a strained one because they are often apart due to their respective duties to the Irin race. Why they are apart isn't always obvious besides some conflicts in their past and in this book we finally are able to discover why.
Just as a little reminder, in this series the Irin race is the outcome of angel descents who protect themselves and humans from the Grigori, other descendants from Fallen angels (thus mostly evil).

As the above blurbs describe, this story is divided into four parts. In each one, we get to see a little bit of the relationship between Sari and Damien and how they have come to the point in which they are when we first met them: apart and not happy despite their bond.

I must say that the author has created a very detailed world in which her characters live. However, I must also say, generally speaking, there is quite a good highlight on how bad the villains are and how necessary it is to battle them. This might be very worthy and of course the biggest conflicts in the books come from this situation but I think that - at least to me - if there was less focus on the bad guys and more on the relationships between characters and their own world/lives, the stories could be even better.
I confess some parts within this book felt a little boring because I wanted to see what happens and not have as many pages detailing what happened.

In part, I guess I could say the problem for me was the way this story was told. Yes, it was interesting to know things from Sari and Damien's past but this is precisely why I usually dislike or simply endure lovers reunited plots: too much time spent on how they used to be and not enough on how they should be now.
The four parts in this book are basically this:
- in the first we get to see how the couple met and fell in love. This is certainly cute but when we first know about this couple on book #1 of the series, we already know that. This could have been a novella for fans.
- in the second part we know why they decided to live separate lives and how that is connected to the most difficult moment of their race's existence. While this was important to learn, a simple conversation would have given the reader the same information and it could have still been dramatic without us having to have read it.
- in the third part we follow some happenings from the first three books but now from Sari and Damien's POV. Again, it's interesting and I did like how we get to see some things but it didn't add that much to what was supposed to be the solution for Sari and Damien's issues.
- In the final part we finally get to see them dealing with their problems. But this is only a small part of the whole book and it felt a little like cheating because it didn't have many pages.

I understand the author wanted to offer the readers the opportunity to see how two people could have gone from sweet love to an almost cold life of duty. However, there's a lot of pages regarding situations that, despite their severity, should have been dealt with much sooner too. In fact, these characters belong to a long lived race so they had plenty of time to talk, to agree on a different way of living, especially after so many decades!
Yes, life isn't easy for anyone and realistically speaking, things aren't easy ever but this is fiction... and then, in the last part, the one with less pages (if I recall correctly from my edition) they finally decide to just be together and be in love as everyone would have expected. This is no surprise since this is a romance story. I mean... the solution wouldn't have been difficult to achieve.

Again, I understand the tactic of allowing readers to savor the development of a romantic love story but for me too much was spent in the past and not enough on the present which is where the story is suppose to happen.
Grade: 6/10

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Jennifer L. Hayes - The Wayfarer

Emma Clayton’s love life is decidedly passionless and predictable. Following her move from Los Angeles to a quaint English village with her fiancé Ben, all that changes when a violent electrical storm whisks her one hundred and sixty years into the past.
Trapped in Victorian England, Emma is determined to find a way home, back to her fiancé and the life he’s mapped out for them. That is until she meets the captivating Lord Henry Drake, son to the Earl of Pembrooke. Handsome and gallant, he quickly challenges her understanding of love and duty.
But Emma is hiding a terrible secret. She knows of Lord Henry’s untimely death, a date which is fast approaching. And before long, she will be forced to choose between saving the man she loves and returning to a life that seems so far away.

Comment: I got interested in this book because the cover caught my eye. I think the color tones are very appealing. Then, reading the blurb I was even more eager to try it because it says the heroine will travel back in time and fall in love and I imagined how angsty but romantic this story would be. However, sadly for me, this didn't live up to its promise...

In this time travel story, Emma Clayton is a young woman who traveled to England with her fiancé Ben but their relationship seems to not go anywhere. Nevertheless, Emma has followed Ben and hopes a new place can be the change that they needed. 
One day, while biking from one village to where they were staying, Emma somehow crashes and when she wakes up she realizes she went back in time to the 1850s.
While in the past, Emma's biggest concern is to return to her own time and to understand what happened. While trying do so, she must act as if she belonged, which can be quite tricky among so many different things and especially because she can't help but admire and enjoy the company of lord Henry, the son of an earl, and the man she fears might be the love of her life. However, between her circumstances and the lack of regard from lord Henry's family, can Emma get any normalcy in her life again?

Not having read Outlander but listening to enough comments and TV references, it's not difficult to see where the author got her inspiration. I don't really know this, of course, but as the other novel so in this one we have a heroine with a relationship who goes back in time and falls for someone else. I assume the likeness ends there but it still made me think of it.

I had some expectations of this novel, especially regarding the romance and the time-travel situation. I thought the main goal would be for the story to stress out these things. But I confess I got disappointed because the writing wasn't very appealing to me. Sadly, the biggest peeve I got with this story is the fact the narrator is first person so everything is seen through Emma's eyes. The problem is that she isn't that captivating and her "voice" (or the author's) was very constant and not like I imagine someone actually thinks for themselves. Emma related everything she did and so that we could understand other things, she described and told a lot, so I didn't think the atmosphere of the story got the right vibe. I think the first person narrator was a mistake.

Emma travels back in time, she is scared and eager to get back but her behavior, from a certain point on, is so unlikely... how can she behave like that in a completely weird and unlike any other scenario she could imagine. She makes mistakes in dealing with others but I still found her actions to be too obvious and no one seemed to demand questions sooner. The explanation for this was a very weak but convenient one. I didn't like how Emma behaved so future-like and somehow things worked out. Her state of mind was also a little unbelievable... and considering the type of story and tone, there wasn't any whimsical vibes as in other author's wok with time travel.

There were several situations where convenient details would help Emma along... like finding herself at the house of a noble. What a lack of detail, she never commented on her situation, on her relationship with those with her, unless the closest ones and she never contemplated her situation to who she was as a person, for instance there was a woman helping her and  she talked about her but not the fact Emma herself was dealing with someone from another time and how different and complicated t could be. Emma rarely wondered about what she was doing and that made me a little suspicious of who she is. I ended up concluding I don't really care about Emma's personality and fate.

As the plot moves along (and in my edition the page count wasn't that much), there are constant clues bout what's going on that, by how those things are inserted in the story, I can't understand how the supposed secret of who is behind what happens to Emma isn't immediately obvious. Because it is obvious and got me thinking the author had all these ideas and wanted to use them all, to better increase the chances of drama. However, for me this tactic failed and things felt rushed and exaggerated. It felt as f there wasn't time to enjoy the story with so much going on and not that well played.

In the end, the romance was only a prop to a combination of missed calls and I wasn't that eager about the main couple getting together. The book doesn't have the depth and structure I thought and not even closure, which can be explained by the fact two more stories exist after this one.
There are positive aspects, like the how the time travel happens but this wasn't fully explained of course. I really think I won't read more by the author.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Ainslie Paton - The Love Experiment

Can you fall in love in thirty-six questions?
The closest rookie lifestyle writer Derelie Honeywell gets to megastar reporter Jackson Haley is an accidental shoulder brush in The Courier's elevator. That is, until the love experiment: a study designed to accelerate intimacy using thirty-six questions and four minutes of sustained eye contact.
As far as Derelie is concerned, Jack Haley has always been a man best imagined in his underwear. He's too intimidating otherwise. But participating in the love experiment is her make-or-break chance. With another round of layoffs looming, Derelie knows holding on to her job means getting the story no matter what. Even when the what is kissing Jack like a maniac.
Jack Haley has zero interest in participating in a clickbait story. He didn't plan on finding Derelie smart and feisty and being mesmerized by her eyes. He certainly had no intention at all of actually falling in love with her.
The conclusion to this experiment? Thirty-six questions might lead to love, but finding the answer to happily-ever-after is a lot more complicated.

Comment: I got interested in reading this story because of two details which I do like to see in books: the protagonists would have a sort of opposites attract kind of relationship and there is a slight age difference where the hero is older. Call me conservative or unfair but the situation with younger heroes and (considerable) older women doesn't appeal to me.

Anyway, in this story we meet Derelie Honeywell, a young woman starting from the bottom at a newspaper which is facing several financial issues including the possibility of going only digital or dismissing workers. Therefore, Derelie does want to perform well, which includes to write and be a participant of the so-called love experiment. In this experiment, the couples are supposed to see if they match and have what ti takes to fall in love by answering 36 questions and a staring contest somehow. 
Since the article based on this will be published in the newspaper, Derelie has all intentions of succeeding but the problem is when they decide to test her with Jackson Haley, an older cynic guy considered the hero of the people because of his provocative but detailed investigation pieces, always reveling some fraud or crime which affects the population. 
Could two more different people find common ground to accomplish a successful experiment?

This was a cute romance story and when I started it, I imagined a certain path which seemed to be the most likely one to happen. However, I must say the author included some more realistic and not as cute tones which make me think of this book as one with serious content, opposed to what the blurb and cover indicate. For me, it was a positive surprise.

Derelie and Jack are quite different and the experiment doesn't seem to go well at first mostly because Jack isn't really interested in doing it and when he accepts it's only because of office politics. However, when both decide to be professionals, they do discover a lot about each other and that is when their relationship does gain power. Of course this means we still have some pages of them not really agreeing on things, of the reader seeing how different they are and how opposed in several things (background, expectations, personality) but then, obviously, those same differences disappear when they notice at last the attraction they feel towards one another.

In a way, we could see how the experiment was successful but when things really start getting more serious,  they don't really care about it... as expected, though, there are several less than positive situations to go through before any understanding can happen between them.
At the same time, we are able to follow both their thoughts and I'm very happy this was a third person narrator, I feel readers can get so much more out of this method than first person, especially when the narrators aren't compelling.

The more serous tones issues are related to their personal experiences. Some readers didn't like Jack but I think his behavior and personality are understandable considering his past. And he does change/improve so...
Derelie was more difficult to read, especially because she does stress out the fact she is a small town girl a lot. But the fact she misses home and wants to succeed made me like her. Although the characteristics of both her and Jack don't seem individually something I appreciate about "my" protagonists, neither was bad to the point of not accepting and enjoying they got a HEA. Still , one mist be aware the happy ending only comes after some obstacles.

This is not a perfect romance, the flaws can be quite obvious but to be honest, I liked reading this, I liked how several scenes were played out and when I finished, I did wonder about these characters and imagined how their lives might have gone had we more pages to read. I think the wondering about what could happen is always a good indicator the book, at least, left a mark.
I'm still debating if I'll read another by the author.
Grade: 8/10

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Mary Balogh - The Comes Seduction

New York Times "bestselling author Mary Balogh sweeps us back in time to an age of scandal and glittering society--and brings to life an extraordinary family: the daring, passionate Huxtables. Katherine, the youngest sister--and society's most ravishing innocent--is about to turn the tables on the irresistible rakehell sworn to seduce her, body and soul....
In a night of drunken revelry, Jasper Finley, Baron Montford, gambles his reputation as London's most notorious lover on one woman. His challenge? To seduce the exquisite, virtuous Katherine Huxtable within a fortnight. But when his best-laid plans go awry, Jasper devises a wager of his own. For Katherine, already wildly attracted to him, Jasper's offer is irresistible: to make London's most dangerous rake fall in love with her. 

Then Jasper suddenly ups the ante. Katherine knows she should refuse. But with scandal brewing and her reputation in jeopardy, she reluctantly agrees to become his wife. 
Now, as passion ignites, the seduction really begins. And this time the prize is nothing less than "both "their hearts...

Comment: This is the second installment in the Huxtable series by author Mary Balogh. In this second story we follow the romance of the youngest sister, Katherine. Basically, this family of four siblings has discovered their only brother Stephen is the heir of an earldom after being poor all their lives. Now their circumstances changed and they need to be part of a different society. 

In this story we finally get to know the youngest sister of the four siblings. Katherine is a dreamer but she is also a happy young woman, who is dedicated to her family. She found her new station in life to be a great adventure but deep down she still feels like a country girl and won't change her perspective on life for anything. Except the apparently handsome and also adventurous baron Montford, a man many people have warned her about. 
Caught in a deceiving situation but rescued immediately too, Katherine soon stops thinking Jasper, baron Montford, is anywhere near respectable. However, they meet again later and apparently their connection has a lot more to go on than what they imagined. Will they find enough common ground in order to be happy together?

I don't think it would be any kind of surprise to know this story follows the same usual pattern we have come to expect from the author's writing style. There's something to be said about stability and knowing what you will get.
I was surprised, though, by how it started. The "hero" bets on a wager with other men that he can seduce Katherine completely, and this happens soon after the Huxtable family is presented to the ton. We know she can't be a match to someone who wants to deceive her and things only don't end badly because Jasper changes his mind at the last moment.

The notion someone purposely wants to hurt someone - emotionally in this case - is quite disturbing. I assume this is why many readers have complained and didn't enjoy this story. I also think it would have been a terrible action to recover from and, to be honest, if he had done it to her, how redeemed could he be anyway? However, I think it's not difficult to put aside some logic in what should have been his actions because this is meant to be a romance and although the author used/inserted some explanations later on in the story to justify why Jasper would have had a risky attitude and behavior, he did change his mind. I do think that a clever person could have had better choices but realistically speaking we don't always do what we should.

The couple meets again years later and there is when the real story begins. Of course it's to be expected they still feel attraction for one another (this is why they used to look at the other in balls and why Katherine felt like going with him to a more secluded spot) but the path towards the notion if they could be a good couple is quite interesting. Probably one of the best elements of this author's stories is how the tone of her book is serious but it still allows for some easier situations and scenes to be included. I do like how the characters often discuss important matters regarding their lives. These stories aren't only a matter of instant lust as other authors rely on.

Globally speaking, I've read other stories by the author I liked better. 
Katherine is a good enough heroine but despite being happy she got her HEA, her emotional journey wasn't one I think happened very strongly. She went through a bad situation and she did face complicated feelings but her life wasn't always one she wouldn't have been able to solve.
Jasper was more intriguing because of his personality. I've read some critiques he is labeled a rake but doesn't really live the part. To be honest, I don't really care about this and I found his character to be a developing one, so I liked who he became.

All in all, this was a solid read, one that didn't make any waves considering the type of plot and style of the author but if, like me, readers enjoy stories where it's all about the characters and their lives and surrounding situations, this is a good one. I'm invested in this family and want to see more of what happens to them.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, February 8, 2019

TJ Klune - Wolfsong

Ox was twelve when his daddy taught him a very valuable lesson. He said that Ox wasn’t worth anything and people would never understand him. Then he left.
Ox was sixteen when he met the boy on the road. The little boy who talked and talked and talked. Ox found out later the little boy hadn’t spoken in almost two years before that day, and that the little boy belonged to a family who had moved into the house at the end of the lane.
Ox was seventeen when he found out the little boy’s secret and it painted the world around him in colors of red and orange and violet, of Alpha and Beta and Omega.
Ox was twenty-three when murder came to town and tore a hole in his head and heart. The boy chased after the monster with revenge in his bloodred eyes, leaving Ox behind to pick up the pieces.
It’s been three years since that fateful day—and the boy is back. Except now he’s a man, and Ox can no longer ignore the song that howls between them.

Comment: My favorite type of PNR world is the one with shape shifters, which this book has. My favorite type of romance pace is slow, which this book also has. My favorite type of book is one that explores the character's feelings and personality, which this book also has. Added to the fact I've read some stellar reviews from people whose taste is alike mine most of the time, of course I had to read this book, which I did.

In this book we slowly follow the developments surrounding Ox's life, since he is a young 12 year old until he becomes an adult, along with everything happening to him and to those around him.
Ox is a guy who is used to not think much of himself but he knows there are people he can trust and who care about him, a notion even stronger after he meets the Bennet family one day, especially Joe, their youngest son.
However, Ox doesn't have an easy life understanding what others think or decide to do... and he sees himself in the middle of some secrets, strange politics between different groups and, most important of all, the strange feelings he has regarding those he is close to. As Ox learns things about those he cares about, and tries his best to help protect them, can he also save his own heart from breaking?

This was my first book by this author. I was only mildly aware of his work because of the usual recommendations when we read certain books but I had a certain idea about what his themes might be and I wasn't that interested. After reading very good reviews about this one and knowing it would be a shape shifter story, I decided to try it but it's been a while. This book was released in 2016 and, I'm quite glad I waited because now I want to read the other books too and this might mean less waiting time overall.

I was positively surprised by the tone of this book. Is both angsty and sweet in the right places and has an amazing emotional depth I confess I didn't think the author would be able to convey. At the same time, there's this whole world building, well structured, with "rules" that make sense within what was explained to us (there are still obvious secrets for the upcoming books for certain) and the notion there's a purpose on this, there's a path to follow. Even the saddest situations, which often are used as crutches to propel the plots, were well done and had meaning. I'd have preferred them to not be anyway, but still.

Ox is a fascinating character. I liked the fact he didn't consider himself anyone special but he clearly was. He was not vain not conceited and although we could say his emotional journey is one of self discovery and self worth somehow, he never has any thoughts about overcoming his issues, about becoming stronger and other sayings most people wouldn't think if they were that modest. This felt even better for my reading taste because the story is told from Ox's POV. Since he is a reliable and likable character, it was so easy to feel everything perfectly.

The biggest focus of this novel isn't the romance. I'd describe it as being slow burn and there's only one detailed sex scene towards the end. In 400 pages, this tells us a lot about what really matters. 
Still, it was both angsty and rewarding to see the development of the relationship between Ox and Joe and how they slowly go from friends to mates without any frivolity in how they interact. Even when younger, they have always been "mature" in how they felt and lived.

The depth of the subjects treated here, the way the author often uses short sentences and descriptions better reveals the intensity of what is happening. I think even the secondary characters seemed to be very well fleshed and had a vital personality. I liked the feeling everyone was special. I liked the balance between the difficult moments and the funny/light ones.

However, there is one detail I'd change. In some pats of the story, the descriptions of what we, the readers, are supposed to infer and to analyze seems to stretch too much. There are times where too much time would be spent on repeating things and not always with an obvious goal in sight, as if we had to stress out every single thing and often it could become exaggerated I think.
Then, when the story is finally over, I imagined an extra sweet and long scenes to fit the rest of the book but... no. It was almost rushed and that felt a little annoying.

This was, for all purposes, a great book. Yes, some details weren't as well achieved but it all points out to the fact this author knows what he is doing. I'm ow more curious about his work and, obviously about this series, which I need to read for certain.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Sonia Singh - Goddess for Hire

A hip chick from Newport Beach, California, who's just turned thirty, discovered she's the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali,and happens to be unemployed and still living with her parents. Saving the world, though,may prove to be a curry-scented breeze compared to dealing with her extended Indian family. In their eyes she isn't just the black sheep -- she's low-grade mutton.
To make matters worse, despite frequent and therapeutic bouts of shopping and Starbucks,and the mentoring of a Taco Bell-loving,Coca Cola-guzzling swami, Maya has trouble just surviving, thanks to the attentions of a Kali-hating fanatic and a matchmaking aunt hell-bent on finding her a nice Indian boy. Maya has no interest in boys. She wants a man and she may have found one.
He's tall, dark, and gorgeous ... and completely uninterested in her.
In the name of all that's holy and fashionable ...what on Earth is a goddess to do?

Comment: I got this book back in 2010. At the time, I was considering doing a reading challenge and one of the themes would be to read a book by an author with the same name as the reader's. I had no books in my TBR by authors whose name would be Sonia, like I am. Therefore, I looked at some lists and stumbled on this author. 
I was even more interested in the fact it would apparently portray a light, funny scenario regarding a heroine with Indian origins but who loves America, where she has always lived. I was looking for to read about this, and it had a little PNR element, which I also devoured at the time. 
After all, I decided not to do the challenge but I already had the book, and so it has languished in the shelf until a few days ago, when I finally grabbed it. Sadly, not much was worth the long wait...

In this book we follow Maya, a young woman turning 30 who lives in California with her parents and whose aim in life seems to find as less to do as possible. However, Mays comes from an Indian family, rooted in many traditions, one of which marrying a good Indian man, something her aunts and mother feverishly hope she will do. In order for this to happen, one of the aunts convinced some known acquittance back in India to send her son, so that he and Maya could meet and perhaps like each other and become a couple. But Maya doesn't want to let go of her independence and it seems the guy, Tahir, feels the same. 
The fact they are often close to one another due to family obligations and the even more surprising fact Maya, by turning 30, has become the reincarnation of the goddess Kali aren't enough deterrents for Maya to change her mind about marriage, are they?

There are a few things about this novel I disliked and that is reflected on the established fact this is my first negative grade of the year. But before going into it, I'll just leave a (small) list of what made it bearable:
a) the font wasn't too small, so the 304 pages of my edition weren't that difficult to go through;
b) the light tone did allow for the story to be easier to read;
c) there are some interesting cultural elements mentioned.

Now, for the disappointing details, which also means spoilers!!

Again, a list which is easier than explaining something I really don't care much about to go into:

- Maya is the narrator in first person of this story. She is 30 and has apparently no goals in life. Becoming a goddess seems to be the solution for this problem.  The reason why she never accomplished anything in a very successful family is so silly that it's not even a reason. Mays is simply vain and lazy and used to her bad habits. I struggled to understand her and I don't think the author did a good job in making her likable.
Her lack of goals could have been the main subject for instance, her personal development could have been a great story but the author chose to go light and chick lit and that is ultimately a pity.

- The goddess issue is so silly too. It's just an excuse for Maya to have something to do and she doesn't even have the "right" reasons to be or act like one. She doesn't think about the goodness of using her powers. This detail made the story even sillier, considering the situations Maya sees herself in.

- The secondary characters were all clichés. All of them. There isn't one single character, including Maya, that isn't there to play a cliché role in this supposedly comedy but which for me only worked as a way to reduce to ridiculousness what could certainly be an interesting comparison between Indian and American values/expectations/ways of life/etc. Are all Indians only wanting to become doctors? Are all Indian aunts only thinking about matchmaking? The author picked her roots and turned them into a silly cliché. This story isn't funny and the whole thing feels a missed opportunity.

- The romance is the most idiotic I've read. They meet and declare they don't want marriage and don't like one another. They barely talk to one another but, despite some physical attraction, suddenly they sleep together, are found by his mother and admit they love each other, not before a well placed conflict row on whether Maya can be the "perfect" Indian wife....

I won't go on. I don't feel like wasting more time with this. Let it just be said this was a terrible story, the content was ridiculous... I don't understand how this was published, not even as light chick lit. The author probably didn't have much experience but honestly, this is a badly written novel (and romance) and I cannot understand the positive reviews. Oh well, everyone has different tastes, thankfully.
Grade: 3/10

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

David Lagercrantz - The Girl in the Spider's Web

Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time.
Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son's well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story - and it is a terrifying one.
More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder's world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker.
It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters - and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

Comment: When Stieg Larsson first got known in the early 2000s not many people would know his successful novels which we now now as the Millenium trilogy would be his greatest achievement (since he passed away not that long after) and that it would open the door for many more Scandinavian authors to be read by so many foreign readers in several countries and not just a few fans here and there.
This is the continuation of that famous trilogy, now in the hands of someone the family trusted to keep up with the work of late Larsson.

In this novel, the protagonists of the other stories, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Slander have not been in contact due to several aspects, mainly her reluctance and disappointment.
Mikael's magazine isn't doing well financially and the partners accepted the help of a particular group which injected some capital without demands. Well, at first... this means Mikael is considering ending the magazine or he would need a huge piece to make things right again. The problem is that Mikael isn't feeling motivated until something falls into his hands, namely an information about a genius man who is in danger and is trying to protect his autistic son.
When things seem to go bad, Mikael nevertheless asks for Lisbeth's help, although none of them know exactly how everything is connected to them both until it might be too late...

I've bought this book (in Portuguese) because I do consider myself to be a fan of the original trilogy. I wanted to see how the new author would pick up the story and how alike or different his "voice" would be compared to Stieg Larsson.
I confess I don't remember many details from the stories themselves, except key points and the only thing I remember from the writing is how fast paced things were and how intriguing and mysterious everything was but at the same time the "good guys" were always a step ahead when necessary. I also recall the majority of the focus was on Mikael and Lisbeth and that is, probably, what I didn't appreciate as much in this fourth story, the lack of scenes centered more on the protagonists.

I suppose it can be unfair to compare the two writers. Just being different people would obviously ut Lagercrantz in a unjust position because he is still alive to change and make mistakes/improvements while Larsson will remain in a pedestal by those who love his world building. However, if the same world is being used, not comparing things gets to be a non-action too difficult to avoid too...

The plot of this book focuses on helping a man who now wants to protect his son. But his genius abilities and work have made him a man to go after, following a certain set of situations. This "hunting someone" trope often seen in thrillers wasn't badly done, especially because readers got to know the genius guy, Fans, and he became likable. The more technical situations related how he can be found, how and why he is an important person to hunt were well done I guess but it's not a detail that I get distracted by while reading these novels. I was more concerned by the human side of things although in this new age of so much progress in technology and information sharing, things made relative sense.

What I was mostly looking for here was so see Mikael and Lisbeth interacting again, especially after how the last book in the original trilogy ended. I must say in this regard, the lack of focus on them and on their personal thoughts (except the basics and only in Mikael's case) have left me a little down. Of course it wouldn't fit them to be more extroverted, that's not what I mean. But they were apart during the whole story, they only shared necessary conversation... yes, it was fun to read some things between the lines but only the very last scene made me curious about what they could be thinking of.

Some details about their lives and choices felt a little off even though I can't explain. 
The main villain in this book has also designed a complex web for things to develop and it just seems weird why this person is only now getting more focus and how some things pre determined could be accomplished. This person's existence also puts in motion a path to follow and I'm not certain it can go well... let's see.
There were some plot moves I think were avoidable. The first part of the story had too much setting up and it was a little boring here and there.
I'm going to read the next book because I'm curious to see where the goes... but I also hope it can be a more fascinating read than this one.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Helen Hoang - The Kiss Quotient

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.
It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan — from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...
Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he's making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...

Comment: Everyone who has been tuned to the world of romance books has probably heard of this title, which was a huge success last year and won some prizes along the way. It also featured in many reader's best of lists. I got my copy several months ago but I've been procrastinating because I had other things to read in the meantime and also because with all the hype, I feared a little bit it might not be as good as so many other readers claimed. 
In the end, I enjoyed it as much as it was promised but yes, I also hoped for even more wow factor...

In this book we follow the lives of Stella and Michael when a specific situation brings them together. 
Stella is a young woman who is very successful in her job despite her social limitations and her autism. However, between her parents' pressure to find someone and have a family and her own awareness of what she can't do well (her impression), she decides to contract a sex escort to help her with intimacy so that she can do better with an eventual partner.
Michael is a man who has let go of his dreams because his family is struggling and he does what he can to help them, especially after what his father did, which still makes him a little mad. In order to pay bills from his mother's treatments, he has become an escort to rich women. He is used to the feeling of being looked down even though he is asked for his looks and skills. He doesn't think he will ever really enjoy being with a client but Stella is both funny and weird and things flow. 
But can they both maintain this as the business contract they expected at first?

One of the details that has surprised people the most and according to several reviews the main reason why this was such a successful story is the fact it portrays a solid, balanced romance story featuring a main character with autism. I can't swear because memory plays tricks on you but this isn't certainly the first romance with this theme/situation. I knew it it from the start so that special factor was not one I considered to be important.

The really different aspect is how Stella is portrayed and deals with the new situations in her life. The fun part is how the the author would show this part of Stella but not limiting her to the stories we would hear about people with some disorder or other not being good enough romance protagonists. So, in this regard, I think the author accomplished the task and made it all more about Stella and her difficulties but not her limitations. I cared about Stella but not because she has autism; I liked her because she was quirky and weird like anyone else can be and she still showed she could find love.
It should be mentioned the author explained this face of Stella is just one of several that could have been used to create a character with autism. This means not all autistic people act or behave or react the same to the different stimuli/situations.

Stella was a fascinating character, with some of the characteristics a non expert reader on autism would expect: shy, not looking people in the eye, focused or obsessed with things, routines, weird knowledge not always said in the best way, etc. 
But it was so sweet to also have a caring and heroine-like behavior from her. Stella is, first of all, a woman and it was great to also see her knowing her own worth as female and notion of her intelligence and abilities. Romantically speaking, she was cute too, with all her insecurities that pretty much any so-called "normal" woman can also have.

Michael is also interesting because he has a fascinating origin combination: mother from Vietnam and father from Sweden. But his looks are only part of who he is and his best feature is, despite his random thoughts of being just like his no good father, his dedication for those he cares about, especially his mother. So, a guy who likes his mother enough to become a prostitute to help her has to be a great hero potential!
I enjoyed the alternative POV chapters because it's great to have the perspectives of both protagonists and this way we got to slowly learn a little more about Michael too and what he wants.

I think this was a very romantic story but there were some scenes I didn't feel were as emotional as they could have been. The angst moments weren't many but when happened I feel they weren't well executed for the most part either. There was still some distance between the story and the tone so sometimes I felt the lack of depth in some situations. This is not a perfect story but balancing the strong points and the not so good ones, I still believe this was a well achieved book. 
I have confidence that, as her writing skills improve, so the books in general, which means this is certainly an author to kep the eye on.
Grade: 8/10

Friday, February 1, 2019

Catherine Anderson - Strawberry Hill

As a camp cook, Vickie Brown loves feeding any size crowd in the great outdoors--with one notable exception. She never would have predicted she'd join the crew led by gruff cowboy Slade Wilder, the man who broke her heart just days before their wedding.
Life has gone on since Vickie left him, but Slade can admit his attraction to the one woman he's ever loved remains stronger than ever. If he wasn't in such desperate need of an experienced cook for his paying guests, he would send Vickie packing. He knows better than to seek out the company of the woman who broke off their engagement so many years ago.
Except there's no escaping each other in the confines of the wilderness area, especially once their anger begins to soften in the shared close quarters. But after Vickie finds the courage to confront Slade, it will take a leap of faith for them to put their past behind him, even if it's the only way to recapture their once-in-a-lifetime love.

Comment: I've liked this author's book for a while and this is the most recent installment in her current Mystic Creek series so, of course I'd be interested in reading it too. However, I feel this book or the content of it wasn't well thought in general.

In this book the protagonist is Slade, a man who has his ranch and his friends but who didn't have a big support from his family and who also lost the love of his life after a bad break up around 40 years ago.
Vicky had what she thought great reasons to break up with Slade but after all this time and with a son she never told Slade about, she decides it's time to get some things straight, and for that she applies to a position Slade put on craigslist to find a cook for the camps his ranch organizes for clients who want to spend some time around real nature.
Can these two overcome a mistake such a long time ago and still find common ground to grasp the happiness once denied to them?

My favorite book by this author is My Sunshine, from 2005. I started liking the author's books much later than that and the trend I saw in her books is that all her heroines had suffered some kind of trauma or had some disability. The "fun" part was to see them overcome that and be happy with an understandable hero.
However, I've also noticed that from around 2010, her books still have a sweet romance developing but they aren't as romantically done and the surrounding plot/secondary action/etc isn't as compelling. It just seems what made her books so amazing for me is slowly disappearing. I can't explain why but it's a feeling I can't avoid and that reflects on my enjoyment of her stories.

I also think that happened here. There is the inclusion of some situations that can be quite reliable for those who live in the Oregon area (where most of her stories are set in) but they are often weird somehow too.
In this book's case, I failed to be impressed by why Slade and Vicky were separated for more than 40 years due to pride and miscommunication. If this book had been intended to be an angsty ridden plot, then the feelings exploited could have been more understandable... but because this is a romance, it just feels so pointless to let so long happen. Then, if we were talking about 14 years, there would still be time to fix things but it's 40, which means the main characters are in their 60s and although I have nothing against love rekindled in such an age group, it's not what I like to read the most about.

I won't include spoilers but let's just say there are many secrets to uncover between these two namely the fact Vicky had a son and Slade was not made aware. This is something we find in chapter 2 and despite understandable why some information got lost I just an't accept the fact Vicky wouldn't have found another way to tell him if she really wanted. Apart from this vital information, there are other stuff going on but the thing is: the whole book is for them to get used to each other again, the pace is very slow, and I meant it, but the resolution of the 40 years of separation and doubts is solved only in the epilogue. A resolution we are made aware of but don't see happening!!!!
This means thew more than 400 pages were spent on vague and random things which could have fit a novella instead! Very pointless, I felt.

Let it be said as well that part of those 462 pages (according to my edition) were also dedicated to a secondary character, Wyatt (Slade's foreman at the ranch) and Erin (Slade's cop niece). Again, I would say it's sweet to see them interact but it's all on the friendship base so apart from having the first scenes with them, nothing really happens. I assume their story will be further developed but in this book it wouldn't have been necessary of the author really wanted to stay focused on the main couple.

I think it was really a pity this story went the way it did. It had so many interesting elements (namely about ranch life, the wildlife protection, mainly regarding wild bears and how to deal with them) but all the stalling lost on the main couple's reunion and the promising but unsolved secondary romance just made this book feel like a division between two different stories and my interest wasn't always very high. 
Back to what I said at first, it doesn't give me the same "vibe" of her older stories which seemed to be more romance oriented and even the character's pasts/obstacles were deal with in a much more definitive manner. I still like her overall style and I really hope the next one can be much better.
Grade: 5/10

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Margaret Atwood - Hag-Seed

William Shakespeare's The Tempest retold as Hag-Seed
Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he's staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds.
Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge.
After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It's magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?
Margaret Atwood's novel take on Shakespeare's play of enchantment, retribution, and second chances leads us on an interactive, illusion-ridden journey filled with new surprises and wonders of its own.

Comment: I had my eye on Margaret Atwood's work for a while, especially her best known book, which has been adapted to a successful TV series too. I want to read that book but I'm waiting to see if a specific's edition price drops. I saw this book, one of her most recent, at my local library and I thought it would be a good way to see if I liked her writing in general and I'm happy to say it was as engaging as I hoped it would.

 In this book we have a recreation of Shakespeare's play The Tempest set in contemporary times and in a very particular setting which is a prison and the main players are the prisoners who perform a videotaped play to others, as part of a program to encourage participation and improvement so they can have better chances of proving they want to repent. The director of the play is Felix, an older man who was dismissed from his lifelong job due to politics and betrayal. He had dedicated all his life to theater, he was bold and innovative in how he adapted traditional plays but all was put aside in the blink of an eye. On the way to this situation he also lost his wife and his small daughter which left him with an even stronger need for revenge against those who did him harm. 
Working in the prison was at first just one step but all his desires finally seem likely to come to life one day, if only he doesn't get distracted...

I must confess I thought this book to be very easy to read. I expected the writing to be more lyrical, a
little more polished and considering the inspiration was Shakespeare, a little bit more complicated. I must say it was very interesting to see if I could follow the original play's main themes or if the adaptation was too far off.
Perhaps it's something to do with the series demands, but I thought all main steps were very easy to grasp and the fictional aspects not that weird.

Apparently, the original series is called Hogarth Shakespeare and is based on the premise of adapting the plays to contemporary settings, each play by a different author. Since the authors come from all genres, the fun part seems to be how each author decides to adapt it and how similar or not it can be to the original one.

Back to Atwood's work, she picked the main theme of the original play, which can be revenge, and used it to put Felix in charge of doing it in a very public and interesting way. I liked the prison approach and I liked even more the fact the writing was easy and solid even with details like Felix's feelings of loss and the setting in which everyone was at. I specifically liked how the emphasis wasn't much on the prisoners or how bad/good they were. They were playing a part and it was a constant joy for me to keep switching from the original play notions and the expectations the contemporary actors had to deal with. I really liked how the author planned this story.

Personally, an interesting detail was how we are supposed to see the parallel between the original play and what is happening with Felix and the other characters in their "real lives". There are some ideas we are just supposed to accept, some stops that happen way too easily for them to be credible but I still think it's a very good exercise in thinking because there are several concepts (one could say the usual grief, despair, sadness, need to accomplish something, etc.)the author explores through Felix's experiences. Felix isn't always an easy person to like but I focused a lot on his own need to do something right, even if only in his head. It was both good and bitter he never got to overcome his feelings of unfairness and guilt over the death of daughter Miranda. But, well I guess that's the realistic part of all this.

All in all, this was a fascinating book, I had a great time reading bout these characters, I liked how easy it was to follow the story and make the connection to the original. I know there would be a lot of more philosophical and hidden meanings to decipher but from the perspective of a reader who isn't fixated on Shakespeare, this worked out very well for me. In both counts: enjoying the adaptation and understanding the original anyway.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Kat French - Undertaking Love

When Marla Jacobs discovers that the shop next to her Little White Wedding Chapel is to become a funeral parlour, she declares all-out war.
Marla’s chapel in the sleepy Shropshire countryside has become a nationwide sensation, but the arrival of Funeral Director Gabriel Ryan threatens everything Marla has worked for. She can picture the scene: wedding limos fighting for space in the street with hearses; brides bumping into widows; bouquets being swapped for wreaths.
Marla’s not going down without a fight. She enlists a motley crew of weird and wonderful local supporters, and battle lines are drawn. But, as soon as Marla meets her nemesis, she realises just how much trouble she’s in. His rugged good looks and Irish lilt make her stomach fizz – how is she supposed to concentrate on destroying him, when half the time she’s struggling not to rip the shirt off his back?

Comment: This was the other Christmas gift I was given this past month. Unlike the previously commented book, which was what I'd say is a fiction contemporary, this one I'd label as chick lit. This "genre" can be a hit or miss for me and I'm sad to say this was mostly a miss...

In this story we meet Marla Jacobs, an American woman who moved to England with her mother but when she divorced her english husband and went back to the US, Marla stayed. Now she has a wedding business and her place of work is a chapel, which can be turned into what the bride wants. The business has been quite successful so far but Marla fears things could change because the place next door is going to be a funeral home.
Gabriel Ryan has been in the funeral business his whole life, since his father also used to own such a business. Now on his own, away from his Irish home, Gabriel wants to bring such a necessary business to people who would need to wait hours before any professional could arrive. Everything looks good on paper but it seems the woman next door, along with many of her friends, want him gone. It's just too bad they seem to like each other anyway...

Reading my little summary above, this feels like a potentially funny romantic comedy but I can assure you I don't understand why there are so many high rates because this didn't read as funny for me. In my opinion it went more towards the "silly" camp and it can be quite a disappointment when the premise indicates you will have a certain type of book but the execution is actually very different.

The idea of having such antagonist types of business (wedding and funeral) just one door away could have its perks in terms of allowing for funny situations. However, instead of bringing the characters together or making them realize working alongside each other could benefit them both, Marla immediately goes on the offensive and claims the funeral parlor couldn't be there or her wedding chapel would go to bankruptcy. While I can imagine her initial behavior as understandable, what follows just seemed very childish and silly. Yes, we are supposed to believe that playing pranks or turning the population against Gabriel and seeing him gaining the upper hand is what would happen in such a cute fictional town but sincerely, I just think it was ridiculous. 

I think one of the biggest issues - apart from the plot itself - is the lack of likability I have for all the characters. Marla just behaved very childishly but when she had her monologues, It could be understandable why her fickle mother would have given her the sense one couldn't trust others. But she just didn't seem very approachable and I wasn't convinced anyone would really want to be with her besides the basic.
Gabriel, the hero, was more balanced. I liked him and probably he was the most reliable and convincing character in the whole book, and it's the only reason why this wasn't rated even lower for me.

Sadly, all the secondary characters have problems in their characterization. Except an older couple which obviously personifies stability, everyone acts silly and negatively. Some characters are clearly clichés (like gay Jonny or one dimensional villain Rupert) and others are only useful for the story to have some more filling (like best friend Emily's desire to have a baby/rocky marriage/cheating or Melanie's jealousy/fixation on her boss). Even the ones who promised a little bit more depth (like understated Dan and his inner feelings) were put aside to show case shenanigan behavior and silly plot moves. I think this story was a huge pile of missed opportunities to turn it into a reliable romantic comedy.

The plot moves towards a specific scenario but the path getting there is just so silly and sometimes avoidable. There are some situations which only seem to have been included to shock or to magnify the drama factor. But for me it was melodrama, so superficial it looks like.
It'0s really a pity the author chose to write things like this. The potential is definitely here and with a bit more planning, this could have been much more balanced and captivating.
Based on this story alone, I don't feel like trying another one by the author.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Joanna Cannon - Three Things About Elsie

There are three things you should know about Elsie. The first thing is that she's my best friend. The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better. And the third thing ... might take a little bit more explaining.
84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly a man who died sixty years ago?
From the author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, this book will teach you many things, but here are three of them:
1) the fine threads of humanity will connect us all forever.
2) There is so very much more to anyone than the worst thing they have ever done.
3) Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.

Comment: This was one the Christmas gifts I got. Usually I can expect the minimum of two books per special occasion (my birthday and Christmas) and this book was one of those. I had never hard of the author so I had zero expectations about it but, as anyone can imagine, gifts have the collateral side of being given with the hope they will be good ones and if not, it's always quite a task to explain why they didn't felt good, especially to those who gave them to us...

In this book, the protagonist is 84 year old Florence Claybourne. Florence starts her tale while laying down on the floor of her apartment at the Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly and hoping for someone to help her. Throughout the story, we get to understand who Florence is, how her life has been and, to help move things along, about the secret from her past which a sudden situation has brought to the surface again. With the help of her friends Elsie and Jack, Florence has investigated certain details and finally her not as good mind has connected the clues. But what can that mean for Florence, waiting for help or why should that matter to who she used to be if she cannot change her age nor her health?

This book ended up being a very interesting one, especially because older protagonists don't exactly strike my fancy into reading about them.  I was surprised this read well enough and that Florence has had a secret for so long and only now, when all clues point out to the fact her mental state is decaying and after the man who came to live at the facility seems to be someone Florence used to know, have things changed.
The plot is very interesting and Florence's secret is a little wider than what one would guess. The end has one or two twists that although not being that innovative, were in line with what one could expect.

However, this is a story narrated by Florence, with the exception of two other character whose perspectives we also have, but in third person.
This tactic, I feel, wasn't used to emphasize the reader's connection with Florence or, at least, I don't think that was the primary intention. Florence is the narrator so that we can follow all the steps as seen by her. The problem is that, because of this way of writing, the reader needs to grasps some situations in a very limited way and - here was my biggest issue with the novel - this means certain plot choices weren't well executed.

Probably the biggest twist of this novel, which readers only are supposed to discover almost at the end - and by having read some reviews, it seems it did work for many - was easily obvious to me around page 10 or close to it. The way the story is written, the way the author wrote several scenes, the twist is so obvious, I can't understand why others wouldn't see it. This meant that, for me, I already knew the biggest secret and while this didn't allow me to fully understand what was important about Florence's past, it did give me an idea about what was supposed to matter in the now and, for that, the eagerness wasn't the same for me. As anyone can imagine, Florence's friend Elsie has an important role too. But, running the risk of saying too much, the title is also very badly chosen because it implies one thing, which doesn't matter that much before the end of the story.

I think this a compelling story and theme. It's not that often the idea of getting old and facing the natural issues that come with age  is used in stories. Usually older characters are just supporting cast or they mention the "old days" but the idea of letting go of who you used to be, of the feelings that made you a human being... it's a little frightening we can be this limited or definitive. Some elements regarding this were well done and I did like the subtle hints about what it means to become old and even the not so subtle ones. It's really a pity the execution of the novel wasn't better planned. Some differences here and there could have brought the surprise element to higher standards.
Still, quite an engaging read most of the time.
Grade: 7/10