Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Sylvain Reynard - The Raven

Raven Wood spends her days at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery restoring fine works of Renaissance art. But an innocent walk home after an evening with friends changes her life forever. When she intervenes in the senseless beating of a homeless man, his attackers turn on her, dragging her into an alley. Raven is only semi-conscious when their assault is interrupted by a cacophony of growls followed by her attacker’s screams. Mercifully, she blacks out, but not before catching a glimpse of a shadowy figure who whispers to her…
Cassita vulneratus.
When Raven awakes, she is inexplicably changed. She returns to the Uffizi, but no one recognizes her and more disturbingly, she discovers that she’s been absent an entire week. With no recollection of the events leading up to her disappearance, Raven also learns that her absence coincides with one of the largest robberies in Uffizi history – the theft of a set of priceless Botticelli illustrations. When the baffled police force identifies her as its prime suspect, Raven is desperate to clear her name. She seeks out one of Florence’s wealthiest and elusive men in an attempt to uncover the truth about her disappearance. Their encounter leads Raven to a dark underworld whose inhabitants kill to keep their secrets…

Comment: I've had this book to read for years, since I've read another trilogy by the author (apparently there's a fourth installment now) and because those books captivated me, I also purchased this one, but it has been languishing in the pile until now.

In this book we meet heroine Raven, a restorer at the prestigious Uffizzi gallery, who lives a simple and quiet life, not only because it suits her personality but also because she has a limp which makes it painful to embark on a more active lifestyle. One night she sees a homeless man she is familiar with being attacked by a group of drunks and she can't be quiet. They turn on her instead and as she is about to be hurt, someone rescues her and kills the attackers. Raven wakes up the morning after with a completely different appearance, her limp cured and friends having  hard time believing it's her, especially since it has passed one week since they last saw her. Going back to her daily routine is even more complicated because she can't explain her absence and some valuable paintings are missing from the gallery. When she stumbles on a clue, however, she can't know she is entering a dangerous world...

This is well thought story, with a lot of detail and cultural information, which I had seen in the other books by the author, clearly showcasing knowledge on Renaissance and art, with a fictional story included. I feel that it was as important to the author to create a possible love story as it was to explain and give context to a lot of the historical information included. I think anyone who likes these themes will enjoy going into this story.

For me, the reason why this story wasn't as amazing as I imagined was very simple: the romance didn't convince me because the differences between the protagonists were made to be such an obstacle that I struggled to see them as HEA material. On one hand yes, one has to bear in mind this is one of three books, so the whole story wasn't told here, but this said, thinking on what does happen, I confess I don't feel eager to read the rest and, therefore, the romance feels lacking enough support to be believable.

Raven is a young woman who sort of reinvented herself by becoming a restorer and her academic work brought her to Italy, where she feels she has reached a steady work persona. She might have a predictable life but she likes being in control and as the story advances we learn things from her past, all which make it realistic she would have wanted a new life away from the US. She has a likable personality, she isn't perfect but she is definitely heroine material.

The hero is, actually, a vampire. I won't go into spoilers but he's an old soul and has become jaded as the years went by. Nevertheless, he has a taste for art and history and I could appreciate certain ideas from his POV. Of course he has that whole "mystery" vibe going on, making him alluring and special somehow and he helps the heroine, he likes and desires her despite her notions of her physical aspect and he seems to go into romantic mode by the end of the book, meaning we can imagine the potential romance when the trilogy ends.

This makes me think the romance, to be developed in three books, has room to grow and I believe when the trilogy ends we will have them more in sync, in love and not afraid to demonstrate it. However, for me there's also a big reason why I don't feel like carrying on, to find out how/when it will happen: the thing is, in these books vampires aren't the good guys. The hero seems to be an anomaly and, I assume, because it suits the story, romance-wise, and because it helps to distinguish him from the others, being "cured" out of his apathy and negative aspects by love.

There's nothing wrong with this tactic, things are as they are and if the author went this road, who am I to say it shouldn't be so, but I've been severely ruined by so many PNR novels or series out there where the vampires can be the good guys. I now have a hard time putting them again into a box of  "enemy" or "horror" and admit I felt frustrated by how things went in this regard, there being a division between humans and vampires. I suppose it does suit the tone of the series, the whole historical atmosphere and old kinds of stories where the out of the ordinary was not to be trusted but part of me wished things had been different.

This aside, I liked the pace enough, most of the details too...Still, I think, for such an important and visible place as a famous gallery must be, things were too weird and lacked believable explanations for too long for me to just enjoy the inconsistencies... for instance, with Raven's presence and absence at work, how her looks changed and how others didn't found it weird long enough and other apparently unimportant elements but that still distracted me.

All in all, this wasn't a bad book, don't get me wrong. It's sufficiently structured for it to offer a steady reading and years ago, it might have meant a lot more to me, but nowadays, even recognizing this, I still wish it had focused on a different tactic overall.
Grade: 6/10

Monday, October 25, 2021

Catherine Bybee - Everything Changes

As the only female civil engineer in her department, Grace Hudson needs space from men. Her last love interest traumatized her in ways she never saw coming; with that behind her, she is determined to focus on her career. Even so, a little flirting with a handsome stranger over coffee can’t hurt, right?
In their short interaction, Grace dazzles Dameon Locke. But he’s focused on his newest development project and keeping his company afloat after his biggest investor pulled out. So during the planning huddle with the city board, he’s stunned to find the petite spitfire he met at the coffee shop running the show.
Grace can’t ignore Dameon’s charm, but when a disgruntled developer accuses Grace of taking bribes, her world is upended. Worse still, something much more important than her job may be in peril.
With her career in shambles and her life in danger, Grace turns to Dameon…but will she risk putting him in danger too?

Comment: This is the third installment in the Creek Canyon trilogy.  have liked the other two books and although the heroine of this one wasn't as seemingly compelling as the ones in the other stories, I still wanted to see the trilogy completed.

In this final installment it's the turn for Grace's story, the youngest sister of the protagonists from the previous book. Grace works in a field more often populated by men but she wants to prove she is as able as them even if she has to adapt herself to what is expected of an engineer. She has been doing the work for years now but she still finds issues here and there, something she tries not to be bothered about when a new job comes along and with it, Dameon Locke, a fascinating and alluring CEO. As the two work together, Grace also must deal with another projects and sometimes things don't go as easily. As the problems mount, Grace can count on her family's support as well as Dameon, who turns out to be someone she can trust. But what will it mean for her when things get harder at work?

Once again, I was enthralled by the cast of characters in this book. I think the author really got it right when she decided to create this family and the characters that surround them. It's not something over the top nor are the elements crazy or larger than life types but I found myself glad I was able to spend all these pages with them.

The story is deceptively complex. At first sight, it seems to be a simple romance with the fact the heroine faces some complications on her job but to me the interesting part is precisely how all details are mixed well and we cannot stay away from any issue being dealt with, especially as the plot advances and things seem to become more complicated. For me, the best part of the novel is still the family interactions but I also liked how invested I was made to feel about Grace's worries and problems. It's all quite realistic.

I mean, I don't think the author wanted to pass any kind of message but it felt like it was so in some parts, how women still face a lot more obstacles in fields usually fulfilled mostly by men. It does seem society can't seem to evolve quick enough as generations go by and things change anyway, but some of those things are slower than watching paint dry. I think Grace was a very likable character and see her face some issues which shouldn't happen made me mad as a woman and anxious as a reader to see if it would be solved somehow.

Grace is a good enough heroine but to be fair, I liked the female protagonists of the other books more. I can't really explain why, it's nothing related to her position or storyline, perhaps her personality... she is likable yes, but I didn't find her as challenging, emotionally speaking, as the others. Still, she had a path to go and of course I liked she felt supported by her family and that she found a way to have her voice heard. It was also good to see that we are allowed to change our minds when the paths in front of us don't seem to be right. Would it be possible to always follow an instinct ahead of time...

The hero, Dameon, was a bit more generic, I would say. He is the type of guy that is contemporary, values women and such but he still has that alpha type of personality and his actions often seem to come out of a sense of traditionalism mixed with a 21st century mentality, which can be appealing but there were scenes where it felt a little too good to be true. Still, he was a good hero when it came to be helpful, supportive and allowing Grace to have her moments.

The romance wasn't amazing, in my opinion. It was a bit bland because of their personalities and positions in live, which were pretty much in sync. Nothing wrong with it and in real life it would mean they would get along well but in a fiction story I wanted something extra to bond them, something special to make me feel they were the best for one another. I guess I can say it was good but not really exciting to see them together.

Like I said, what I liked best were the scenes with other characters, especially the family connections... It's always wonderful to see how everyone is getting along and to see interactions with characters we've come to like, after all their lives carry on even after their story is told. In this regard, I think the author did a good job and it will probably be the element I'll remember the most from these books, even if I forget names and plots.

All things considered, this was a good enough story, yes, I had a good time reading it even if it was slightly weaker in general, comparing to the others. I might read other things from the author if her style keeps on going the direction of these books, in terms of atmosphere and style.
Grade: 7/10

Saturday, October 23, 2021

A nook and a book

Here's wishing you a good weekend!

I hope today has been good and tomorrow will be as well. I was browsing book nooks ( there are more book related things I find appealing besides books themselves ūüėä ) and saw one more page with some pictures. I particularly liked the one I'm including, especially if it came with a similar view! Although, I'm thinking it would be a good spot for a nap too...


 

A recent book I read would be a great pick to read in such an inspiring place.

The book is I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel (appropriate title!), which is a non-fiction on several little texts of opinion the author shares on the many thoughts a reader
might have. I suppose most, if not all readers, would agree with the majority of the ideas shared by the author. It's a small book, easily read but be warned this isn't meant to bring novelty or incredible breakthroughs on the world of books. This is a collection of short essays the author aims to share with readers on her experience, on her ideas, so one could almost say there's no purpose in this book except the giving of scenes any reader might remember as something also seen/lived by them.
Personally, I simply enjoyed the texts and saw myself in most of them, as if I could have been the one writing or voicing them. Perhaps not everyone would like it but I believe any reader would just smile reading about so many common traits all readers certainly have.
Grade: 8/10

Friday, October 22, 2021

Fiona Cummins - Rattle

On still nights, when the curve of a winter moon is smudged in the flow of the River Quaggy, the dead clamor for him. And sometimes he coaxes the living to join them. To other people, his victims might be mere medical oddities. To him, they are fascinating specimens, worthy of display. Above all, he is a collector, eager for recognition even as he hides in the shadows. Detective Sergeant Etta Fitzroy is the first to recognize the connection between the disappearance of a young girl and a cold case that almost cost her the career she's sacrificed so much for. A faceless psychopath is walking the streets of London, tantalizing the authorities with clues, taunting them with his ability to spirit his victims out from under their very noses. Better than anyone, Etta Fitzroy understands loss. But this is one contest she will win if it kills her . . . 

Comment: I was given this book for my birthday last month. I was warned perhaps the story would be too heavy and I might not want to read it, so the gift was a gamble but, although this isn't my preferred genre, I often read mystery and psychological thrillers but I went for it with caution.

In this book we meet a cast of characters involved in a serial killer's plans to add to his collection of weird things, namely bones with deformity. This is now a family inheritance so the killer is looking for people who might have bone deformities, such as Jackey, a little boy with a rare bone condition and Clare, a little girl with only two fingers in each hand. Clare is kidnapped first and of course the police is involved, especially detective Etta Fitzroy, who feels her personal and professional lives too close on this one. Will the police find the killer and stop him before any of the children are dead?

The mention of serial killer and danger and other common enough words in the world of mystery books certainly bring to mind an obvious idea of what a story is supposed to be or what kind of content it might have but I must say that, for a book about a serial killer, the death count was pretty much non existent and most of the really bad scenes were talked about and described but didn't really happen on page. Meaning, the really awful stuff was referenced but we didn't see it happen. In turn, the author opted to graphically describe some things for bigger shocker factor (I would say).

The story is, the way I see it, more focused on how the several characters interact and deal with one another as the search for the children happens, how everyone is affected, how their lives suffer from the stress and the emotional weight. We also get to learn things about them, in terms of their personal lives and past, and how that explains some of their choices or paths.

I don't think this is much different from the usual mystery/thriller but I see why some readers have thought so, after all this is a debut and already very well structured - it even bears in mind that there is a sequel - in particular by delaying the events into small occasions. The idea must be to cause suspense and the fear of when something bad will really happen but to be honest, I rarely felt that impact. Or this wasn't as terrifying as that or I was simply too invested in the personal situations of the characters.

This is the type of book where things are narrated in third person but each chapter is focused on a specific character and that makes it easier for us to connect with them and want to learn more. On one way, I tend to like this method and it's a good way to distinguish between likable or unappealing characters but on the other hand, it can be very easy to be distracted by secondary issues and at some point I was a little tired of too much delay, I kind of wanted things to speed up so that the good guys could solve the case.

I was quite interested in the medical details, such as why the little kids had been born with their physical problems and it shows the author must have done research to include certain information. This is, after all, the best part, to learn things or to have different sides/perspectives of them. The reason why the serial killer focused on that, though, wasn't as complex as I imagined. In fact, the whole motivation was a little under developed, in my opinion. If the reason was a severe psychological brainwash by the killer's father, I surely hoped for stronger bases...the way things happened...not so much.

The end is more or less open. Some things seem to be sort of solved but there was an intention of continuing things in the next book. I mean, I feel satisfied enough by how things were solved, crime wise, but there are loose threads to fix and also some closure to be gained in relation to the main characters. I'm not certain I'll read the next story, though. Not so soon, but perhaps one day, just to see what kind of wrapping up the author chooses.

Grade: 7/10

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Edie Danford - Professor Adorkable

Professor Marek Janos's genius at analyzing stellar explosions doesn't apply to his own disordered world. Forgetting to eat, sleep, and leave his lab has triggered some epic personal disasters. When his family insists he hire live-in help, he discovers home life has awesome benefits. His new housekeeper's smile sparks more energy than a supernova. And the way he moves? It rocks Marek's galaxy.
Pete Schulz took a tough fall from his high-flying life in Hollywood. But how does a guy whose best skill is getting dirty clean up his act? His new gig with Domesticated Inc seems like a great first step. Keeping house for a nerdy young astrophysics professor is exactly the low-key, no-chance-for-trouble job he needs, right?
Living together is surprisingly easy for both men. And fun. And more than a little hot. It's when they're faced with the idea of living apart that the truly messy work begins…

Comment: I got interested in this book because I read somewhere that one of the main characters was shy and had a hard time making friends. I was really curious to see how the romance would develop in such a case.

In this book we meet professor Marek Janos, a young man known for his amazing genius and ability to reach complex mathematical equations, which enabled him to conquer academics very soon. Now he works in the US but a past negative experience made it necessary for his family to find a housekeeper/companion so he can have meals and routines on time. Pete is that person and he also has something in his past which makes him feel he isn't the best person to have around but when it comes to rules and domestic work, he is happy to perform them, for he found out it allows him to feel in control. The two are young and attracted but Pete knows more intimacy, especially of the sexual kind, can only lead to disaster...however, Marek isn't one to ignore the odds...

I liked the idea of this book. Two people with different personalities but sharing the fact they don't feel always so well in being in public, even if by opposed reasons. I was curious to see how they would go from a work relationship, no matter how unusual, to something in which they could both trust each other. The road wasn't as dramatic nor heart wrenching as I thought, but it allowed for a good read.

I mean, it's not that this would scream overly emotional from the start, but I kind of imagined this from a certain point on, mostly as soon as we learn of Pete's past. He was a party boy, living for the superficial and the glamour, it wasn't something shady or anything (like criminal or illegal) but it had turned him into someone most people might not want to be friends with. I truly thought more of this would play a part in the novel but, in fact, this was here only as a cautionary tale to explain why Pete was reticent to become involved with Marek.

Some aspects of the plot are a little unrealistic, it seems. I'm talking about the work contract Pete has with Marek's uncle which forbids hem from having contact if the work contract ends before its term and how some convenient scenes happen right when they have to...real life isn't that easy. Plus, Marek's personality is described a certain way but apart from that, we barely see it play any role in the book, considering where the focus is, namely the romance.

I also wasn't fully convinced with the romance. I liked the two guys and I liked how hey were portrayed to show case their attraction, of which I think there many examples but, again, when the story begins, it is already established they like one one as more than friends even if they never acted on it and have kept to a work relationship and a casual friendship with some sweet moments in the mix. Personally, I think it would have been better  - or would have added strength to the novel - to see their relationship from the start, where, perhaps, they would be both more raw on meeting each other and their pasts would have played a bigger role in shaping who they are to get to where they are now.

In other words, or the story feels as if it didn't start in the best spot or the way things played out wasn't always as well done as it could. A lot of the tension is character-focused, not as much external and although I don't mind it, there are times it feels as if some parts weren't always in par with the rest. However, the rhythm of the story was good enough, but I would have liked even more sexual tension before they finally gave in.

The romance, as a whole, as sweet and both protagonists revealed a romantic side in the middle of all the obstacles they had to overcome. I liked Pete more, simply because he does seem to have more development. After checking some reviews, I see he was a secondary character in another book but because I haven't read that one I had no opinion whatsoever, so I was able to just appreciate his journey as it was, but I see other readers haven't liked him much in that other book. Here, for me, he simply was a conflicted person and someone who didn't feel very worthy... and I'm a sucker for characters like those.

All things considered, this wasn't the best book I've read but neither was it the worst. I liked some sections better than others but, overall, I was invested in seeing how the main couple would reach their HEA.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

TBR Challenge: Mary Stewart - Airs Above the Ground

Lovely Vanessa March, two years married and very much in love, did not think it was a strange for her husband to take a business trip to Stockholm. What was strange was the silence that followed. She never thought to look for her missing husband in Vienna -- until she saw him in a newsreel shot there at the scene of a deadly fire. Then she caught a glimpse of him in a newsreel shot of a crowd near a mysterious circus fire and knew it was more than strange. It was downright sinister.
Vanessa is propelled to Vienna by the shocking discovery. In her charge is young Timothy Lacy, who also has urgent problems to solve. But her hunt for answers only leads to more sinister questions in a mysterious world of white stallions of Vienna. But what promises to be no more than a delicate personal mission turns out to involve the security forces of three countries, two dead men, a circus and its colourful personnel. And what waits for Vanessa in the shadows is more terrifying than anything she has ever encountered.

Comment: October is here and with it, another TBR Challenge post. The theme for this month is Gothic which, to be honest, isn't one I would pick on my own. Nothing against it, but it's not a type of story I tend to find suits me completely. So, I browsed my bookshelves, trying to see if I could fit anything and this book caught my attention - I had read something already by the author - and after checking GR, I saw many readers labeled it Gothic, along with romantic suspense and mystery. Voil√°, I thought.

In this book we meet young Vanessa Marsh, while she sits with a family friend at Harrods and said friend, after a long conversation, finally ends up asking her to travel with her son Timothy to Vienna. Vanessa is surprised by this request but the friend explains she saw Vanessa's husband on the newsreel and would she not travel there to meet him and, as a favor, Timothy could go too, to join his father? This was delivered with a little malice but Vanessa is intrigued and after finding the newsreel, she does confirm to herself it is her husband...the problem is that he sent her a telegram from Sweden, therefore how could he be in Vienna? Vanessa decides to use the presence of Timothy as an excuse in case she discovers nothing, but she does plan her travel to Vienna....

I'll start right away by confessing this book has been for years in the pile because it's set in Vienna. This is my dream destination to travel before I die and had I got the company (I'm too shy to go alone) I would have gone there already. I'm not obsessed with all things Vienna, but I always have my antennae up, lol, when the city is mentioned and thus, this book's presence in the shelf.

I had read the author's work before, two short stories actually and I found that shorter size perfect for the type of story the author had created. Since the books date to the 1960s, some certain prose style is to be expected but I was still a little surprised by how... slow paced several parts of this book seemed to be. The writing style is very specific, as I've experienced with the other book I read, this one also took me some time to get used to - mostly because the wording/language are a little dated and English isn't my mother tongue, but the key moments took quite a while to be reached...

The plot is both clever and easy to follow, as the protagonists go from one situation to another. I'd say the big flaw for me here is the pace. What worked so well in the short stories seemed to fail for me in this full length story. It took time to set up things, to present them in a way that would mean it was believable for the characters to act a certain way, but I found that between key situations, time was passing by, there were many descriptions of actions and steps taken and I must bow my head and confess I was bored during some of these moments.

I know this is a talented author but there were times I just wish things would happen. When they did, they followed the pattern I came to expect from this author's work (a lot settling on convenience and people's social behavior in the 60s) and not much on believability of motive. With this I mean that the reason why the villain was doing his, well, evil deeds, was to expect but the way he went about it... obviously only in a time without easy communication mechanisms, such as a cell phone or a computer. Still, things were found somehow, even for the "good guys".

Vanessa is the main character. I liked several of her attitudes and I think she was quite brave to want to find out exactly what her husband was hiding from her. If there is one thing the author clearly does well is to allow the reader to guess things, to read between the lines...although I must say there is one scene here that in a movie would be perfect but reading through it was impossible for the result to be as amazing as I think the author wanted it to be. Nevertheless, for an attentive reader, the big mystery isn't such a surprise.

I did like all the Vienna references, the inclusion of the Spanish Riding School horses and how they are trained and special and even scenes with veterinary work and other animal related content was interesting to read about. I think the construction of the story and the eye for so much detail did help making this a special story.

The Gothic element isn't as strong as I would imagine, thinking this can be a label given to the book. There's suspense and some scarier moments, especially experienced by the heroine, but when I think of gothic I think more of darker and moody scenes than what we have here but I suppose this can be subjective.

The book ends positively, as one can imagine from this author but I still think some things were left too much into the whole "read between the lines". Fine, this is how things are and perhaps there's a bit of social context here playing a part too, not that I mind it in general, but I do think there was a lot of paragraphs dedicated to describing things which could have been dealt with more quickly and then when some important things - in my POV - should have been more detailed, they weren't.

This aside, I still enjoyed a big part of this book. I'll certainly try another one one day, to keep comparing, and I won't forget the Vienna descriptions but as for the fictional aspects, perhaps this wasn't a full win for me.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Brenda Ashworth Barry - The Journey of Elizabeth Ann Rose

Elizabeth Ann Rose calls the Indian reservation in southern California home, and is upset and angry when she and her family must leave and travel the road again while her daddy plays in his band and tries to become famous.
She and her family live out of an old beat up station wagon traveling from one city to another. Sometimes, living in dirty old hotel rooms where mice and cockroaches are their only pets.
When Beth Ann turns eleven she finds more than chocolate cake being served. Her mom serves her daddy divorce papers, takes her three children and heads out to begin a new life. In one short summer, Beth Ann’s life completely changes, and she ends up in Novata, a small Northern California town. The very town that will change her life forever.

Comment: I was recommended this book by a friend, as we often share recommendations when we see something we might like to buddy read. Sometimes, it's the plot, sometimes it's the theme and in this book's case I think it was the possibility of a rewarding journey for the heroine and how much she would grow up as the story moved along. Sadly, neither of us properly investigated the fact that, despite this being part of a series, the time line isn't as easy as this following events from book #2 and so on.

In this book we meet 9 year old Elizabeth Ann Rose who, as the story begins, is terribly sad she is leaving the Indian reservation where her family has been living. She is even sadder she is leaving her beloved dog friend and the people she came to love while they lived there. Now her parents are traveling west, as her father is looking for fame and fortune. Things change when her mother finally gives up and demands a steadier life. When that doesn't happen, she asks for divorce and, eventually, she and the children end up in a city in California. That is where Elizabeth Ann Rose's life truly begins, especially because she meets people who will influence her life forever...

What I wrote above is what the blurb made me think this story would be about. I confess when I read some words, my mind automatically thought of those old westerns where life was hard but dedication and friendships could make a difference and, in that regard, I must agree this author's style is like going back in time, if one thinks about how old school stories were told.

The setting, however, is the 1930s with all the hardships and war issues that we can also associate with it. Personally, this didn't make any difference to me, because my dislike of the book was related to another issue but the author included enough information so the reader could imagine the setting and the atmosphere those people were living in at the time. For me, nothing too heavy to deal with, as I sort of expected the book would have such details.

Anyway, back to why I disliked this book... I'll have to say it was all about the content. When the story begins, it pretty much follows what the blurb suggests. Here was a young girl, whose journey would be both physical and emotional, I imagined, about to leave what was familiar to her to embark on the unknown...she was leaving the Indian reservation so this would not really be about how to manage different cultures and such. The family never stayed too long, so this would also not be about what kind of experiences Elizabeth would have on the road.

When she finally starts living in the California city where the family settles in, I was already a little bored, to be honest, for the vibe of the story wasn't what I thought it would be (about facing and overcoming obstacles while gaining wisdom) but about what kind of people Elizabeth met as a child and as a teenager and who her friends were and - it seemed - countless pages of boyfriend doubts and whose boy she liked best and why the one she liked didn't like her the same and so on until all the chapters started to feel repetitive and focused on things that might sound simple and suitable to the protagonist's age but which bored me to no end.

At some point, I checked GR for more information on the series and there are more books where these characters - older, apparently - are protagonists too and face other stages in life, other situations. I was a little confused about the time line of the series and other things, but the conclusion I got is that this is just a moment in the life of these characters and it happens to be while they are young. Sure, not a problem, but had I done more research I might not have read the book.

I kept reading, hoping some kind of lesson were to be shared, some kind of novelty in the life of the main characters or some evolution on what their emotions were but it all felt the same to me until the end. Still, I thought some emotional change could happen but not even that...I was also surprised by how much innuendo and sexual connotations and behavior was addressed, considering the time and the age of the characters. I must say I was quite disappointed in the author by how she portrayed young girls in this book...I wouldn't say this book is about innocence at all, but that's just a POV.

It's one of those things...I see why it might have worked for many readers but it just wasn't for me. I only liked the beginning but the majority of the time I just felt disappointment, so...
Grade: 2/10

Friday, October 15, 2021

Helena Hunting - Meet Cute

Kailyn Flowers was always calm and controlled - until she ended up sprawled all over Daxton Hughes, the former actor she totally crushed on as a teenager. In seconds, she became a mortifying fangirl and oddly enough, he didn't run away. Instead, their meet cute led to something she never expected: a friendship. Of course, she never expected him to betray her, either.
Eight years later, Dax needs Kailyn's help. Years of anger towards him haven't exactly left Kailyn inclined to oblige, but she also isn't heartless enough to turn him down. She vows to be friendly, but soon their 'friendly' meetings turn into flirty dinner dates, and Kailyn can feel their chemistry is as explosive as ever. But how can she possibly let down her guard again to a guy who has heartbreak written all over him?

Comment: This is the first book by this author I try. I have seen several positive comments on several books by the author and finally decided to read one. I picked this title because the blurb seemed intriguing enough and I'm glad it turned out to be a good one for me.

In this novel we meet law students Dex and Kaylin and their meet cute at college is awkward for Dex is a previous child/teenage actor who still gets recognized a lot and Kaylin is definitely a fan. Things happen in a weird way but as the studying years go by, they become sort of friends and great opponents at debate class until an action by Dex leaves Kaylin at a disadvantage. Then, years later, after tragedy affects Dex and his younger sister, Kaylin will be the lawyer helping them but can she keep her personal feelings apart from her professional duties? Or will that old chemistry become too big to avoid now they are older and more mature adults?

I think I got an idea of how this author plans and delivers her stories. The writing style is simple, fluid and without a lot of tricks so I could appreciate the story for what it was: a quiet romance while the characters deal with issues.

The plot is pretty basic and, if I'm being honest, a little too predictable as well. I could guess practically almost all steps and reasons for some characters behaved a certain way. I might not have known exactly which steps would happen first, but everything in this story was obvious for a reader who might have have many romance novels already. Obviously, then, what makes this special isn't the overall plot, but actually the characters' interactions and the little details.

There were some emotionally enough scenes in this book. I admit to have cried once or twice but this isn't one of those heavy dramas. I think the author knew how to dose what was being described in a way that made it easy for me to sympathize but still able to see what was the goal, and that is why I say this is easy and fluid. I also liked that, despite the main characters have met in college, this book doesn't have flashbacks, only mention of things to explain some scenes.

Kaylin is a cute character, a professional and I liked her as a romance heroine. She does fall into cliché traps close to the end but I wasn't too bothered by this. I liked she was adopted and how having had a good couple as parents shaped her personality and decisions but I'd have liked more on her past and what kind of experiences she had. I think this could have been extra special, considering her work as lawyer in this plot.

Dex is fascinating because is immediately seen as handsome and well liked, also for his past as an actor and that means he feels quick rapport with how he acts in court. I'd say his personality is likable but he did feel a bit too easily constructed, the details the author included about him seemed too easily chosen and I don't think his background was as interesting as Kaylin's but he did follow all the usual steps a hero does when going towards an HEA so...

The romance was cautious, after all they have the same profession and know the risks and although there were several scenes where I liked them together, this also felt a little too staged. I kind of wanted more chemistry as the author kept writing they shared. It felt as if they did everything right but not always as with much emotion as I would have wanted. I mean, they are a good couple and respect each other too, which is great, but I wanted more emotions as they fell in love.

The epilogue is cute but it could have been sweeter. Some author drop all the sugar at this moment but mrs Hunting certainly didn't and I feel we were given facts but, again, not enough emotion... I think the author could have managed a balanced amount of facts and charming descriptions if she wanted.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Laura Hankin - Happy & You Know It

After her former band shot to superstardom without her, Claire reluctantly agrees to a gig as a playgroup musician for wealthy infants on New York's Park Avenue. Claire is surprised to discover that she is smitten with her new employers, a welcoming clique of wellness addicts with impossibly shiny hair, who whirl from juice cleanse to overpriced miracle vitamins to spin class with limitless energy.
There is perfect hostess Whitney who is on the brink of social-media stardom and just needs to find a way to keep her flawless life from falling apart. Caustically funny, recent stay-at-home mom Amara who is struggling to embrace her new identity. And old money, veteran mom Gwen who never misses an opportunity to dole out parenting advice. But as Claire grows closer to the stylish women who pay her bills, she uncovers secrets and betrayals that no amount of activated charcoal can fix. 
Filled with humor and shocking twists, Happy and You Know It is a brilliant take on motherhood – exposing it as yet another way for society to pass judgment on women – while also exploring the baffling magnetism of curated social-media lives that are designed to make us feel unworthy. But, ultimately, this dazzling novel celebrates the unlikely bonds that form, and the power that can be unlocked, when a group of very different women is thrown together when each is at her most vulnerable.

Comment: I've added this book to my TBR last year but I forgot why exactly. I finally managed to start it but it turned out to be something I wasn't too fond of.

In this story we meet Claire, a young woman who grew up in a place where a powerful church had a lot of influence and as soon as Claire was able to escape, the went to New York. She has always wanted to become a musician and when her band was about to be launched, she was put aside by the others because of something she couldn't easily explain. Now the band is famous, she is in financial trouble and has to keep her head down and accept things she felt were in her past, such as playing music for babies. The new baby playgroup she is going to work for is made out of wealthy mothers who all seem to have brilliant lives....or do they? As Claire gets more and more immersed in their lives, can she be objective and notice something might not be quite right with them?

I seem to have had some bad luck lately with some books I've been reading...the blurb issue. I know, I know, I repeat myself on and on about this but I can't help noticing. A blurb gives an idea about what book is going to be, it helps create an expectation, and then the content isn't always an easy match. I wonder how much is only someone's wrong ideas because it's not the author writing the blurb or if there's a purpose in writing them a certain way, precisely to seduce readers....

Anyway, this to say I feel mislead by this blurb because I thought this would be more along the lines of fictional drama but it turned out to be more about unappealing characters immersed in corrosive schemes. Nothing wrong with it, each book is what it is but perhaps I might have passed if I knew what this would be focusing on instead.

The setup was interesting enough: a down on her luck Claire who feels cheated by how quickly after she was let go of the band, they became a hit. I could commiserate with her and I was also intrigued by what her past being part of a big church cult-like would have meant for her growing up and how she now sees the world but this aspect was only mentioned a couple of times so that Claire could explain how and why she rebelled and so on. It turns out it wasn't such a big element in Claire's personality and past as I was led to believe.

As soon as Claire meets the mothers she starts to notice some things don't add up but she isn't interested as long as the money keeps coming. At some point she becomes friends with one of the mothers and they are the ones who sort of propel the plot into something more active and action packed. I suppose I can appreciate the method in which the big secret is developed and as a suspense novel, this could have worked out quite well too, but the resolution, although interesting on its own feels a little wasted because the main characters aren't that complex.

Claire is the protagonist but I feel she wasn't as well developed as she could by the author and I think her evolution or growing as the plot unfolds wasn't good enough. But the other mothers have plenty of air time too, for we have the POV of at least three of them throughout the novel namely Whitney's, Amara's and Gwen's. Each one is different, both in personality and inner strength and although they were all complex enough in their own merit - more than Claire, I thought - they still get held by stereotypes for the most part and their characters also feel they lacked enough development.

Something I can say is that all of them seem to be people I wouldn't like to be friends with. There is one or two things about each one that we can say are positive aspects but for the most part, it felt as if the highlight was on their negative actions/behavior and it was hard to sympathize. I suppose they can be seen as only human, with realistic descriptions and attitudes but since I wasn't rooting for any, I've finished the book with the sense I gained nothing by having read about them.

I suppose the talk about motherhood, expectations on mothers and how children are treated as objects to be revered or dealt with in a way that can be seen a certain way are worthy subjects the author mentioned here. Some scenes do seem to be good examples of how children are, for some mothers, just a means to an end, especially in the world of Instagram and social media. However, even this was out aside somehow, in detriment to the big secret and overall I feel the ideas just weren't used properly.

The big secret is found a little bit after mid of the book, so lots of time to still be annoyed at the characters' actions, at their mind process... although one or two details felt thought-worthy such as the fact children would end up in the spotlight and should a loving mother really ant to expose a child like that? Anyway, I'm certain this worked out for many readers but, to me, it wasn't as great as I imagined, all clues considered on how this could possibly go.
Grade: 5/10

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Lorraine Heath - Falling Into Bed with a Duke

In the first in a dazzling new series, New York Times bestselling author Lorraine Heath introduces the Hellions of Havisham—three charismatic rogues destined to lose their hearts . . .
After six unsuccessful Seasons, Miss Minerva Dodger chooses spinsterhood over fortune-hungry suitors. But thanks to the Nightingale Club, she can at least enjoy one night of pleasure. At that notorious establishment, ladies don masks before choosing a lover. The sinfully handsome Duke of Ashebury is more than willing to satisfy the secretive lady's desires—and draws Minerva into an exquisite, increasingly intimate affair.
A man of remarkable talents, Ashe soon deduces that his bedmate is the unconventional Miss Dodger. Intrigued by her wit and daring, he sets out to woo her in earnest. Yet Minerva refuses to trust him. How to court a woman he has already thoroughly seduced? And how to prove that the passion unleashed in darkness is only the beginning of a lifetime's pleasure . . . ?

Comment: This is the first book in the Hellions of Havisham trilogy by author Lorraine Heath. I have read several of her books by now and although her style is unique and constantly appealing to me, I must say this one wasn't as great as I hoped for.

In this book we have the story of Minerva Dodger and the duke of Ashebury. 
He is a hellion, so-called by society for he and three friends have been raised by a "madman" in the aftermath of their parents' deaths. Now adults, they travel and give the ton plenty fodder for thought, especially because of their status. Ashe likes his freedom but he learns his estates aren't doing as well and he knows many depend on him. While trying to come up with a plan, he meets a mysterious lady at an exclusive night club, where ladies wear masks so thy aren't identified. Somehow, he and Minerva seem to be a good match but what will happen when he finds out who she really is?

I should say this trilogy is a spin off of other series by the author. As usual, things and plot make sense independently of having read those others, but since there are many references and one or two cameos of previous protagonists, I think this one is best savored by having had information from those other books.

The premise of this book is simple: Minerva has been raised by loving parents and has been surrounded by loving couples, both friends and friends of her parents and despite her considerable dowry, she has yet to find someone to marry. The reason is that she wants to marry for love and al men who have approached her only see her money first. She, therefore, devises a plan, to attend one of the parties at a night club where it is said ladies can be anonymous. She wants to feel desire, even if for only night.

That is where the duke of Ashebury is that same night and somehow their paths cross but even though there seems to be an attraction and connection between them, she keeps her mask and nothing sexual happens but Minerva is certainly intrigued. They carry on thinking about one another, Ashe tries to find out who she is - against the rules of the nightclub - and at one event he believes he has found her. But one thing is to keep things a mystery, another is to say it surrounded by the ton, so of course they are both careful... 

I mean, sure, this can be seen as original but let me confess I truly disliked this tactic for them to met one another. I find no fun nor romance in characters who only think about the physical and conveniently find love in the process. I prefer other plots, other methods... it is true the author manages to find a way for all this to make sense for these protagonists but to me, personally, it was something to endure. I finished the book not believing they were in love. That they like each other, that they respect the fact what makes them unique is special for their identity as a couple, sure. But their path to love didn't feel romantic to me, at all.

What I liked best was really their personalities, how Minerva is clever and assertive and has a head fr numbers and Ashe is loyal and caring if he wants and likes photography which gives him a certain sense of what can be seen between the lines... them as a couple was something good but I wasn't fond of the road they took. The author also made things in a way that it does feel they are meant to complement each other.

All things considered, this wasn't a bad book in general, but to me and comparing with all the others I've read already, this has to be one of the weakest, in my perspective.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Gregory Ashe - Guilt By Association

Everything in Emery Hazard’s life is finally going well: his boyfriend, Nico, is crazy about him; he has a loyal partner at work; and he has successfully closed a series of difficult murders. By all accounts, he should be happy. What he can’t figure out, then, is why he’s so damn miserable.
After a fight with Nico, Hazard needs work to take his mind off his relationship. And someone in town is happy to oblige by murdering the sheriff. The job won’t be easy; the sheriff had enemies, lots of them, and narrowing down the list of suspects will be difficult. Difficult, but routine.
The arrival of a special prosecutor, however, throws the case into turmoil, and Hazard and Somers find themselves sidelined. With an agenda of his own, the prosecutor forces the case toward his favorite suspect, while Hazard and Somers scramble to find the real killer. As the people they care about are drawn into the chaos, Hazard and Somers have to fight to keep what they love--and to keep each other. To find the killer, they will have to reveal what each has kept buried for years: their feelings for each other.
And for Hazard, that’s a hell of a lot scarier than murder.

Comment: This is the fourth installment in the Hazard and Somerset series by Gregory Ashe. Since I have enjoyed the others, of course I'm keeping up with the series.

In this story, the two detectives once again see themselves in the middle of a tricky case to solve. The clues seem to be lacking an obvious connection but they are determined to learn who would want to murder the sheriff. As the investigation develops, new characters come to light as having a motive to cause harm, but how to prove it? At the same time, Hazard is debating on whether to break up with his boyfriend and Somerset feels his marriage might not be salvageable. Could it be that this time they will finally talk?

Once again, I'm marveled by the author's ability to come up with details for the investigation of the crimes he invents in his plots. I think it's safe to say this isn't as complex as other writers might have done in the past and it's not as far fetched as some of the most ingenious plots have been, but as a whole, I think it's safe to assume, most of the details and reasoning are well thought. Still, I saw some comments on how the crime wasn't really well done but I can see someone who breathes crime books might think so.

This to say that, for me, this turned out to be a clever murder investigation, with plenty of distractions in between for us to wonder about who could have done it or, like in my case, to simply enjoy the ride as the new information comes to explain the whys and hows. In this regard, the death of the sheriff certainly fixes some loose ends from previous books but the reason for his murder wasn't as black and white as that. I think the author did an effort to make things go smoothly, even though there were scenes which felt a little repetitive and too focused on the drama instead of the practicality.

However, this book is well liked for most readers of the series for a completely different reason. By this fourth installment, we finally have the protagonists talking and sharing some sincere thoughts, which leads them into a mutual compromise. I, for one, was very glad to see where things went and by the end of the book, I was feeling very happy, indeed.

It's true Hazard and Somerset evolve as each book comes along but that is a very, very slow process and it seems as if the author delays progress on purpose. On one hand, I assume because his style is to highlight the tension and the dramas, but it's also certainly convenient to keep the series ongoing too.

Their personalities are different, true, but in the end they are quite alike in terms of values and behaviors, even if their roads in life were different. I can imagine that part of the next books will be how they deal with their new status and how they will deal with the secondary character's opinions and what role do all those people play in the big scheme of things. There are enough loose ends yet to be fixes and I hope the author goes on a good direction with all this because if there was a bad decision would be to complicate what is now being solved...

This is a positive book for me but mainly because I have the background of the other books. I don't think it's a good idea to randomly start with this one. For real, this is one of those series better read in order. Next month I'm reading the next and I hope it is good.
Grade: 8/10