Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tessa Bailey - Sink or Swim

Andrew Prince wakes up before everyone else. He schedules the bar shifts, demands perfection from Long Beach’s lifeguards—most of all himself—and makes sure the family debts are paid. His unfaltering work ethic might leave him exhausted, but it comes with one advantage. It distracts him from the love he’s been harboring since childhood for the girl next door—who he cannot have.
Jiya Dalal has dreams. To fly a plane, see the world below…and prove irresistible to her best friend, Andrew. But she needs to be a good daughter first, which is becoming an increasingly difficult task, since her parents expect a good marriage and the man she loves with all her heart refuses to pursue the blistering connection between them. Just when she’s beginning to believe Andrew truly doesn’t want her, a moonlight tryst on the beach exposes his true feelings. But an echo from the past kept them apart before…and it’s only growing louder with every stolen kiss… 

Comment: I really liked the previous book in this trilogy, which I read last month, and although I don't feel I need to read book #1, the way the protagonists of this 3rd one interacted made me curious to see how their own story would develop and it was easy to add this story to my reading list, since it wasn't even a very big book.

In this book we finally see what happens to Jiya and Andrew, best friends since forever and who have shared a supposed unrequited attraction and passion for the other, unknowingly aware they both wanted the same thing.
In the other book we could see the shared looks and learn a little about their friendship history and know Andrew, brother of that other book's protagonist, really was in love with Jiya.
Now that his two brothers are settled in life with loving partners, Andrew feels he might need to go away because he can't stand the idea of seeing Jiya being with someone else. The problem is that there's someone who has been following him and who finally makes a move. 
Will Andrew be able to solve all his problems? Will he be able to let go of Jiya?

Isn't it interesting how in books - or movies - when a character isn't well in life somehow or for whatever reason, they feel they need to go away or move out or live somewhere else? How easy can this realistically be? Not at all, I'd say, but we still accept people might want to run from emotional entanglements by moving physically away. If it were that easy...
Another thing I sometimes think about while reading is how authors go a certain path with their stories and tit can be totally different from the reader's expectations. In some cases, that can be good, in others it feels like wasted efforts. 

Mixing these two things I mentioned together results in some musings I thought about and on why I felt about this book the way I did. 
The use of some clichés and plot devices works because they offer a specific path for things to develop but when books are part of series where we get to know the characters, often by their smaller secondary interventions/scenes, isn't it any wonder some books seem to go a very useless or wasted type of path? I felt this because Andrew and Jiiya were so cute together int he other book, seemed to have that all worship from afar going on but they did seem to be intelligent. In this book, their behavior bordered on pointless at times and melodramatic at others.

Some readers have criticized the fact both Andrew and Jiya, but him especially, acted too much like a martyr, suffering as a sort of punishment for whatever reasons instead of being mature enough to talk to each other and define their relationship. I can agree up to some point since reading about people who keep thinking about their own worth as non existent can be a little tiring and depressing but, at the same time, don't we all do that sometime,s don't we all have doubts about what to do? Sure, real life is very different from a book where we want characters to act in a believable but still brave manner... 
I would say that for me the issue wasn't exactly the way Andrew behaved or his inner justifications but the way he kept explaining to himself why he should do this or that.
In relation to Jiya I can understand but when it came to his other problem I thought why not just talk to his brothers (they all have a good relationship) and go from there? Indeed, he does this but only at a moment closer to the end of the novel.

The romantic relationship was very sugary, even with the "we shouldn't" and "I'm not good enough for you" moments here and there which could have brought it to a more balanced level.
It's obvious they are in love, but I can sympathize more with Jiya's reluctance (her personality also reflects a little of her culture, she's usually more reserved) than Andrew's, especially in these contemporary times where the actions of our parents don't need to mean we would be the same. Besides, why would only Andrew feel this negatively about himself if it was a genetics matter, why not his brothers too?

All things considered, this book seemed to be a little heavier in some aspects and even with Marcus making an appearance, I didn't have as much fun wanting to read what was happening as I did with the previous book. It wasn't very bad but it wasn't very good either.
It was good to have some closure on these characters but in the end, that was the only thing I might remember of this book. I can always re-read my favorite parts of book #2.
Grade: 6/10

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Deanna Wadsworth - Braving the Deep End

State Trooper Mike Martin considers himself straight. Until the day he met the sexy southern charmer Beau Abernathy. Mike’s world froze the first time he saw Beau climb from the pool at his local gym, leaving him thunderstruck. He’s never experienced such lucid thoughts, or the chill of desire for another man—did this mean he was gay?
As their friendship grows, so does Mike’s concern. What if Beau kisses him and he doesn’t like it? Beau is too important to Mike to just be a sexual experiment. Worried if he’s even physically able to be intimate with a man—it’s one thing to imagine, but another to act on it—Mike enlists the help of Madame Eve a no-strings gay sex-ed lesson. But Mike gets far more than he bargained for with his romantic weekend getaway. Will Mike be brave enough to face his desires and dive in the deep end, or will Beau’s dark secret destroy what they could become?

Comment: I got interested in reading this book after seeing the author's explanation for it on a reading group. She said she got inspired by a Reddit post or something like it, where an user shared his story: how he basically got friends with another guy at the gym, how they slowly got closer, became friends and eventually figured out they were attracted to one another.
The premise does seem difficult to imagine but in fiction it could be a great story!

Thus, this is the story of Mike and Beau and how they become friends over mutual interests and apparently simple things. Underneath that all, however, are Mike's fears of ruining a wonderful friendship if he dares to read more into the whole thing.
When things get to a point where he can't deal with the doubt anymore to know if Beau has the same thoughts, he fears his inexperience with men might be deal breaker so he plans, through an agency, a lesson from someone who could let him test if he would be comfortable with another man, sexually speaking.
Of course, in between several subjects worrying him, including family and work, could Mike really go ahead with the lesson or are his feelings for Beau much more serious than what he thought and he can't bear the idea?

The premise of this book is all kinds of romantic. The possibility of something great is there, the idea of seeing a potential romance between two people who don't see themselves as a couple but who have such a strong friendship is very appealing.
If I remember well, I think the original post (whether it was real or faked, there is that question now) mentioned both were straight. In this book, Beau is gay although he doesn't share that with Mike at first. I can see the unlikeliness of a GFY (gay for you) plot not being so easy to pull off but the romance and potential of it aren't impossible either. 
I guess my expectations were largely based on the original post and this idea, which means the author's choices, from the start, weren't that great for me.

The story started quite meh immediately. That lovely premise about connecting at the gym? All that is a given because we, the reader, don't see any of it. The story starts with Mike explaining this, as if sending a letter to the agency but we don't have any sweet, poignant, funny scenes with them becoming friends. To me, this was a weak choice because part of the interest in the story is completely out of the picture for the reader.
The development, therefore, sets on Mike's fears and his "experiment" and, let's wait a minute, Beau is actually aware of the letter somehow?? He pretends to be the guy waiting for Mike and they talk and become more than friends in the first chapters!
What?, I thought. What is the fun of the whole thing if they do get involved so easily and without their previous connection seen on the page, this feels even less romantic than described.

Being resigned to this disappointment, one could imagine characterization would still save the day.
For me, it wasn't so, I'm afraid.
Mike came across as very immature and even being inexperienced, his attitude towards the situation felt very silly. He is a state trooper, he must be aware of what it means to be responsible but in his personal life, he acted very insecure. We even have the secondary situation, regarding his female best friend, with whom he shared a one night stand he regrets (it just happened because of a trauma!), he didn't realize her feelings "were more serious than his" in the whole relationship definition, and she got pregnant! After she shares this, which he was certainly not expecting, he leaves for his sex-lesson getaway.

Beau is described as older, hot, friendly, has a tattoo...but his thoughts about being with Mike weren't totally positive for me. He did feel rather possessive of Mike but he never told him he was gay. I can understand this, he might not have wanted to ruin their friendship, but I mean, he was aware of the little touches and connection and longing looks for what they were. Somehow it feels things were a bit one sided, as if he omitted something, even if not maliciously, but... I can't help but thinking the dynamics were rather unfair.
Then another issue arises due to the subject of his job and how Mike discovers what Beau really does. This too felt like a very over the top and silly choice. The whole book by now felt like too much out of control.

I had high hopes for this story. I thought this would be a sweet contemporary about an unlikely but still doable plot. I imagined the two guys would be awkward around each other but still friends, I thought we would see first the way they became friends which would help with the falling in love part. I think done well, this would be enough conflict to sustain the book, without any need of weird traumas and neglected best friends and secret job activities. 
Yes, one can say this is a version, this is the author's story and not that couple's story. It's true, but the plot used in this book, sadly, didn't convince me and that is why my grade for it is low.
Grade: 4/10

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Mini - Comments

It does seem I have included several mini-comments lately, but often I:
A) read books in Portuguese with no edition in English to better present the book here; 
B) read books I don't feel like talking much about and I can write about two or three that might have something in common.

This time, the common ground is the fact both books were in Portuguese and both, we could say, provide food for thought, although at different levels.

The first one is another book I borrowed from the person who likes to lend me things I might find interesting and the second one is mine, I've had it in the pile since 2008 actually.
The first is by a new author, so I didn't have any expectations unless on what type of story is would be and the second is written by an author I had read before, so nothing new to expect there.

The first star of the night by Nadia Ghulam and Javier Diéguez
This could be the literal title of the original. It references a moment the protagonist and her childhood cousin and best friend shared when thinking of what the other might be doing.
Portuguese cover
This had everything to be a very emotional book, since it is told by someone who lived in Afghanistan when the war was ongoing and when the taliban gained power. Through the guise of returning to know the whereabouts of her family, after living in Barcelona for some time to study, Nadia shares what she encounters and what is happening while reminiscing on the lives of the women of her family.
I liked knowing more about the Afghani lives and citizens and what they went trough in a very simple manner. Nadia isn't sharing this to criticize or to defend anyone or anything, although her pain and the pain of her countrymen and women is more than obvious in these pages. I would say this book wasn't even more special for narrative reasons: the fact she is telling things happening during her travel, then remembering, then alluding to secondary's too distracting. At times it almost feels impersonal. This was a good book to learn but it's not the most fluid or engaging, in terms of narrative style.
Grade: 6/10

Conversations With God III by Neale Donald Walsch
This is the third book on this series. These books were refreshing to read back in the 90s not only by the approach used in this the inspirational theme but because they offered a lot of content which could be seen as possible to help people think and act better towards their surroundings.
As always, though, the big setback is that no matter how many people might read these books, not all agree, not all share the enthusiasm and not all want to put into motion the general ideas that could, indeed, help change the world.
The first volume was amazing, it really felt the content was achievable. The second I found less appealing, since it focused on too specific situations, mostly on the US reality.
This third book returned to general and broader issues humankind faces but despite having enjoyed some of the hints and possibilities included, I feel some concepts were too confusing. I think modern societies just can't function like what was suggested unless everyone feels like doing their part and, sadly, many would not want to.
Still, these conversations the author has with God and what He might want us to really learn are fascinating. It's just so.... conceptual, though, that there are details I struggled to not dismiss because of how they were addressed. But it's certainly a better installment than the second one and a very good example of how to think of spirituality nowadays.
Grade: 6/10

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Lora Leigh - Cross Breed

The Breeds are humans altered before conception with the DNA of the predators of Earth. But although they all carry the genetic material of beasts within them, Cassandra Sinclair stands apart. A unique mix of wolf, coyote and human, she is revered by many—but preyed upon by others. She is fiercely protected by her community…but no one manages to stop her when she slips away one day to offer her body in exchange for her sister’s safety.
The man she succumbs to surprises her by unleashing her inner animal in ways she never dreamed possible—and provokes her deep, furious rage. To Cassie’s shock, he is the mate she has long awaited. She may never be able to forgive his deception. Still, as dangerous enemies track her, and as the threat of all-out war between Breeds and the humans who despise them hovers in the air, they must join forces and hold fast to each other.
But the passionate union between them holds a potential that could change the world—and some will do anything to stop it…

Comment: This is installment #23 on the Breed series by Lora Leigh. Since I've read my first book in this series - although not the first of the series -  many years ago, I've kept up to most of what has been released.

The story happens in the future and follows the saga of the Breeds, people created in laboratories where the scientists used the DNA of animals along with humans, supposedly to create special kinds of humans. However, there was a lot of chemical experiments which makes Breeds to be humans but with many of the animal features of whose DNA they carry. They have embarked on a quest fro freedom and have civil rights, have the law on their side now. The problem is that many of their enemies are still out there...
Now it's

This is the story of Cassie Sinclair, which was introduced in the first books as child. Now, on book #23 we have her romantic story, something the fans have been waiting for.
For some books now, hints on who would be her mate have abounded but I don't think it was any surprise to any fan who the hero of this book is.
Apart from this, the book is heavily centered on the "never ending" and ongoing battle to help all Breeds out there and, on a slightly secondary plot, the hero's family history. 
Some details were not unexpected, after all the hints have been there, but I'd say the biggest reasons why this book wasn't as amazing as it could to me are very simple: the series is very long and too much time passes between installments and nothing seems to have any closure.

Cassie has always been special, has managed to offer support to other characters and is cherished by practically everyone. When, in a previous book, readers got a clue on who could be her mate, theories and ideas were quickly discussed and, had her book been published soon after that, I'm certain it would have had a bigger impact.
However, it feels as if the series has lost steam. I say this in the sense that perhaps PNR and erotica aren't a mix that is as trendy or as flashy nowadays, so the series still makes an impression mostly on faithful readers.

It's been 18 years since the publication of the first Breed book. It's been 18 years following these characters and their special features, which the author so cleverly invented.
But recently, the focus on these books isn't the same and each new book keeps offering as many doubts and new problems as the HEAs accomplished. How to read this if not by dedication and faithfulness to the series? 
Personally, that is why I read it because it's not longer something I look for to do. I read each new book only for a small sense of duty and honor to the memory of what the series has meant to me. I do wish the author would get a move on with finishing the series... it would be better, I think, to write two or three more books to settle down the main arc - freedom and rest for the Breed's cause - and a few more key characters.

This feeling is what kept playing in my head while I finally read Cassie's book. Her special characterization no longer fills me with wonder, the character liaisons no longer make me invent theories about why this or that happens... It was, indeed, good to understand her mate's past and attitudes, to see them achieve a common ground. They mention love but apart from paranormal reasons and the whole "mate" issue, how could that be if they barely interacted before their book? Anyway, that doesn't matter, I'm just glad they found a shared bond.

When the next book comes out, I'll red it at some point. It's weird that I still feel invested enough to want to know what happens in relation to some plot points, even among all the distractions and the severely slow pace of every single book.
This book was OK, in the big scheme of things. It wasn't fantastic, though, and I hope the author manages to find real eagerness to finish the series eventually, but it's difficult to imagine this; Cross Breed was released two years ago and there is no information on new books, so...what to hope?
Grade: 6/10

Friday, July 24, 2020

Kira Archer - 69 Million Things I Hate About You

After personal assistant Kiersten Abbott wins sixty-nine million dollars in the lotto, she suddenly has more than enough money to quit her impossibly demanding job. But where’s the fun in that? She decides to stay and exact a little revenge on her insufferable ass of a boss.
Billionaire Cole Harrington quickly figures out something’s afoot with his usually agreeable personal assistant. When he finds out about the office pool betting on how long it’ll take him to fire her, he decides to spice things up and see how far he can push her until she quits.
The game is on, with everyone waiting to see who will crack first. But the bet sparks a new dynamic between them, and soon they realize they just might have crossed that fine line between hate and love.

Comment: I got interested in this book because it would feature a plot that isn't that easy to see, after all in real life winning the lottery or big amounts of money in games isn't that likely. Added to this, the story would have boss/employee and opposites battling it out (not exactly enemies though) so I was in for a sweet but fun romance.

Kiersten Abbott, along with her two best friends, win the lottery and that means, as soon as the paperwork is done, she can do whatever she wants.
In the last months she has worked as personal assistant to Cole Harrigton, the millionaire owner of the company and someone ruthless in every aspect of his life. Their relationship has been purely professional although both admire the other silently.
When Kierstan wins the money, she decides it's time to quit but since her boss has been obnoxious and a jerk many times, she decides to play a trick on him to see if he can fire her and she will do this by being the opposite of what she has been.
Cole has admired his employee's dedication and work ethic so he is stunned when she starts to behave like a careless person but then he finds out why and decides to hold the fort anyway, until one of hem cracks...

Seriously, in real life, in the cutting edge world of multi millionaire companies and their CEOs, is there any likability this scenario could ever work out?
Despite the ridiculous premise, I still felt like reading because I kept imagining the author would give an emotional tone to this story and the (foreseen) comedy scenes would be cute. At least, this what I imagined but the reality was severely disappointing.

There wasn't a lot I liked about this book but I confess it was easy to read, the story isn't too big and the hints of what could be gave me will to carry on.
However, going at this annoyance by annoyance would really bring the grade down. I suppose I just felt like putting this one in the middle of the road because some parts were readable and acceptable.

There were several details that made me really irritated with this book, so wasted was the plot on silly stuff. But the biggest issue, that truly made me disappointed was the childish pranks these two did on one another and how unprofessional their behavior was, especially the heroine's. Having a more than comfortable cushion to rely on if things went very wrong is no excuse to behave in such a way and from then on I never felt sympathetic towards her.
Cole isn't such a hero material anyway but despite him being a jerk, I wasn't that surprised when he fought back, I mean... something had to develop this plot.

In the beginning, the story felt promising. The girls would win the money, I thought this would focus on funny scenes when Kiersten tried to escape her job but not on her initiative. I bet there could be ways to do so (all the rom-coms out there prove it) while she still debated on her new possibilities, on her change in status. The book doesn't address this at all. The whole book is about the office pranks, the so-called relationship which, in my opinion, never really reached such level.
The Kierstan we meet in the first chapter seems competent, analytical, compassionate but steady and I liked her, I rooted for her. Then she wins the money and even before she has it, her personality seems to change completely. It just didn't feel realistic.

In fact, none of the book did. There are several situations that are so cringe worthy unlikely and wrong, I can't imagine this being acceptable.The office pranks don't feel possible, even in such a fictional scenario. The romance between Kierstan and Cole is non existent! They go from employee/boss to revert to their childhood and playing games on one another. They kiss twice and their feelings change radically (although none confesses this) until the end, when over the top melodramatic declarations of love are supposed to convince us they are in love forever.

It's very sad this story had no real depth. The characters don't feel realistic nor does the way they behave and there isn't even personality or characterization to show us how they evolve.
There are also some secondary situations which were used to show us another side of them but it felt rushed and out of place and placed there only to prove both Cole and Kierstan had more depth than what they showed during the whole novel.
I'm sorry to say this book was not a good one and although.... Ok, you know what, on second thinking while writing this, I have to say the book really didn't convince me. I'm downgrading it one point because there isn't a lot that would redeem it to me. Instead of 5, it's a 4.
Grade: 4/10

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Claire North - Touch

Kepler had never meant to die this way — viciously beaten to death by a stinking vagrant in a dark back alley. But when reaching out to the murderer for salvation in those last dying moments, a sudden switch takes place.
Now Kepler is looking out through the eyes of the killer himself, staring down at a broken and ruined body lying in the dirt of the alley.
Instead of dying, Kepler has gained the ability to roam from one body to another, to jump into another person’s skin and see through their eyes, live their life — be it for a few minutes, a few months or a lifetime.
Kepler means these host bodies no harm — and even comes to cherish them intimately like lovers. But when one host, Josephine Cebula, is brutally assassinated, Kepler embarks on a mission to seek the truth — and avenge Josephine’s death.

Comment: Roughly two years ago, I've read a book by this author as a buddy read with my friend H. At the time, I had a good experience reading it and then I looked at other books by the author and some caught my eye. This was one of them and in the last few days I gave it a go.

In this book we follow the steps of Kepler, even though this might not be their real name, who is a Ghost. A Ghost is a person who dies, often in some traumatic manner, and upon death if they somehow touch some skin on somebody else's, they "jump" into that person's body and become that person. From this moment on, the Ghost has the ability to jump into anyone they want, for as how long as they need or want and they command that person's body completely. When they leave that "host", the person has no memory of what happened and they can't understand why so much time has passed.
This book begins when Kepler's host is killed and Kepler, having been fond of his host, decides to embark on a mission to discover why the host was killed and, eventually, get revenge.
On the way, though, Kepler finds many setbacks, deals with many people - including other Ghosts - and in the end a decision needs to be made...

If one thing can be said about the author's work is that imagination is not running out for her plots.
As it happened with the first book by her I've tried, this too was quite innovative in its working, even if similar ideas have been used by other authors, etc.
The notion that we could be anyone, anywhere, do whatever we wanted because there wouldn't be no consequences, no dealing with the afterwards, is strangely compelling, even while being basically a form of manipulation and morally wrong.

I'd say this is the biggest question of this book (although other things could be discussed rather extensively), this idea that we already use others for our benefit and what is missing is the use of the individual's body as our own.
Kepler is a very ambiguous character. We never have the certainty this is a male or female but the ghosts can be whomever they want, gender isn't that important. In fact, this is quite an interesting detail too, how we aren't only our physical appearance, what makes us us, is the combination of our body's abilities with our mind, our personality... this was also addressed the book because ghost don't acquire the host's memories or knowledge.

The whole book is focused on Kepler's mission, the experiences they went through, the people he met, including other ghosts and all the potential hosts out there. Kepler is distinguished from others because we are told they cared for the hosts they used  - although that didn't stop them from using them anyway.
The morals here are quite thought provoking. I think the philosophical and moral side of this whole idea is what made me eager to read the book. 

There were two problems, though, for me.
The idea of this book is crazy but offered interesting possibilities. I think the flaw for me was how vague and dubious Kepler was. If this character were to be someone we could sympathize with, the story would have gained a lot ore intensity. I understand the author wanted to leave them as someone we had to doubt, we had to wonder about, we had to think about motivations and would we become so indifferent to the host's rights with time, but... the way this went, Kepler was more like a parasite, someone not worthy of our empathy and care and it got to the point I wasn't certain what I really wanted to happen to them.

The other issue for me is that, in between so many characters, so many different settings (these ghosts certainly manage to travel a lot), so many "jumps", there were some confusing transitions. I wasn't always aware of where things were what was happening... mixed with this was also the fact Kepler, as narrator, was always thinking about past experiences, referencing hosts used, making connections between a lot of things.
There were moments I felt a little lost and added with the lack of sympathy towards Kepler...some passages weren't as poignant as they could have been.

So, among all the confusion, Kepler remains on their mission, we discover why their host was killed in the beginning of the book, we muddle through a lot of moral questions and difficult choices, and we learn why the villain felt like doing all the bad things that happen during the plot.
We go to the end of the book, some things happen and then... what? Was Kepler successful in his mission, what lessons did they learn at all?!
Again, as it happened in the other book I've read, no closure is gained. I think in the other book, that was OK, no big deal. However, in this one, the story does feel incomplete, as if the author had no ideas and hid that behind the whole "left to the reader's imagination" thing.

Summarizing, the story has an amazing premise, the idea is really interesting but the lack of affinity with Kepler, the lack of closure and a more structured development really made me think this was only OK for me. Sure, the plot moving along all over the place has its aim in sight but I think a more well structured segmentation of events would have aided me to visualize things better.
I still have two books by the author to read... I hope I'll like them better than this one.
Grade: 6/10

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Two non-fiction books

Comment: The most recent books I've read were both non-fiction and both lent to me by an acquaintance of mine, someone who has the habit of giving me books I might be interested in reading. Of course some are so, while others not so much.

I'm not going to write much about these books because despite their intellectual validity and content, the experience of reading them both was not much fun. The writing style of both was very heavy, in the sense that for a person not familiar with the subjects, the way the information is given feels very dry, very unappealing in its structure.  
I'll include the original cover or close to it (although I read them both in Portuguese) and a few words about each one.

Hitler and the secret societies by René Alleau
This could be the translation of this French book. The edition I read was a very old one, from the 70s
I think, which means the style is definitely dated.
Basically the premise is set on the fact Hitler and, in general, the nazis, used occultism and myths to support many of their ideas to convince and influence the people they were right in their demands.
The author did an excellent job in writing an academic-styled work, where he structures the genesis of these myths and their role in the history of what is now Germany, as well as the way some individuals carried it out before and during the III Reich.
I mean, the subject does have some fascination but to be honest, so much of the book is spent on setting up the ground for this to happen, practically half the book is on historical background, that the idea of reading about secret societies à la Dan Brown quickly disappeared.
I think the title shouldn't be this, it made me think I'd e reading a certain type of book and it was not so. As for the content, it was quite interesting yes, but not everything was written in a way that I would feel eager to keep reading.
Grade: 4/10

Ten Days that Shook the World by John Reed
This is considered a classic on the Russian revolution and the beginning of communism, interestingly seen and reported by an American journalist, also communist, who was in Russian when the events happened.
This book is an exhaustive compilation of those days and how everything came to pass. The author clearly felt what he was reporting, he was both an intimate spectator of everything, he met people like Lenine and Trotsky, and a person who could write in a certain style, so that someone not there could feel all the euphoria of what was accomplished. 
This was very interesting but, again, the problem for me was precisely how this is written. The style is very dated and it makes it very difficult to focus, I admit I was bored a lot of time. Besides this, one needs to accept the fact there is a lot of nomenclature and technical names/structures/organizations that are named and referenced and that makes the book difficult to read.
I liked reading this but another confession: it was made more interesting for me because of the author's identity and background rather than his ideas (which I don't dismiss).
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Mary McCarthy - The Group

THE GROUP follows eight graduates from exclusive Vassar College as they find love and heartbreak, forge careers, gossip and party in 1930s Manhattan.
THE GROUP can be seen as the original SEX AND THE CITY. It is the first novel to frankly portray women's real lives, exploring subjects such as sex, contraception, motherhood and marriage.
Comment: This won't be a lengthy comment for I ended up DNF'ing this book. I got it by curiosity at the library because it promised to be a fictional tale on the average life of women, in the 1930s, and their life expectations. There isn't much fiction regarding these themes (independence, maternity, real life) about women in the 1930s and even less written in the 1950 or 1960s, with a clearly realistic take, and therefore I felt like trying it.

In this book we follow the lives of 8 Vassar finalists, how they went on after their graduation, what paths their lives took, what wins and losses they had... all told without censorship and ambiguity. 
As their hopes get shaped by their surroundings, will these young women live up to their own expectations or will they need to follow what society demands of them?

When I started the book, I hadn't read anything about it. On the cover of the edition I read, there was a reference to this being the book that inspired Sex and the City and there is even a prologue of sorts, written by Sex and the City author, Candace Bushnell.
I have never been a fan of the Sex and the City tv show but I knew exactly what it was about which means I did create some expectations on this book.
I thought the characters would have interesting takes on life, even though they were all going to be well-off women, but I wanted to see what the author would do about them.
I was especially curious to see how the time they lived in would play such a big part in their actions and choices.

I read around 150 pages, more or less. I'll be very honest: the writing style put me off and I didn't find any interest whatsoever in reading more about characters that felt like caricatures, like mannequins within a possible scenario, of how a woman might behave and we had 8 possible examples based on background, wealth status, connections, looks, family, personality...
Since I was struggling, I went on to read more about the author and based on what I read, it was obvious she had been a trailblazer of her time, as was this book, so scandalous and innovative for the time it was written and on how the content was so explicit.

I recognize the importance of this book and what it meant for the gender and for the target audience it was aimed at. There's no doubt this was a special book, with a key role in, perhaps, influencing what we can call today "woman's fiction" or even "chick lit".
However, its importance to the literary world notwithstanding, to me personally this was simply a boring book, told in a unappealing way, about unappealing characters and the idea of keeping up with it was putting me off and making me lazy in thinking about reading another page.
So, this was it. I did learn something, for I had never heard of the author nor of what she represented, but I don't think I'll be interested in reading her books.
Grade: 1/10

Saturday, July 18, 2020

An inspiring quote

A quote from my fellow countryman, poet Fernando Pessoa, whose image I found in this site, to inspire you for the weekend!

Happy reading!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Christina Lee - The Darkest Flame

Vaughn O’Keefe has been part owner of the Hog’s Den for years. Privy to plenty of Disciples of the Road business, he’s never been more ruffled as when a new recruit named “Smoke” walks through the door. Something about the man gets his blood pumping, but he knows to keep his preferences under wraps around the club.
“Smoke” Callahan has done a couple of rehab stints and is finally clean, thanks to help from the Disciples. He’s on the right path and isn’t about to get sidetracked, no matter how much the guy who manages the bar gets beneath his skin. Besides, his last relationship with a man left him scared, alone, and with a nightmare of an addiction.
When the Hog’s Den becomes shorthanded, and Smoke is ordered to help out the one man he can’t have, his longing for the bartender reaches blistering proportions. Vaughn figures a night together should be enough to satisfy their mutual attraction. But neither banks on just how scorching hot it might be.
As Smoke’s past unravels and the one person he hopes never to lay eyes on again messes with all he holds sacred, it’s time to involve the Disciples. Problem is, he’ll have to risk his membership, his heart, and his own hide to keep everyone he cares about safe.

Comment: I got interested in this book because of book #2 in this Roadmap to Your Heart series. That was the title that caught my eye but since I do like to read things in order when possible, I had the opportunity to get the three books, I obviously started with this one.

In this book we meet Vaughn, a bartender/part owner of a bar which is mostly, but not completely, frequented by people linked to a motorcycle club. Recently, the members of the club have been trying to bring things to a respectable level, including how they deal with other clubs and some shady business so they no longer need to rely on that and can simply be a regular MC.
One of the newest members is "Smoke", a man with a past but who is on his own road to salvation, besides having been welcomed to a more stable club than where he was before.
Although neither man has said it, they are both bi and lately, their looks to one another and weird tension make them feel a little self aware, even if their relationship with the others is still pretty ordinary. The problem is when they decide to no longer pretend they don't check out each other and that they really want to be together...

Once I decided to add this book to my reading list of July, I read the blurb with a little bit more attention and realized the main characters were part of a MC environment. 
Now, I did read some books in this sub-theme, if we can call it that, and I've come to conclude I do not like this style of books because often the club is involved in or has connections with illegal stuff. Romance can arise in any place, that's true, but to my own preferences, it just doesn't seem romantic nor fascinating to read about drugs and weapons and whatever crime-relate detail the MC might be focused on.
Another element I tend to dislike based on the novels I've read is the usual dynamics one sees among the people in these groups. The submission to the leader or the main members of the group is not something I appreciate and if the stories are erotica, it's even less appealing for I don't like the idea some members need/want to "submit" sexually to others.

With these things in mind, it was with trepidation I started the book but thankfully, this part of the story wasn't too bad for the club is bent on being legal, on creating a good atmosphere for everyone and despite a little thing here and there, most members are likable guys and quite laid back.
There wasn't a lot of description nor inner monologues about the club's business except the necessary for plot advances and that was fine by me.

Of course, the more I went along, I've come to discover the whole story had a slight steady but superficial tone. There are tough themes addressed but not into levels that would be too depressing. The other side of the equation, though, was that everything was in the same tone, including the relationship between Vaughn and Smoke which means that for me their connection didn't have enough depth to make it memorable.

Of the two main characters, I'm not even certain if there was any I preferred. Vaughn is more confident, it seems, of who he is and of his place in life simply because Smoke has gone though more complicated obstacles and I can't help thinking he would always feel more fragile. 
Smoke has a past of drug addiction and it is known people with addictions need to have a strong will and capacity to known their own strengths and weakness and that means they can't simply not think of them, even if they become sober.
I really liked that Smoke did overcome his habits and that he goes to meetings and that he feels he was "saved" enough to carry on steadily. His relationship with Vaughn feels balanced because of this, he doesn't let his past interfere with his feelings and attraction now, even though he has had a bad past.
I suppose we have a better take on Smoke's personality and Vaughn does come across as being steadier, less notable in the broader sense but the chemistry between them is evident.

I guess this book had everything to not be enjoyable for me, personally, but it did offer more than what I expected. However, it wasn't written in a way that I would say was that special or significant to the point I couldn't out it down. It does help it isn't a big novel, so reading moves along pretty easily but yes, it wasn't outstanding.
I think I'll still read the other books in the series, since I already have them, but it won't be for right now.
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, July 16, 2020

MK Schiller - Unwanted Girl

Recovering addict Nick Dorsey finds solace in his regimented life. That is until he meets Shyla Metha.  Something about the shy Indian beauty who delivers take-out to his Greenwich Village loft inspires the reclusive writer. And when Shyla reveals her desire to write a book of her own, he agrees to help her. The tale of a young Indian girl growing up against a landscape of brutal choices isn’t Nick’s usual territory, but something about the story, and the beautiful storyteller, draws him in deep. Shyla is drawn to Nick, but she never imagines falling for him. Like Nick, Shyla hails from a village, too…a rural village in India. They have nothing in common, yet he makes her feel alive for the first time in her life. She is not ready for their journey to end, but the plans she’s made cannot be broken…not even by him. Can they find a way to rewrite the next chapter?

Comment: This is July's buddy read with my friend H.
We agreed on it because it would feature an Indian heroine and a story within a story about an Indian girl's fate, which means we would have romance and a different culture to read about. I was especially interested in seeing how the author would mesh the two protagonists' cultures into the romance part but this book turned out to be a little more than just a interracial romance.

In this book we meet Shyla and Nick, two very different people who meet when Shyla starts to deliver sandwiches to Nick. After a year, she feels brave enough to start talking to him and they hit it off, becoming friends and later on even lovers.
Their relationship starts in a simple way but upon knowing Nick's a writer, Shyla decides to confide there's a book she would want to write and they start doing it together.
Shyla's story is that of a young Indian girl who lives in a small village and how she must deal with what happens to her. 
However, Shyla's time as a student in America has a deadline. What will happen when she finally needs to return to India?

This story can be divided into two main arcs: we have Shyla and Nick's relationship and we have the story Shyla wants to write and that Nick helps her with. The two happen in mostly alternate chapter from a certain point on.
To be picky and a little harsh, I should say the pace and rhythm of the development isn't the best.
The change of the time in both segments and between one another feels choppy, as if things are happening too quickly for the emotional connection to follow at the same pace.
This means that most of the time I felt as if the story had all the necessary scenes and details to be even more touching but there was some emotion missing.

Despite this, I still had a great time reading the book. 
Starting with Nick and Shyla's relationship, it does feel as if it happens very quickly from the moment they start talking but we are told she has been delivery his takeout for an year or so. Once they establish a connection and become friends, it was easier to believe they were falling in love too but it never really escaped my notice that we had a significantly better notion of Nick's inner thoughts and past than we did Shyla's.
Still, it was easy, by the characterization the author chose, to see how innocent but dynamic Shyla was, so the relationship still felt balanced enough for me.

There are some flaws in how things develop yes, but I don't think it is any secret to any reader, even from the first pages, that Shyla is hiding something and the author has written this in a way that we are not told which secrets could be. Some readers did complain about certain clues being too obvious but in my experience reading, the twist at the end was still a surprise because I imagined two possible scenarios by then and one of them proved right. 
Yes, this would not win "mystery of the year" award but I think it still worked in the context used.

The secondary plot is the one we get to read about through Shyla's novel. It starts very quietly but it does evolve to something hard to imagine. 
We're talking gendercide here, namely female's one. India is one of the countries in the world where the society still maintains a deeply rooted and ingrained cultural habit of preferring baby boys to baby girls for several reasons. Because of this and religious beliefs as well as sociological ones, many families simply dispose of female babies. (While reading this book, I did google some facts, I've read some articles and my western opinions along with my freedom of thought and acting make me furious to imagine the lives of these girls. It's a complete dismissal of human rights but that isn't so easy to overcome if it has been part of a country's for millennium).
Anyway, this little story within the main story makes one think and imagine what choices could there be for those who don't have that luxury.

The mix of the two main arcs is leading to some expected climax but I must say that, for me, some things, no matter how possible even if unlikely, were a little too coincidental. I understand why the author wrote this the way she did, but had she changed a few details, I think the overall style of the story would have felt as if being better done.
I also liked the fact the author wrote this to pretend for a while that unwanted girls like the ones left aside by their families could dream of having a happy ending.

This was not a perfectly done novel, it's not the best it could be but in its simplicity there was proof of labor and caring. I think the two stories could be divided into separate ones and be stronger but I get the point of why this was done this way. There were also some misspelling that distracted during reading and the structure could have been better as well. Still, for a romance this was good enough and did make me think about a subject that it's so easy to ignore but that, sadly, isn't going away.
Grade: 8/10