Friday, May 24, 2019

Kelly Jensen - To See the Sun

Life can be harsh and lonely in the outer colonies, but miner-turned-farmer Abraham Bauer is living his dream, cultivating crops that will one day turn the unforgiving world of Alkirak into paradise. He wants more, though. A companion—someone quiet like him. Someone to share his days, his bed, and his heart.
Gael Sonnen has never seen the sky, let alone the sun. He’s spent his whole life locked in the undercity beneath Zhemosen, running from one desperate situation to another. For a chance to get out, he’ll do just about anything—even travel to the far end of the galaxy as a mail-order husband. But no plan of Gael’s has ever gone smoothly, and his new start on Alkirak is no exception. Things go wrong from the moment he steps off the shuttle.
Although Gael arrives with unexpected complications, Abraham is prepared to make their relationship work—until Gael’s past catches up with them, threatening Abraham’s livelihood, the freedom Gael gave everything for, and the love neither man ever hoped to find.


Comment: After seeing several good opinions of this book in different places, including in some sites in their "best of" lists too, I got quite interested in reading this myself.
This is an m/m story featuring a sci-fi world where there are many planets occupied by humans after Earth stopped being sustainable.

In this story we meet two guys in different places in their lives: Gael is a 30 year old who still mourns the death of his brother and still pays his debts, sadly working for a mob-like family in his planet. He hasn't the stomach for it though, and after a mistake he feels like running away is the only solution. A friend tells him about colonists in distant parts of the galaxy or even other galaxies that are asking for companions (like a mail order spouse or just someone to share time with) and Gael checks some videos and accepts to travel and meet Abraham Bauer, who seems to be a farmer and what convinces Gael is the scenes of that man's farm.
Bram, a man in his late 40s, wants someone to spend time with because he is quite lonely. He asks for Gael because he is gorgeous and his eyes seem sad but he thinks with time he might care about Bram and be a solid companion. If something more happens between them, the better, for he likes how Gael looks.
The problem is that Alkirak, Bram's planet, isn't exactly what Gael envisioned, and a surprise changes Gael's plans a bit. However, there's no denying Bram is as accepting and patient as he seemed in his video and perhaps there is hope for them. Except if Gael's past gets in the way...

This is the first book I read by this author but I think the setting is very well done. Although the descriptions are all products of the author's imagination, the planets and the surroundings seem very vivid. I also really liked how information was given slowly to the reader but not overly explained. The reader has time to think and imagine and what is learned is enough to help create an idea and set up the stage for the character's paths. I think it was really well done how the pace of the story happens and how much information is given without feeling like too much.

The writing is quite good and the pace too but of course it's the characters that make this a vibrant story.
Back to historical stories, usually mail order brides accepted to marry a stranger for security, for financial reasons or for several reasons regarding their reputations. In this book Gael does resemble this scenario because is needs protection from a life and a company that will use him and kill him if not enslaving him first. He knows his future has to be in a place where he doesn't need to look behind all the time and a planet in such a distant location is the solution he needs. I felt for Gael and his past and why he felt like running. 
He is extremely easy to empathize with and to wish he succeeds.

Bram is a more mature man, more secure in his own person but he is lonely and a little shy and lives for his crops, which he hopes one day might help influence the atmosphere of the planet and make it from austere and dangerous into a place with life and prosperity. The reader knows he wants someone to be intimate with but his main focus is on someone to be his companion. If intimacy happens, great, but he won't force anyone nor push for the situation to be so. He likes Gael's looks but the situation doesn't start as he imagined and there is some need to adapt to someone new.

The relationship between the two guys is slow but steady and the end is certainly rewarding. I liked how they talked and planned things instead of rushing to something they might not be ready for. The fact any other option if things didn't work out was so distant, made them think about their closed shared space and the need to be a team.
I liked how their personalities started to match, how they were considerate of one another in small things. I liked how their interactions weren't only related to sexual intimacy but also about all aspects of their lives like what kind of work Bram was doing and why and how could Gael be happy as an individual and not as just Bram's partner.

As a negative detail, I must say that despite how sweet and poignant certain situations were I still felt like they were too restricted to their surroundings and what was going on around them to really feel the love developing. Yes, they shared moments together, they talked but we don't see as many scenes with that as I imagined (for the good pace of the book's needs) so although time passing by happens in a believable manner, their relationship is too sweet and calm. I kind of wish they had had reasons to interact even more or to share more of their pasts besides the necessary for the trust issues to be overcame. 
The fact they are in such a limited place and that there isn't a lot of external situations to force them to react to sudden or new influences or situations makes the story feel a little stagnated.
Unlike some readers, I also would have preferred for the threat to their happiness to not have existed at all and instead the conflict could have be centered on their personalities and sexual tension. The way the story evolved did feel, at times, as too perfect, too much as a staged production.

Overall, this was a good romance and the setting was amazing. Some parts of the plot worked out well, the pace was great for the situation but there are a few details that I don't think were as engaging as they could have. Still, I really had a great time reading, especially thinking about the world building alone.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Susan Isaacs - Shining Through

It's 1940 and Linda Voss, legal secretary extraordinaire, has a secret. She's head over heels in love with her boss, John Berringer, the pride of the Ivy League. Not that she even has a chance--he'd never take a second look at a German-Jewish girl from Queens who spends her time taking care of her faded beauty of a mother and following bulletins on the war in Europe. For Linda, though, the war will soon become all too real. Engulfing her nation and her life, it will offer opportunities she's never dreamed of. A chance to win the man she wants...a chance to find the love she deserves. Made into the movie of the same name starring Melanie Griffith, Michael Douglas, and Liam Neeson, Shining Through is a novel of honor, sacrifice, passion, and humor. This is vintage Susan Isaacs, a tale of a spirited woman who wisecracks her way into heroism and history--and into your heart.

Comment: This was the book picked this month for the buddy read I share with my friend H. I'm no longer certain why I felt like adding this to my TBR and suggesting H. we should try it but it probably had something to do with mixing romance and a work place, something not all authors do well, and the fact there was a movie adaptation none of us has seen.

In this story we meet Linda Voss, a secretary who works for a very handsome boss in the 40s, when Europe is facing Hitler and the US is debating the tactic of getting secretly involved or not.
Linda is a fascinating narrator who comes from a humble family of German origins and that helps her in her job too, since her boss and the company they work for has some business with German contacts or such and her translations skills are a good bonus.
Linda wasn't able to pursue her studies and she comes from a socially poor family but she isn't stupid and she does fear what Hitler is doing and what it means. In the process of dealing with some personal situations and how that affects her job as well, Linda will have the opportunity to become someone special indeed. Will she take that chance with both hands?

I started this book with no notion whatsoever of what the story would actually be about. I knew there was a movie from the 80s or beginning of the 90s based on this novel published originally in 1988, but I never saw it nor did I felt interested in doing so. 

I thought this would more contemporary but the plot takes place in the 1940s and focuses on Linda, a 35 years old if I remember well, who works as a secretary to a very sophisticated man and who she secretly likes. Linda dreams about him but since he is married, she doesn't let her daydreams go past reality and that includes her mother and the humble house they live in and all the worries she has. I liked Linda. She does seem to have a very simple way of behaving but I admired her will to go ahead, to look for positive things and to describe everything around her.
Of course this means she can be a little too dedicated to descriptions and I confess some parts were more boring than they had to and editing some passages wouldn't have changed how the reader is supposed to look at Linda.

This story, for me, could be divided into two segments. The first regarding Linda's life as a secretary and the second about her work trying to fight the Nazis the way she saw possible. In the middle of all this we also have to think about her personal life and the choices she makes. Her relationship with her boss John is key for her development especially after his wife demands a divorce. Despite this meeting Linda's dreams the reader always has this sense of something not quite right and what happens does shape a lot of Linda's future decisions.

I really liked reading this after a certain point. I didn't like Linda got involved with her (separated) boss and I disliked several scenes where the descriptions made it confusing what she was doing and why.
However, Linda is a resilient character and all the less than good situations she faces are obviously a way for her to improve and evolve. There were a few passages ahead, after she discovers a negative situation for herself and her replies in a conversation are incredible, some of those replies one can re-read often. I got fond of Linda as time goes by and she must deal with new things all the time.

This is the first book by this author I read and seeing comments on her other books, I kind of dread having to try them but in this case I can't fault the eye for detail, the way Linda expresses herself in such a way one can't help but wish her well. I saw some critics saying Linda took too long to grasp some things but that's part of the interest, how she dealt with what she always wanted and reality and who she is. There's some light and bubbly behavior from Linda though the book and that can clash with the war theme but on one hand that's great, it gives the reader the possibility to adjust light and dark in what is happening.

The book ends with a situation that wasn't totally unexpected because there were some clues here and there but it was really amazing! Too bad there's no epilogue so I could dream myself about how Linda's life would be. Despite that, the end did get engraved in my mind and I felt so proud of Linda because she finally chose right and saw her values and beliefs rewarded. 
I do recommend this novel despite its boring parts. The end certainly compensates for it, in my opinion. 
I also confess I don't feel like watching the movie, though, considering it focuses on just some elements and I can see by the synopsis alone they didn't include a lot of what made this book special.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Mini-Comments

-> This post serves to summarize two of my latest reads. 
These two books have in common the fact they came from my local library the last time I stopped there. They are also both small books not even reaching the 200 pages. One author is new to me (Conrad), the other I knew what I'd get (Sampaio) but both books I read in Portuguese. The Portuguese author's book isn't translated into english.

Com 78 anos de idade, o narrador e personagem principal deste novo livro de Daniel Sampaio é um dia confrontado com uma situação comum a muitos homens da sua idade - o casamento de um neto. Convidado para a festa, feliz por não ter sido esquecido, parte para uma longa viagem mental nas profundidades da sua memória. Começa por esse neto, Afonso, que o fez sentir velho pela primeira vez, aos 60 anos; aqui recupera a memória de Luísa, a colega na escola onde ambos ensinavam e partilhavam projectos e sonhos profissionais; recua até aos 40 anos, à figura de Mariana, sua mulher e companheira de sempre, mas que por esta altura da vida o confronta com a fragilidade das relações humanas, a começar pelo amor; e enfim, chega aos 20 anos, à adolescência e à juventude, onde tudo começa, para o bem e para o mal.


Memórias do Futuro (literally means "memories of the future") is another book by psychiatrist/writer Daniel Sampaio. In this book he shows us the portrayal of a family, narrated by the grandfather, and how life is for him now that he is close to be 80. 
There are three main chapters besides the first one in which he goes back into his youth years (his 80s and then his 60s, his 40s, his 20s) and in a beautiful prose we are told what his feelings have been like and how he turned out to be the man he is now, when his grandson is about to start his "adult" life with a girlfriend.
My favorite things about this author is that he often picks realistic or real life situations and he writes about those people - often cases he treats or wants to exemplify- in a way that makes the reader access their emotions. The writing isn't clinical nor impersonal, just the opposite.
I liked this book despite the theme not being as shocking nor relatable as others (I haven't lived 80s years yet) but the way so many sentences seem to fit what other older people have said about themselves as well... 
This author's books are always little pearls of everyday situations and to imagine so many people who never think about them nor feel like they should talk about it but how freeing it could be... not my favorite book by him but it was easy to keep reading.
Grade: 7/10

***


Written in 1915, The Shadow-Line is based upon events and experiences from twenty-seven years earlier to which Conrad returned obsessively in his fiction. A young sea captain's first command brings with it a succession of crises: his sea is becalmed, the crew laid low by fever, and his deranged first mate is convinced that the ship is haunted by the malignant spirit of a previous captain.

The Shadow Line is my first attempt to read something by known author Joseph Conrad. This is not his most famous work but since it was a small book I figured it would be a good way to get a notion of his style.
Basically, this is a story in which the narrator shares his experience commanding a ship and facing a very adverse situation and that signals for him he is no longer a child nor a young man but an adult with all the responsibilities that are supposed to come from it.
I can certainly see why the author felt like writing this (it helps my edition has a note where he says this) but to be honest, I don't really see the huge impact of the story. I didn't feel the narrator was that impressive in his behavior or thoughts and since the whole story is set in a ship while most characters are sick, I must confess to have failed to appreciate the underlines themes. To be totally honest, this was simply boring. Perhaps one day (much later) I might re-read...there are some elements like the sense that something will happen and the subtle subtext of how the characters interacted that seemed interesting but it was a task to do and not very pleasurable.
Grade: 4/10

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Juliet Marillier - Dreamer's Pool

In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.
Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.
With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

Comment: I've read plenty of books by this author to consider myself a fan of her work. Therefore, it was no surprise I'd feel interested in more of her books and this is the first of the Blackthorn and Grim series.
Once again, the author picked her vast knowledge of old Irish, Celtic and Pict tales and successfully used them as inspiration for her novel. This time the focus is on some older Irish stories, in a very good blend of fantasy and romance.

In this novel we meet the pair Blackthorn and Grim (as they call themselves), two companions on a prison cell who have sort of bonded over their common debasement and imprisonment. Despite not having shared personal stories, they life through the same current fate until one day Blackthorn is rescued and Grim finds his way out as well.
By having her freedom, Blackthorn is told she cannot get revenge on the man who caused her so much suffering and put her in prison. She agrees with the hope of serving the seven years on the agreement she has with one of the fey but then all bets will be off. One of the demands she has to fulfill is to help others when they ask, for she is a wise woman. 
She was not counting on Oran, prince of Dalriada to ask such a task of her but when his intended bride seems to act so strangely, Blackthorn and Grim set off to help. Will they be able to do so?

This is a story told by three narrators, Blackthorn, Grim and prince Oran. The chapters alternate between them so that the reader follows the story through the eyes of people who can be participants of different settings and this way it does feel like the reader never misses a transition moment.
The story is evocative as is a habit with this author's "voice" and, of course, the fantasy elements are superb in their descriptions.

Mrs Marillier is a good storyteller, as she often likes to introduce characters who do the same, and this time, it's no different. Probably, one of the best elements in the book is that she uses details of stories, of fables, of old legends and makes them both mysteriously dark and seductively magic to the reader. I kept thinking that these elements were a little superficial, after all the dark side of this fantasy could have been much more dangerous but the author knew how to balance things out and the magic we see happen isn't as mean as it could and I finished the book with the sense of balance and debts settled in my head.

The plot centers a lot on prince Oran and his fiancée and what I wrote above is linked with this part of the story. I think the author did a good job letting the reader get a notion of things in a very slow mode, but at the same time I must confess the huge part of the mystery wasn't that mysterious. I understand some clues had to be given, otherwise the plot wouldn't need to move on, but the reality is that I guessed the secret of this novel early on. It doesn't mean the surprise isn't there, after all we don't know how things happened or how they will be solved but yes, it was a little complicated.
I liked prince Oran, he is a sweet character and I was really rooting for him and his happiness.

Blackthorn and Grim are the central characters though, and they will be of the future books too. We do discover Blackthorn's past story and I can really understand why she feels like getting revenge. This information is told quite slowly too, not only to grab the reader's attention but mainly to give us an opportunity to see for ourselves how we like or not, these characters. This is so obvious and still some readers prefer to tell instead of showing when really, the beauty of a good tale is on how we can connect with the characters by seeing their actions and attitudes.
Regarding Grim, he's still mysterious but I suppose we'll know more about him in the next book.

The best part of this book is on the small details. One little thing here, another there can be worked to explain a bigger picture later on. I do like this style but for some it can look a bit boring and without much intention. I think this author has a good way of avoiding this by presenting doubtful situations in which the reader is forced to think about possible solutions/scenarios and that helps people to think for themselves on the heroes' worthiness.

I'm a fan, so I'll certainly read the next installments in the future. It's always good to go back to a style we like and this author is usually a hit for me.
Grade: 8/10

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Denis Diderot - The Nun

In 1758 Diderot's friend the Marquis de Croismare became interested in the cause célèbre of a nun who was appealing to be allowed to leave a Paris convent. Less than a year later, in an affectionate attempt to trick his friend, Diderot created this masterpiece - a fictitious set of desperate and pleading letters to the Marquis from a teenage girl forced into the nunnery because she is illegitimate. In these letters, the impressionable and innocent Suzanne Simonin describes the cruelty and abuse she has suffered in an institution poisoned by vicious gossip, intrigues, persecutions and deviance. Considered too subversive during Diderot's lifetime, The Nun first appeared in print in 1796 following the Revolution. Part gripping novel, part licentious portrayal of sexual fervour and part damning attack on oppressive religious institutions, it remains one of the most utterly original works of the many eighteenth-century.

Comment: A few years ago I bought an used copy of this book at a little book fair happening at my local library. They were selling some older editions of many books in order to, hopefully, get more new books although most books were being sold at a very symbolic price. Anyway, since I had heard of this book before, it caught my eye and I got it but of course it has been waiting a lot too.

This is a classic by Diderot, an author from the 19th century and to write this story he got his inspiration on a real life situation of a woman who had been sent to a convent by her family but she wasn't religious enough to want that.
In this book we have a possible vision of the types of situations created for those who were not following the expectations and the customs of those times of a life in a convent and especially if someone had a different way of thinking of what it meant to behave in a morally correct manner.

For many readers, this story, more than a portrait of the miserable life of a woman who is sent to a convent against her will, is the metaphor of those who profess a belief or a faith, whether religious or of another kind, and go on in life without being honest to themselves and to others just to gain the benefits, leading to corruption and stagnation.
History tells us that in the past those people, especially from good families, rich and poor, when in need they were forced to follow the monastic life for lack of other dignified options. Convents were also used as a way to hide a woman or to pay a debt and several other situations, which led to many young women, without nay religious inclination whatsoever, being locked for the rest of their lives.

Had I the time and the knowledge I'm certain there would be a lot more detail regarding this subject but I'll let you be willing enough to search for more information about this. 
Concerning this book, the protagonist Susan is sent to the convent for another reason, her parents gave money to her older sisters, there wasn't any left for her and besides, we are told Susan's mother also wants to pay for what she perceived as a sin of her past by allowing Susan to be a nun against her will.

Susan's experiences are gruesome to read about but the level of distaste isn't as gritty as it would probably be in a contemporary novel because of course the writing style is very formal and according to the author's times.
Susan has three main experiences living in a convent. When she goes into one initially, the mother superior is a kind one, even when it comes to understand Susan wants to be honest and speaks about her lack of devotion for a religious life (but not lack of faith, which is something different). However, things change, the mother superior dies and  new one is appointed. This new person is completely different in disposition and behavior and Susan suffers years on her hands and of those who follow that nun's POV. Susan tries to appeal to a civil court but it was very difficult to be heard and that knowledge influenced the way she was treated after.
Eventually, Susan is transferred to another convent where she finds another kind of reality, where some nuns use their isolation for personal relationships and once again, the contemplative and religious life is not done in a way Susan considers proper.

I think this is my favorite aspect of the novel: Susan is not just a lazy or silly young woman who doesn't want to be a nun because she wants something else. She wants to be truth to herself and she feels she isn't being a morally good person by being in a place she doesn't want and being something she feels no inclination for. She only wants to be able to have her own choices but everything surrounding her is working against her. Her tale certainly illustrates what happened to many, and some never had a voice for sure.
I liked this moral debate: should you give yourself to that task as best as you can even if you don't really want it or should you voice yours doubts and be honest as any religious person would have deemed correct?

The fact the end wasn't as decisive as I would have liked is a weakness, I'd say. Things end up still a little doubtful for Susan and I wish I could have seen her settled with whatever should have happened. Yes, one can infer any possible outcome but I feel things were left too much in the air.
Still, this was one of those classics I've read easily, it wasn't boring nor filled with countless descriptions of things that don't matter to the plot. As far as classics go, this was a good one for me.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Holly Bush - Romancing Olive

In 1891, spinster librarian, Olive Wilkins, is shocked to learn of her brother’s violent death at a saloon gaming table and her sister-in-law’s subsequent murder, traveling far from her staid life to rescue her niece and nephew, now orphans. She arrives to find the circumstances of her brother’s life deplorable and her long held beliefs of family and tradition, shaken.
Accustomed to the sophistication of Philadelphia, Olive arrives in Spencer, Ohio, a rough and tumble world she is not familiar with, facing two traumatized children. Her niece and nephew, Mary and John, have been living with a neighboring farmer, widower Jacob Butler, the father of three young children of his own and a man still in pain from the recent loss of his wife.
Real danger threatens Olive and Mary and John while Jacob and his own brood battle the day-to-day struggles for survival. Will Olive and Jacob find the strength to fight their battles alone or together? Will love conquer the bitterness of loss and broken dreams?


Comment: I got interested in this book because it would be a western and I think I don't read many of these despite liking them for the most part. I was also captivated by the prospect of having a librarian protagonist but this was actually not such a big deal in the story...

In this book we meet Olive Wilkins, a 30-something year old woman who got the news of her brother and sister-in-law's deaths and came from Philadelphia to Ohio to get her nephew and niece back home with here. In the meantime, the children have been taken by Jacob Butler, a widowed farmer, but Olive is quite surprised to discover the situation she has always believed in is far from the truth and her brother didn't have such a good reputation.
The children, however, are wary of a change after such a trauma and of a person they had never met before, so Olive agrees to stay at Jacob's farm to get to know them better while they also get to know here and eventually they will return to Olive's steadier life.
Things get more complicated because the more time Olive spends with the children, with Jacob and his own kids, the more she falls in love with them all and the more difficult her decision will be. Or will something happen to allow her to chose differently?

This was a cute book. There are some less than positive situations and some violence towards children and Olive at some point but I wouldn't say it's impeditive of enjoying what can be described as, for me, a sweet slow burn romance with caring for children at the same time.

The slow burn side of things happens because this book can be labeled clean, I guess, but that isn't such an important part of things. Well, not for the plot itself or how obvious the main characters' feelings for each other are but after a whole book expecting the final step between them to happen, not really having it happen on page is quite a let down due to all the little sighs, the little looks, the little but strong development of feelings between them but...oh well.

The story isn't complicated and just like in any more formulaic romances, of course the HEA is a given and the conflicts are easily solved.
I was more interested in seeing how the characters, used to a certain way of behaving and living, would adjust to someone different, to someone they don't immediately trust in. I think this part of the romance was well done because being it slow, it allowed for them to go at a believable pace and for the reader to feel they were taking the necessary time to bond.
The relationship between Olive and Jacob had some obstacles but those were mostly in their heads.

Olive is an independent woman of 34 or 35 and she is used to a certain lifestyle. I mean, she is not vain but she is used to spending time alone reading and looking after books in the library she works in so it was cute to see her struggle a little to go with the flow of the life in Ohio, where most people - especially those she interacts with more - are simpler people, dedicated to more hard labor than fine arts activities. Her evolution was interesting to see and I liked how she was not afraid to ask for help when she needed, or to learn to do something.

Jacob is prouder but I got the sense it was so because he struggled more financially and he felt Olive might challenge that. He is younger too, around 25 if I remember right, and although for the romance this didn't matter for each had their own vulnerabilities going into a relationship, we do have situations where the age gap is mentioned and I do confess I prefer it the other way around. Ok, Olive isn't as used to certain aspects of life as younger Jacob was so in terms of matching emotionally and maturely, they weren't that wrong for each other. But down the line, their life would certainly be a little different eventually and I wish the age gap, having to exist, weren't as high as ten.

As I've said, the conflicts are easily solved as the story goes by and I suppose this could be one of the negative aspects. Things do happen very quickly after Olive makes a decision and that propelled the action to move even quicker after that. Without more obvious romantic situations happening, it just felt like the author had sued all the ideas and wanted to wrap things nicely. This did happen but I noticed and couldn't stop thinking about it. 

In the end, this was a good, entertaining romance, made me savor a western without outlaws everywhere, that's for certain, but it could have been much better with some editing and extra content.
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

TBR Challenge: Sarina Bowen - The Year We Fell Down

She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.
Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league.
Also, he’s taken.
Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.
They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard.
But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.


Comment: Time does fly and it's time for another monthly TBR Challenge post. For May the theme chosen is Backlist Glom, meaning something by an author with more than one book in your TBR. I could have certainly have chosen countless authors, that's a given because like many of you there is a lot I haven't yet read and in some author's case I have series to go through.
I picked Sarina Bowen because I've counted 5 books by her in the pile and I thought contemporary would be a good choice since I like to alternate the genre of the books I read so I don't get stuck with one specific genre for long.

In this first book of the Ivy Years series, the author has gone on an interesting journey with a couple not often seen in romance: the girl is in a wheelchair and he has to wear crutches.
Corey is about to start college but she imagined she would be a hockey player and not a wheelchair user. An accident has made her injured and although she can eventually get the use of her legs again, she won't be able to play the game anymore. However, she had the goal to attend the same university as her older brother and she won't let her handicap stop her.
Adam Hartley is a hockey player but he has a broken leg and is recovering by having the use of the handicapped room in front of Corey's. The two connect over the difficulties of managing the campus when everyone else rushes and climbs stairs so easily. 
The two seem to get along perfectly but Hartley has a girlfriend and Corey wouldn't want to have others take pity on her. Still, they do spend a lot of time together and some things can be inevitable.

We are told things alternately between Corey and Hartley's POVs. I'm actually glad this is so because so often in the new adult genre the girl has the most attention and what a loss that can be for the reader if the narrator isn't likable.
This is not the first book I read by this author so I kind of expected the writing to be a certain way. Overall, I liked reading this but it does make me think sometimes how really mature these characters can be. They are in the age gap between 18-25 (that's new adult for me at least) and probably what makes this author a good one is that the characters act this age but in a thoughtful manner. They aren't just silly people doing nothing, they do act somewhat maturely for the life experiences they are supposed to have lived.

The plot isn't complicated. Basically we follow what happens between Corey and Hartley as they get to know each other and we see the characters surrounding them interact as well.
Seen like this, there wouldn't be a lot to be interested in, i suppose, butt he magic is on the details, on how we get to follow each character in their daily routines, in how we follow their thoughts as well and they aren't too perfect nor too unlikely to be real. 
I liked the often over exposition of contrary details, which I imagine are there to give depth to the characters' personalities: the almost perfection of their looks (both are obviously good looking, if not the most gorgeous ever) vs the self doubt in some aspects of their lives, namely if they are going to do what they aim for.

What probably makes me cringe a little is the intimacy side. It is positive that the author has chosen to add some sexual tension to their interactions but I can't help thinking it was so... obvious. 
I mean, of course the reader would expect that outcome, this is a romance after all, but Corey and Hartley themselves think about each other like that, even before acting on it. I'm not saying it's a bad detail, in fact it's quite normal to be attracted to someone else from the start and the emotion comes more slowly. I just think it's so repetitive to keep having scenes in which they (Corey more often) think about the other person for so long, with such determination and focus, with so much time being occupied with those thoughts. I can understand the point is to let the reader be aware of where things are but it sure can be a little annoying to have that so often. I already got the idea, no need to say/think/inner monologue that again!

This means that the cute part of the story (the setting and actions done by the characters) seems to always be placed in second stage behind the sexual aspects. Even in a romance that can be annoying because often the sex thoughts wouldn't really move the plot forward. The more innocent stuff, on the other hand, could show empathy and connection between two people. I'd say more little clues on sexual tension seen in the page would have been better than plain on thinking on it.

The physical limitations the characters face weren't as seriously developed as I imagined. The premise they had obstacles was a good one but the truth is that they do solve those issues later on, or get on that path. They don't have a permanent handicap, and that changes things too, it makes them easier too, of course.
I liked the relationships they had with their parents.
I liked the feel of college living with some details here and there, especially in interacting with some secondary characters.

Overall, I think this was an enjoyable read, the idea is a great one but the NA label and the public target certainly influenced the reason why some scenes were used and why some details felt like they were too easily solved or mentioned. I suppose it wouldn't be believable new adults would forge stronger or steadier relationships emotionally so quickly and at such a young age but in romance they always seem to be able to.
I do plan on reading the other books, to see where this is going.
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

John Crowley - The Translator

A novel of tremendous scope and beauty, The Translator tells of the relationship between an exiled Russian poet and his American translator during the Cuban missile crisis, a time when a writer's words -- especially forbidden ones -- could be powerful enough to change the course of history.

Comment: I added this book to my reading list back in 2016 but I can't tell anymore exactly why I thought this would be a book I'd like to read. It probably had something to do with the main character being a translator, which I am too, and that it implied a romance of sorts, which tends to be my preferable choice of reading.

In this book, which I'd label fiction and literature, we have the story of Christa Malone, an impressionable young woman who is telling us how she used to know and loved the Russian poet Falin at a time America was under the soviet threat and was dealing with crises with the Cuban missiles.
Christa is studying at the college where exiled Falin is teaching and in the midst of having long conversations about translation and literature, they start to care for each other and later on, when Christa is no longer his student, they see to embark on a discreet love affair. The problem is that politics is everywhere and the idea of the soviets spying and helping the Cubans doesn't settle well into American authorities which also have their own spies...

Well, this wasn't certainly what I expected. I imagined this would go more along the lines of a classical romance type of story with the historical and political aspects in the background. I also imagined the translation side of things would be much more obvious and important for the overall plot. The title, after all, seemed to stress that out a lot but after finishing the book maybe that wasn't the best title.

What this book turned out to be was a story that was heavier on the literature details (both in prose and vagueness) than in the fiction department (too many real life historical facts to let your mind wander). This wasn't a bad book for me, though - I actually liked several parts of it and was positively surprised by the imagination to create the fictional poetry included and the beauty of some passages captivated me too.
I just think I was led to believe this would go a certain way and then it was not. I can't explain why this happens so much to me, to think wrongly about what the books are about. Can it be that I am that picky so often?

I've studied translation at the university and although that isn't my full time job I still work in it as a freelance. I like this world and the ideas behind any translation process. Therefore, and with that title, I did imagine this would be more important to the story but sadly, it was not because although it was a convenient tool to approach the main characters and make them spend more time together not only falling in love bus debating poetry and feelings too, it just didn't add much to the action or the character's personalities.

I felt this book was more focused on Christa, the main character. She is a translator yes but that's not what the book is centered in.
Christa seems to be the driving force behind everything, she is an older woman when she story starts and she thinks about her life when she was younger when she met professor Falin and she thinks about the time they were together until he disappeared. On one hand, this is intriguing because it offers the reader the chance to follow different moments in time and the story gets richer but ti can also be confusing as I didn't notice any obvious change between times except the information we were given regarding each specific time but only when characters were interacting.

The political content is interesting because one can place it in time and there is documentation on it but because it "stole" so much attention from the fictional plot, I felt the book as a whole wasn't as consistent and there were often some boring parts to go through.
The prose the author used is often beautiful and evocative. The poetry, like I said, is as well. But everything together isn't always easy to read, there are too many things to read between the lines and yes, that can be the challenge at the same time as the goal of the book but with the amount of vagueness in the air, I don't think there was any conclusion nor closure to be had. The end is obviously artistically done for a literary work but after investing in the characters and their feelings, I kind of expected to be privy to some more information instead of just assumptions.

All things considered, this was good but not as good as I imagined when I started. It was still a good way to get to know a bit about a new author to me, even if I hesitate to read something by him again.
Grade: 6/10

Monday, May 13, 2019

Rebecca Zanetti - Storm Gathering

Even before surviving the Scorpius bacterium, Greyson Storm was a lone wolf navigating minefields. As a kid, he learned to take a hit and find safety. As an adult, he joined the military and quickly learned how to protect and defend. When the world ended, he created a mercenary camp with military precision, no entanglements, and a promise to avenge a fallen friend. As part of that vow, he kidnapped Maureen Shadow, but now that he has let her go, her blue eyes and intriguing mind keep haunting him…
As possibly the only Biotechnology Engineer still living, Maureen Shadow might be humanity’s one hope to survive the aftermath of Scorpius, making her frighteningly valuable to both allies and enemies. Even after sexual tension explodes between her and Greyson, she’s not sure which camp he belongs to—friend or foe? Worse yet, survival may mean thwarting his prime mission, putting her in even more peril. When danger and seduction collide, there is no safety in this new world.


Comment: This is the fourth installment in the Scorpius Syndrome series by author Rebecca Zanetti. This is a post apocalyptic world where the characters still maintain their humanity and help each others in small groups, in order to ensure their survival and, hopefully, peace once the world starts to get back to normal...

In this fourth story, the author keeps up with the situation between the two groups familiar to the readers, the Vanguard and the Mercenaries as the elements from both sides have slowly started to get acquainted and even some friendships seemed to have started. An interesting situation is the one between Greyson, the leader of the Mercenaries and Maureen, sister to one of the top lieutenants of the Vanguard. Before Maureen was reunited with her brother she was kidnapped by the Mercenaries and stayed with them for a while and something happened between her and Greyson.
Now that things have changed and the two groups are getting closer to work together, can Maureen accept to go back to help with something important for all regarding her work and still face what she and Greyson seem to have together?

This is a series about a complicated hypothetical situation concerning the possible fate of humankind. However, unlike some other books/worlds, the author isn't stressing out the negative without positive aspects and I like the series precisely because despite the fact things are dire the characters don't stop being human, don't stop having hope and still hold on to the interactions and affection that people usually depend on to fully function.

The romance in this story wouldn't have been difficult to guess because it was understood by several clues in previous books there is something between Maureen and Greyson. In terms of personality there's really nothing in each one that would make them such amazing characters.
Greyson is one of those apparent lone wolf types but who actually hides a softer and caring side, especially regarding those he loves or feels responsible for. He's the personification of the expected hero. There is some interesting facts about his past, not too detailed but enough to let the reader know he is a natural leader but not mean or forced.
Maureen is more difficult to "read" because she isn't such a remarkable character nor does her personality strike that much. She is a heroine who is worth more by her connection with the others than by her own person. I mean, it's good she's part of the group and all but she's not that memorable.

Considering this, of course the author had to increase the intensity of the relationship by introducing a situation not yet seen between the main characters in the other books and although it offered some interesting scenarios and possibilities, it wasn't as decisive as I imagined.
The majority of the story really focused on the plot and that is good on one hand but on the other, the interactions between Maureen and Greyson weren't as romantic or such deal breakers as I hoped for. I just think their relationship was a little too predictable, even with the novelty of their circumstances.

The plot really seemed to have center stage here. I liked some of the new information gained by the main characters and I hope that what is happening will be as significant as it is implied for the future. I must say I see where this is possibly going but it's interesting to imagine how it might not too. I'm just waiting to see how the author will solve other issues without making it too easy even though, at the same time, some of the problems the groups face are taking a little too long to be solved. This is somewhat paradoxical: if the problems were to be solved too quickly it would sound silly but this way it can be a little frustrating. Not that the balance is wrong but... I always notice it anyway.

All things considered, this is a good installment but I'd say it works better if one thinks about those readers who have been following the main story line. Some things just aren't that easy to follow if one starts here. Ok, we can say this isn't a difficult stroy anyway but there's something to be gained by knowing who's who and where the major players are at. I do hope things change quickly because it can also be easily get stagnated and I hope it won't.
Grade: 7/10

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mary Balogh - A Secret Affair

Born a commoner, Hannah Reid has been Duchess of Dunbarton since she was nineteen years old. Now her husband is dead and, more beautiful than ever at thirty, Hannah has her freedom at last. To the shock of a conventional friend, she announces her intention to take a lover—and not just any lover, but the most dangerous and delicious man in all of upper-class England: Constantine Huxtable. Constantine’s illegitimacy has denied him the title of earl, so now he denies himself nothing. Rumored to be living the easy life of a sensualist on his country estate, he always chooses recent widows for his short-lived affairs. Hannah will fit the bill nicely. But once these two passionate and scandalous figures find each other, they discover that it isn’t so easy to extricate oneself from the fires of desire—without getting singed. 

Comment: This is the fifth and final installment in the Huxtable series by Mary Balogh, which I've started in January and have read one book each month, being this the last one at last. This is an historical series about the Huxtable siblings and their cousin Constantine, after they discover their brother Stephen is the heir for a earldom. Throughout the stories we've watched each sibling finding love and this last book is all about Constantine.

In this last story, we find the whole family settled well into family life, except Constantine, who is once again going to look for a mistress for the Season. He is also considering the fact he is getting older so he probably should think about marrying but perhaps not just yet, even if he does feel a little envy of the fact all his cousins found a love match.
Hannah Reid is one of the most famous widows of the Season, finally after her mourning of the much older husband everyone thinks she married for his money. Everyone is mistaken for she did love her husband, even he was old enough to be her grandfather. There was just one think she didn't have while married and that she wants to experience fully, which is to have a lover. She sets her sights on Constantine for his looks and demeanor.
The problem is these two have hidden depths they don't show to anyone else, including close friends. What will happen when they start to confide in and trust each other?

Once more, this book was what I expected from the author in terms of tone and style so I can say I liked it. 
The author also uses her usual tactic of letting the characters be aware of a certain fact regarding the protagonists at the same time the reader also gets aware but although the reader can assume a new information will be revealed to elevate them in our eyes, the other characters don't and that is part of the conflict and why it takes time for the plot to move forward.

Despite the fact this is a familiar tactic for fans of this author (and of romance in general) and that the protagonists do have some hidden depths and emotions which can seem doubtful but as anyone reading romance would obviously know that would be proven misplaced, I must say this book wasn't as appealing as the first three of the series have been.
The thing is, unlike those three, this is more similar to the fourth, the previous one, in relation to the female protagonist and how she is portrayed. For me, that is actually a minus in my consideration.

I think it's quite amazing that the author thought about including women in her stories who are bright and have independence streaks and many other things that could make a woman - constricted by her time - into someone fresh and free within her limits. Hannah is a widow so she is permitted some freedom other types of woman don't have.
In real life, I must say, I'm all for that freedom at all levels and sexually too, if the woman wants to. But to be honest, even if that sounds too old skool or silly or not feminist at all, I prefer my heroines to be less worried about sex. They can have it all they want but why should it matter? Even in a romance story, for obvious reasons, I can accept it as being part of the expectations, but in this case because Hannah anted sexual freedom so much, she acts manipulative and cynical with Constantine. Ok, he didn't have to accept but he does for plot purposes. I just don't find it empowering nor sexy to be that obvious she just wanted to use the hero.

Anyway, it's just a pet peeve of mine. I prefer stories with more balance sexual decisions from both protagonists or when sex is just a good extra and the not the driving force.
Of course, as the story moves on from the initial awkward situation of Hannah and Constantine becoming lovers, things improve as they get to know more about one another and confiding personal things to the other.
Their personalities do match after they start being more honest and even interacting with other characters. These are often my favorites parts, how the family unites and is an important part of the others' lives as well.

Hannah and Constantine achieve happiness, as one can imagine. Hannah is able to find what she really wanted and so does Constantine, to the also expectant reconciliation with his cousin, something readers have wanted to see from book #1.
The HEA did seem a little rushed, all things considered, but overall, I think it was a good enough installment, just not as thrilling or appealing as the first three.
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Lisa Henry / M. Caspian - Fallout

High-school boyfriends Jack Haldane and Bastian Wade thought everything would be perfect once they reunited at college, putting disapproving parents and small-town attitudes firmly in the past. Now Jack’s on track for a PhD scholarship and a career as a researcher, and Bastian . . . well, living inside a broken body and trailing along in Jack’s shadow didn’t feature in his lofty teenage ambitions.
A weekend camping trip back home offers a chance for them to reconnect, but an ugly confrontation with the local motorcycle gang is only the start of their problems. When disaster occurs and the world unravels, will Bastian and Jack manage to hold on to each other, or fall further apart as they try to survive?


Comment: Next on my diary reads was this title by authors Lisa Henry and M. Caspian. This is an m/m story I saw recommended somewhere for some specific reason even tough I can't remember why anymore, much less why I thought it might be a good thing to read for my taste. I should have given more attention to the labels and some spoiler free reviews before starting this but alas, I did not so I ended up being surprised by how much more negative the story was than what I imagined. Thankfully, it wasn't a big book. 

This is the second book by Lisa Henry I try and I did like the other one so I wasn't really concerned this was a joint effort, I just assumed it would be like her other book in terms of style or tone.
This is a practically novella sized story (one of the positive elements it has) about a couple, Jack and Bastian and their travel to go camping while trying to see where their relationship really is at, after several years together but also drama and guilt and physical consequences of an accident.
Things seem to be pretty normal until they have an unfortunate encounter with a biker gang but they put it aside until the world goes through quite an apocalypse and both guys need to hold on to their humanity and hope for survival...

I'm not certain I could be very eloquent about what I felt like about this book but for those who want better descriptions or even summaries of the bad aspects, there are plenty of reviews on goodreads which I feel could inform and still work as a good expression of my feelings.
Will mention some spoiler situations...

This is a dark horror story and it's filled with apocalyptic situations with ashes falling and people not being able to breathe and so on and attempts by the main characters to survive their individual hells while still hoping that something good can happen.
After they run out of gas in the woods, so to speak, both go their separate ways to find help, Jack by going towards a gas station they passed through earlier and Bastian waiting for him to come back since he has a spinal injury. The problem is that Jack only finds the remains of what looks like an attack on the station and an apocalyptic and scary scenario.
Had this been a story with this situation, where the protagonists had to survive harsh physical conditions or even emotional ones considering the status of their relationship, I think I'd be so motivated to read and know how they can move on from the supposed bad moment in their lives, to develop some rapport to improve or to settle into what they have if that was the way to go, this would probably have been better for me. Too bad the main characters didn't even seem to like each other, much less love. Their personalities weren't that much developed either, besides the basic instinct to survive somehow.
I did appreciate the idea behind this book and it can be/look as more realistic that what people think. I could buy into the feeling of despair but of hope too, by seeing the characters trying to hold on to something, to fight for their feelings and history or even just plain human survival. 
One can read this as just a physical survival story or as an emotional one.

However.
However, the characters aren't just dealing with themselves and the people they meet at the gas station and nearby stores. No, no. They also must deal with the apparently dismissed gang that obviously didn't appreciate Jack being a black guy but that for the reader was just another element to highlight the difference between the main characters, especially because we know their families didn't like the fact they were together.

I seriously hated the fact the gang was part of this story. I hated the fact that besides the challenge of dealing with the supposed end of the world as they knew it, they also had to deal with the gang and how depraved and selfish and all kinds of negative adjectives I could use to describe those who think they are superior to you or who think they can use and abuse others because they have the power to do so. This so called gang takes the chance caused by the ashes and the fear to catch Bastian and other secondary (female) characters and rape and torture them. I can see what the point was with this but it ruined the story for me, it made me hate the characters, hate the story, hate the fact the characters had to survive this.

Is this the definition of edgy and realistic and scary? Probably but I pass while there is still love and positivism in the world. I just didn't stop reading because I hoped the message was that despite bad things, people can survive and prosper but while the bad guys were punished, I don't think the end was that amazing in the crime vs punishment dichotomy. Are humans condemned to be silly excuses for beings and no one will ever find happiness again in such a scenario? Maybe, but I don't care because I rather read books where people aren't tortured for no reason besides petty plays at power. It's enough knowing some people can be like this in real life. It was not enjoyable to spend time with this book.
Grade: 3/10

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Gail Honeyman - Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive - but not how to live. Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted - while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she's avoided all her life. Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than. . . fine?

Comment: This is a very much hyped book of last year, even though its original publication is from 2017. The premise seemed intriguing so I also added it to my reading list but only now I finally got to it. I was positively impressed although I would say the impact of the final twist wasn't as high for me because the clues were there during the novel regarding some secrets.

In this book we meet Eleanor Oliphant, a young woman working in accounting, a job she has had since she finished college. Eleanor considers herself to be fine all the time, she has a very easy life, with simple routines and she rarely deviates until the day she decides she will get a HEA with a singer she sees suddenly and after she and a co-worker randomly help an old man after he has a heart attack on the street.
As the story progresses through Eleanor's eyes and experiences, we get to see she has some secrets, she has some pain and terror in her past but her mind allows her to function as best as she can. If others would describe her as weird, she can't understand, after all she is a very logical person...

Eleanor is a fascinating character. I'm reluctant to label her as being autistic or having a syndrome since this is never done in the novel but the reader can clearly see her mind processes things in a very unique manner. However, I would also say this doesn't affect Eleanor's likability, as the author has said she didn't want Eleanor to be like a victim and despite some more touching scenes and affirmations which can sound so, Eleanor is a good person underneath all her quirks and often her experiences in the daily life routines can be quite amusing, like when she decides to have a manicure.

The story is pretty simple. Eleanor leads a very easy, simple life. She organizes all her days around the same usual expectations and even new things are often planned too. Her interactions with others are easily perceived by the reader as being a little too heavy on the silly possibilities but, honestly, when seen through her eyes, everything does seem to get a better/different meaning.
It was easy to like Eleanor and thus, the pages went by very quickly and in a very fluid way as well.
The steps Eleanor takes to change things, her perspective included, don't seem forced. Things and people happen around her and she feels challenged to response. What feelings come through that can be quite deep, depending on how one looks at it.

I think the author has done a great work pacing this novel. Things happen at the perfect pace for the drama to increase and for the details to come to light as Eleanor needs to deal with them. I think the only issue is that the story is divided into segments related to how Eleanor is coping, from good days, to bad days and better days. The transition from good to bad is explained but I don't think the process as as smooth as that. A bit more transparency in Eleanor's steps prior to that moment would have helped, I think.

An interesting component of the novel is the concept of loneliness. The author has also said this was one of the things that made her write the novel, how more and more people are alone and lonely and not just older people for several reasons. Younger people find themselves alone too and some not by choice. I think the author didn't really try to portray Eleanor as a desperate lonely person even though at times it can look so. Thankfully, the process of taking Eleanor from a status to another is well paced and believable, considering how she behaves. Would this have worked, without other clichés, with another type of character? I wouldn't say it would, as easily.

Personally I don't think about Eleanor's loneliness here. In a way she had her routines and interests. Yes, it can be seen as lonely by those who center their lives around many other people but I don't know if her life was that bad (apart from the obvious emotional content derived from her past but that's another issue) from a social POV, had it been a choice. The question is, I'd day, does Eleanor really have a choice, considering the way things are and how she is made to think of herself by life and experiences and her past?

The story goes a certain rout, of course. It all goes towards a final situation where the reader discovers things about Eleanor. I felt pity and sorry for her but I don't think she is a pitiful person; I think she coped in a way that enabled to carry on, even though her life hasn't been easy.
The book doesn't end promising countless romantic or ambitious scenarios where Eleanor is "cured". I liked how she felt like maintaining herself as she has been but aware of her issues and trying to find a way to understand them.
Yes, this might not have been the perfect book but it was very good and entertaining for certain.
Grade: 8/10