Friday, January 17, 2020

Amy Hatvany - The Language of Sisters

Ten years ago, Nicole Hunter left her troubled home behind her, unable to cope with the demands of a life with her disabled sister, Jenny. Though her search for happiness—both in career and in love—has fallen short of her dreams, Nicole pretends that all is well. Then a shattering event turns her world upside down, and suddenly, she is back in her hometown, caring for her pregnant sister and trying to heal her embattled relationship with her mother.
Reunited with her family and forced to confront the guilt that haunts her, Nicole finally has the chance to be the sister she always wished she’d been. And when she is faced with the most difficult choice of her life, Nicole rediscovers the beauty of sisterhood—and receives a special gift that will change her life forever.

Comment: This is the second book by this author I read. I liked the experience of reading the other one by her I have and when I saw this one on sale in one of the book fairs I usually attend annually, I didn't think twice.

In this book we have the story of two sisters, one of them, Nicole, left home to be far from the problems in her house but she has always felt stuck to something in her past.
The other sister is Jenny and she has a disease that robbed her of her motor and mental skills which made her mother decide to put her in an institute that caters to women with similar conditions.
The story begins when Nicole, geographically and mentally far away, receives a phone call telling her her sister had been raped at the institute and she is now pregnant. Nicole then leaves her life as a baker - she had also given up on her psychologist profession - to head back home and deal with the situation, since their mother is tired and wants to keep Jenny the the same institute and their father is out of the picture.
Going back home, Nicole is ready to do what is necessary to help Jenny, even it that means take care of her sister on her own. Will Nicole be ready for what that entails?

I thought this book would focus on the way Nicole would deal with taking care of her sister Jenny and how that situation would affect her perspective on how people like Jenny - not perfect in the eyes of society - are usually treated. Although we do have this notion discussed somehow, the biggest part of the novel's purpose was to showcase Nicole's feelings, position in life, psychological status, her journey through guilt and duty rather than how Jenny was doing with what happened to her and what Nicole did to help Jenny.

This means that, seen with a certain perspective, Nicole does come across as being inflexible, too hard on herself and others and slightly irritating. I don't think this bothered me much because I've worked with someone who had lost skills, although not with the same disease fictional Jenny has. I know it can be difficult and frustrating and sometimes it's hard to "disconnect" from that to just be ourselves in a new context.
Still, this doesn't excuse the fact Nicole acts as if she's the one who knows best, who will be the key to "transform" Jenny. Not to cure her, obviously, but to be the person with whom Jenny will relax with and would feel happy to be near.
Being like this also affects her relationship with others, namely with her mother, from whom Nicole has always held something that still haunts her.

Portuguese edition
It was good to see how Nicole improved throughout the novel, how she started to talk about and deal with some of the things she feels guilty of, including leaving her family to pursue stability. But Nicole is one of those people who can't forget and I liked how we got to see the steps she took to change and find inner peace while being closer to her sister.
I'd say the problem is that, despite how natural or expectant this situation might have been, the way it happened seemed to follow a very linear pattern: first deal with this, then that, then the other so things were being dealt with but it was sort of forced in the reader's face how the process happened. I wish it had been made to look more spontaneous on Nicole's part.

There are some social and technical issues mentioned related to how caring facilities/institutions operate in regards to people with deficiencies like Jenny's. That should grab anyone's attention and the author has done a good job in giving readers a perspective but inserted in the fictional tale, it felt like a task to be done, rather than a real necessity of the novel. After ll, the focus is on Nicole and not really on Jenny and her problems.

Another interesting element was how Nicole re-discovered a previous friendship and how much help that was to her, especially when things got difficult. There is also a romance to let the reader wonder what will happen to Nicole and her choices and although part of me liked this element, it could have been done a little better too. 
Still, the book ends on a positive note and I think the psychological journey Nicole went through helped her a lot, not only in reconnecting with her sister and mother, but in how she has always felt about her father and her other relationships.

This was an easy book to go through, simple accessible writing, interesting theme and development but yes, the main character could have been a little more approachable at times.
I'll keep on reading this author's work...
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Lucy Lennox - Facing West

I left my family and tiny Texas hometown fifteen years ago to escape small-town gossips and to give my mom and sister the chance at a better life. But when a phone call from an attorney back home informs me that my sister passed away, leaving me custody of her newborn baby, I’m shocked out of the steady life I’ve built for myself running a tattoo shop in San Francisco. The thing is: I don’t do babies. And I don’t do small towns. Or commitment. And I especially don’t do family. My plan is to go back to Hobie just long enough to sign adoption papers, giving my niece the kind of stable, loving family I could never provide. But the moment I meet my niece in the arms of Weston Wilde, my sister’s best friend and the town’s handsome doctor, my plans begin to change. Because suddenly, I see a different future. One with the very thing I thought I never deserved: a family. If only I can convince West that I’m not the same good-for-nothing kid ready to bolt when things get tough.
There’s one thing I know for sure about Nico Salerno: he was a good-for-nothing as a kid and judging by the purple-haired, tattoo’d punk who shows up at his sister’s funeral, he hasn’t changed. There’s no way I’m letting him take custody of my best friend’s baby. But the more time I spend around him, the more I realize that his rough exterior is just a shell and that beneath all the tattoos is a scared, insecure man searching for a place to belong. And pretty soon I know exactly where he belongs: in my bed and by my side. The problem is, he abandoned his family once before, how do I know that if we become a family he won’t do it again?

Comment: I first got aware of this author through goodreads recommendations. It seemed, by the covers and blurbs, that her books would be contemporary romances with romance being in the central stage and with several series, each one with with a reasonable amount of installments, I was ready to start and enjoy them.
I saw, however, that the author's books are only available through amazon and upon contacting the author, that it might not be possible the situation would change. Therefore, using a discount voucher, I bought a more expensive paperback edition of this book and, anticipating I'd love it, I started to prepare myself for the possibility I might have to give in and read the other books through the kindle app in my PC which is not as pleasant nor practical but it would still be cheaper.
After months of mulling over this issue, I must say I find myself surprised because this is no longer a worry, since this book failed to impress me and it might take a while for me to try the author again.

In this book we meet Weston Wilde, one of several siblings living in a small town in Texas. The Wilde family has connections and a good reputation but what is better known about them is that of the 10? siblings several of them are gay.
Weston is the oldest and he is a family doctor and he loves the community he is in, the fact he can live close to his brothers and sisters, even though some have gone to live somewhere else. Weston also had a great best friend, Adrianna, but she sadly passed away and left a baby daughter with whom West has bonded over. This means he isn't prepared when Nico Salerno, someone he remembered from their teenage years, comes back to settle things as he is Adrianna's brother and now responsible for the niece he wasn't aware of having.
Nico left town quite angry and he was not thinking about coming back but this new situation forces him to return and see some people again, which he doesn't think will be a god experience. He only wants to solve the baby situation and go back to his life in San Francisco but the baby is the last connection he has with his late sister and West is certainly appealing to look at.
Will these two find common ground?

I thought this story would follow along the lines of a sweet romance with some world building and a good setting but I'm sad because the tone and content of the story felt too sugary at times and I don't think the characters were fleshed out well.

Weston and Nico knew each other as teenagers and the Nico left. That now they meet again and think of one another differently, I can totally accept and I was looking for to see them fall in love. However, the process wasn't smooth or natural. The way they were put together in the many scenes/situations felt often contrived and I can't understand how they would connect after so little time being close to one another again and after pre-conceived ideas both had about the other.
I just don't buy that their feelings changed that quickly.
I would say that, to me, the problem was that they don't really have chemistry and that detail is forced on the reader. The author could give more (or better) clues on how their feelings were changing but it just seems as if the reader has to infer that, as if that's a basic information to have and I missed more scenes or different ones to convince me they were meant to be together.
The book is long and besides the romance there isn't a lot of plot, so I think this could have been done better.

I also would say the first person narrator wasn't a good choice for this story. Since the majority of the plot is based on how the romance develops and how the two guys deal with their feelings while interacting with those closest to them, they have to be pretty good narrators and captivating so the reader can't help but liking to see what happens, to know more about their thoughts.
I think this was also a not so good element because the thought process was just so...repetitive (yes, we can understand they think the other is attractive) and mechanic, and secondary things happening to both of them were always seen through a simple layer. There was nothing special about them or how they thought about their surroundings to make me want to care about their lives.

Being Nico and West the narrators, everything we learn about the other characters and situations is because of how they see it. The reader can have some knowledge by how other reply to them or so, but to be honest, all the conversations, the interactions between characters felt like one of those hallmark based movies, where things work out superficially, they look well or bad accordingly to what is expected, but there isn't a real meaning to things, the isn't a strong connection to those characters and the hidden parts of their lives we never see but imagine.

In the end, I feel sad I didn't like this book more because I imagined I would. It's a pity this didn't offer me more depth or the organic development I expected. There are positive elements, the potential is there, the idea is good but the execution was not. For me at least.
The main characters have difficulties, real worries but there's no real work on any of those things because they are made to look cute and slightly clumsy falling in love. This was an easy book to read, there are things I liked that made it easy to turn the pages but it wasn't as amazing as I thought it would be.
I'll try another book by this author one day, just in case I had the bad luck of trying one not the norm but my hopes aren't high anymore...perhaps this author's writing style isn't for me.
Grade: 5/10

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

TBR Challenge: Elisabeth Naughton - Unchained

For thousands of years, Prometheus’s only certainty was his daily torture at his enemy's hand. Now, unchained by the Eternal Guardians, he spends his days in solitude, trying to forget the past. He’s vowed no allegiance in the war between mortal and immortal, but when a beautiful maiden seeks him out and begs for his help, he’s once again powerless to say no. Soon, Prometheus is drawn into the very conflict he swore to avoid, and, to save the maiden’s life, he must choose sides. But she has a secret of her own, and if Prometheus doesn’t discover what she’s hiding in time, the world won’t simply find itself embroiled in a battle between good and evil, it will fall in total domination to Prometheus’s greatest foe. 

Comment: As with other participants, this is the first TBR challenge post of the new year and I want to use this opportunity to wish everyone a great challenge!
In January the theme tends to be short stories or smaller length novels and I picked a novella from the Eternal Guardians series by Elisabeth Naughton because I followed the series and I had it in the TBR list anyway.

In this short story we see what happens after Prometheus has been free of Zeus' control following a rescue mission from the Argoleans, especially since his daughter Natasa mated one of them.
Prometheus is facing a calmer life, the prospect of being free a good one despite the things he suffered but being in Argolea, close to his daughter and seeing her happy makes everything easier.
One day he starts hearing a strange seductive voice calling hi for help although he doesn't know how he could do anything.
Suddenly a figure appears even though not in full presence. She presents herself as Keia, but in fact she is Circe, a witch imprisoned by Zeus so he can control her powers. Will Circe convince Prometheus she is not what fame has made her to be? Can he trust her? Will they join forces to free Circe at last?

I couldn't remember the last time I had read a story in this series and it was 2016 but to be honest I only remembered the basics. It seems since the last full length story, the author has only added novellas to the series and since I don't always read novellas, it just hasn't been in my radar lately. 
I must also note that as soon as I started reading, some details came to mind but not many. Reading this novella out of order will leave readers confused, especially if their notion of the Greek mythology is updated, because the author picked that base to develop this series and some pairings are... original.

Since I did read the other books and I recalled some details, I was prepared to enjoy this novella about Prometheus and Circe, two of the characters that populate the series which was originally focused on the fictional realm of Argolea, a place from where seven warriors were chosen to help humans from the deceitful gods (the main books in the series).
Prometheus and Circe were only secondary characters in the past and their connection non existent which makes me wonder why they were paired off, perhaps just to solve loose points or something...

Thinking about the way this story is inserted in the main plot, I would say it was just a little piece of the puzzle instead of a big part of it finally solved. It was good to see a little extra something done but it doesn't change the big picture. Isn't this what usually happens with novellas in big or already developed series? It barely reaches the surface, much less meatier stuff.
I don't think it really added much to what was happening so I cannot say this was a successful tactic done by the author.

Circe and Prometheus don't really seem developed characters. They could be anyone else that the story would be exactly the same and since there was barely enough to allow the reader to connect with them, I felt very detached from what was happening and finished the story thinking it might as well not have been written, or it could have been inserted in another, bigger story perhaps.
Part of this short sized story is showing how Circe and Prometheus bond over sex and apparently one sex scene and a few meetings are enough to convince them (and us) they are meant to be together, in love, as if that immediately puts them in the "serious commitment" level.
I didn't buy it. I was not convinced, by the way the author wrote, that they really had achieved that level and not even the paranormal aspect of the series is enough element to make it easier to accept.

I've liked the books in this series and I've liked some of the settings and developments the author has created. I cannot imagine the effort to think about reducing a story so much that it would make sense within the world created and still be worth it on its own. Were this to be a cute vignette in a newsletter or something perhaps it could have even enough but to me, this story doesn't make sense as a novella. It's just too short, too much under developed and the characters are forced to look having chemistry. The romance is non existent, not convincing and nothing really important happens to move things along (if that is even a purpose now that only novellas are being released in the series).

I like the world, I liked seeing a few references to things I remembered and characters I know from the other books but, in general, this just barely makes a positive grade, since I was generous but in reality it would read more a 4.8 or something in my scale, thus the final 5.
Good for fans but not that special overall.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Hazel Gaynor - The Girl From The Savoy

Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but her life has been fractured by the Great War. Memories of the soldier she loved, of secret shame and profound loss, by turns pull her back and spur her on to make a better life.
When she finds employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy, Dolly takes a step closer to the glittering lives of the Bright Young Things who thrive on champagne, jazz and rebellion. Right now, she must exist on the fringes of power, wealth and glamor—she must remain invisible and unimportant.
But her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to a struggling songwriter’s advertisement for a ‘muse’ and finds herself thrust into London’s exhilarating theatre scene and into the lives of celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry. Loretta and Perry may have the life Dolly aspires to, but they too are searching for something.
Now, at the precipice of the life she has and the one she longs for, the girl from The Savoy must make difficult choices: between two men; between two classes, between everything she knows and everything she dreams of. A brighter future is tantalizingly close—but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?

Comment: When I finished the first book by Hazel Gaynor I tried, I was left with a positive experience and have wanted to repeat it. Since that first good attempt, I read another one which was good but a little less impressive to me and, now, I've finished this one and it's yet another small step lower than the other one. My experience has been decreasing with time and I wonder if it's time to stop...

In this book we have the story of Dolly Lane, a young woman who lives in London during the 20s, a time post war where many people uplifted their spirits with cinema and parties and high expectations of positive things, gaiety and dreams of fame.
Dolly also has aspirations to become an artist but her humble origins make it difficult for her to chase that dream and, therefore, that means she needs to work until an opportunity comes her way. When the story starts she is about to begin working at the Savoy, considered one of the greatest hotels in London.
While we follow Dolly through her work and connections, we see her become a wonderful woman but she is someone who has secrets and, like practically all women, sadness and loss over what the war turned reality into. Will Dolly overcome what she faced in her past so she can become who she dreams of being?

This is a story set exclusively during the 20s. We have some references and scenes from the war times but only through letters Dolly exchanged with her sweetheart Teddy.
There are three narrators that help us decode what is happening: Dolly, Teddy and Loretta (a famous actress who helps Dolly at some point) and the story is divided into three parts. To be honest, the division doesn't seem to be that important, since the plot is continuous but I suppose each division creates a barrier in the emotional stage the characters are at.

This is a dramatic story, the main character is poor, she has had disappointments and unfair things happening to her in her past so, on paper, she should be everything I'd look for in the heroine of a novel. However, I didn't always like to follow Dolly's thoughts, perhaps because her eagerness to be an actress even if that meant she would put herself in a situation that could be harmful for her, would strike me as useless and considering the context, even more so.
I like heroines down on her luck that do something of their lives but while still maintaining their feet in the ground and not looking for difficult to achieve goals.

Of course, this means that Dolly's self confidence, especially when other things bring her down or prove to her she should be thankful for the good things she has, is at its highest when she does get praise for what she aspires, in particular in the person of Loretta May, a famous actress who also hides some secrets and her brother Perry, a composer who befriends Dolly when she replies to his ad for a muse.
The relationship between these three is never too complex as I thought it might develop and, to be honest, the way the author chose to develop them and where they go towards the end of the novel doesn't always feel like the best course of action.

I think the idea is there and I was captivated by the notion of these people trying to be the best they could at such a convoluted time and the setting is unusual enough for me, since the 20s don't seem to be a moment in history I'm very fond of, but the plot leads to a very weird situation that I don't think was solved as well as the author could and there was an obvious goal of reaching drama and intensity that the how was a little lost.
I've seen some readers didn't like the end for a specific reason but that didn't bother me that much. I was more annoyed at the fact Dolly wasn't as impressive a character as I wanted hr to be and that such a long time passed from the last chapter and the epilogue. What happened in between is unknown and I don't think the effort and pace were used correctly: I'd rather have a better solution of everyone's issues and less epilogue gap or, even better, no epilogue at all, the best could have been to leave the entirety of the end to the reader's imagination, since the scene with Dolly's last decision.

As a whole, this book has a lot to praise about and it does offer some good reading time. I just think that, for me personally, the characters were never as easy to sympathize with, their plights worthy and complex but their personalities focused on details I can't relate to (like the desire to perform, to be famous) and that I felt were portrayed in a very detached manner.
I liked the characters' backgrounds a lot more but those were just another element to motivate the characters and not as exploited as I'd have preferred.
This was good but not as good as it could be, I'd say.
Grade: 6/10

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Jana DeLeon - Dreadful

Six years ago, five friends went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Four of them returned. One simply disappeared. Jenny Taylor has never gotten over the disappearance of her twin sister, Caitlyn, but now things are even worse. Caitlyn calls to Jenny in her dreams, begging her sister to find her. But Jenny’s memory of the entire night is completely gone.
Shaye Archer knows better than anyone what it’s like to have gaping holes in your past, and how horrific dreams can cripple you. But this case presents problems on every level. An adult woman disappearing from the French Quarter during Mardi Gras is hard enough to get answers for, but when it happened years before, the difficulty level increases exponentially. But Shaye’s empathy for Jenny prevents her from saying no, even though she doesn’t expect to find anything.
Then a witness is murdered, and Jenny’s memory starts to return. What did she see in the alley that night? And how many more are in danger because of it? 

Comment: This is the 6th installment in the Shaye Archer series by author Jana DeLeon, which I only started because the first book was in one of my book club reads in the past. Since then, the series captivated me enough to keep going and now I think of it as one of those friends you meet from time to time to catch up, the experience is always pleasant if not mind blowing.

In this new story Shaye is is still doing her investigations work and when the story begins she is a little bored with the less appealing side of business which is invoices, writing down paperwork stuff among other things and she knows she should prefer the to the grittier side of working on complex cases but she has overcome a lot and prefers some action.
Things change when three people show up in her office and Shaye can see one of them doesn't seem to be well, it's a woman called Jenny who wants to re-open the case of her missing twin sister six years ago. At first the clues seem too old for Shaye to discover anything the police might have overlooked but then someone is killed and the situation escalates.
Will Shaye discover the truth behind Jenny's sister disappearance and why would someone not want that truth to be known?

This was an easy story to read. The cover would indicate something scarier might happen in the plot but despite the fact the situations can be seen as more frightening or less depending on the reader's sensibilities and also some things are quite difficult to imagine, the reality is that I think the author has such a fluid, direct manner of presenting the information that people can go through the story with the necessary facts and things don't get very dire.

This is my impression after reading the books until this one. Some descriptions and information about the characters' actions or what happened to Shaye (who has had a lot to suffer through in the past) could be seen as too much but the writing style doesn't allow people to be too affects, I'd say.... in fact, there's a slight detachment from everything but not in a bad way: readers can think and measure how affected they should feel but for me this doesn't detract from the novel.

In this book we had more of these notions, Shaye is a great investigator, she always seems to be able to talk to people in the right way... I kept thinking while reading, were I to be an investigator and having to ask questions I'd feel like I was bothering people,  don't think I'd be willing to go out there and besides, it's funny she is not a police officer but everyone always answers her questions anyway. This helps the plot of course but it's probably the little detail that I find more difficult to believe.
As for the investigation itself, as one can imagine, stirs up many secret things and I must say some were well thought indeed.

The execution of some of those ideas though, that could have been planned better. I won't go into spoilers but the six years of the missing twin disappearance felt a little too much to accept considering the path the author chose. Perhaps half that time or less would feel more realistic to me.
There are some psychological explanations about what the characters do/go through but I an rationally accept that, the how it happened, however, doesn't seem as likely. It's quite a jump, though, from the simplicity we can imagine to the way things are but...a great imagination and not a correspondent execution can be seen as a little unstable.

As for Shaye's personal life, which is another element that we see throughout the novel in little scenes and so on, I must say I was a little disappointed too. It's good she is a stable place in her life, that she has mostly accepted her journey and she is a good person, she has her cop boyfriend, her mother and friends, but I expected we would see more of her development, more romance too... there's something she does in this book that is not a surprise but it's such a small moment in the whole book, I think it might as well not have been there at all, it felt it lacked importance while it certainly was.

All in all, a good installment, exactly what I would expect in emotional terms, but some things could have been done better, in my opinion.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, January 10, 2020

Mary Balogh - The Proposal

Lady Gwendoline Muir has experienced her fair share of tragedies in her short life: she lost her husband to a freak accident, and developed a limp after falling from horseback. Still young, Gwen is sure that she's done with love, and that she will never be married again.
Gwen tries to be content with her life as it is, and to live through the happy marriages of her brother and her best friend, Viscountess Ravensberg. She's happy for them, and for years that is enough for her . . . until she meets Lord Tretham - a man who returned from the Peninsula Wars a hero, but is unable to escape the bite of his survivor's guilt. For he might just be the man who can convince her to believe in second chances. 

Comment: Another year, another series by Mary Balogh for me to go through... I'll space out the reads so the stories don't get to feel repetitive but I'm quite expectant about how much enjoyment I'll have with this Survivor's Club series.

In this first installment we meet Hugo, lord Tretham, as he and his fellow brothers in arms join the duke of Stanbrook in one of his estates where they all convalesced after the war ended and where they could heal  - or try to - in peace and understanding from the others.
Hugo has always been considered a war hero but he doesn't think he deserves that label and since joining the military his personality has become more serious and thoughtful. He has decided, though, it's time to take care of all the properties and responsibilities his late father left for him and that includes marrying and getting an heir.
Gwen, Lady Muir is a widow and she is regretting having accepted to visit an acquaintance for a month for she discovers apart from superficial things they don't have a lot in common. While walking on a beach close to her friend's house, she falls and sprains her ankle and Hugo, being on the duke of Stanbrook's propriety and seeing what happens to Gwen, helps her. From this hazard meeting starts something neither was even considering but both can't seem to want to ignore...

As usual when one starts a Balogh story, the settings, the rational explanations all make perfect sense for those characters and one can easily recognize the writing style of the author.
There is something to be said about knowing what you will get when you start a book by a specific author and I trust Mary Balogh to provide something addictive, not with unlikely characters only concerned about sexual escapades or too focused on problems that they can't enjoy the small great things either.

This story is quite basic in its premise: Hugo decides he needs to marry so he can continue fulfilling his duties and Gwen isn't looking for marriage again but after realizing she can still feel attracted to someone maybe it's time to change her mind.
The characters are and behave as adults. I could say there's perhaps a little too much rationality on their parts at times and there could be a bit more spontaneity when it comes to how they go from thinking into acting on their feelings but the author keeps her characters in track and she rarely detours from the personality traits we get when the book starts, which means consistency throughout the book.

Hugo is a very self conscious man and I admire his choices and the way he acted in certain situations. He still feels guilty over what happened at war but that's to be expected from a character we could describe as "decent" (as any Balogh hero usually is) and we come to want to see him find happiness.
Gwen is a secondary character from other novels by the author who here has her chance of getting an HEA. I also liked her personality, her quiet but joyful look on life despite negative things from her past. She isn't loud and she thinks before she acts which means she can be the perfect partner for someone who also has a steady look on things, like Hugo. I think they were a good match because they want similar things and I believe the author convinced me of that.

The romance is more on the sweet, disciplined side, especially after they agree there is something between them and perhaps they should court to see where things lead. Considering the plot development and secondary situations, we get to see them interact with others and face some situations, including one or two that are a little unpleasant, but I must say that it did seem as if the author had put all the ingredients in a neat row and things had to to make sense. 
I'd say this is her biggest fault in my point of view, the courtship between characters doesn't always seem passionate nor adventurous to their emotions. Even in complicated scenes, they are levelheaded and part of me loves it and wishes I could be that calm too, but the romance fan side thinks perhaps they could show more emotion in certain moments.

As the story progresses, the main characters' personalities reveal them as conscious people, human beings who went through a lot and who are still trying to process what happened in their lives but with communication, shared goals and interests and mostly supportive families and friends, there wouldn't be any other choice but to be together and happy too.
I'm now curious to see how the next member of the Survivor's Club will do.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Taylor Fitzpatrick - Thrown Off the Ice

Mike knew he was making a mistake when he let the rookie climb into bed with him. He just didn't know it'd be a mistake that would follow him for the rest of his life.

Comment: I got aware of this book (and interested)  after reading a review on All About Romance but the mysterious references to this not having a traditional HEA were too vague for me to immediately decide to red it. But the more I thought the more curious I got and I just gave in and I read it not that long ago.

In this story we meet hockey player Mike, already considered a veteran of the game at 30. He's even more self conscious of it when Liam, a new rookie of only 18 joins the team and seems to do all the things rookies usually do when trying to impress their fellow team mates but this one goes one step further and seems to latch himself to Mike, who everyone knows is aloof and slightly distanced.
As the time they spend together increases because they play games and train and face many routines along with their team mates, Mike and Liam seem to get closer and not really on purpose on Mike's side. However, Liam soon proves too difficult to resist and accepting his invitation turns out to be a decision that follows Mike to rest of his life.

This is a devastating book to read. It had all the feels as many now put it when referring to deeply emotional stories and I agree, this is terribly emotional. What is more surprising is how simply presented it is but I suppose that makes for an even bigger impact on the reader.

I haven't read anything else by the author and I can't say if this is her usual style, but the narrative is told to readers with minimum descriptions. Mike is the narrator of the story and we get to learn he is a man of few words, of few actions and he doesn't give in to silly or extrovert reactions. His personality is reserved and he isn't one to overshare. I liked how he seemed to be in peace with his quiet life, low expectations of what might come and he was happy to have a few friends and the support of his mother and brother but his life did seem to be characterized as bare and somehow lonely.

All this is known to the reader in a very simple way, no flourished descriptions nor anything like that. This means Mike is surprised and a little dumbfounded when Liam seems to follow him and look for his attention. We clearly understand, through Mike's words, that Liam is attracted to him and wants to be close but older Mike doesn't it let be visible he understands why unless Liam is one of those who has hero worship and likes those who are unattainable.
Slowly, with minimum explanations we get to see how their life develops, especially because one night Mike finally gives in and they spend the night together.

The big thing about this book is that the two characters fall in love but Mike never acknowledges it until the end of the book and never verbally. But everything necessary to appreciate all the layers of their relationship is there in thoughts, small hints, the situations they face and some dialogue Mike shares with the reader.
It took me some time to get used to the style but after a few pages it makes sense that it works for this story.

Just like other readers have done, I won't go into spoilers not more comments because the beauty id in the words, in the little things Mike and Liam share and I confess I cried many times just because what they had seemed so strong and special and unique, almost as if real people couldn't be that lucky to have someone like Mike had Liam (because we only get Mike's POV).
This is a very emotional story, we get to also think a lot about the impact of heavier sports like hockey or football in players, touch sports can have complicated outcomes, especially if the players get injured or if that happens easily.
I also think the author was contained in how much the wrote, what information was necessary and the more precise and less descriptive, the more impact it reached, even more so when combined with the heartfelt scenes we get to see in the novel.

This is a very good story but despite the wonderful aspects and the emotions and the strong content and all the spectacular things I could say about it, including how unromantic situations between Liam and Mike were actually quite romantic, despite the heart wrenching last chapter, I still think the end should be different.
I understand and it makes sense regarding what happens, but...
In the end, this was an amazing journey into the simplicity and the complexity of a relationship between two guys that might not work out but ended up being perfect together.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Halldór Laxness - Iceland's Bell

Sometimes grim, sometimes uproarious, and always captivating, Iceland’s Bell by Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness is at once an updating of the traditional Icelandic saga and a caustic social satire. At the close of the 17th century, Iceland is an oppressed Danish colony, suffering from extreme poverty, famine, and plague. A farmer and accused cord-thief named Jon Hreggvidsson makes an improper joke about the Danish king and soon after finds himself a fugitive charged with the murder of the king’s hangman.
In the years that follow, the hapless but resilient rogue Hreggvidsson becomes a pawn entangled in political and personal conflicts playing out on a far grander scale. Chief among these is the star-crossed love affair between Snaefridur, known as “Iceland’s Sun,” a beautiful, headstrong young noblewoman, and Arnas Arnaeus, the king’s antiquarian, an aristocrat whose worldly manner conceals a fierce devotion to his downtrodden countrymen. As their personal struggle plays itself out on an international stage, Iceland’s Bell creates a Dickensian canvas of heroism and venality, violence and tragedy, charged with narrative enchantment on every page.

Comment: I brought this book from the library but it was the first time I ever heard of the author. I read the blurb and it seemed this would be an interesting historical tale based on the early history of Iceland and that is certainly a theme I don't much about. I was curious, then, to learn a bit more while being entertained and it was quite an extra to know too that the author has won a Nobel prize.

In this book we have a main plot which is divided into three parts but we get to follow the main three characters throughout it all.
The story starts with the decision from the Danish king to remove the bell in an Iceland town because all copper and metals are to be taken to Denmark to help after the battles against their enemies.
The population in Iceland, mostly poor people with serious difficulties to survive and have a worthy life, is not in agreement with the decision and that is embodied in the person of Jon Hreggvidsson, who is considered guilty of staling rope and later of killing a man.
As the story develops, Jon and other central characters see themselves in a life long journey to tell their side of events which are no more than the foundation of what we can now think of the Iceland tradition and identity.

I'll be completely honest: I didn't enjoy reading this story.
The author might be well received by his fellow writers and judges in literary competitions, might be liked by many readers, but to me his writing was not appealing at all.
I think the narrative is so complicated, so confusing to follow it took out all the fun in it for me.

I know perfectly that everyone looks at the same book in different ways but the story had potential for what I was hoping this would be like. I was curious to see why the act of removing the bell would affect people, especially since they were poor and struggling, but that national pride, the ownership feel we all have about our country or the things belonging to it is always an important part of us anyway, even when we sort of feel disappointed with our country's governors/kings.
However, I don't think this was the notion the author explored the best. There are so many details about everything and everyone that I was quickly lost among the scenes.

I still can't summarize what I was reading about except that time was passing, some characters failed to do what was promised and what is sometimes perceived isn't really reality.
I know sages are meant to put in evidence how time passes by, how things change even if they were affected by something and one day that something might be addressed again or someone will want to see things right once more. But I have read one or two other stories based on Iceland sages, namely during school and those texts seemed a lot more accessible and not just because thy were meant for younger students. 
I just think this story was not written in an appealing way.

One detail some readers have mentioned in their reviews is how the author adds comic tones to situations that are supposed to be negative and how this means we always look at the characters through a distanced lens. I have to agree because I could see myself rooting for this person or that but it was so weird how they would speak, act, decide things in relation to problems they faced.. I couldn't take any character seriously and that has certainly made me think I never knew what drove them besides what the author told us that it was also very easy to not care, thus, along with the unappealing writing, made reading this quite a duty and not entertaining at all.

All things considered, I didn't think this was a good book for me. Everything read as confusing, including too many characters with similar names and if this means I'm not "clever" enough to understand Laxness, so be it and I hope there are others who can see the beauty in his writing.
Grade: 4/10

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Agatha Christie - Mrs McGinty's Dead

Mrs. McGinty died from a brutal blow to the back of her head. Suspicion falls immediately on her shifty lodger, James Bentley, whose clothes reveal traces of the victim’s blood and hair. Yet something is amiss: Bentley just doesn’t seem like a murderer.
Could the answer lie in an article clipped from a newspaper two days before the death? With a desperate killer still free, Hercule Poirot will have to stay alive long enough to find out. . 

Comment: This is the first book I read in this new year.
Since I like Agatha Christie's style a lot, what better way to start if not with a book I knew i'd find enjoyable?

In this story we meet again an interesting cast of characters who somehow played a part or are linked to yet another murder and Hercule Poirot is invited to analyze the case. The police inspector who asks him to study the facts can't pinpoint why but he feels the man who was considered guilty of killing mrs McGinty doesn't have the personality for murder.
Hercule Poirot has been feeling rather  bored so he decides to travel to the little place where things happened and, with his usual style, starts to talk to everyone and gathers clues here and there that, once the whole setting is explained, make complete sense. However, before that happens, someone else dies and it does seem the best clue is an old picture recently re published in a sensationalist newspaper...

Juts as I imagined, this was a good story to read and if there is one thing readers really love about reading is to be entertained by a story.
Perhaps this might not be the best book to start if one wants to care about the author's style or if one wants to understand Poirot's best thinking but the author has a huge backlist and having read practically all installments in the Poirot's series, if one reads in order, the experience is certainly rewarding.

In this book we have all the basic premises of an Agatha Christie story: someone is dead, someone is considered guilty, Hercule Poirot comes to investigate and solve the crime as little clues and red herrings follow one another until the final explanation makes sense.
What probably makes this one all different is the little things, such as the fact the biggest catalyst in the story is actually a small picture in the newspaper about four women who got famous because of crimes associated with them. Now that many years have passed why would it be such a big deal? The thing is, the first person to be killed might have seen something in one of the houses where she was working as a cleaning lady. The question is, where and why?

I like investigation books, where we get to follow the clues about how things happened. Even in TV shows I like this, especially if it's things like CSI where what matters the most is how the clues make sense and not how evil or not the bad guys are. In this book I had the same feeling because Agatha Christie makes a point in how the characters' personality is of huge importance but the focus is on the investigation, on collecting clues and not on the violence itself nor do we spend countless pages in the bad guys' heads. I like this style of suspense/thriller books.

The story is not the most complex the author has created. It's certainly not up to the level of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or Then There Were None. What makes this story alive is the little things, seemingly inconsequential, but that can make all sense if the right context is there for them to fit into.
I liked that we got to think about the fictional four women and how they might be different from that the paper portrayed them as and maybe they were quite dangerous then and still might be now.
I also think it's interesting how in this book it felt as if the characters had been arranged conveniently to a role and they played that role well. 

As always, there are some hints of what the author herself thought about mundane, realistic things in the way she put some characters thinking or doing certain things. I don't think this is always easy to spot but in this book it felt so, like how criticism is made of those who prefer flash to fidelity when adapting things to the movies or how young women should think well before leaving kind feelings like friendship and kindness to unknown adventurous when thinking about someone to be with.
Hercule Poirot seems to embody different ideas, though. Considering how his series ended, though, perhaps one could already read between the lines how he was made to look rather tired of the things he didn't enjoy.

After all the good little things about this story, the final revelation about who is the real killer comes and I must say it was quite ingenious but I think in terms of personality and suitability, there were other characters who could have be better choices. In fact, there is one or two details when some people are excluded from being the killer that didn't quite fit. I would say, based on this alone, perhaps the author went more for a shock factor rather than a reasonable one.
Nevertheless, it was a good story to read and I'm just glad there are still a few by her I haven't read yet.
Grade: 8/10

Monday, January 6, 2020

My Life According to Books 2019

Here is the little fun exercise I've been doing for some years now, copied from another blog, also years ago. The idea is to present a list of random life related questions and answer them with titles of books we read in a certain year. This is for 2019!
Describe yourself:
Forgotten and Remembered, Bree Wolf

How do you feel:
My Brain on Fire, Susannah Calahan

Describe where you currently live:
Bay of Sighs, Nora Roberts

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Shifter Planet, DB Reynolds

Your favorite form of transportation:
  Tailspin, Sandra Brown

Your best friend is:
A Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

You and your friends are:
Love and Loyalty, Tere Michaels

What's the weather like:
In theDays of Rain, Rebecca Stott

What is life to you:
The Bravest Thing, Laura Lascarso

Favorite time of day:
Mist of Midnight, Sandra Byrd

Your biggest fear:
The Shadow Land, Elizabeth Kostova

What is the best advice you have to give:
Silence is Golden, Robert Thier

Thought for the day
This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay

How would you like to die:
Shinning Through, Susan Isaacs

Your soul's current condition:
Flawless, Jan Moran

Happy reading, everyone!!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

2019 Statistics and Favorite Books

As many readers out there, I've summarized my reading year in some numbers too, and I have a best of as well.
I'm copying some structure I've used in previous' years statistics posts but I have to say my top 5 favorite books really was only five in 2019. I've read many good stories but I only gave a higher mark or grade to the five I'll mention.
I hope your year provided many excellent reads, more than mine! It's interesting, so many books were "almost there" but I've become picky or things just don't dazzle me as much anymore...who knows...

In 2019 I've read 213 books, more in October (21 books) and less in November (15 books). This means an average of 17.75 books/month.
All these books mean 65787 pages, an average of 308,85 per book. Curiously, I've read more pages in October and less in May.

Of all the books read, 122 were by known authors to me and 91 by new authors.

The first book of the year was Queen Margot by Dumas, in the middle was Freud's Sister by Goce Simlevsky and the last one was Into the Dark by Karen Rose.

Of all the books I read, I loved 5, liked 111, thought 79 were so-so, I didn't enjoy much of 16 and 2 were DNF's. The DNF status is something I only stated to "grade" this year... the TBR size really is prohibitive if I want to read every excruciating book.

The genres I read are distributed the following way: Contemporary (56), Historical (49), Fiction(38), PNR (23), M/M (27), Fantasy/Sci-Fi (11), and thrillers (8) and 1 YA.

I've purchased 68 books, spending around 601€. An average of 50€/month more or less.
I spent more in November and less in January, May and December because I didn't buy books in those months.
I bought less books and spent less than in 2018 but the prices overall are higher which means the savings are not that considerable. I was able to get some free books as well, which helps but, of course, I like to choose what I want and not be just dependent on what is in free offers.

My TBR says around 560 on Goodreads but there are books I have not added so the number is realistically higher than that. I know, it's huge and I can't keep up...and it will likely be too difficult to solve this issue as I keep adding more books...

Books Read!

->I gave 5 stars to 5 books but mostly because they meant something for me at the moment. I probably would change my opinion were I to read them with a different mood. They aren't all well liked by the majority of readers who tried them but, for me, they really worked. 
I should repeat that most of the books I've read were not published in 2019. I'm a "collector" so I rarely have time to dedicate myself that much to new releases. Besides, after a few months or years, the price usually can be found cheaper...

As mentioned, I've classified two books as DNF because they just were not being enjoyable for me. Things work in completely different ways to everyone, so those books are liked by many but really, time passes by, people do not get any younger....

Favorites in no order 
Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews
The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston
From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata
Ravensong by TJ Klune

Favorite M/M books (no order)
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston
Ravensong by TJ Klune
The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen

Less liked books, DNF'd
Unclean Spirits by ML Hanover
American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Best in general: 
Red, White and Royal Blue because it was engaging and just so easy to want to read too.

Worst in general:
The two I've mentioned. I didn't find the writing in either appealing, the plots had potential but to be honest, I just didn't care enough.

💧Globally, I've noticed I'm not as easily pleased even if the book has a lot of positive aspects that work almost to perfection for me. But it's always difficult to offer all the necessary elements to always work for each individual reader. Still, the challenge continues!
Happy reading everyone, and once more, until this year's statistics!