Thursday, April 26, 2018

A. M. Dean - The Lost Library

Knowledge is power and power can kill . . .
He was the keeper - Arno Holmstrand is about to die, his life cut short by an organization intent on taking all of his secrets about the one thing he has spent a lifetime guarding: the wherabouts and vast knowledge of the Library of Alexandria.
She will inherit his legacy - Emily Wess is about to have her life change beyond all recognition. One minute she is a professor of history, the next she is flying around the world deciphering clues left by her mentor Arno Holmstrand. Is she being tested?
They will kill for control - They are the Council and crave power and position. Their courruption spreads from the highest points of government to the assassins they hire to commit their crimes.They will kill for the ancient knowledge contained in the Library. And Emily Wess has exactly what they want.

Comment: I got this book in Portuguese at a book fair last year. I confess I didn't even know about the existence of this book but while browsing, I saw the cover and since I mostly like Egyptian related mysteries in fiction, I got interested in the story. Plus, it was referenced that this would be a story alike those of Dan Brown and no matter people's opinions, he can at least entertain the reader, so I was curious to be entertained by this book as well.

In this story we meet Emily Wess, an university teacher who will see her life change after the death of a former mentor, Arno Holmstrand since he left her clues to discover the secret of the location of the library of Alexandria, something everyone thought had been lost forever.
However, Emily's task won't be easy and she will need to use all her knowledge and cunning to overcome an organization that also wants to have the knowledge of the library for themselves. This organization has spies and contacts in almost every place, including the White House. 
With the power of such an organization behind the most complicated steps, can Emily still be one step ahead of them?

In the aftermath of adventure stories featuring knowledgeable heroes and heroines who uncover secrets and present amazing scenarios where theories come back to reality about issues still to solve or filled with imaginative ideas, the author of this book has set his heroes to discover the lost library of Alexandria, one of those mysteries lost in time.
I tend to like these sort of stories where information and theories are presented and mixed together to carry the reader towards a final (if unlikely) scene where we can discover things.

Often, I put aside any realistic content and historical inaccuracy only to be entertained by the plot and how believable it can be even in the most fictional scenarios.
This is why I've enjoyed Dan Brown's stories int he past, not because his theories are possible or believable or set in historical facts but because there are enough hints of that plus with an engaging amount of information that makes sense in that story. It's the steps taken and the things one can learn that make books like these interesting for me.

This book has all of the above which, in theory, should be enough to make it a success to me but the truth is that, unlike some other books in the genre - and some I've really loved, with this story I missed the more engaging use of clues to convince the reader of what was happening.
I felt this story focused too much on the villain's POV and their (somewhat silly) aspirations and not as much on the adventure. Things were too simple, too quickly solved, too easy at times for it to be a convincing story. 
I don't mean to say that Emily should have gotten a more difficult task uncovering the clues to move along, only that her actions weren't spaced out convincingly. I can understand the need for a quick "quest" in order for the urgency of a bad guy behind not getting there first but... perhaps if things took longer in time but with Emily one step ahead would have been better. This doesn't mean the bad guys wouldn't be a threat, I can't understand why authors don't make things like this more often.

When the final scenes happen, and the reader is in possession of all the secrets, I must say I was a little bit disappointed. I mean, from a sociology POV I get why Emily acted the way she did but part of the fun of mysteries and things we don't know is precisely that, the fact we can still think about it. In this regard, the end of the book wasn't something I found a good choice.

As for the characters...Emily is a good heroine, she is clever, she isn't bound by any limitations except time and her care for others. But these same aspects make her move along nicely to the step ahead. At the same time, her personality was too simple, she was just a good person with doubts and a task.
She has "helpers" along the way, but those also seem to just fulfill a role.
The villains are too silly. I'd have preferred more anonymous characters, like people not after the power of the library itself but maybe the need for them to own it or something... the way things happened, everything was almost superficial. No surprises in the search nor in the outcome.

All in all, this was an easy story to read, it's as fast paced as most books in this genre, but I think despite some interesting data and historical facts, this wasn't as amazing as it could have been. Some elements were certainly under played and others over done so... not much balance overall. But still entertaining for the most part.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Amy Harmon - The Law of Moses

Someone found him in a laundry basket at the Quick Wash, wrapped in a towel, a few hours old and close to death. They called him Baby Moses when they shared his story on the ten o’clock news – the little baby left in a basket at a dingy Laundromat, born to a crack addict and expected to have all sorts of problems. I imagined the crack baby, Moses, having a giant crack that ran down his body, like he’d been broken at birth. I knew that wasn’t what the term meant, but the image stuck in my mind. Maybe the fact that he was broken drew me to him from the start.
It all happened before I was born, and by the time I met Moses and my mom told me all about him, the story was old news and nobody wanted anything to do with him. People love babies, even sick babies. Even crack babies. But babies grow up to be kids, and kids grow up to be teenagers. Nobody wants a messed up teenager.
And Moses was messed up. Moses was a law unto himself. But he was also strange and exotic and beautiful. To be with him would change my life in ways I could never have imagined. Maybe I should have stayed away. Maybe I should have listened. My mother warned me. Even Moses warned me. But I didn’t stay away.
And so begins a story of pain and promise, of heartache and healing, of life and death. A story of before and after, of new beginnings and never-endings. But most of all...a love story.

Comment: I was given this book last Christmas from my friend H. I had the intention of reading it sooner but between trying to complete my personal lists and busy weeks at work here and there, only now did I finally got to it.

In this book we meet Moses and Georgia, two people who meet when children and who got reconnected when Moses comes back to live with his grandmother. Moses is a somewhat famous kid because everyone knows who his drug addicted mother left him in a basket and he was close to die before being rescued. 
Moses is a strange kid and weird still later on as a teenager. He paints wonderfully ut his choices of places to do so are very random and not always appreciated. Problems develop when Moses paints the images of girls who are missing and no one can find. 
Georgia is a neighbor who feels sorry for Moses, then wants to be his friend and later on they even got involved. But something happens that changes Moses' path in life and the future brings even more tragedy before Moses and Georgia can think about the love that brings them together... 

I'm not a new reader to this author. I've read other stories by her in the past and enjoyed them even though her characters are too much in that gray area of teenager towards a grown up, the so called "new adult" that I don't always like that much. This author is different because the story isn't all spent in one moment of the characters lives and there's some evolution in time, which helps me feeling more interested in reading her books.

In this story I can say that half the story is spent when Moses and Georgia are teenagers (18 and 17 if I remember correctly) but the second half is seven years later and that puts them a bit far along in terms of maturity. The plot itself also has some situations that are dealt with from a very emotional POV and that also brings some emotional depth to what happens. These two things together make the story appear more complex and angsty which appeals more when one thinks about the overall content.

Georgia and Moses go through some complicated issues, personally and about them as a couple. 
However, despite how serious the subject is and how emotional the response is when reading and imagining these scenarios in our heads, I must say I got the impression some things weren't that smoothly inserted in the story. Some things felt like the author has thought about them too much, wanted to add them and stressed some issues in a way that didn't feel fluid. I ended up thinking that what probably made me think like this was the choice of POV we have here: first person, and alternate chapters from Moses and Georgia.

First person often works out well, especially in stories where the "narrator" is someone whose voice we can't let go. But in this case, I'd have preferred to have third person, maybe the emotional content would have been better portrayed because it could encompass more than just one person's feelings. (Which weren't all that believable despite the angst)
I also think, when compared to her PNR or fantasy stories, these contemporary titles always offer a paranormal detail that isn't always well accomplished in this genre.

Moses is a fascinating character and he has this weird ability to see dead people who sort of give him clues - which he then paints - but he only thought it was his brain playing tricks on him because of how he was born of a drugged mother. On one hand, I really liked this aspect of the novel, it was different, interesting, allowed for many fascinating perspectives. But how it was portrayed...or people would just accept, while others didn't, too black and white...I just think this wasn't as well dealt as it could. But Moses was an engaging character and I lied him for the most part.

Georgia is someone the reader can sympathize with but she isn't that kind of memorable character...she is just likable and sweet enough to make us happy she will be happy. I think because of her simplicity of character - not personality! - to counterbalance Moses', the author has imagined quite angsty ways to make her more interesting but for me not always well enough.

At the end of the story, I was happy enough with the way things were solved, I confess I cried a few times but this is not the type of thing one couldn't see in any other book where similar subjects are dealt with.
Really too bad about the first person narrator. Perhaps it's just me, but I think too much importance was given to this tactic and not all stories are well presented in this manner nor are all writers like Ilona Andrews, for instance, whose talent for this tactic is superb perfection.
There is a sequel to this book that I'll try to get eventually, but it's not yet a priority.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, April 20, 2018

JR Ward - The Thief

Sola Morte, former cat burglar and safecracker, has given up her old life on the wrong side of the law. On the run from a drug lord's family, she is lying low far from Caldwell, keeping her nose clean and her beloved grandmother safe. Her heart, though, is back up north, with the only man who has ever gotten through her defenses: Assail, son of Assail, who never meant to fall in love--and certainly not with a human woman. But they have no future, and not just because she doesn't know he is a vampire, but because he is not about to stop dealing arms to the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Fate, however, has other plans for them. When Assail falls into a coma and lingers on the verge of death, his cousins seek out Sola and beg her to give him a reason to live. The last thing she wants is a return to her past, but how can she leave him to die?
As a lethal new enemy of the vampires shows its face, and the Brotherhood needs Assail back on his feet, Sola finds herself not only a target, but a mission-critical force in a war she doesn't understand. And when Assail's truth comes out, will she run from the horror . . . or follow her heart into the arms of the male who loves her more than life itself?

Comment: This is the most recent installment in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by JR Ward, still one of my favorite series ever. This is book #16 and it focuses on Assail and Sola.

Assail has had a life of control and power over his affairs but meeting Sola and sort of bonding with her, trying to think of ways to help and protect her has made him think twice about his past choices. To become a better person he has decided to fight his cocaine addiction with the help of the BDB doctors. However his mind and his body are struggling too much to stay alive and his cousins Ehric and Evale decide to try another tactic: to find Sola.
Sola and her mother are living in Florida as a means for Sola to stay away from the mess she used to be in when she was doing shady jobs as a thief. In order to fulfill a promise she moved with her beloved grandmother and is trying to stay away from everything she used to know, including the mysterious Assail with whom she fell in love with but wants to forget. 
Now that Sola knows Assail is "sick" and might not live, can she go back to him to say goodbye? Or will her presence turn out to be a miracle?

Before getting into my thoughts about this story I just want to repeat some things from my comments of the previous books in thes eries, just to get it out of the way:
- I still love these books despite the romance of the supposed "main couple" not being the only focus anymore.
- Even if this is more urban fantasy, I still appreciate the amazing world and characters.
- Many readers dislike the multiple POVs which make the story confusing and without much closeness to the characters and while this could be a bit avoided, I still enjoy the overall work.

I liked this book in general but I must say there were two details about the story itself (as opposed to the overall story line) that could have been done differently and wouldn't be a betrayal of the author's vision for the book.
First, I would certainly include a lot less scenes/moments with the villains or bad guys plotting their plans ans thinking about their hate of the heroes or something. I can understand this need to keep the reader updated to some details but...for me, totally avoidable. And it seems more bad characters will show up and I think it's unnecessary.
Another aspect is how the relationship between Sola and Assail ends up. Ok, they have their HEA and we know they will be happy and will solve things but there was still some indecisive situations I'd have liked to see solved right now.

As for the romance itself, it was sweet in a way I wouldn't imagine if one were to consider Assail as he was when he first appeared a few books ago. I like this new person he turned out to be even if he feels lost now that he doesn't have much to work on.
Sola is a good heroine because she cares for those she loves and she is confident in her abilities.
But yes, I's have loved a bit more about them as characters part of this world. Perhaps the problem is that we don't really know what's their role in the bigger scheme...

The other several plot lines provided very interesting details about so many things...I really love this sense that I have when I read the books because having a lot of information - even if distracting at times - means I'm "closer" to the characters I came to love and hear about. As if we, the readers, are a little part of those character's lives.
I especially liked knowing a character quite discussed by readers is coming to scene at last and that some new events will take place in the next book that will certainly mean another interesting romance...

All things considered, this worked out for me quite well, except for a couple of details I'd change. But it's like visiting friends, when I read a story set in this world.
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.
Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.

Comment: I bought this book last year but of course it's something I had had my eye on for a long time and this month I finally picked it. I can only assume all devoted readers have certainly heard of it if not familiar with the plot itself. I was curious how I would read this story about firemen burning books instead of saving them...

In this (not that long) story we meet Guy Montag, a fireman who lives in a society/world where people are practically slaves to technology and are taught to not think for themselves. As a result, books have became forbidden, they are burned, and the fireman work as executioner's here, instead of saving and protecting people/things.
Guy has always accepted the reality until one day. He ends up saving a book, being curious about it and he goes on a journey to understand why he is changing but that can't be done without others noticing. Guy will try to understand what is it about books that can be so scaring but will he save himself first?

I must say I feel conflicted: I liked the general idea of this book and the potential scenarios one would imagine about what it means to burn books (thus, knowledge) but the way the story was presented was very confusing. 
I see many readers have enjoyed this dystopian story about such a different society that makes people act and not think. I also liked some elements and the notion it could be so easy to let go of our ability to think and to wonder. Books certainly help and to imagine a world where we burn them because they would cause harm is incomprehensible.

This is literary fiction so of course part of the story is certainly purposely metaphorical and open to interpretations, especially the way Guy thinks and deals with the things surrounding him.
From a literary POV, I can totally appreciate the beauty of the words, the notions presented and even with a certain character explains why people shouldn't be allowed to think for themselves, to use books to have knowledge to think differently, those words are well done, are a huge message well written, even if anathema to any book lover.

My problem is that, trying to keep things so evocative and almost philosophical, the characters, their movements and the plot itself are lost and for long moments I'm just confused about what we ae supposed to be aware of. What is actually happening to Guy's wife? What is Guy doing when he mentions some details about his actions? It's quite fun to have sentences to let us make our own minds but that can also distract the reader from real actions the characters perform and some things were way too complicated to decipher.
I'd say that the image the author gives us is great but I need more detailed characters and substance to fully sympathize with what happens with the characters. I must say I finished the book being able to simply put the story aside but I can keep up a certain distance from the book's message without problem.

For many, the book is actually about being numb. People who care nothing about real life but are 100% focused on TV and fictional stuff just don't let themselves care about what should matter the most. 
This book was written in 1953 but one doesn't need to go far to see today's society has totally migrated to the basics of what we have in this book: people becoming numb about important matters because they are surrounded by TV that has no substance and things that don't require much thinking.

I found this book close to being very good but I feel a more solid view of the characters, even their lack of initiative and self awareness would have made the story easier to analyze. Some readers say this might get into the non-fiction category one day, since it's barely there when it comes to the character's lives and it's more about the generic concepts. Sincerely, I just think it can be quite boring if ones can't focus on what's on the page. So, this ended up being in the "middle" of the enjoyment, for me.
Grade: 6/10

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

TBR Challenge: Judith McNaught - Something Wonderful

The tempestuous marriage of Alexandra Lawrence, an innocent country girl, and Jordan Townsende, the rich and powerful Duke of Hawthorne, is about to face its ultimate test of tender loyalty. Swept into the endlessly fascinating world of London society, free-spirited Alexandra becomes ensnared in a tangled web of jealousy and revenge, stormy pride and overwhelming passion. But behind her husband's cold, arrogant mask, there lives a tender, vital, sensual man...the man Alexandra married. Now, she will fight for his very life...and the rapturous bond they alone can share.

Comment: It's time for another TBR Challenge post. This time the theme is Kicking It Old School, which means a book whose original publication date is older than 10 years. I could have picked one of many, many possible ones... I also have recent titles but older ones are quite plenty in my shelves as well. 
I picked this author, not only because this book was originally published in 1988 - which totally meets the theme criteria - even though my paperback edition is from 1990 - again, on theme - but also because I did read the first story in this Sequels trilogy and despite the dated plot, I enjoyed the book. Of course I wanted to get that feeling back with this one.

In this second Sequels story we meet duke Jordan Townsende, a man who has always seen how aristocrat couples don't trust each other, how society mocks those who do and his parents, being well known members of such society of course neglected him while having too high expectations. Jordan, as any rebel child would do, obviously imitates them in his wild and careless behavior, seducing women and living a carefree life.
In comes Alexandra Lawrence, a 10 years younger woman when comparing to Jordan but whose approach to life is completely different, she is optimistic, cheerful and trusts and cares for those around her. However, Alex has had her disappointments and sadness, especially when it comes to how she idealized her father as someone quite different from reality and he betrayed her love and trust. This hasn't changed Alex and when the opportunity arises to save Jordan, she does not caring about the repercussions.
Although, of course others noticed they spent time together in an inn but despite nothing having happened, they end up marrying. Now, can two different people be a match for one another?

I believe I must have sounded a little sarcastic back there while describing Jordan. But the reality is that it did annoy me a bit how he, the hero, is so much better in some things than everyone else, we are told he excelled in everything while growing up but he certainly didn't use his cleverness to see though society and its rules and simply be a better person on his own.
I can understand this need to make the hero someone who changes almost drastically to better evidence the reason why love conquers all but even accepting this 80s styled plots and details, it did annoy me a bit how he behaved.

Now that this out of my chest, I can say I did have fun reading this story. There are several passages which certainly are supposed to be angsty but I'm quite glad it's not something exaggerated. I liked Alexandra a lot and her antics were synonym of happiness and sweetness, something I liked seeing was affecting almost everyone around her. She wasn't totally childish but at the beginning she is a sort of sheltered 17 - despite her disappointment about her father - and I feared he wouldn't be a good match for Jordan. I liked the development of their relationship although, one must look at this book through a time lens.

There are some details which are timeless and the author has included some passage of time between the romance steps to make it more obvious time passed, the characters grew up (in Alexandra's case) or thought about their priorities (Jordan's) and the idea is that they changed a bit. But when the story starts Alex is only 17 and I must say some scenes were not easy to just accept even considering this is an historical and at the time girls had very different lives and maturity from nowadays' teenagers. Nothing bad happens but...ehh one can tell this is a story written in the past.

The plot isn't complicated, follows the usual expectations about people overcoming several tricky situations, finding out the other person isn't exactly as they are portrayed, they get to fall in love... I liked all these aspects of course, but at the same time, some scenes just felt so dramatic and didn't seem to suit the rest of the story. The last hurdle, closer to the end of the book which made the HEA being delayed some pages further...I mean, I see the potential but it was totally pointless in my POV.
The secondary characters fulfilled their roles, in some cases were key for the protagonists to shine but it's very clear they weren't that important save for the necessary interactions. Still, the story felt rich and detailed.

All in all, this was a positive read because despite my preference or lack of it for some elements, everything was set up quite well.
I hope the third book has some different notions but I don't have much hopes. As long as the story is engaging and shows a vivid picture, I guess I can't say I wasn't entertained.
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Jessica Clare - The Billionaire and the Virgin

Marjorie Ivarsson is the picture of naivete. A hardworking waitress raised by her grandmother, an evening playing bingo is her sort of socialising. But when she's invited to be a bridesmaid at her friend Bronte's wedding, she enters a whole new world.
Whisked away to the billionaire groom's private island, Marjorie is awe-struck by the glitz and glamour. But what dazzles her most is notorious playboy and hot-shot TV producer Robert Cannon.
After Marjorie saves Robert from drowning in the island's turquoise lagoon, she can't help but feel drawn to him. But she's not the only woman intrigued, and with his wild and womanising ways, they couldn't be more wrong for each other. With the blistering attraction between them becoming hard to ignore, and the idyllic, irresistibly romantic island as their playground - will opposites attract?

Comment: This book got on my radar in 2015 but as usual after so long I can't remember exactly why but I assume it was because this is a romance with very different people, a sort of opposites attract and I got curious about how the story would develop.
I've also managed to convince my friend H. to read it...

In this story we meet Marjorie, a woman who finds herself in a resort with some friends to celebrate the wedding of one of them. The groom is a very wealthy man who makes the week-a-long possible and Marjorie is looking for to have fun with friends her age, since most of her routines revolve around being closer to older people, something she doesn't mind for she is a truly caring person.
Rob Cannon is a jaded billionaire who started a cable channel where his shows are the reality show's variety. Men envy him his status, women want to be with him or in his shows and he feels very cynical about everything. Trying to make a deal, he decides to stay at the same resort to convince the groom to have a meeting but things don't go well and while at the beach to stay away from women throwing themselves at him, he almost drowns because of a cramp. Marjorie notices this and saves him and he feels attracted by her genuine caring and apparent simplicity.
The two have nothing in common but a series of situations will make it possible for them to know one another and it's likely there's always someone meant for everyone...

This is my first book by this author. I've seen she has other pen names or this is one but I haven't felt the curiosity to try her stories, no matter the name. The blurb of this one was enough to make me try but I must say I didn't finish the book thinking I must get all her back list right now.
Another thing: this is the first in the Billionaires and Bridesmaids series but it's obvious there is a connection between this series and another by the author. Several characters are recurrent and there are some references to them. Although I didn't feel I should have read the other stories, it's quite obvious some information could be more appreciated if so.

This story has an ingredient that was catnip for me: I wanted to see how the relationship between someone apparently shy and quiet (heroine) with an exuberant and loud person (hero) would happen while the heroine kept her calmer personality. Although Marjorie didn't stop being a sweet person and at the end her decision to be with Rob was a validation of her knowing her feelings, I can't help thinking she was always portrayed as a too silly person.

Marjorie is a shy woman, she prefers the safety of older generations who allow her to be who she is without the fear of rejection because of what she thinks as her "faults". I can totally emphasize with her, I also struggle to connect with my generation or younger. What has bothered me the most was how there's always this sense other people saw Marjorie as someone who would be mocked (because of her looks, her way of dressing, of behaving). In fact, most female characters were pretty labeled and it almost felt as if they weren't as able as the men, to just be themselves with confidence. (even when such was being written on the page)

I suppose there's a purpose here, to put in evidence the fact men are sort of stronger, richer and more able to do things to help the heroine, portrayed as quieter and in more need, whether financially or socially. I don't mind this idea because I always tend to see how a balance is achieved in such relationships, how both partners can have common ground, that is the fun part. But in this book the heroine and her friend, the bride, don't seem to have reached such a stage.

Perhaps the problem is how the heroes are made to look overbearing and too much? I got this vibe from the groom - on the rare occasions, I must say, he was on the page - and from Rob, the hero.
Rob is the epitome of all the prejudices about vain, cynical, selfish contemporary guys. He has it all already but he keeps pursuing things without any value or interest unless they get him more money and fame. I can understand this need to totally oppose Marjorie but apart from the romance angle - although Rob starts to want to make a conquest out of Marjorie - do they really have anything in common to the point of being credible a lengthy relationship between the two of them? We are certainly told so by all the silly scenes that are meant to convince us of how easy it is between them but... I wasn't totally sold on this.

The writing is easy to go through but I got the feeling the author tried to insert fun scenes, comedy situations to impress us the most about all the whys these two different people would end up trying to be together that, in the end, despite the cute HEA, I wasn't very happy with the way things developed between the two of them, especially when it looked like Rob was just trying to deceive Marjorie.
Perhaps I'm losing my filter of comedies because not many stories nowadays feel that funny to me and in the end, when things change so much to accommodate an HEA...well, again, I wasn't convinced and that made the story less appealing overall.
With so many books in my TBR, I won't be looking for more by this author so soon but maybe one day...
Grade: 5/10

Saturday, April 14, 2018

An idea

I'm just going to leave a link for the weekend.
One of the sites I usually visit to read some reviews or to just find subjects related to books is All About Romance.
For years, the site (now improved) has run a poll about the best romances to have in a list. This year, this poll is being done again, so anyone interesting in reading about it or even participating, can read it here:

That said, happy readings and enjoy the weekend!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Mechele Armstrong - Currents

A blacksmith has never seemed so sexy to the vampire Henri until he meets Nathan, the son of a dying friend. Nathan's everything he isn't. Impulsive and carefree, poetry in motion, and yet, there's an incredible power lurking inside those muscular depths: the critical ability to draw off emotions.
Beyond the growing bond between them, trouble lurks. For another vampire, Bellario, has discovered what Nathan can do and wants it for himself. He'll use anything to get it, including Nathan's neighbors and a former lover, who's bent on revenge, against Nathan.
Henri's determined not to lose Nathan like he lost his last student. But his blood lust threatens, and if he can't contain it, people will die. Nathan's siphoning powers help, but they're no match for Henri's emotional rush. Making him a vampire will increase those powers, Henri has sworn not to turn him unless his life is in danger.
That condition is filled when Bellario's riled up mob comes to burn Nathan out. But will Nathan and Henri be able to fight the crush and forge the currents of lust into something more lasting?

Comment: This is the first installment in a series by Mechele Armstrong, Blood Lines. I got this novella years ago, after I started to be interested in m/m stories. I can't remember anymore when exactly. At the time, however, I was still trying to see what I liked in the m/m spectrum and I was still very much dedicated to vampire stories so that must have been it.

In this shorter story, the author introduces a new world where vampires exist among humans. The story starts when Henri, an apparently older vampire is arriving at the house of a former servant who married and left his house many decades ago. She is dying so Henri wanted to see her one last time. The woman also wanted him to protect her son Nathan, for he has special powers, he can downplay the emotions of others and some bad vampire wants to turn Nathan for his own purposes. Henri is very attracted to Nathan but he is still a moral person despite his actions as a vampire. He won't do anything to Nathan unless he can see it's by Nathan's free will.
However, time isn't much because the bad vampire really wants to end things quickly and Nathan and Henri end up in danger. Can they come out alive?

First of all, this is not my premiere with this author. Even before getting this book, I had read another title by her: this one in this Goodreads' link.
That other book I read way before I got the blog but since it wasn't that memorable for me, I wouldn't try the author's work if not for this another title. It's not that the writing isn't good, but there's nothing in the two books - so far - I've read that scream to me to keep going.

This shorter story is the first in a series and by looking at the blurbs of the following ones, most are related to characters not mentioned in this book, which is not that strange but I don't feel compelled to discover more.
This sort of prequel has two or three interesting details (like why Nathan has special abilities and would others?, does the action move forward in time or is all more historically set?, like do mates bond for special reasons or are they more randomly suitable like Henri and Nathan seemed to be?), but for the most part the descriptions weren't enough to over compensate the amount of sex or sex thoughts and the bad guy's air time. This is a short story and I feel not enough attention was given to set up the world properly and we had to read through not as interesting stuff (to me).

The romance is obviously too quick. I say obviously because the fact they would end up together is a given but the road to that point happens too quickly even if one considers how easily they can understand each others' emotions and that there's the bond vibe from the start. But, personally, too much focus is given to the sexual attraction and the sex itself, this occupies too much page space.
Henri and Nathan can be quite suitable but I think it would have been better, for a shorter story, to have them deal with sexual attraction, acceptance of their feelings though some more interacting scenes, even if this meant no sex would happen. I totally get this has some erotica vibe as well but... some things are better left to wonder about, I think.

The plot itself isn't too complicated, it's easily dealt with and in terms of world, of motivations to look for different things, things aren't new nor captivating. I don't feel like spending more time in this world by this book alone.
The bad guy is very obvious, a bit of a vampire cliché and the time we spend knowing his thoughts is totally pointless to me.

All in all, this wasn't difficult to read but it was not the best thing ever to me either. I can see the purpose and the attempt to introduce elements to make the story interesting but for me it didn't stand the passage of time (and of my change in preferences) when it comes to the whole picture.
But, you know, one less book in the pile...
Grade: 5/10

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mary Balogh - Simply Perfect

Set against the seductive backdrop of Regency England, New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh’s latest novel sweeps us into the sensual, enthralling world of an elite academy for young ladies. Here, amid music lessons and garden parties, whispered confessions and secret yearnings, one of the school’s teachers—headmistress Claudia Martin—will find her well-ordered world jolted by love when she meets a man who would make the perfect husband…for somebody else.
Tall, dark, and exquisitely sensual, he is the epitome of male perfection. Not that Claudia Martin is looking for a lover. Or a husband. As owner and headmistress of Miss Martin’s School for Girls in Bath, she long ago resigned herself to a life without love. Until Joseph, Marquess of Attingsborough, arrives unannounced and tempts her to toss away a lifetime of propriety for an affair that can only lead to ruin.
Joseph has his own reasons for seeking Claudia out. Instantly, irresistibly attracted to the dedicated teacher, he embarks on a plan of seduction that leaves them both yearning for more. But as heir to a prestigious dukedom, Joseph is expected to carry on his family’s legacy. And Claudia knows she has no place in his world.
Now that world is about to be rocked by scandal. An arranged marriage, a secret that will shock the ton, and a man from Claudia’s past conspire to drive the lovers apart. But Joseph is determined to make Claudia his at any cost. Even if that means defying convention and breaking every rule for a love that is everything he has ever wanted—a love that is perfection itself…

Comment: This is the fourth installment in the Simply Quartet series by author Mary Balogh. In this final story about a group of teachers at Miss Martin's School for Girls, we finally have Miss Martin herself as protagonist. I was very eager to read her story and, unlike some readers, I enjoyed the majority of how everything was dealt with but there you go, everyone has different perspectives.

Miss Claudia Martin is a proud, independent woman of 35, she has lost three of her greatest friends to aristocratic marriages but despite her dislike for titled gentlemen in general, she does appreciate her friends married for love and are happy. However, feeling lonely isn't something new and her life goes on. 
One of her friends, however, sets in motion the biggest change in Claudia's life when she asks Joseph, the marquess of Attingsborough, to help Claudia and two of her older pupils in a journey where Claudia plans on seeing possible employers for the girls now that they are old enough to work. Claudia didn't want to owe a favor to a marquess but as they travel, she gets to see he isn't as idle and careless as many others.
New situations related to known characters and a come back from Claudia's past put her life and choices in perspective and in the end, Claudia must decide if happiness is actually in her grasp.

I did enjoy this story a lot. I confess I had good expectations because Claudia has always appeared to be a stiff, proper woman and I like to see stories where love and care transform characters somehow, especially while still maintaining their personalities and moral choices. I wouldn't have liked to see Claudia change completely but it was sweet to see how romance and a conscious understanding of who was with her made her more approachable. At least, to me, this romance story felt balanced between two mature characters and their actions seemed so in my POV.

The plot is very much alike the previous four, the two protagonists manage to spend a long time together or close by because of time spent in house parties given by the Bedwyns and other characters known by those who have read both series. (This also means that despite the stories being readable as stand alones, it's better to have read things in order)
This tactic is repetitive but at the same time it's the easiest to explain how people from different status can mingle together without scandal. 
I don't mind to suspend belief in historicals. There is a set of "rules" and notions that have to obviously be met, otherwise it wouldn't be an historical, but I don't feel the need to follow each and every protocol to appreciate the romances. Concerning this, it also makes for interesting scenes, to see how characters react to different settings outside their supposed comfort zones.

Both Claudia and Joseph connect due to emotional matters and I liked this a lot, they are adults, they do have a lot in common and I liked they seemed to be sync with one another. I won't go into spoilers but there are other reasons why they bond rather quickly. I didn't mind how their relationship evolved because for me, their feelings were portrayed convincingly. I did love all the little scenes with other characters, where it felt like a validation of their love how others reacted to a possible agreement between them.
As expected, there are some antagonists, some situations that can't be perceived as just opposition to the goodness but I got the feeling everything was relatively balanced and I just enjoyed reading and turning each page.

I did like this story, it left me with a smile, it made me feel glad that certainly there is something good out there and even though this is fiction, it made my day lighter.
I consider myself a fan of this author so I'll certainly read more by her in the future.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Lynsay Sands - Under a Vampire Moon

Escaping a horrible marriage, Carolyn Connor has no desire to think about men — a vow she's determined to keep while on vacation in St. Lucia. She'll take the Caribbean sun and sea and plenty of tropical drinks with those cute umbrellas poolside, thank you. She absolutely does not need male company, no matter how tan and rock-hard his body may be.
Easy enough, but then Carolyn meets the charming Marguerite Argeneau, who is infamous among her family for her matchmaking prowess...
Christian Notte has well known the power of finding a life mate. He's seen enough of his Argeneau relatives taken down for the count, but he never imagined he'd let himself fall in love — until he meets the enthralling, charmingly skittish, and oh-so-mortal Carolyn. But how will he reveal what he is and still convince this once-bitten mortal to trust him with her heart...and her forever?

Comment: The last story in the Argeneau series I've read by this author was in 2011, when a short story was released along one by author Jeaniene Frost. Since then, I have been "collecting" the books but not reading them. This year I've decided to give them one more advance and this month I picked the one next in line, #16 in this long series... this year of 2018, apparently, there will be released books #27 and #28.

In this installment, we have the story of Christian Notte. For those a fan, perhaps this is clear enough to give you an idea. For those not a fan but curious here's a link with an information page on the author's website where we can also try to see family trees.
Christian Notte is a beloved member of the Argeneau family now his parents are together as lifemates again. His mother, Marguerite, has found his lifemate and the story begins in the Caribbean where Christian and his cousins travel to with the disguise to act as a band in the resort where everyone is staying in.
Carolyn is a 42 year old woman just out of a divorce deal still trying to get happiness back. She didn't count on being attracted to Christian, who looks to be half her age, but it seems there's something about him which is irresistible. But can Carolyn's fears be dealt with in time before something goes wrong between them?

It's been quite a while since I spent time with these characters. I've read the first 15 stories up to 2011 but not all in a row. There is a lot I forgot and now most books remind me of little scenes rather than complete plots. A re-read would need to be in order for me to remember, to probably check if my grading remains the same and to be updated to all the events but I just don't have the time nowadays.
However, I remember the feeling of cuteness and fun and interest I used to have about the characters, different "vampires" from the norm, and all their huge family links and connections.
In fact, it's this total mix of charactes, events, relationships, connections that make the stories vibrant and exciting.
There isn't much change from the usual plot: the characters finding their lifemates, trying to make them love them and eventually accepting a bond. In some stories these "adventures" are funnier, in others more complex, in others more romantic... there are obstacles to overcome of course but how they get to the HEA is what matters, as an HEA is always to expect.

Of course I was expecting this aspect to happen here but I must say this 16th installment wasn't one of my favorites.
Christian has been quite a famous character in the series and I wanted him to be happy but I didn't think his story was that well executed, especially in the way he wooed his lifemate-to-be.
I can understand the purpose was for this plot to be fun but honestly I wasn't that amused because Carolyn is a character whose life hasn't been easy and it felt to me that most things happening in order to make Christian being close to her were over the top silly and seemed necessarily "staged" to me. Yes, one must suspend belief in these fantasy/paranormal stories but...

Carolyn is a woman who, comparing, looks older than Christian. Of course some of the situations that provoked more doubts would be this for her. We know this aspect can be overcome later on but Carolyn doesn't. I expected a bit more refinement in dealing with her (unaware) position in all this. But it looked like her feelings weren't that important as long as they could spend time together.
I also didn't really enjoy how she, as a person, was treated by some characters. Perhaps it was only m, but it felt like she was constantly put in situations she wouldn't have control of or she wouldn't be comfortable in. I can understand why and better done, seem could have been fun scenes but I didn't get that vibe.
At the end, when everything is finally solved and dealt with, with having at last some explanations (not totally convincing), it no longer seems to be important but I couldn't help thinking the relationship wasn't as smooth nor balanced as I recall some other previous ones to be.

As for the vampire angle, I must say I was slightly disappointed so much focus was given to how easy it was for vampires to read minds. Yes, this has always been a detail int his stories, usually well done but in this case I couldn't help noticing the lack of privacy, even when such was mentioned.
Also the secret of vampires existing and all the things related to that were fine until the end when Carolyn had a sudden change in thought and almost seemed to accept things too easily and showed a change in her behavior that looked like too quick and unlikely.

Despite my issues with some details, this was mostly a positive story. It's always nice to get to see characters that we are used to, to see the validation of HEAs on going...
I just don't know if too long has passed since I was committed to this series and this "new" one didn't get me in the right vibe or if I simply can't like this as I used to... let's see, I do plan on reading a few more as the months go by.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Jennifer Moore - Becoming Lady Lockwood

Amelia Beckett is delighted to be a widow. Married by proxy to a man she’d never met, Amelia recognizes that a fortuitous entry into widowhood frees her from meddlesome chaperones and matchmakers. Heiress to her mother’s sugar plantation in Jamaica, she happily anticipates working in a man’s world, with the additional credibility of her new title: Lady Lockwood. But with the arrival of Captain Sir William Drake, her plans quickly go awry . . .
William has traversed the Atlantic with one purpose. If he cannot prove that Amelia’s marriage to his brother was a fraud, she will be entitled to a sizeable portion of his family’s estate. He is determined to return this duplicitous “Lady” to London for an official hearing, and he carries with him a letter that will ensure her cooperation . . .
Left with no choice, Amelia joins the captain on his return voyage to England, and the two quickly find that ship life does not allow for evasion. Amelia and William are ceaselessly thrown together, and amidst fierce storms and ocean battles, what began as antipathy seems to be evolving quite unexpectedly. But as they draw ever closer to their destination, will the impossibility of their circumstances shatter any hope of a future together?

Comment: I got interested in this book back in 2015. I no longer remember where nor why but after finishing the book I guess it was because I've read somewhere it would feature an enemy to lovers sort of plot and I tend to enjoy those. 

In this story we meet Amelia Beckett, a young woman who married my proxy to a man her father had chosen but now that her "husband" is dead she can live a more independent life in her plantation in Jamaica. However, her life changes when her late husband's brother, a captain in the navy, comes to get her back to England where her father, also in the navy, has demanded she get there so the issue related to the inheritance of her husband is settled. Amelia has no need to have her husband's money as she is an heir from her mother's side but she complies only to get things solved and she can return back to her beloved Jamaica.
While on the ship, Amelia faces many adventures, including a brave and daring rescue from french ships and attacks. But while in England, are things going to be solved as easily as Amelia has imagined? And will she simply forget captain Drake, the next lord Lockwood, a man she comes to cherish?

This is my first book by mrs Moore and of course I had no idea how I would enjoy it - or not. This is also a short book, my edition doesn't quite reach 200 pages and I can only assume it was a well thought detail because some situations just didn't feel as well inserted in the plot as they could have.

This is what some label as a "clean romance" and the most risqué scene is a kiss if I remember correctly. I have nothing against clean romances I'm not certain the inferred scenes of understanding and the inner thoughts of the main characters can be elements good enough to convey love as strong as apparently defended by the characters. Clean romances can be as romantic and strong as explicit ones but I must say i didn't feel totally convinced.

The plot of this story has many situations I feel could have been solved better. Or at least faster but since most of the plot is spent in a ship, well, that is an acceptable delaying tactic.
The reasons why Amelia travels and why she has doubts are kept hidden enough to make the reader expectant but somehow the way things are dealt with don't feel as well explained, at least not o the point one thinks the course of action taken was the only possible thing to be done.
When things finally are resolved and the main protagonists can accept their feelings for one another I had the feeling nothing major was accomplished and there was a certain lack of impact in everything.

The romance is sweet, Amelia seems to be the smartest person alive, except when it comes to a man's feelings of course, she is kind and brave and she manages to deceive a ship of french officers and sailors and all that while maintaining her composure.
The relationship with captain Lockwood had all the ingredients to be great: she was his brother's sort of widow, they felt some attraction to one another that considering the situation was funnily dealt with animosity, they would spend time together in a ship, etc. but even accepting this wouldn't be a story filled with sexual tension scenes, I think the progress of their feelings could have been done better.
Captain William Drake is a dedicated officer, he is only leaving his duty because he must assume another and he wants to make things right when it comes to his brother's money and estate and so on. I've never really connected with him for some reason so I didn't feel as invested in the relationship as a whole. Nothing wrong with either main character but... quite bland, both of them.

I liked some details about the life in the ship, about the way each individual is an important piece of a whole... but the elements directly related to the plot weren't all very fascinating.
I'm not certain I'll read another book by the author but perhaps one day...
Grade: 6/10