Saturday, February 17, 2018

Michelle Diener - Dark Minds

Imogen Peters knows she's a pawn. She's been abducted from Earth, held prisoner, and abducted again. So when she gets a chance at freedom, she takes it with both hands, not realizing that doing so will turn her from pawn to kingmaker.
Captain Camlar Kalor expected to meet an Earth woman on his current mission, he just thought he'd be meeting her on Larga Ways, under the protection of his Battle Center colleague. Instead, he and Imogen are thrown together as prisoners in the hold of a Class 5 battleship. When he works out she's not the woman who sparked his mission, but another abductee, Cam realizes his investigation just got a lot more complicated, and the nations of the United Council just took a step closer to war.
Imogen's out of her depth in this crazy mind game playing out all around her, and she begins to understand her actions will have a massive impact on all the players. But she's good at mind games. She's been playing them since she was abducted. Guess they should have left her minding her own business back on Earth…

Comment: This is the third and final installment in the Class 5 trilogy series by author Michelle Diener. Following the captivating worlds presented in the first books, this is the last adventure of women kidnapped from Earth and taken to galaxies too far away and no longer having the possibility to return. 

In this third story we finally meet Imogen Peters, the other human woman characters from the previous book have talked about. When this book begins we finally get to know what happened to her since her presence was proved.
Imogen was kidnapped, she hasn't been treated too badly as the other women but when a Krik ship (not the best guys out there) gets to the ship where she's in, things turn to the worse. But as one would expect by now, a Class 5 ship commanded by a IA rescues her so she can help him.
Captain Camlar Kalor thought he would get Fiona Russell, heroine from the previous book, and not a different woman altogether. After some difficult maneuvers he and Imogen stay alone on board of the Class 5 and start talking. But there's a plot to cover some unethical deeds, another to get the upper hand on the galaxy's politics and at the end, can our heroine feel she has found a place to stay after all?

It's truly fascinating to follow up the author's imagination when it comes to so much technical content. Of course some things are just make-believe but the way the sequences are structured, the way the scenes are played with so many details really proves the author was inspired to create a whole world based on details.

However, from simply the POV of a reader interested in the plot as a whole, I must say it's quite important to read the books in order, no matter how self-worthy each one is. Some scenes and character's decisions make better sense if one has the information to back it up and without reading the other books things are still understandable but not as enriching to the overall reading.

I liked Imogen's attitude, I liked her as a character and her adventures, her developing relationship with Camlar... but I feel we haven't really "connected" to her human side. 
I feel the biggest let down of these novels and why I don't grade them higher, is the fact the emotional content is so poorly explored. On one hand it's good the kidnapped women don't cry all the time or feel down without any reaction like I'm sure I would if such a thing ever happened to me, but at the same time they seemed to have adapted too quickly.
Then, because the plots revolve mostly about  politics and the alien races dealing with that and also with the tasks ahead, I feel there wasn't much air time dedicated to the women's reactions about new settings and even less about their real feelings. Yes, they say this and that but it's all superficial.

I know I'm being repetitive but like in the previous book I miss the social interactions that would have given these romances a higher quality, if I can use this word. They are accepted or not. But I wanted customs to be included, I wanted them living and dealing with the alien reality socially, not just being the heroines in ships. 
I guess this is why the first book felt better for me, there was a bit more of social interactions and talks about the future and how the heroine could be integrated. In the other two it almost felt like a given. And I know this is to be expected but I wanted a story on that.

The stories are well done, well structured, elaborated, they have many details I wouldn't imagine but in writing they feel important but I expected more on the emotional side, both from the women facing a new reality, not being able to go back to Earth...and also on the heroes that bond with them, I feel we haven't really gotten to know any of them apart from basic information and the knowledge they are happy together.
The end of this third book definitely point out for that scenario but I kind of wanted more.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Amy Raby - Assassin's Gambit

Vitala Salonius, champion of the warlike game of Caturanga, is as deadly as she is beautiful. She’s a trained assassin for the resistance, and her true play is for ultimate power. Using her charm and wit, she plans to seduce her way into the emperor’s bed and deal him one final, fatal blow, sparking a battle of succession that could change the face of the empire.
As the ruler of a country on the brink of war and the son of a deposed emperor, Lucien must constantly be wary of an attempt on his life. But he’s drawn to the stunning Caturanga player visiting the palace. Vitala may be able to distract him from his woes for a while—and fulfill other needs, as well.
Lucien’s quick mind and considerable skills awaken unexpected desires in Vitala, weakening her resolve to finish her mission. An assassin cannot fall for her prey, but Vitala’s gut is telling her to protect this sexy, sensitive man. Now she must decide where her heart and loyalties lie and navigate the dangerous war of politics before her gambit causes her to lose both Lucien and her heart for good.

Comment: I got interested in this book back in 2015 for a reason i can't remember anymore. Considering the plot, I can imagine it was because I like stories where the protagonists don't see eye to eye at first but then fall in love and this romantic fantasy seemed to have a good premise.

In this book we meet Vitala Salonius, a young assassin who belongs to a organization of spies in the fictional realm of Riorca. Their biggest enemies are the Kjalls, whose emperors have enslaved the Riorcans and now the chance to kill the emperor finally happens and Vitala is chosen to do that.
In this world of magical people, the emperor is a war mage, which means he can foresee an attack on his person, so Vitala needs to distract him enough for his barriers to be down and through sex it's the only way. The problem is that Vitala spends time with the emperor Lucian so that it can be easy for them to be alone and unguarded and she starts falling in love...will she be able to eventually accomplish her goal?

Obviously, not.
Otherwise the story wouldn't have many pages.
I'm joking but the truth is that, for me, this story wasn't as well accomplished as I imagined. The overall writing style is easy and fluid and does motivate the reader to keep reading but I must confess the story itself had moments I wasn't as captivated to read about and some character traits/choices/actions just didn't make me very sympathetic.

This fantasy world, like many others, is about war and differences between cultures. There's an young emperor, Lucien, who wants to make changes but of course not everyone in power would support his actions and he might face some opposition. But things have come to a momentum because one of those people who more strongly disagrees with him has tried a coup and he is attacked. In the middle of all this is Vitala, a spy and assassin who was thee to kill Lucien so that the unbalance caused would cause Riorca, the country she defends, to become free. Someone else usurping the throne and causing havoc makes her change her mind and she helps Lucien instead, even while going against orders.

These ideas have merit and the adventure side alone would be reason enough to make this an engaging read but somehow I felt there was some distance between the characters and the purpose of their actions so I was a bit bored with some situations from the first meeting of Lucien and Vitala and the moment they join forces.
The political content has interesting details, it's well connected to the countries' differences, the groups that interact to make things happen but since the main characters had a lot going on, I felt there was a bit too much to focus on and the plot seemed more confusing than complex.

One of the elements I was more interested in was, clearly, the romance. I must say I also expected more out of it. Lucien and Vitala have great moments together, as a whole I liked them together but it seems their connection, their falling in love wasn't as emotionally strong as I would have liked. It's almost a given just because they share a love for a strategy board game. As if all the things that separate them, emotionally and politically, were easy details to ignore.
They both have a complicated issue to deal with that affects their behavior (even their intimacy) and although they discuss it, that only happens close to the end, so love declarations feel rather childish if they didn't really trust one another before. Everything felt rather superficial at times.

There's an HEA, some secondary characters are interesting and several scenes important to the plot. But there are also some little details about subjects that I found that were not appealing, like the way assassins like Vitala are trained, the mind processing that goes with it. No matter how justified, their choices just seemed too much like a mafia setting rather than desperate people trying to help or defend the weak. I don't know.

All in all, several unique elements that bring life to this fantasy plot, but too many different details that weren't as appealing just made me eager to finish the book, rather than to simply savor it.
Grade: 5/10

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cat Sebastian - The Ruin of a Rake

Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.
Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it’s his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.
As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he’s determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they’re willing to risk for love.

Comment: After reading the previous two books in this Turner trilogy, of course I would have to try this one as well, not only because I liked the books but I did want to finish the series.
The main character here aren't directly related to any Turner sibling but there's a connection. This means it's not really necessary to have read the other installments, but it's funnier if one did.

This story begins with rake Lord Courtenay wondering about his life and because he is struggling, he stays for long hours anywhere else but his unsuitable lodgings. Since his now best friend seems to be Eleanor, a woman who has helped him when everyone else didn't after the publishing of a book that is focused on his lurid past - which caused him to lose the guard of his nephew, it's no wonder he eventually interacts with Julian, her brother. 
In fact, Eleanor asks Julian, a man that took his task of becoming acceptable in society, to help bring Courtenay's reputation to a more polite and positive look. Although the task seems too complicated at first, it's also a challenge bored Julian sort of relishes, especially after realizing how dire Courtney's finances are. What Julian didn't count on by just looking for to work some math with Courteney's state of affairs was to end up caring for the man and wanting him to be respected...

As one would expect, this book starts a little slow but it soon picks up and the characters' interactions come alive as the story moves along.
I had a great time reading this but I'd say it was mostly because I was familiar with the writing style and of what to expect. I hoped to be more dazzled by it than what I was.

This is sweet story of two opposite attracted to one another, which is always a theme I tend to enjoy in books. Julian is very proper and serious while Lord Courtenay is considered a rake and without care for others. In fact, these two cannot be reduced to these superficial adjectives and the fun part of their relationship is to see how both aren't only what others see but deep down they are so much more, especially together. 
The relationship isn't easy, more so at the eyes of society, but as always that aspect of this author's work is a given, not a detail to be explored, which can be both positive, since it allows the reader to think about a gay relationship without the often setbacks linked with it, but it can also be negative because it lacks some realism for that same reason.

I find it that it doesn't bother me much, since the focus in on the character's personalities and relationship and not as much a surrounding plot. The excuse of Julian helping Courtenay feels exactly so and not such a requirement of the plot.
Of course my favorite parts were when both main characters showed their vulnerability to the other. Sometimes that was very obvious, sometimes it was just notions both inferred by a look, a detail... these are may favorite kinds of informations to be understood while reading and they seem like gems to me. The best sentence in the whole book for me was when Julian tells Courtenay he is his "favorite person to be with". This is not an overly dramatic profession of love but it seemed to me it was more heartfelt than any purple prose could be.

There is a secondary sort of plot going on concerning Julian's sister. I confess I don't understand why her difficulties with her husband weren't solved right away but in real life anything is always more acceptable than in a book where we expect characters to be always cognizant of their actions/choices.
As for the plot as a whole, I don't have much to say since it's pretty basic. The romance is the star and it was done well enough for me. I'd include more interactions before they became intimate just to give the reader the notion they were getting attached but that is to be expected anyway.

All in all, another solid read for what it was meant to be in the first place.
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Stephanie Perkins - Anna and the French Kiss

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris-until she meets Etienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Etienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.
But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?

Comment: I got this book at a discount price one time I went to the supermarket. They were having a discount offer on several titles and since I got this book translated at only 5€, it was quite a bargain. I already knew the title had had good opinions and so, even though it's a YA title, I got it hoping that I wouldn't feel like my time was wasted, something I tend to feel about YA stories and all their predictable teenager dramas. Thankfully, this was fun/sarcastic enough to be appreciated.

In this book we meet Anna Oliphant, a girl of 17 (I assume, since it's her senior year) whose father
decided she would have her last year in an international boarding school in France, as an opportunity for her to broaden her horizons. 
The book starts right after they leave Anna at school for the first time alone and how sad she feels. Anna then meets the girl next door and somehow she becomes part of a small group of friends, where is included Etienne St Clair, a boy all his friends call simply St Clair.
In the following months, Anna sees herself finding courage in Paris and also close friends and a romantic interest. But St Clair has a girlfriend, an authoritative father and apparently he gives off some not-just-friend-vibes which confuse Anna. 
Will Anna be the person she is meant to after being in France on her own?

Of course the focus would be on Anna's love interest and how her relationship with St Clair progressed. Seen from this perspective, all teenagers with good hearts have it easy on the romantic expectations if only they show how smart and unique they are. At least I got this idea from reading about Anna. She is not perfect but she is definitely portrayed as being special and although the reader might want to have that as a given, it just makes this book a bit too predictable and repetitive.

That aside, I actually had a good time reading, especially when it came to Anna's steps in Paris (which I have visited so it was fun to re-do it with her) and what she did outside mooning over St Clair. 
Anna's personality development issues were well explored, I guess. Since most people who read this are or were a teenager, there are many situations to relate to:
- seeing parents go away leaving us first day before University I had the same happening to me when mine left the apartment I was staying in;
- facing a potentially distant group of people with little groups already formed... all new students feel awkward and needing to belong;
- needing to go along with an idea just because but learning from it...peer pressure exists and in school it can be as ruthless and in an adult environment.
These things before Anna found her friends did call out to me as being perceptive and obvious but still something that is part of everyone's life lessons.

The romance...ehhh, I'd say too much attention was given to it but I suppose that is to be expected.
The two of them did enjoy sightseeing, going to movies and doing things together like any friends, even without the romance vibe there. I did like seeing Anna interacting with other people, I liked how she thought about things, her voice was often funny, she did say some things I thought were quite informal and realistic if one things a young person would think of it. Anna, as a person, is engaging and interesting to read about.
I liked her way of dealing with being away, how she missed her family... I liked how she behaved for the most part.
Obviously there is teenage drama, I expected that so while not really wanting to read bout, it was something that didn't caught me unaware as too negative.

The end is as cute as the majority of the novel so I ended up happy enough to have read it.
It probably helped how the secondary issues dealt with here were captivating enough to distract me from the romance drama. Still, surprisingly positive but not something I'd want to read over and over, like I do with my favorite genres.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, February 9, 2018

Mary Balogh - Simply Love

New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh returns to the elegance and sensuality of Regency England as she continues the enthralling story of four remarkable women–friends and teachers at Miss Martin’s School for Girls. At the center of this spellbinding novel is Anne Jewell, a teacher haunted by a scandalous past…until she meets a man who teaches her the most important lesson of all: nothing is simple when it comes to love.…
She spies him in the deepening dusk of a Wales evening–a lone figure of breathtaking strength and masculinity, his handsome face branded by a secret pain. For single mother and teacher Anne Jewell, newly arrived with her son at a sprawling estate in Wales on the invitation of an influential friend, Sydnam Butler is a man whose sorrows–and passions–run deeper than she could have ever imagined.
As steward of a remote seaside manor, Sydnam lives a reclusive existence far from the pity and disdain of others. Yet almost from the moment Anne first appears on the cliffs, he senses in this lovely stranger a kindred soul, and between these two wary hearts, desire stirs. Unable to resist the passion that has rescued them both from loneliness, Anne and Sydnam share an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking. Now the unwed single mother and war-scarred veteran must make a decision that could forever alter their lives. For Sydnam, it is a chance to heal the pain of the past. For Anne, it is the glorious promise of a future with the man who will dare her to reveal her deepest secrets…before she can give him all her heart.

Comment: This is the second installment in the Simply Quartet series by author Mary Balogh. In this installment, we have Anne Jewell's story. This character was initially presented in Slightly Scandalous, a book in a series that, chronologically, happens before this one. Of course that new readers don't need to read the other story to understand this one but it's certainly a plus.

Anne lives with her son at Miss Martin's School for Girls, where she found employment after being considered an outcast in the village where she lived before. With miss Martin she found friendship and joy in her work, as well as protection for her son. This story starts when she is invited by the Joshua Moore, the marquess of Hallmere for a family vacation, something he claims would be good for her son, always without other boys to play with.
Anne doesn't really want to have anything to do with the father of her child's family but she reluctantly accepts, hoping to spend a very boring summer with the servants. But Joshua and his wife's family certainly have other plans to include Anne in their activities. And there's also a compelling man to be friends with...

This was a sweet story about two people who thought themselves unlovable and unworthy of having someone but that finally found that special person to share a life with. The path towards happiness wasn't always what I would call engaging but after all things done, it ended up being sweet and romantic.

This is an historical, so some rules apply and Anne is a single mother, she was raped and her family wanted her away so she went to live on her own with her young son. She has had the help of her rapist's cousin but when a job offers is presented, she accepts it happily, which oust her in a school for girls. Anne's character is well flashed in this story and I found that many of her attitudes and feelings are what I probably would feel myself, if I were in her shoes.
She can't forget, however, how others look at her so she isn't too keen on going along to a family holiday. Of course she is surprised there, by how friendly and polite everyone is and she starts to feel less worried. She even befriends Sydnam Butler, the estate's steward and has her first unrelated man friend since her son's birth.

Sydnam is a fascinating character, he is young, he was at the war and came back alive but without an eye and an arm and with many scars from torture.
As one can imagine, he has several issues to deal with and despite having made peace with what happened, he still feels unworthy at times and very lonely.
In fact, it's loneliness that first brings these two together, why thy start feeling comfortable sharing things and being together so often, even if only for walks in the parks or the estate.

I liked their sweet romance and I didn't even mind the surprise after the holiday ends and Anne goes back home after an emotional goodbye to Sydnam. However, from that point on, still considering all the changes that were happening and the obvious need for redemption and "solving past issues" which is always an item to go through in stories where one tries to achieve complete happiness, I didn't find this part of the plot as magically done as the previous ones. I understand but it all just felt to much like pressure as if the characters couldn't live without getting that. 

This is a book to sigh over and to be cozy with. I liked spending time with those characters, I liked seeing others I knew as part of this couple's life and I liked the interactions between everyone.
I feel hopeful about the two remaining stories in the quartet.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Yann Martel - The High Mountains of Portugal

The author of the bestselling "Life of Pi" returns to the storytelling power and luminous wisdom of his master novel.
In Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomas discovers an old journal. It hints at the existence of an extraordinary artifact that if he can find it would redefine history. Traveling in one of Europe s earliest automobiles, he sets out in search of this strange treasure.
Thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist devoted to the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie finds himself at the center of a mystery of his own and drawn into the consequences of Tomas s quest.
Fifty years on, a Canadian senator takes refuge in his ancestral village in northern Portugal, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. But he arrives with an unusual companion: a chimpanzee. And there the century-old quest will come to an unexpected conclusion.
"The High Mountains of Portugal" part quest, part ghost story, part contemporary fable offers a haunting exploration of great love and great loss. Filled with tenderness, humor, and endless surprise, it takes the reader on a road trip through Portugal in the last century and through the human soul."

Comment: I wasn't thinking about reading this book but the last time I went to my local library, I saw it on the highlights shelf and told myself, since it's a small book, why not trying it and that was why I read it in these last days. I was also positively surprised.

This book tells three stories that seem to not have much in common apart from one little element and the notion of grief and loss.
Each story is set in Portugal, in different years. The first in 1904, the second in 1938 and the last one in the 80s. All stories focus on a main character but it's what each character does that makes the stories develop and connect. The title comes from the main location mentioned in the three stories, in the first the main character wants to drive there in one of the first cars that existed in the country, the second lives close by and the third will eventually go to live there permanently. The most surprising element, though, despite the reference to high mountains, the country doesn't really have them so... what is the purpose behind all this?

This fictional book is labeled as magic realism by many and although I can totally understand that description, I think this is mostly a very well done allegory and metaphor.
This is not the type of book one should read thinking about all the lack of reality scenes and "rules" because the aim is clearly to convey and idea with seemingly random facts but that actually make sense if one thinks about the big picture.

I haven't read Life of Pi, the book that brought fame to this author but by glimpsing some comments I've come to realize the style is the same as here, it depended on how people saw the twists.
I liked reading this book, especially some specific scenes I really found amusing but deeply explored. 

Of the three parts, the one I disliked less was the first and maybe that is why I didn't think this book was better than my opinion ended up being, after all. I just think it's too weird to start with and the characters not as engaging. The travel of Tomás, a man who lost his family except for a rich uncle, to the high mountains of Portugal, looking for a crucifix that came from Angola centuries ago by the hands of a missionary priest is interesting but for me, no more than that. It provided some fun scenes, lots of philosophical content but it was meh for me.

The second part was the one I really loved. I think the metaphors, the parallelism between Christianism and Agatha Christie's novels was superb, imaginative and I devoured those pages. The story's finale is probably where the magic realism comes from but I found it perfect.
The third story is more contemporary, it features a Canadian senator and a chimpanzee but it's a beautiful story and the end of it (therefore, the book too) is not what I expected, but I think it was suitable.

The beauty of these little stories is the message given. There's something for the reader to find out here, to process and I really appreciated the more evocative and raw feelings behind all the scenes we read about here. The author is exploiting the notion of grief and how it can affect people and I really liked all the more philosophical/emotional content here. I wouldn't think about any of these things this way but I felt captivated by the author's allegories and ideas and what I (supposedly) should be focusing on.

Of course, this means the story line can seem a bit too weird, filled with crazy stuff, but even that has a good message if one looks closely. I just think one needs to be concentrated and interested in reading this, in being in the right state of mind to fully appreciate it.
Plus, I could smile every time a Portuguese word/location was mentioned and that is always special for me, to imagine others getting a little glimpse of my country.
I can't say I'll run after every book by this author, but for me, this one was special for sure.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Jojo Moyes - The Last Letter From Your Lover

When journalist Ellie looks through her newspaper's archives for a story, she doesn't think she'll find anything of interest. Instead she discovers a letter from 1960, written by a man asking his lover to leave her husband - and Ellie is caught up in the intrigue of a past love affair. Despite, or perhaps because of her own romantic entanglements with a married man.
In 1960, Jennifer wakes up in hospital after a car accident. She can't remember anything - her husband, her friends, who she used to be. And then, when she returns home, she uncovers a hidden letter, and begins to remember the lover she was willing to risk everything for.
Ellie and Jennifer's stories of passion, adultery and loss are wound together in this richly emotive novel - interspersed with real 'last letters'.

Comment: Although Jojo Moyes isn't an author I immediately jump into reading, I've enjoyed enough of her writing style to buy and add more of her books to my reading lists. This month I picked this book even though the blurb wasn't one I felt very compelled by.

In this book we follow two stories, Ellie's and Jennifer's.
Jennifer is a woman living in the early 60s and her life has everything to be perfect but after an accident she forgets things and her steps to discover what happen before the accident reveal she had another man she was in love with, someone not her husband.
In 2003, we have Ellie, a young woman working in a newspaper whose career seems to go more and more wrong because she can't get her head out of her relationship with a writer she met while working, a married man.
The parallel between these two women's lives and the secret that will bring them together is powerfully emotional but will it prove love is really the biggest strength of all?

In terms of story line, there is a lot to be appreciated in this book because the content is certainly emotional and poignant. For me, the problems happen because of that same content and some narrative choices I think are a bit too confusing when one reads about.

The book is divided into three parts, parts which explore mostly Jennifer's path in life and how she deals with what is happening to her, how she dealt with being in love with a man not her husband and their letter exchanging.
Therefore, the book is the story of Jennifer and the story of Ellie, each one in their own time, living their lives. They eventually meet face to face in the third part of the book and that is when the final twist starts to be shaped.
Personally, I found it too confusing because although we are talking about different stages in the character's lives, that change isn't as obvious as years' gaps. Meaning, each part isn't set in a different year or moment in time. We get, in each part (maybe not as much the third part) text about Jennifer before she had her accident (the reason why there's a story after all), so that we, the reader, can understand why she acted weird later on and why that mattered. 
Then, we also have texts about Jennifer after the accident while she tries to cope with a reality she forgot and while she fits the pieces together about what happened.
The problem is these two different timelines only are separated by a blank hole in the page, there's no indication where we are unless we keep reading. When it comes to narrative style, fascinating. But to be easy to follow things, not as much.

Ellie's story isn't as developed. She works in a newspaper and her finding one of Jennifer's letters from when she exchanged them with her lover and from then on, things happen quickly. Ellie isn't a character I liked much, to be honest. In the first chapter we learn she has an affair with a married man and I must say I hated her then. She is not a misled woman, being deceived. She embarked on the affair knowing he is married and knowing their relationship isn't one that can solved easily. People make choices, why would someone knowingly be with a married person? I absolutely hate cheaters and in such a modern age, Ellie letting herself be with a man who was taken seems stupid and mean. I'm not excusing him, he is even worse, cheating on his wife, but Ellie is a smart, modern woman, what kind of message is this women should do whatever they want just because...I was really angry at this.

So, both plots are similar, things start to shape up towards the last part, the emotional content is quite strong, especially when we read about the loss of timing that sometimes can make everything go wrong when just a random chance could have changed it all.
I didn't like Jennifer had an affair but her reasons still feel more explained and understandable because she lived in the 60s.
There's a twist I didn't expect in the end and that is certainly a positive aspect.

Although every situation somehow solves itself in the end, I was still feeling a bit annoyed at some of the character's choices. I just didn't enjoy this as much as if some elements had been done differently. But yes, there are HEAs to wonder about in the end of the story.
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Isabel Allende - In the Midst of Winter

In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.
Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Comment: I was given this book as a Christmas' gift, one of the four books I got this year for that holiday. This is not my first book by the author, I've read several although the majority before I started this blog. While I can't say this is a favorite author, her books have been consistent enough for me to want to keep reading.

This is the most recent book by the author. I liked a note the included at the end of the book to give some information and she says she starts her new books on the 8th of January, every time. It was a cute note to know.
Anyway, this is a very contemporary story about three main characters, Lucia, a woman from Chile, Richard, an American man born in Brazil, and Evelyn, a young woman from Guatemala.
They meet in a cold winter day because Richard's and Evelyn's cars hit one another because of the snow and since Richard doesn't speak fluent Spanish, he gets his friend Lucia, who lives below stairs in his building, to help with the communication. As Evelyn's fears about the crash of the car reveal more serious problems, they embark on a journey to get rid of evidence while sharing their life stories.

This story isn't contemporary only because it's set in modern times and presents a background scenario (struggling with the cold and the snow) in Brooklyn. This book is quite heavy on the reasons why Latin people try to go to America and why they feel the need to so often leave everything they know to start again in a foreign country, with different rules and language. Most people tend to assume it's all about the money, the need to earn more to support families and obviously that is a huge part of the process and can probably be the driving factor, but it's not all.
People aren't stupid, thinking they will be luckier than others in trying to go through a dangerous and illegal process to get to a country that might not welcome them. We have no idea of what goes through people's heads, so... should we judge this much. What if it was the other way around?

While this book isn't about defending illegal immigration at all, it's a tale about the reasons why it can happen and often the situations people leave make it all worth it, even if when arriving, they do not find a place that they can be happy in. I was touched by the details of Evelyn's story the most and I can't help but being sad over the fact so many people make awful decisions, so many feel forced to comply with a situation for the wrong reasons and so on. While Evelyn's story focused on the challenges of illegally entering a country (especially in the light of recent events related to the US president's speeches and decisions), her attitude was always a hopeful one, even when things didn't go so well. I liked reading about her life experiences.

Richard's character was the one I felt the sadder about. He doesn't have a good past and what happened to him, his losses, and including his future choices as an older man, was very, very complicated to imagine. I think his tale is more about the impact of having different life experiences, living though different cultures and not being able to cope with things that get out of our control. He felt the character I could relate the most to, at a emotional level, at least.

Lucia is a teacher, she has had a rich life when it comes to experiences and struggles and losses but despite her path being one with many lessons to be learned wasn't as captivating as a character. She, too, has dealt with immigration but in a different way than Evelyn's.
All in all, their life experiences bring this book to life because although these are fictional characters, they can also embody thousands of real people pout there, whose minds and harts we don't know but always tend to forget about.

From an emotional POV, this is  strong read that I have appreciated. However, the story behind these people being together is a very weird one, along the lines of a crime story and because of this the plot just felt sort of silly and quite irresponsible from a ethical and social point of view. Plus, it's hard to imagine clever people like these characters would act so recklessly and without caring for real life issues such as fingerprints for instance.
I'm sure they would have been other ways to present the same characters being together and sharing fears and stories without the background situations.

This is contemporary fiction, the winter references do seem realistic, especially considering the weather outside, but things could have been even better, I think. Still, a very, very engaging read.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, February 2, 2018

Diane Setterfield - The Thirteenth Tale

Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once the imposing home of the March family - fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, Charlie, her brutal and dangerous brother, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline. But Angelfield House conceals a chilling secret whose impact still resonates ...
Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield's past - and the mystery of the March family starts to unravel. What has the house been hiding? What is its connection with the enigmatic author Vida Winter? And what is it in Margaret's own troubled past that causes her to fall so powerfully under Angelfield's spell?

Comment: I've had my eye on this book for a long time. The original publication date goes back to 2006, so basically this book has been out for 12 years...I probably have wanted to read it for at least half of that time but as so many other books, I just never got to it and it languished in the TBR. Last year I finally bought ( this is the beauty of waiting, years after, the paperbacks can be much cheaper) and it ended up being my last read of January.

This is a difficult book to categorize but I can say it's the story of Vida Winter, a well known writer in the UK that after years of secrets and unchecked tales, has finally gotten a biographer to write her true story. Vida is famous but no one knows who she was before she got famous.
The biographer she chooses is Margaret Lea, a woman who is bookish, lonely but who has a simple life and her parents to care about although her relationship with her mother has always been one of indifference mostly due to the death of her twin when they were babies.
In Vida's past there is a also a pair of twin sisters and that must be why Margaret was picked but while she adds clues and starts to write down what Vida tells her, she realizes that besides secrets and tragedies, there is a lot more to find out about what happened all those years ago in Vida's childhood house...

Overall, I enjoyed reading this novel. Some situations weren't as interesting to me, to be honest, but it was mysterious enough to make me read more and find out the secrets behind Vida's public persona.
The mystery turns out to be quite well engineered but it just seems unlikely to have been kept a secret the way it was because there were several people involved. Although it's still fascinating, the explanation for some things does look far fetched.

What made me be really seduced by this story was how, in the beginning, the focus was on Margaret, a woman that was dedicated to books, worked in her father's book shop, preferred reading to have a social life, still lived with her parents as a grown up, was a bit of a loner, liked to stay at home reading, found libraries incredible...well, apart from the other details that were more necessary for plot purposes (having had a twin sister, being a researcher and being interested in 19th century literature, mainly obscure stuff), she was pretty much just like myself, I must say, and I could immediately empathize and imagine myself in her position. I wanted to know more about Margret and I imagined the story would be about her research letting her know more about herself in the process.

This means the plot can be divided into two main sections, which are interwoven together throughout the story: a) Margaret's current research and writing down Vida's tale and her experience while staying at Vida's house and b) the events of Vida's past and childhood and why she felt like writing down her memoirs now that she is ill.
Most of the time is spent getting to know all the characters that lived alongside Vida's childhood and growing years before she was a writer but I confess I was more interested in the now and how the characters that are alive now cope. I usually tend to prefer the contemporary side in dual timed stories. Therefore, I was a bit disappointed more focus wasn't given to Margaret except the why she felt so at ease discovering things and exploiting the idea of ghosts, quite an element in this story, which proves to be quite realistic.

The big mystery has quite an explanation. I won't go into it, but some details just felt too much a "stage" and I wasn't too impressed with the hows even if the whys were quite a study on human actions and mind processes.
One of the elements that best suits this story is the constant references to other books, to literature, to the notion of an author being  a liar most of the time... several concepts were well inserted into the story and they made everything feel more intuitive.

In the end I would have liked different details to have been given, I wish Margaret would have been given more focus and we could have more than simple hypothesis about her future. There is a lot to be sad about since the biggest portion of this story is about tragedy and unfortunate events.
It was quite a journey, though.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Bec McMaster - Nobody's Hero

First rule of surviving the Wastelands: don't be caught out after the sun sets...
After her father was killed in a warg attack, Riley Kincaid was forced to stand on her own two feet in the brutal Wastelands she calls home. She knows how to survive, but when a lapse in judgment leaves her out after dark, Riley realizes she's in trouble. The sun has set, the monsters are out to play, and there's a band of reivers heading straight for her settlement. Riley needs to warn her people, but that's before she runs a handsome stranger down in her jeep. A stranger who might not be a man after all...
Kidnapping her was the worst mistake he ever made.
Dangerous outlaw, Lucius Wade, lives only for revenge. But when he kidnaps Riley in order to lure an old friend into a trap, suddenly the tables are turned. Riley has no intentions of being bait, and she tempts him in ways he hasn't felt for a long time. He's never played the hero, but suddenly a part of him wants to. Even as he knows there's no point.
When dangerous secrets are revealed, and Luc realizes an old enemy is on his trail, he's forced to change his plans. The hunter is suddenly the hunted, and the only allies he has... is a stubborn blonde who thinks there should be more to live for than revenge, and the ex-friend who shoved a knife in his back ten years ago.

Comment: This was the book chosen for a book club I belong to. It was also my first book by this author and I have to say I was positively impressed, to the point I no longer know what to think about some of my preferences in sub genres.

In this book we meet Riley Kincaid, a young woman who lives centuries in the future, where the planet has suffered several catastrophes, meteors and viruses for the most part. Humans now live in small cities or the wastelands, which are basically camps here and there and everyone tries to do their best while staying away from the organized groups (mercenaries), the wargs (people who changed into animals after being clawed by an infected individual) and revenants (zombies).
Riley is one of the leaders in her camp, Heaven, and when the story begins she is looking for something with Jimmy, a teenager from her camp. They hear som weird sounds though, and night is coming which means dangers as well, so they try to leave and somehow they run over a man. When Riley tries to help him, she discovers he is a warg called Lucius Wade. He kidnaps her so she can take him closer to Adam, a former friend who betrayed him. The problem is that although Wade is a warg and should have no redemption or hope, he is still a man...

I really don't like shows like the walking dead because they tend to focus a lot on the negative side of humans when we can't see a solution to out problems except violence and pain and death. I prefer shows where the more acceptable emotions are key.
Obviously this means I always find myself surprised by how much I seem to enjoy these sort of books that show a dystopian reality or a plot featuring catastrophic events and the attempt to be normal by those who survived. I don't like to think people would forget rules and civilization so easily but the survival's instinct would make us act different, wouldn't it? I was as surprised to have enjoyed a similar plot in Rebecca Zanetti's book I've read last year.

The characters are interesting enough, most fit what one expects of a dystopian, but the main couple is well done and some secondary characters as well. I'm sure some of them will feature in future installments as protagonists.
 Riley is an interesting character, she has suffered loss and is still sad over some things but she is a likable heroine and several scenes with her seem well done and I ended up rooting for her, so she could do her part to reach the HEA.
However, for me, the real enthusiasm was the hero, Wade. He is a man changed, he now needs to live with the knowledge he is looked at differently and he still has the emotional scars of the moment it all happened. But he is still a human being and the way the talks and acts shows he might have lost total control of his body but he is still a person with feelings and choices. I really liked him.

I was quite happy about the way the romance developed. All other elements aside, of course the romance is what I focused on to make me appreciate everything else.
After several complicated situations, not only plot wise but even emotionally speaking, it was really delightful to see how the romantic aspects of their relationship were useful to make them become stronger people. I know it sounds like a cliché but thy both became better people by being together. Also, it was both sexy and sweet to see them together. The HEA was cute.

The plot does follow most of the expectations one imagines in this sort of story. There are bad guys to overcome, there are challenges to face and win and people to save, but I liked that no one we have come to care about dies and I liked how the negative aspects while dealt with are not the focus, the author isn't trying to use situations on the page to make everything look bleaker or more intense for the reader.

I will read the next book. This means that it was a good read for me, for sure. I feel curious enough to see how other characters, also facing some unbearable choices and pasts will be able to find happiness as well.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lane Hayes - A Kind of Home

Isaac Dalton is the guitarist for Spiral, arguably the biggest rock band in the world. The band’s meteoric rise to superstardom has its perks, but fame and fortune aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Nonstop touring and performing exhaust him, and when an overzealous fan makes it imperative that Isaac travel with a clingy bodyguard, he is ready for a break from the madness. More so when his newly single first crush shows up on his doorstep. The man is strictly off-limits. He’s a memory from a place Isaac would rather leave behind. And he’s straight.
Fun-loving former athlete slash construction worker Adam McBride desperately needs a new beginning. And New York City is the perfect place to start over and think about how to rebuild his life. A short stint as roommates with his brother’s best friend from high school seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement. However, when friendship gives way to fierce attraction, both men find themselves in unchartered and possibly dangerous territory. Isaac has to decide if he’s willing to take the ultimate risk for a kind of love and a kind of home he never dreamed possible.

Comment: Last year I've read the first three books in this A Kind Of stories by author Lane Hayes. I liked them all so I was quite happy when I saw there would be a new book coming out at the end of the year. I got the book recently and was really eager to read it and re-capture all those warm feelings I got while reading the other installments. However, while this book was still very good, it's still the one I liked the least...

In this book we have the story of the last element of Spiral to find happiness. Of the four elements, we got the full length stories of two, the notion the other is happy and now we have the fourth story, Issac's, the third member of the four who also finds a male partner.
Isaac wasn't aware of how much fame he would get when he signed up to be with the band. But he does like the guys, he feels right, he has a good enough life except it seems he has a stalker.
Isaac also needs to deal with an unwanted guest at his house: the brother of one of his childhood friends has gone through a divorce and is getting his bearings back while staying in his apartment, which Issac didn't mind while on tour. But now he's still there and Issac does remember his crush on him when they were younger.... but Adam is straight. Right?

This is a friends to lovers plot but with a slight touch of an almost "lovers reunited", which is the one I tend to dislike the best, simply due to the amount of time spent dealing or talking about past events. Since Isaac and Adam met each other in the past, come from the same town and shared some friends in common, they do talk about what their lives used to be and those scenes always feel a bit boring to me.

Isaac is an interesting character, he does feel well characterized by the author. He is a man of color, he had been adapted by a white couple but that couple separated when Isaac's biological father came into the picture and then his adoptive parents split when the mother left with Isaac's father.
Then Isaac came out to his adoptive father and he sent him away which led Isaac to go to New York and later on he got into the band. 
Issac's past is quite complicated, the issues he needs to deal with aren't something one just pushes aside. We get the notion really soon that Isaac doesn't have a good relationship with any of his parents and is a bit of a loner. This explains why he wasn't too happy about developing feelings for Adam or even about his role in the band. I think this side of things was well portrayed, not going into drama levels but interestingly done. I just think Isaac's personality came across as being a little too detached, you know, so I wasn't always very eager to read about him.

His love interest, Adam, is also a strong character. He was married and we do get to see how he dealt with that and the divorce. His approach to things seems simpler but one can get the idea it was psychologically difficult to reach the point where he's at, of just being himself.
Again, I must complain about the single person POV because while we get a good perspective on Adam's character, it's not the same just having him tell stuff through dialogues instead of being in his head.

The romance was cute I guess, the physical relationship well depicted and the scenes between them generally good.
The interactions with the band members were also important while not removing the focus from Isaac and his thoughts.
The stalking issue was dealt with but to be honest it felt really weird how things were portrayed. Or, maybe I should say the stalker's motivations were presented in a weird way. I can only suppose if someone stalks another person something isn't right anyway.

Overall, I did enjoy this story, I think the emotional content was as rich as I would expect but Isaac as a person wasn't as likable in all his behavior/personality traits so I wasn't as interested in him as I remember being with the others. But it was nice to "be" with the guys again, for sure.
Grade: 7/10