Saturday, March 17, 2018

A link, a comment, a picture

Hello all.
I hope you have good plans for the weekend.
I work today as always but tomorrow I'm going on a trip with some people. A different day for sure.

Just wanted to tidy up some things, so three subjects in this post:

A link
I was looking for stuff related to books online and I came across these lists:
There are books for all kinds of preferences. I'll browse some to see which books were included in the lists that get my attention the most. 
Enjoy, if you want to overflow your TBR even more! šŸ˜„

A comment
I've recently read, but forgot to write a post about it, Blood Fury by JR Ward, the 3rd installment in her BDB series spin-off, BD Legacy. 
This is mainly the stories of Peyton and Novo, two trainees in the BDB training program to find civilians to help the fight against the lessers. There's also another sub plot with Saxton, a beloved character for some time now, and Ruhn, a recent addition to the main series but that seemed to be a worthy character of a story.
Overall, I liked the story. I keep saying that, for me, the multiple plot lines doesn't bother me but at times the author seems to prefer to focus on things I wouldn't so it's not the amount of sub plots that is the problem: it's how things are dealt with in each main plot and /or characters.
I was quite happy with how things were done, I liked best the emotional content bu yes, some scenes could have been worked with differently. 
Still, this was a positive story for me and I want to keep reading books in the BDB universe, for certain.
Grade: 8/10

3) A picture
As expected when I remember to do so, I leave you with an image. I woke up this morning, it was raining quite heavily and I just wanted to stay in bed. Alas, to earn money, one must work, but for those who can, I hope this image inspires you. 
The image is from Buzzfeed.
Happy reading!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Courtney Milan - Hold Me

Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.
But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…

Comment: This is the second installment in the Cyclone series by author Courtney Milan. I've read the first one back in 2016 and I liked it. I had all intentions of getting to this one sooner but well, you probably know why delays and postponing happen when it comes to pick books. Nevertheless, I didn't forget I got interested in this book while reading the other, so this month I picked it up. The series will have 5 more installments, including two novellas, but since the author is known for her slow paced writing, it's sage to assume it will take some time. But to be honest, I'm more interested in two stories in particular, let's see.

This books focuses on two characters from the same universe of the last story, this time the main female character is Maria, Tina's housemate.
Maria is a very smart woman, but she hides vulnerabilities with amazing shoes and a killer look, which leads some people to assume she isn't as smart as in reality. This is exactly what happens when she first meets Jay, her brother Gabe's friend. Jay is attractive, he's a professor at Berkeley but his focus makes him dismissive of others at times and he judges Maria rather quickly. As time goes by, the two of them increase their animosity every time they meet, usually randomly.
However, Maria has a very popular anonymous blog where she presents apocalyptic scenarios using math and statistics odds and other scientific things which makes her blog very well researched. She has had a commenter for at least an year and a half and they hit it off perfectly, even while maintaining their identities secret.
What will they do, though, when they discover their perfectly in love pseudonyms are the same real life hating known selves?

Courtney Milan is truly a very smart person and she does an amazing research work to complement her novels. Most of her characters (male and female but especially female, yay) are competent, smart, logical in their intelligence and that comes across really well. Is it just the result of a research well placed within the story line? I don't think so, the author's knowledge from her university background shines. Of course this can make some parts rather difficult or boring for those not familiar to the concepts but for me, even while not understanding most of the technical content, this was  a winner because mrs Milan knows what she's doing.

I think one of the goals intended in this novel - just my opinion based on how I read this - was for us to focus on the wrong judgment we often make of others based on their looks or circumstances and how that can be negative on the long run. Jay mistakes Maria for someone insipid just because she wears heels and is good looking. Like when we say glittered or flamboyant dressed women must be air heads, for instance. 
I do like how the author takes a position against labels of any kind but at the same time, there are moments where I feel it's a necessity on her books for that to happen, and the characters can't just be themselves, they must personify some concept or something. This is not a critique, just a statement of fact.

So, not having labels in people makes it more complicated to know what to expect from that person so we really need to know someone before saying we like them or not and that also means we should focus and be interested in who that person is, not what defined them in their past or something. This was what seemed more obvious for me in the relationship between Maria and Jay. They are two smart people who don't like each other based on a wrong first meeting but they already like each other from other anonymous conversations. We really shouldn't judge a book by its cover...
But Maria and Jay also have inner characteristics, for example, Maria is trans and Jay is bi. These labels we like to use to - in a way -  even know how to deal with people and know how to speak with them about some subjects, were not fully addressed here. I get why, this is not important for who they are, for what they need to eb to interact with others. 
But it's part of their personalities, part of what made them the person they are now. I would have liked to see them discuss that better.

In the bigger picture of enjoying this book however, these details lack as much importance as I made them have. I actually loved all the steps taken for them to gt to the point where they admitted their feelings for one another, where they admitted their fears and even guilt over events they could control and how brave they both were. This felt like a very complete, well paced love story.
Sometimes one needs to empathize, or to be in sync with the characters and often that makes some readers like something a lot and others not as much. 
For me, this romance worked out well. I'd change this and that for personal preferences but I can't say I wasn't plenty satisfied with the story as it was presented. I hope the next one is as good for me.
Grade: 9/10

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Linnea Sinclair - An Accidental Goddess

Raheiran Special Forces captain Gillaine DavrĆ© has just woken up in some unknown space way station, wondering where the last three hundred years have gone. The last thing she remembers is her ship being attacked. Now it seems that while she was time-traveling, she was ordained a goddess…. Gillaine’s only hope of survival rests with dangerously seductive Admiral Mack Makarian, who suspects her of being a smuggler—or worse. But he can’t begin to imagine the full extent of it. For Gillaine is now Lady Kiasidira, holy icon to countless believers, including Mack—a man who inspires feelings in her that are far from saintly…feelings she knows are mutual. But when their flirtation is interrupted by a treacherous enemy from the past, Gillaine’s secret—and secret desires—could destroy them both…

Comment: Another book by author Linnea Sinclair and the last one I had in my pile by her to read. I've enjoyed her books in the past so i was quite excited to read this one as well and get back some of the feelings her writing evokes in me by allowing me to suspend belief in sci-fi romances.

In this book the main character is Gilliane DavrƩ, a woman that has special traits, namely telepathy and healing among others, and she can overcome other mages and humans if necessary but she comes from a race that doesn't want to force others to to their biding. Of course they have enemies who wouldn't think twice about it.
The story begins when Gillie and her ship (along with the life form who can only exist as an AI in the ship) suddenly appear in a part of the galaxy they wouldn't expect. Gillie wakes up and after a while they realize they have time traveled to the future. Now, the world thinks of her race as special and godlike, including her. 
Gillie's last mission had been to kill a bunch of evil mages but things backfired and it seems 340 years have gone by. However, when Gillie is only now getting used to the idea of being at a different timeline, of sort of accepting the station's admiral is a good guy she would like to know a lot better, she feels something is wrong. 
It's not just she sees people now worship her a goddess which means it's important to hide her identity. It seems that there are some evil mages and a plot to overtake the station and eventually society in other planets is on going. Can Gillie be the heroine everyone would want her to be again?

I actually liked this story a lot, it was engaging and apart from real life issues that stopped me from dedicate more time than I could to this book I'd have finished sooner because it was addictive to read.
I just think I'd focus a little bit more on the social interactions and not as much on the evil plots. I guess I'd have preferred even more romance content and situations but despite this, I still consider the story to be very appealing.

The whole sci-fi scenario isn't difficult to grasp even if this is a reader's first take on the genre. "Rules" and events and technicalities are well presented, not too much that would confuse people but also not in a way that wouldn't let readers understand what everything is about. Of course, in the beginning, it seemed things would a certain way (I'd think the author would play more with the time travel concept) but it was quite satisfying how she decided to focus on Gillie being special enough to help save people and find a place for herself along a partner and eventually friends (my imagination for the after-HEA).

The evil guys' demise plot was well woven into things. Nothing seems certain for a long time but the author has chosen wisely in how to add information and how that would look like in a bigger picture. I won't go into details but I'm glad that things made sense together and that we didn't spend pages and pages in the evil guy's head, that is always a plus for me, it males it possible for us to focus on the heroes and their steps.

The romance was  obviously a subject I was interested in seeing how would develop. I did like how Gillie saw beyond the serious face of Admiral Mack and how lonely he felt, how much he appreciated honesty... despite the secrets she was keeping from him. I get she wanted him to see Gillie and not the embodiment of the goddess he has worshiped since he was a boy but yes, if some things had come clean between them sooner, I think it would have suited their relationship better, The heavy feelings notion happened a bit too son I'd say and even a marriage proposal! For me, this means that when everything about who Gillie is came to the surface, their reactions weren't explored as well as they could and it felt like things were rushed, I wanted more emotional scenes and dealing with everything related to Gillie's identity.
As for Mack alone, he was a dependable guy, I liked him but he could have also been more developed.

As a couple, their personalities seemed to match, then there were some handy details to link them even more but generally speaking, who they are to the world and to one another, was a path taken very quickly and even their quick falling in love could have been even more romantic. (For me at least).

The sort of rushed HEA, lack of more society notions and interactions between more characters are things I'd have changed a bit. However, I liked how the main couple felt together, I liked the caring both had towards those who couldn't defend themselves, I liked the pace of the story for the most part and I really liked how things made sense in general. All in all, a good book by the author.
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Miranda Davis - His Lordship's Last Wager

How does London’s most charming war hero rehabilitate Society's inveterate termagant, Lady Jane Babcock?
In a word: cautiously.

Comment: Two years after reading the first book in what is likely going to be a quartet focusing the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a name given to four soldiers during the Napolean wars who managed to be brave together and survived to keep being good friends, the third book is finally out. This series about four lords in different financial and family situations has everything to be compelling, starting with the amazing writing. But although I loved the first book, the second left me disappointed. I expected greatness from this one and it wasn't bad but I still hoped for more at the same time.

In this book we meet two characters, Lord Seelye Burton, brother to a duchess and Lady Jane Babcock, sister to a duke. Their respective siblings are married so they must also deal with one another quite often. The problem is that Jane has a reputation of being arrogant and defiant and she has refused several marriage proposals. 
After a long time not seeing one another, they meet again at a ball where our hero says some ill timed things, hurting the heroine's feelings. The question is, Jane has always refused others because she has been in love with Lord Burton since she was practically a child, because he used to be kind to her. Seeing he's no different from others puts both of them in a path of proving the other wrong and dealing with the fact they are perfect for each other. 
But will they be happy together if they ever admit such a thing or will they keep on being enemies?

This author's style is very witty and touches on comedy. I believe this is a weird and complicated duel to fit well so one must congratulate the author on her writing skills and technique, because the narrative sounds brilliantly done.
I just think that a lot of focus is given to the situations the characters are in and their reactions to it, rather than the romantic development of the relationship between them. Somehow this didn't feel as obvious in the first book and as far as I remember that one was more balanced.

Seelye and Jane have known each other since she was a child, she is the youngest sister of George, one of his mates before the war. His sister married George, so there is always a connection between the families. I can totally understand why Jane has focused on Seelye and why she thought of him as the man for her to marry. It's logical, though, her childhood memories can't match the reality at 100% because everyone changes and who he is now must be different after so many experiences in his life, namely the war and his actions in it.
Thus, most of the story is the dealings between Jane, someone everyone considers difficult and unapproachable, and Seelye, a charming man who doesn't think he's as worthy of things as others seem to think he is.

I must say I liked Seelye a lot, he's conscious of others, of what things mean and after a comment from Jane he tries to act as best as he can to prove her wrong and that his character isn't something to be ashamed of. He has some regrets though, things we find out closer to the end of the book when his relationship with Jane is in a more advanced stage. He is truly a genuine man with a personality to match and his actions prove him as being an amazing man.
Jane is more difficult to care about. She comes as too obstinate and without enough vulnerabilities to make her more accessible as a person. But she cares for those she loves and that is obvious by her actions through the book.

The romance was...slow, which is a good thing because they had time to know each other before anything was settled between them. However, it wasn't always easy to understand how deep their feelings were being taken by the other because 1) the scenes where they would think so weren't many and 2) it seems the story was more focused on how fun things were, how ironic and sarcastic, than a real discussion of what would be their future.
I can understand this, it's the author's style of presenting things but...along with the comedy scenes, part of the book felt boring and sometimes I didn't mind putting the book down.

I liked the writing per se, though. So many perfectly inserted comments, notions, situations where the perfect rebuke would happen... the character dealings felt brilliant even if sometimes unnecessary...
All together, this was a very good novel and I was happy with the HEA. But the first book keeps on being the best one for me.
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mackenzie Blair - The Quarterback

Matt Lancaster is the star quarterback at Bodine College, a small Southern Division II school with an ultra-conservative Dean of Athletics. Matt is also very much in the closet, and he thinks he’s kept his secret well hidden. Until his best friends take him to a happy endings massage parlor and request a male masseuse for him.
In walks Trevor Kim, a gorgeous, pierced, tattooed fellow Bodine student who does massages—without happy endings—to pay for school after his family kicked him out for being gay. Trevor takes one look at Matt and breaks all his own rules about mixing business with pleasure.
Matt needs to keep his scholarship, win the National Championship, and survive his asshole father. Instead, he falls in love. Trevor needs to accept that the football god is meant to end up with him rather than a perky cheerleader. It’s time for a happy ever after for both of them.

Comment: I got interested in this book last year, not only because I like the m/m sub genre but mainly because I've read a review here and there and they seemed to present  a good picture of this story so I thought I'd want to try it. And I'm glad I did!

In this story we meet Matt Lancaster, he's a senior in the university, he has a scholarship and what makes it possible is his football playing, he's the star quarterback of his team. However, Matt is in the closet and he feels he has to hide himself because not only does he have a controlling homophobic father who might separate him from his younger sisters but he is also attending a conservative college in the south.
His close friends though, see right through him and decide to "give" him the chance to be relaxed with a guy, which means a trip to a spa/massage place that is known for their "special" treatment if requested.
Trevor is also a student at Matt's university, he's out but he's not much into being obvious since he's suffered in the past from bullying. His family has expelled him from home and now he works hours in the massage place to help pay the bills of his tuition. Both feel very attracted to one another when they finally meet but will there be any future for them if others know about their friendship and how they met?

I really had a great time reading this. I liked the main characters, I got to be interested in their plights and I understood their reasoning to behave the way they did and for the most part I felt I couldn't put the book down or it was very difficult to stop for chores and work.
This was not a perfect story because some characters were difficult to imagine and there were some clichƩ situations but to be honest, I could put them aside and just enjoy the story.
The secondary characters weren't all very appealing to read about but I could more or less not focus on them and simply appreciate the better parts.

I think the detail I liked best in this novel was how slow but sweet and sexy was the relationship development.
It was slow because they actually felt embarrassed at first and they weren't certain about the other's feelings and this gave me the sense some time was passing before they took the step to conscientiously kiss or touch one another. The time they too to know one another was cute and all the sexual tension between them before they even admitted they were as attracted to one another felt very well done.

The relationship is sweet, that's for sure, I liked how they took time to go one more step towards being together. It felt their feelings were slowly growing stronger the longer the time they spent together and that was very sweet indeed. Socially, their relationship was more complicated because of the environment created at their university, very against diversity and although nowadays one can say things aren't like that anymore, the reality is that they are. There is still prejudice, even among young generations. This aspect could be seen obviously in some situations, in why the guys just didn't assume things when they realized they were in love...

Both guys had terrible parenting, especially when it comes to their views on homosexuality. I could feel empathy towards both, although their situations were different. Still, how complicated it can be to deal with this in real life where those who should be your biggest help actually scorn you? Some scenes, although not melodramatic, were sad and gave food for thought (to me at least).
Both Matt and Trevor, the main couple, were likable people. They didn't have all the answers, they weren't always smiles and rainbows but they talked and mostly compromised and I liked them together, I liked how they felt in sync with one another and cared for the other.

All in all, this was a positive story for me, it was fun and sweet at times, sad in others but it was to be expected, but there's a HEA at the end and a cute epilogue, not too sugary. For me, a good one but I see why some readers might have found some details less engaging.
Grade: 8/10

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rainy weekend reading

I saw this image on Pinterest.

I think it highlights the best about rainy days: staying cozy at home reading...
Enjoy the weekend and happy reading!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Mary Balogh - Simply Magic

On a splendid August afternoon Susanna Osbourne is introduced to the most handsome man she has ever seen . . . and instantly feels the icy chill of recognition. Peter Edgeworth, Viscount Whitleaf, is utterly charming—and seemingly unaware that they have met before. With his knowing smile and seductive gaze, Peter acts the rake; but he stirs something in Susanna she has never felt before, a yearning that both frightens and dazzles her. Instantly she knows: this brash nobleman poses a threat to her heart . . . and to the secrets she guards so desperately.
From the moment they meet, Peter is drawn to Susanna’s independence, dazzled by her sharp wit—he simply must have her. But the more he pursues, the more Susanna withdraws . . . until a sensual game of thrust-and-parry culminates in a glorious afternoon of passion. Now more determined than ever to keep her by his side, Peter begins to suspect that a tragic history still haunts Susanna. And as he moves closer to the truth, Peter is certain of one thing: he will defy the mysteries of her past for a future with this exquisite creature—all Susanna must do is trust him with the most precious secret of all. . . 

Comment: I've been going through Mary Balogh's Simply series and this month I picked the 3rd installment of the quartet about four teachers at Miss Martin's School for Girls. This is Susanna Osbourne's story and how she found love after a bit of a holiday, pretty much like her friend Anne, from the previous book.

Susanna Osbourne is a young woman who has had a complicated past but she was helped and guided to Miss Martin's school when she was 12 and since then she has studied there and later on invited to become a teacher. Susanna liked her life and the purpose she gives to young girls, whether because their parents can afford it or to the "charity" girls like herself used to be but all are worthy of knowledge and help. The story starts when Susanna is invited to spend some time with Frances (from book #1) and there she meets Viscount Whitleaf, a man she immediately dislikes although we are told it could be due to his too charming personality. Later on we realize there's more behind it.
Peter, the viscount, somehow can't take his off Susanna and he feels she might be someone special to him if only he could actually talk to her without her looking too prim and proper about it.
These two don't start with the best traits but will they be able to be honest with one another?

Those who have read these books by mrs Balogh probably know some of the plots overlap each other. In this third book we have scenes we are familiar with, mostly from the previous book, but of course through a different perspective this time. I found this interesting because it makes the reader feel included and knowledgeable about certain situations and interpretations. The books an certainly be read out of order when it comes to the main plot, but they make a lot more sense when read from the first to the last.

I've become a fan of this author's writing, especially when thinking about her most acclaimed series which happen to be some of her more contemporary work. I've read a couple of older titles and while her talent is obvious, her stories didn't feel as appealing for me to read. These more contemporary ones seem more in tune with my current tastes.
However, not all books can be perfection and this title, despite its positive aspects, understandable emotional situations and HEA, somehow didn't feel as amazing for me.

The relationship between the main characters isn't easy but I've come to accept it was paced well enough if one thinks the couple didn't know each other and there was some animosity from Susanna's side at first. However, despite the believable way they get to know each other, I just didn't think there was that much chemistry between them, it didn't sound as if the way things were written actually conveyed that to me.

This makes me feel a little guilty because I might be unfair. Even more when I think about the reasons for Susanna's animosity - totally deserving! - and all the emotional content to explore here. Especially when we get to know the whole truth behind Susanna's difficult past, with all the details that in real life could certainly be too much for someone to deal it but that obviously a romance plotted story sort of tones down a bit. I did enjoy understanding what made characters be the way they were and it was quite well done how each quirk of everyone's personality happened to be a necessary characteristic of them.
But the romance was just flat for me.

Despite the obvious social obstacles between the couple and happiness, I think there was a certain lack of need in their want to be with the other when it was made possible. I would have welcomed a non romance in these situations more than the eventual giving in on both their parts to secure the expected HEA. They just felt boring together or maybe the author didn't put them in situations that would be romantic enough for us to see their bond better. Walks and thinking of the other aren't always enough, I think.

All in all, still a good enough installment in the series, several details were quite interesting but not always well used and there's some lacking in the romantic relationship.
I expect wonders from the last book, though.
Grade: 6/10

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Bec McMaster - The Last True Hero

In the drought-stricken Wastelands that arose out of an apocalypse, Adam McClain never thought himself the hero. Kicked out of the town he created, and shunned by his friends and former allies when they discovered what he was, he's managed to find work as a bounty hunter. After all, who better to hunt the wargs and reivers that haunt the Badlands, than one of the monsters themselves?
Mia Gray learned the hard way that men can't be trusted, and when McClain strides into her bar she knows that trouble just walked in. The rugged bounty hunter is her greatest weakness–but he's hiding something, and the last time a man kept secrets from her, she got her fingers burned. Tempting as he is, Mia's staying far away.
But when a horde of reivers strikes her town and captures her sister, the only one Mia can turn to is McClain. Together they might just be able to rescue her sister, but what will happen when Mia learns of the secret McClain is hiding? Can she ever trust him again? And when the man who broke Mia's heart in the first place discovers the same secret, will McClain survive?

Comment: After having enjoyed the first book in this series, to my complete surprise since that book was labeled as post apocalyptic and dystopia -  which I rarely read not because I hate the concept but mostly because it usually features scenarios too sad and often unfair to go through - I saw this one was also out and I decided to try it, hoping I'd have more of the same positive elements that made me like the first one.

This story pretty much follows the incidents of the first book and found Adam McClain as a loner in a bar way out of his former settlement Absolution. Adam was unmasked as being a warg, a man who was clawed and now turns into an animal but he can't control his animal side which makes him - and others like him - dangerous to others.
Adam has been feeling pretty down because of recent events but when the opportunity to help Mia, the woman he has been attracted to lately, arises he does join a small group of people who will go on a mission to rescue kidnapped members of their community.
Among all the challenges the rescuing group needs to face, can Adam be honest with Mia and win her over when all its done?

I admit I was really hoping to be as wowed as I was when I read the first installment. Like I said, I tend to not enjoy reading stories where terrible things happen to "good" characters and that is quite a trend in apocalyptic stories, so... but after finishing this book, despite its positive aspects, I was left with more doubts than will to eventually read the third book when it's released.

This story is focused on the plot to rescue some people who were kidnapped to be sold as slaves. Adam is the main character and he is part of the rescuing group simply because he was close by and decided to join in. One could say his motivations weren't simple as he wanted to impress Mia, a woman he flirts with when he's at her bar but feels could be so much more if only he wasn't a warg but more than that, he wanted to be important for something after being expelled from the community he helped creating and protecting. His feelings aren't strong, his morale was low enough that the first scene of the book is his memory of how he tried to commit suicide but didn't do it.

Adam is indeed a complex character. He is the sort of hero one finds easily in romance novels and I actually felt for him and his feelings of inadequacy, of loss and depression. Of course he becomes a better man, and so on, as his decisions try to take the group into their goals.
However, despite his personality being well done, I hoped for more when it comes to his being a warg. In the previous book there scenes (and hints) that would lead the reader to think being a warg could be something wargs themselves could control/use for their own improvement and acceptance. I think this situation wasn't exploited well because although there's mention of that, practically no change in the state of affairs happened throughout the plot. I imagined that accepting being a warg would lead Adam to become more confident but nope...

Then there's the romance. Well, perhaps I wasn't having the best state of mind for it but it seemed the romance was very poorly done. Adam and Mia could be falling in love but it didn't seem like it. The other book was so well balanced between personal development and romance when it came to the main couple. But in this book I missed the emotional engagement that would enable me to feel happy for them and in the end the romance didn't feel so, it was just another element to add to the story and that was it. It was a weak romance as a whole and the attitude of the characters to admit a physical relationship at least by being unsure about it was a bit boring.
Mia herself as the heroine wasn't a character I felt very invested in. I can't explain but her personality just didn't win me over and that might be part of why this story felt weaker too.

The setting of this story keeps being interesting. Dystopia and apocalyptic stories usually follow a trend though: the exploitation of what is the norm now instead of looking for to change for the better what became of the world/society. How much more demanding that could be... well, for each their own taste.
All in all, a good enough add to the Burned Lands series but not amazing to me.
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Julian Fellowes - Belgravia

Julian Fellowes's Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London's grandest postcode.
Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is people by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond's now legendary ball, one family's life will change forever.

Comment: I tend to enjoy historical fiction once in a while. When I saw this book at a book fair after having heard some positive things about it, it wasn't such a hardship to buy it. The book has been waiting since the second semester last year but I finally got to it.

This is a romance that first started as a serial of 11 installments. When all were out, there was a compilation of them into this full length tome which is quite handy for those who didn't even know about it.  The 11 parts combined form what we can say are the chapters of the story.
The story focuses on a secret that a family wants to keep to save face and the reputation of one of their family members. When, decades after a scandal is avoided, truth comes to life again, all involved try to make the best out if it, some to preserve the secret, others to wrongly benefit from it. At the core of this novel is the need to keep up appearances and the class differences in an England always famous for its society and the need to maintain social status...

Just because the author of this book is the person responsible for the TV series Downtown Abbey, which has gained countless fans while it was aired and even after its production was finished, it doesn't mean all new readers to this book will immediately recognize the similarities to the series. I, for one, have never watched an episode, so I cannot compare. I have nothing against the series, but it just didn't captivate me enough to watch. But going by some reviews I've read, not watching the series makes the experience of reading this story a lesser one.

Anyway, all those external details aside, this novel was engaging and offered intrigue enough to compel the reader to keep going. The plot isn't complicated but the interest here is how the characters deal with the society rules of the time, namely how a compromising situation would be perceived by others and how much importance was given to social status and acceptance of oneself in society. In fact, things haven't changed that much until now, except people have different goals now and don't care much about the same rules, only the ones that exist now. What used to be frowned upon isn't a great concern but people have now other challenges to live through.

The interest of reading historical fiction or romances set in historical settings can be looked upon two ways (in my way of thinking):
- we want to see characters behave just like they should, considering the rules and customs of that time or
- we want the romance/fantasy of a love story despite those rules and such.
While the first is considered the best approach for its realism and respect for the truth/historical facts, the second if often what we look for to escape real life even if we need to suspend reality.
In this book we clearly have situations which depict the first take and although I enjoyed it, I always expected something wowing to happen next.

Nevertheless, it's the characters and their actions that make a plot develop. While respecting historical accuracy, many of the characters acted in a way I found exasperating. It might have been a convention to enjoy being part of an intrigue, to be unfaithful to one's spouse - and having them just accepting that - , to want to deceive others, to want to be entertained by the possible downfall of someone else but... I just don't enjoy much backstabbing and overall deceit in my novels, it makes me so angry people behave so badly. I often prefer the romance side or historicals focused on other type of situations where characters don't live only for the society's eyes especially to avoid being annoyed at situations I know are probably realistic. 
Is it any wonder we want to enjoy better things, like love stories in all their settings?

All these general comments apply to my take on this novel. I kept reading because the plot seemed well structured but I was always wanting to change things because the characters would do things I don't morally agree with and no matter how realistic, that annoyed me to no end. There was a big secret, yes, but people plotting to get the upper hand seems so frustrating and at times distasteful that the end, although positive in the most part, wasn't  good enough to make me have a good impression.
Still, an interesting period piece with lots to discuss about, especially if we like to put ourselves in the same situation and imagine what we would do. Except for the rules of time period detail, of course.
Grade: 6/10

Friday, March 2, 2018

Catherine Anderson - Spring Forward

When a favorite customer on his delivery route needs a favor, Tanner Richards agrees to help without a second thought. The last thing he expects is to face off against the man's spitfire granddaughter.
Crystal Malloy is near her breaking point. Her beloved grandfather constantly skirts the rules at the retirement center where he's recovering from surgery. She's caring for his escape artist dog, even if it means abandoning her salon customers, and she has no time for a romantic attraction to the handsome new stranger.
After Tanner's reassigned to Mystic Creek, Crystal can no longer ignore how much she misjudged the man's good intentions. She has known too much sorrow to easily open her heart, but she can't deny that Tanner and his children could gift her with a happiness beyond compare--if only she can forgive herself for the past and accept that she's deserving of such a love.

Comment: Although the previous three books in this Mystic Creek series by Catherine Anderson haven't been as spectacular as I imagined, I feel curious still about the characters and I pre ordered this installment as well. This month, I decided to finally get to it.

In this most recent story, we meet Crystal Malloy, a 32 year old woman who works in a salon and whose life is quite busy now that her grandfather, the man who took her when she was a child, has gone to a care room to rest while he recovers from a fall. The problem is that the facility rules are too much to a man used to living independently and when he asks a friend to help him, both are in trouble. 
However, this propels Crystal to get to know Tanner Richards more and they seem to hit it off quite well. But Crystal has also her grandfather's dog to take care of, she has her past as a huge deterrent to avoid relationships... will Crustal be able to feel she is worthy of love after all?

I must say I enjoyed reading this book  much more than the previous installments in the series. I've gotten the feeling, with every new book by the author, that what made me appreciate her voice and writing style when I "discovered" her, no longer seems to captive me.
I used to love how her characters were wary of being too close to someone - namely the heroines - because of some issue about their bodies or their emotional state but with time, caring and love, the heroes would help the heroines see they were as beautiful as they deserved. But as the books have gone by, the stories became more and more sugary and the interactions too silly and almost childish to bear.
I feared this book would follow along the same lines but thankfully, my final impression wasn't so.

What I liked best about this story was how the relationship between Crystal and Tanner developed. Although there didn't seem to be much (convincing) passion between then, the emotional bonding felt realistic and I was very happy for them.
Both their personalities seemed to mesh quite well. I admit I focused more on Crystal, she has had a terrible experience in her past and it's a wonder her attitude wasn't even more fragile and that her mind state wasn't more affected.
Tanner is a widow but it seems time has helped see the good things and not being too concentrated on the loss. His children were cute as well.

There's also a secondary love story with Crystal's grandfather Tuck and a woman from the facility he's recovering in. Kudos for the romance with people above their 70s but  it was a bit too obvious... or maybe I'm just being picky because the dialogues seemed so...unlikely. Lol, perhaps I'm just not around couples that age who share intimate conversations like theirs.

The author has also introduced some themes to enrich the story. Some I liked reading about, they made me think about issues not usually people even remember (like the older couple's relationships and so on) but others I felt the way they were presented are too biased. Do people really think like that?
I'm thinking about people being ok with giving alcohol drinks to dogs. This made me think that in Oregon there are people who find it cute dogs can drink beer at will? Ok, that was fiction but the impression wasn't very positive. 
I also found some character's opinions or ways of talking about something very condescending and sometimes it felt they didn't understand the severity of the situation or the things they discussed.

I feel the HEA wasn't as amazing as it could be. Or maybe the path towards it wasn't as romantic (despite the exchanging of letters and the sharing special moments) as it could which influenced the way things happened. Nevertheless, I had a great time with this book and that counts a lot.
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Neale Donald Walsch - Conversations with God vol.II

Part of Conversations with God series, this work covers global topics of geopolitical and metaphysical life on the planet, and the challenges facing the world.
 "...this paradigm shift will take great wisdom, great courage, and massive determination. For fear will strike at the heart of these concepts, and call them false. Fear will eat at the core of these magnificent truths, and render them hollow.... Yet you will not have, cannot produce, the society of which you have always dreamed unless and until you see with wisdom and clarity the ultimate truth: that what you do to others, you do to yourself; what you fail to do for others, you fail to do for yourself; that the pain of others is your pain, and the joy of others your joy, that when you disclaim any part of it, you disclaim a part of yourself. Now is the time to reclaim yourself. Now is the time to see yourself again as Who You Really Are, and thus, render yourself visible again. For when you, and your true relationship with God become visible, then We are indivisible. And nothing will ever divide Us again."

Comment (with a long setting up): I got this book, according to my recordings of purchases, back in 2008. This is the second book in a trilogy titled Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch. I first knew about these books when a friend from school let me borrow the first installment back then, around 2001 or 2002 which means the books have been in my radar for decades now. 
These books are mostly spiritual so I kind of let them be until now, when I finally decided to pick the second volume.

In this second volume, the author keeps up with the conversation he has initiated with God in the first volume.
The books exist, according to the author, after a moment in his life where everything seemed to go wrong and he felt so angry he started to write a letter where he talked to God about it. He claims he felt a need to write more after that, as if someone were saying the words of a reply in his head, in which he recognized it could the voice of God putting into words what could be the answer to the author's complaints and questions.
Even if one doesn't truly believe this part of the author's experience as real, the dialogue that came from that resulted on a very wide book on several topics, a sort of lesson to those who wished to understand why life isn't easy. 

The conversation was divided into three books. Believing the author the process took months and the books weren't the result of just one "talk" but several in which God would answer different types of questions, which later on the author complied into different volumes. 
The first volume more centered about personal issues, individual sort like questions related to a person's life and problems,
The second volume focused on broader issues like society and political problems;
The third volume about the universal questions, more metaphysic issues and the discussion of things like the origin of the world and why life is what it is.

As I've said, I've read the first book almost two decades ago (how time flies...) and I was at a moment in my life I did feel like talking to someone and receiving a message, even if from God. I'm catholic, I believe and go to church but I admit I'm not a follower of every little "rule" the Catholic Church tells their followers. I believe more in the love and charity one must dedicate to ourselves and others, rather than all those supposed rules from the Bible. By the way, the Bible to me is a sort of guide, a huge metaphor about customs and ideas from centuries past with notions and advice we should adapt to our daily lives but isn't the only way to behave.

Anyway, the fist book talked to me and I was curious about reading the rest. Back then I didn't have easy access to new books, I couldn't afford them all the time, then university came and people's focus is always hanging. Only later on, when I already had a different grasp of my routines, did I meet these books again. I bought in Portuguese volumes II and
III but again, I let them stay in the shelf.
This year, while distributing titles through 2018 (I have a spreadsheet where I write down all this), I looked at my shelves to add some books that have been waiting for longer and this second volume I added to February. 
I'm sharing all these unimportant details only to create a scenario on why I, personally, read some things when I do and don't just pick the first thing in front of me. I was also left wondering how this book would feel like to me, now that so long had passed since the first one.

This book felt very different. I have the notion the first was like a message to me whereas this one I couldn't help but look at with critical eyes, namely the way the information is presented. The dialogue format is great and often the author's questions pertinent and realistic. But the way God's very difficult to believe this could actually be a natural conversation between God and a man and in the first book everything felt more probable.
This book also focuses a lot on international themes like politics and economy and why we often think some people in power act they way they do, what could happen if God could come to us and say what we should do.
Of course, the author "escaped" that trap by always stressing out everything «God» says isn't His opinion, it's only suggestions.

Still, little details aside, the message is still as powerful but I can't help feeling disappointed because, as to be expected, all the examples used to illustrate a situation - even from God's POV - are centered on the US reality, the author's nationality I suppose. This makes the message seem very limitative and reduced to one reality. In the first book, because the situations were about the individual self, all readers could get the message as if to themselves.
I also noticed some incongruence, some repetitions... again, what made the first book so intriguing and special seemed gone in this one and the idea this is a dialogue with God and not just the author's theories (even if good ones) presented seems to be less and less what we are supposed to start from.

All in all, this has very good observations, things not every people would immediately think about and the food for thought notion is quite well done. The execution, however, was a let down because it turned what made the books special into just an excuse.
I do hope the third book can present a much better message again.
Grade: 5/10