Thursday, May 18, 2017

Finding Anna series by Sherri Hayes

Note: The series reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18. Some of the content may be triggering. Also, take heed that there may be some mild SPOILERS ahead.

Finding Anna isn’t what I expected it to be, but in a good way.

Although it is categorised as erotic romance, this 4-book series is really a story about a victim of human trafficking and sexual slavery taking back her life with both the help of other people and her own iron will.

As the story, Stephan is not a typical protagonist of the genre, either. I liked that he isn’t the tortured hero with dark past type, but is a genuinely good person and does not just his best to help Anna, but what actually is best for Anna. Which doesn’t mean that he doesn’t mess up, because he does.  

However, for a change from a lot of male protagonists in the genre, Stephan doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge his faults, apologise for his mistakes and try to fix them. For the most part, though, he is a level-headed man, with the patience and self-restraint of a saint, and would be almost too good to be true, if not for having a few actual flaws.

Even though Anna is very dependent on Stephan (as she would be on any other given person, considering that she literally cannot function on her own after her captivity), Stephan doesn’t take advantage of that. On the contrary, he encourages her to spread her wings and return into the world – but at the pace that is comfortable and safe for her. And even when, out of concern for her, he disagrees with her decisions, he still supports her and helps her carry them out in any way he can, even if it means having to step aside.

Additionally, I loved that Stephan isn’t Anna’s only source of support and doesn’t limit her to his social circle; Anna also reunites with a childhood friend, who also brings other people into her life, and I loved how both men put their mutual dislike and distrust of each other aside for her sake.

For erotic romance, Anna and Stephan’s relationship is pretty tame and doesn’t go further than light kink and develops slowly, progressing to intimacy only towards the end of the second book. Which is good and necessary, as it is contrasted against Anna’s horrendous past experiences.

Hence, Finding Anna is an emotionally demanding series, both for the references and flashbacks to the abuse Anna has been through (and which can be hard to stomach, so be warned) and the ways it affects her in the present.

That said, it is also very satisfying to see Anna recovering from her trauma, regaining her sense of self, and reclaiming her sexuality. And although that is bound to be a life-long process, Anna’s abusers don’t win. She does. And gets to live (mostly, I assume) happily ever after. 


Monday, May 08, 2017

The Adventures of Charls, the Veretian Cloth Merchant (Captive Prince short stories #3) by C. S. Pacat

SUMMARY (from Goodreads): The Adventures of Charls follows the dealings of a humble cloth merchant in the days before the royal Ascension. Set after the events of Kings Rising and The Summer Palace.

MY THOUGHTS:

I am only taking away a star because of that abrupt ending. I need Charls's reaction when he figures it out, damn it! And, well, Damen’s or Laurent’s POV would be immensely more welcome. Although, I can well imagine our beloved kings had fun trolling Charles behind his back the entire time.

I pretty much loved everything, from all undercover shenanigans to Laurent totally being ‘chaotic good’ and the mention of the cuff (I assume Laurent is still wearing his, too) to all the glimpses into Damen and Laurent from Charls’s POV.

Seeing the events and characters through Charls’s eyes was definitely entertaining as he is very perceptive in some ways (and I loved his loyalty and concern for both Laurent and Damen, I mean, Lamen), but his wit fails him in certain aspects and leaves him terribly (but adorably) oblivious.

All in all, The Adventures of Charls, the Veretian Cloth Merchant made me laugh and smile and still does even days after reading it, and was a great addition to the Captive Prince universe.


Friday, May 05, 2017

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

This was a refresher reread for me due to the TV show Black Sails, which was created as sort-of a prequel for Treasure Island and you should totally watch it if you haven’t already.

I first read Treasure Island in 5th or 6th grade (I remember taking it from the 5/6th grade literature section in our school library, so it must have been around then). That was about a quarter of a century ago, and I only recalled a handful of names (namely, Flint, Silver, and, curiously, Ben Gunn) from it. Hence, now that the show ended, it seemed a good time for a reread.

Of course, Treasure Island is a YA (before there was YA, I guess) adventure story, while the show itself is much more serious, complex, and, of course, intended for adult audience. It is also more than superior to the novel (I know, blasphemy!) and I choose to actively ignore some elements of the book in favour of the show.

That said, I actually found Treasure Island fairly interesting this time around – and I suppose also the first time, because it is the kind of read that would have appealed to me at that age. I can see why I didn’t remember it well, though.

The story is a fast-paced adventure, which tells more than shows and is scarce with details and, thus, isn’t very memorable. The main character being a boy (and also kind-of the author’s self-insert, I think) might have contributed to it being easily forgettable, as well.

Nevertheless, I didn’t hate the book and I found certain elements entertaining in the light of Black Sails. Therefore, the reread was overall worth my time. 


Sunday, April 09, 2017

Less Reviewing, More Reading

What the title says. AKA my new-ish policy.

Because, honestly, does anyone even read my reviews? *shrugs*

And yes, I have said that the purpose of this blog is mostly as my personal notebook, so I don’t forget all about what I read. But in that case I may just as well jot down some notes in a Word doc I keep and keep it to myself.

With Goodreads having improved their features a lot since I started this blog, posting my thoughts there can serve for self-reminding and cataloguing purpose just as well. And takes far less time and effort, since it requires less styling both visually and content-wise. 

In particularly, time is the key word here.

I think reviewing has been one of the reasons for not reading much for the past two years. I have read a lot more this year when I stopped reviewing every single book. But I have come to a stall in the last two weeks again, and today here I am, having finished another book, contemplating how to review it – and the one that came before that… and I feel done.

In the time it takes to craft a review I could be reading (because that is the point, after all) or writing or doing any number of other things. So, that is what I will do from now on.

I don’t intend to abandon this blog, because it is a valuable archive of the past reads and reviews (not all of which are cross-posted elsewhere) and because I am sure there will come occasions when I will feel like writing a long thought-out review. But I will no longer feel guilty about not having reviewed whichever latest read and, therefore, postpone picking up the next one until I do so.

I will simply, rate it and/or put a few thoughts on GR and move on to the next bookish adventure. To many more of which I am looking forward.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kill Someone by Luke Smitherd

Note: The book reviewed contains graphic depictions of violence and discusses other related themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18. Also, take heed that there are some SPOILERS below.

Would you kill one person to save five others from being murdered? That is the choice a 21-year-old Chris faces in an ‘experiment’ he has been ‘chosen’ to participate in.

It is an impossible choice. A choice, as Chris likes to remind a reader now and again, one can hardly judge Chris for the way he goes about making it.

The premise of Kill Someone is as intriguing as it is horrifying and thought-provoking. Alas, while the concept of the story is fascinating, its execution is more than a little elusive.

The writing is loose, replete with rambling, repetitions, and digressions in the first person POV. One short third person POV segment is thrown in for no apparent reason, except maybe for the author thinking it would be cool to change the POV or not knowing how to approach that part of the narrative through Chris’s POV.

The whole thing felt a lot like a self-insert with some alterations – and that feeling got only stronger after reading a rather lengthy afterword which was all too similar in style to the novel’s narration.

And, whereas the umpteen reminders not to judge Chris throughout the story were at least somewhat in place, the same being said in the afterword sounded as if the author forgot that Chris is, after all, not a real person, but his creation.

Speaking of the said creation, it could use some more forethought, because Chris’s character fell into the area of implausibility on quite a few points.

For example, Chris thinks of himself as a kid at the age of 21 (!) and he has never been in a fight (even I, a chronically ill child, had been in a fight or two in school). And even a decade later, despite his experience, he still behaves and thinks much the same. What a missed opportunity to show character development.

His family is living on a decrepit farm BUT Chris never mentions anyone doing any farm work AND YET his family is well-off (enough for the parents to vacation in Maldives?) Does not compute.

Additionally, Chris’s parents seem to be keen on him being on the straight-and-narrow path for him, but they are okay with him working for a call centre instead of going to college?  

Then, there was a very sexist matter of reducing five women to quintuplets, although that is not what they were, technically, but triplets and two younger sisters. And the author either wasn’t bothered to do the math or thought it was perfectly fine for them to be ‘very close in age’, so close in fact that they must have been born within 24 months.

That is right, three births (including triplets) within two years. Ah, men and their unrealistic expectations. But, hey, it is just women, right, what else are we for than popping out kids?

So, yeah, that detail made me angry right at the beginning of the book and it hardly improved much as it went on.

By 40 % of the book I had a thought that maybe someone switched the word order in the title, because what I was thinking was ‘someone kill me’.

Oh, yes, it was this book this tweet was about:

At least the resolution was somewhat sensible, when Chris figured out that he had the option to choose a merciful solution. (Although, I forgot whether killing himself was against the rules, because that was definitely an option that came to my mind. But no judging.)

The ending and the reveal of why Chris was ‘chosen’ for this experiment at least provided some food for thought.

And here comes a SPOILER.

Guilt-tripping people into helping improve the world by forcing them to committing a crime first is something I disapprove on principle, because wouldn’t it be better if no one died and a person chose to do good without having to atone for something bad?

On the other hand, though, a question arises whether one person’s death could be an acceptable price for the many other (perhaps hundreds, thousands) lives the murderer would improve in trying to atone for their crime?

My first instinct is to say ‘no’, but the answer is much more complicated than I can come up with, at least not now.

Chris, at least, found an answer which he could sleep with, which is also something.

Therefore, the thought-provoking ending somewhat redeemed the book in my eyes, but it was a shame that the rest of it was stylistically and narratively underwhelming and felt not thought-through well enough. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

DNF Review: Lords of the City by Alice Ward

Note: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18. Also, take heed that there are some SPOILERS below.

There is a first time for everything, including writing a DNF review, right?

Lords of the City is a bundle of standalone romance novels featuring Chicago billionaires finding their HEA with the women (and the readers, I guess) they bring to their knees with their alpha-maleness and bad boy attitude.

Alas, the stories themselves fall extremely short of this highly misleading description, apart from the first novella. 

This is what I noted down when I finished Lured:
It is a shame this wasn’t a full novel, because Niall and Emma and their relationship totally intrigued me. Unfortunately, as it is only a novella, the story, characterization, and relationship development (or not-development) are rushed and one has to imagine and/or speculate about the depths of their characters and relationship, although there are so many things that should/could be explored more in depth in regard to both characters, but especially Niall, which are only hinted at.                                                                                  
Nevertheless, it is an interesting introduction to the series and I expect the epilogue novella will function as a second part and hopefully deliver a satisfactory (and happy) conclusion to this tragedy. And it is a tragedy, because while Niall behaves like a jerk and he is an idiot, there are certainly reasons for him being as he is and I really need to see him getting to the bottom of his idiocy and his painful (I assume) past and become a better man.                                                                
And while I can give Niall a bit of a benefit of the doubt, I also understand Emma’s hurt and her own conclusions about Niall’s supposed (at least currently) irredeemability.                                                                                                                                  
Overall, it was a bit of a hit-and-miss, because it felt like I could like the story and the characters but I missed that added depth that would make me actually like them. The price of the shortness, I guess.
And that was all that was good about the series.

I read a few chapters of Torn, but I should've guessed that the protagonist describing herself as quirky couldn't mean anything good. I couldn't get into the book, because I didn't feel any connection to the characters.

I found Noah particularly annoying with his wish to remake the female protagonist (I can't even remember her name) into what he wants 'his' woman to be. Fine, if you want to have a dress code for your company and compensate your employees for having to readjust their wardrobe to fit the code. But forcing a woman to limit her style exclusively to 'curve-hugging' dresses with disregard of her own comfort and style is sexist and disrespectful, not romantic and certainly not 'professional' and the book lost me there (especially with the 'quirky' lady happily going along with it.)

I tried the beginning of the second book, but I, again, wasn't drawn neither to the story nor to the characters. So, I decided to quit and not even bother with the third book.

The epilogue novella was a also a disappointment, because instead of continuing Niall and Emma's story, Emma simply disappears and instead of her another woman appears in Niall's life out of the blue and I guess he gets his HEA with Candace (but of course it must be Candace), probably without having to overcome his inner turmoil or, god forbid, change.

Also, despite the description that says that these lords of the city would bring us to our knees during a 'raw, emotional journey', these 'bad, bad boys' and their supposedly 'sexy and delicious' stories were pretty tame and far from 'thrilling' – quite the contrary, to me the series was actually too boring to finish.

There are two parts of another Ward's series included in the bundle but I didn't even bother with those.

I can see why this was on sale: give people a deal price for the bundle and 'lure' them in with the first, otherwise unavailable, novella, just in case at least some people might find any appeal in the rest of the materials included.

Overall, the best part of this was the prologue novella, Lured, even with its tragic ending, which I guess was also worth the price of a bit over an euro, while the rest was a free 'bonus'. 

3 stars for Lured, 0 stars for the rest. 


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dark Skye (Immortals after Dark #15) by Kresley Cole

Note: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18. Also, take heed that there are some SPOILERS below.

Before they were mortal enemies, they were childhood best friends. Despite belonging to enemy factions. Three (well, four, eventually) dead parents later, their friendship – let alone anything more – is over, seemingly irreparable, replaced by pain, fear, and resentment. Or is it?

I have to appreciate time and again in IAD series, how Kresley Cole’s concept of ‘fated’ mates means anything but a guaranteed happy ending (within the story; on a meta level, of course we all know it will happen) for the pairing of the moment, for there are so many things that could go wrong and keep them apart, destiny or no. I love that it takes much more than ‘fate’ for love to win.

That is also the case for Melanthe and Thronos: it only takes them five centuries of running and pursuit, before they even start resolving the hurt and misunderstandings from their past and working towards a future (trying to survive while having only each other to rely on helps a lot, though, even when they ‘hate’ each other.)

Granted, the said resolving starts off a bit slow and that made me feel a little underwhelmed and frustrated (If only they talked to each other!), but once they get past a critical point, the story picks up and, damn, it is worth every moment of the earlier frustration.

Hence, I ended up absolutely loving Melanthe and Thronos’s story: one of the most painful, tragic, but also heartfelt and beautiful ones in this series; they ended up being one of my favourite IAD couples, just as I had expected and hoped for.

Furthermore, in Dark Skye, Cole pulls together quite a few threads from other stories and the larger Ascension plotline, bringing us up to speed with some of my favourite couples from the previous books. Which made me want to reread some; I think I might have to check back to at least Cadeon and Holly’s and Rydstrom and Sabine’s stories, and maybe Lothaire. (But when will I have the time to both reread and continue the series, that is the question.)

I loved seeing Nix’s perspective and the revelation why she is playing the matchmaker for so many pairings: because, ultimately, all the mixed-factions couples will come in handy for joining Vertas and Pravus in the fight against a common enemy, the Bringers of Doom. Because this will be an Ascension on a whole new level, apparently, and I am so looking forward to it. (And Nix coming out of it as the goddess of Ascensions prediction is perfect for her.)

I could flail about so many more details, but I don’t want to spoil everything for those who haven’t read the book, yet.

In conclusion, therefore, let me just say that Dark Skye is a fascinating, intense, and clever story. It was one of the instalments I had been looking forward the most, and, even if it didn’t look like it in the beginning, it truly lived up to it.

Now, I must hurry and read Sweet Ruin, so I can next get to Shadow’s Seduction (which was released today) ASAP.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Beyond series by Kit Rocha

Note: The book series reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18.

Those of you who follow me on Goodreads may have noticed that I burned through the 13 books (well 3 of those are short stories and 3 novellas, but still) of this series in January, which is more reading (not counting fanfiction) that I had done in 2016 altogether.

Apart from the mini-reviews posted directly on GR as I finished each book, I didn’t review them, because, truthfully, I would have just repeated myself a lot. Also, I preferred to spend the time I would have put into struggling with how to write reviews into actual reading.

However, I loved this series so much that I still feel the need to flail about it. Beyond series is set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world, and the first book starts off as erotica with plot (about 50/50), but sets up the world-building just enough to tempt you to continue the series.

And then you are trapped.

Because with each book, the world gets more and more expanded and complex and keeps you hooked. The development of the over-arching conflict between the opposing sides is extremely compelling and the series tackles a number of real-life issues with an incredibly sensitive and insightful approach that surpasses that seen in many of so-called ‘high’ mainstream literature.  

And, of course, the authors are sneaky and keep introducing characters you fall in love with a few instalments before their actual stories. Hence, binge reading. Because you have to read on to see what happens to them. But you can always count on a happy ending in this series, which is just another major plus.

Have I mentioned I fell in love with all (well, except the evil ones, but those I loved to hate) these stupid asshole characters? Men and women. Yeah.

Anyway, there are many other things I could flail about, but since I don’t want to spoil anything for you (which was another reason for not reviewing each book on its own), let me just finish by saying that if you are a fan of dystopian lit combined with erotica, I highly recommend you check this series out.