Review: The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham

The Painted VeilThe Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It had been a long time since I read one of the classics. When I saw ‘The Painted Veil’ on sale at Audible.com, I thought it would be a nice change of pace. I wasn’t wrong. This book proved to be far better than I expected.

‘The Painted Veil’ is set in England and China, taking place in the 1920’s. It is a story of love, betrayal, revenge and redemption. I definitely wasn’t prepared for some of the twists and turns that this story took, but I enjoyed every minute.

Kitty Fane moved to Hong Kong with her husband, Walter. An incredibly intelligent man, Walter is also socially awkward. He loves Kitty, but is rather unapproachable and aloof. Eventually, Walter grew on me, but he isn’t the type of “warm-fuzzy” character that you bond with immediately. From the start, it is made very clear that he is head-over-heels in love with his wife.

Likewise, it is immediately evident that Kitty does not return the sentiment. Kitty is beautiful, vain and shallower than a kiddie pool. While Walter married for love, she makes not ifs, ands, or buts about the fact that she did not. It is clear that she married Walter solely so that she would not be one-upped by her younger sister’s upcoming nuptials. In fact, Kitty seems to loathe Walter…at least, initially.

So, it was no big surprise that Kitty spent her days in the arms of the charming, and also married, Charles Townsend, while Walter was busy at work. No doubt, the dumb twit was just the most recent in what was bound to be a long line of extramarital conquests for Charles. Stupid Kitty believed that he was as in love with her as she was with him. Poor fool.

Unlike his wife, Walter has no illusions. He knew that Kitty didn’t love him the way he loved her, but he wanted her so badly that he was willing to marry her anyway. He may have known that she didn’t love him, but he did expect for her to be faithful.

When he discovers her adultery, he gives Kitty an option. He will grant her a divorce, if Charles will agree in writing to divorce his wife and marry Kitty immediately thereafter. Or, Kitty can accompany Walter into rural China where he has accepted a job assisting with the medical management of the cholera epidemic. Of course, Walter already knows exactly how this will work out. Kitty seems to be the only one surprised by Charles’ duplicity.

I have to say that Walter had a special place in my heart. I love stories with darker themes and am drawn to anti-heroes. There was something so sinister and calculating about Walter that really drew me to him. Kitty was right to be afraid of her husband, even as she knew that he loved her. Walter was kind of a scary guy.

Arriving in the small village, it is immediately apparent that Kitty is being punished for her transgressions. Walter keeps her at a distance and is cold, at best. It becomes clear to Kitty that Walter is seeking revenge, using cholera to commit a passive murder/suicide. It was sick. It was twisted. It was goddamn brilliant!

The more time she spent in the village, the more Kitty came to see the error of her ways. For the first time, Kitty grew to appreciate her husband and even admire him. Though she never really fell in love with him, she finally felt shame and remorse for her actions.

As much as I disliked Kitty at the onset of this book, she grew on me. I came to see her as an imperfect human, a product of her privileged upbringing and societal expectations. Similarly, I came to see some of Walter’s flaws. He wasn’t entirely a victim as I believed, early on.

I can’t say that there is one “moral of the story” that really stands out to me with the book. There were many. This book was a beautiful, albeit heartbreaking, account of the human experience.

Although this isn’t my usual type of story, I enjoyed it immensely. There were plenty of twists and turns along the way that I didn’t see coming. Early on, I thought I had it all worked out in my head, but I was sooo wrong. This story did not pan out the way I had envisioned, but it was strangely fitting for this couple.

Overall, I thought that this was a wonderful book. It isn’t a particularly happy or uplifting read, but it was great in and of it’s own accord. This is one that will definitely hang with me for a while. I highly recommend it.

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Review: Sisters One, Two, Three, by Nancy Star

Sisters One, Two, ThreeSisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was the first book that I’ve read by this author, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. ‘Sisters One, Two Three’ certainly wasn’t my usual type of story. It ended up being “okay”, but not particularly interesting or compelling – at least, not for me.

I listed to the Audible version of this book and the narration was fine. However, the characters were unappealing and awkward for me. I just didn’t like any of them…and boy, did I try.

The story is told from the POV of Ginger and jumps back and forth between her present-day adult life and her childhood. The reader/listener is provided a front row seat to the inner-workings of two generations of strained mother-daughter relationships. There is the present-day relationship between Ginger and her daughter, Julia. Then, there is the relationships between Ginger’s mother, Glory, with Ginger and her sisters, Mimi and Callie.

Right from the start, I was appalled by Julia’s disrespectful behavior toward her mother. Oddly enough, while it seems that the intent of the author is to portray Ginger as some sort of over-bearing, out of control, worry wart, I didn’t find any of Ginger’s behaviors to be alarming. In fact, if anything, I found the lack of concern from her husband and the daughter’s bratty, entitled behavior to be the source of my outrage. I was with Ginger all the way. Her teenage daughter needed to be reined in and her husband needed a foot in his a$$.

Accordingly I didn’t buy into one of the major premises of this story, which was that Ginger’s over-bearing nature chased off her daughter. Apparently, when your underage teenage daughter hangs out in her bedroom with her boyfriend, it is going too far to expect her to keep the bedroom door open. Similarly, it should be alright for said teenage daughter to respond in a mouthy, disrespectful manner to her mother if she dares to ask “where she is going”, “who she is going with”, “what she is doing”, etc. I call bullshit! That is called “parenting”.

Of course, while I spent most of this book wanting to bitch-slap Ginger’s worthless husband, who spent most of this story mentally checked out, I couldn’t really jump on the “horrible Ginger bandwagon” that seemed to be driving the storyline. Nope. Nothing was going to convince me that a reasonable parent wouldn’t be concerned when their underage teenage daughter decided to run off with her boyfriend to become a…wait for it…STREET PERFORMER! I could definitely understand Ginger, it was every other adult in this book that concerned me. To think that Ginger’s husband was actually a counselor of some sort terrified me.

Meanwhile, Ginger’s memories provide a glimpse into her own relationship with her mother. If Ginger is overbearing, her mother was anything but. In fact, I’m not sure that her mother had a nurturing bone in her body. Glory was one of the most self-absorbed characters that I’ve ever encountered. Her children were little more than “accessories” or a “captive audience” to stroke her out of control ego. Toward the end, a little light was shed regarding her motivations for some of her actions. By that point, it made little difference to me. I loathed this woman.

I don’t want to give too much away, but there are many lies and secrets that prove to be pivotal in this story. Aside from highlighting some very troublesome mother-child relationships, this book illustrates how lies can be ruinous. There was so much dishonesty and it left destruction in it’s wake.

Overall, this ended up being a mediocre read for me. I didn’t feel like all of my questions were answered. For example, I still have questions about the nature of Glory’s relationship with Casper. I also felt like the “big reveal” was a bit anti-climactic. I guess after all of the waiting, I expected something more. In the end, it just never happened.

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Review: Dirty Promises (Dirty Angels, #3), by Karina Halle

Dirty Promises (Dirty Angels, #3)Dirty Promises by Karina Halle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Karina Halle wasn’t kidding when she said that this was the darkest book that she’s written. I knew when I opened up this book to find a couple of pages of forewarning from the author about how dark and disturbing the content was, that this was going to be a book that I loved. It certainly did not disappoint!

I have been a die-hard Javier fan from the start. There is something about him that I just can’t resist. He definitely isn’t a nice guy by any means, but I find him absolutely irresistible. In fact, I’m still pretty peeved with Ellie for choosing Cam over Javier. I don’t think that I’ll ever get completely past that.

Unlike ‘Dirty Deeds’, ‘Dirty Promises’ is centered on Javier and his wife, Luisa. While Javier was never a “good guy”, this book gives us a front row seat to his downward spiral into the depths of his depravity. The fact that his life as a cartel leader had corrupted him was hinted at in the last book, but I couldn’t even begin to fathom how far gone he was.

After the way things worked out in ‘Dirty Deeds’, Javier is a broken man. His violent, gory actions are extreme, even for him. He pretty much succumbed to madness.

While Javier is acting out his most brutal and depraved fantasies, he has completely neglected his wife. Luisa has tried to be patient and has done her best to overlook Javier’s indiscretions. However, there comes a point when she can no longer do so.

Of course, Javier has an enemy in his midst working to capitalize on Javier’s anguish. Betrayal after betrayal, this book completely gutted me. Aside from the sheer brutality, my heart wasn’t prepared for the emotional pain that this book would deliver. I was absolutely gutted by this story.

Even as the Javier fangirl that I am, I found it hard to forgive him for some of his actions in this book. No doubt about it, they were despicable. Luisa’s actions were easier to understand when confronted with the reality of what Javier put her through. I liked her before, but my heart really went out to her in this book. If there was anyone that was the “victim” in this scenario, it was definitely Luisa.

Without a doubt, this was one of the most intense dark stories that I’ve read in some time. I actually cried as Luisa suffered, which doesn’t happen very often. It was gritty, depraved and highly emotional. As disturbing as Javier’s world is, I cannot get enough! I loved this book!

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Review: Wild and Free (The Three, #3), by Kristen Ashley

Wild and Free (The Three, #3)Wild and Free by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At last, “The Three” have arrived. ‘Wild and Free’ is the third, and final, book in Kristen Ashley’s paranormal romance series featuring vampires, werewolves, hybrids and a smorgasbord of other supernatural beings. It took a while to get here, but the final prophesied couple has been discovered and the final showdown between team good and team evil takes place.

If you’ve read the first two books in this series, you know that the final couple consists of a vampire/werewolf hybrid and his mate. That hybrid is Abel Jin and Delilah Johnson is his mate. He’s never understood his abilities and feared his very nature. She has her own peculiarities, but has embraced them.

Although Abel shares many characteristics with the other Alpha-male heroes in this series, he certainly didn’t waste any time in claiming his mate. In fact, this occurs in the opening scene. Bam! Abel arrives on scene and is like, “you’re mine now” and carries her off with him. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t exactly like that…but pretty close.

I have to admit that I was a little surprised by the speed with which Abel arrived on scene and spelled it out for Delilah, because the first two heroes took right up until the end to get down to business. It worked though. If Abel had wasted much time, I don’t think that things would’ve been squared away in time for the battles to come.

Despite being powerful and dangerous, Abel had a vulnerability about him. He grew up without a “mentor” of his kind to show him the way. Raised by generations of the same human family, he lived a life of constant and unavoidable loss. He was the type of character that made your heart go out to him.

Delilah had some bumps along the way, but grew up with the love and adoration of her biker dad. She never doubted that she could count on him. In contrast to Abel, she was incredibly comfortable in her own skin. She did a lot to help him come to terms with accepting himself, which was critical.

Like the other heroines, Delilah has special powers. She also has vivid dreams. Although I never fully understood exactly what her special ability was, it became apparent that she was the toughest of them all. In fact, whatever Delilah could do made everybody else’s powers look puny in comparison.

Overall, this was a great book. Admittedly, it was my least favorite of the three books in the series. This is probably because this book seems to focus less on the romance and more on the action and battles between good and evil. However, it was still fantastic. If you’re a fan of the series, this book brings everything full circle.

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Review: Dirty Deeds (Dirty Angels, #2), by Karina Halle

Dirty Deeds (Dirty Angels, #2)Dirty Deeds by Karina Halle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have had ‘Dirty Deeds’ on my TBR for a long time now. Javier Bernal is one of my all-time favorite anti-heroes and I just can’t get enough of him. So, when I heard that this spin-off series would feature him, I couldn’t wait. I dived right in to the first book in the ‘Dirty Angels’ series.

However, after I finished the first book, I lost some of my enthusiasm for the series. Don’t get me wrong, the first book was fantastic and as it turns out, so was this one. It’s just that I was single-mindedly focused on Javier and when I saw that my favorite bad guy wasn’t going to be the central focus of ‘Dirty Deeds’, I moved it to the back burner.

That being said, I really wish I hadn’t done that now. ‘Dirty Deeds’ ended up being a terrific story. While it isn’t as “dark” as any story centered on Javier would be, it was well worth reading. It was packed full of danger and suspense. It was a highly entertaining read.

‘Dirty Deeds’ tells the story of Alana Bernal, Javier’s youngest sister. She has spent her life trying to survive the violence of the cartel world that she was born into. She just wants to have a safe, normal life, but has always known that this was not her fate.

Alana tries to distance herself from her cartel kingpin brother, Javier, as much as possible. She works as a flight attendant and keeps her brother’s identity a safely-guarded secret. Alana knows that regardless of her lack of a close sibling relationship with Javier, she would be used as a pawn for his enemies. If she ever doubted it, she need only remember the murder of her sister and her family at the hands of one of Javier’s enemies.

Dereck Conway is an American living in Mexico and working as a contract killer for the cartels. He doesn’t care why a hit is ordered, he only cares about whether or not he is paid. He has long since came to terms with the fact that he has sold his soul to the highest bidder.

When Dereck is hired to kill Alana Bernal, he finds himself wanting to know more about his mark. There is something about her that stirs an interest in him. He has never allowed himself to humor any curiosity about a job before this and knows that he is walking a dangerous line. He shouldn’t care about what she did to get a death warrant, but he does.

On the day that Dereck goes to complete the kill, an accident changes everything. In no time, Dereck goes from assassin to protector. He insinuates himself into Alana’s life. The deeper he gets, the more clear it becomes that he has no intention of ever letting her go, much less killing her.

Despite their connection, Alana and Dereck have built their relationship on lies. The deception runs deep. Alana has not been honest about who her brother is or why it is that somebody might want her dead. Dereck hasn’t even told her his real name and the story he gave her about his life is entirely fabricated.

In time, the truth is revealed and the little trust in their relationship is called into question. When this happens, everything hits the fan. Alana, not knowing whether or not Dereck is a threat, places herself in real danger trying to get away from him.

Although not the central focus of this story, Javier is certainly a strong influence. His relationship with Alana is the motivation for the price on her head. His enemies have become her enemies by association.

It is clear that Javier is changing. He was always dark and dangerous, with a highly questionable code of morality. However, ‘Dirty Deeds’ shows a transformed man that has become completely consumed by the power and danger of his life as a cartel leader. I was taken aback by the cold indifference of his treatment of Alana. No doubt, this book foreshadows events to come in ‘Dirty Promises’.

This book is part of a series and the books should be read in order to fully understand what is going on. In fact, I would recommend reading all of the books in ‘The Artists’ series prior to starting the ‘Dirty Angels’ series, since this series is a spin-off series and does reference events in the earlier series quite a bit. Not to worry though, all of the books in both series are wonderful if you like dark, dangerous stories with some romance thrown in.

Like it’s predecessors, ‘Dirty Deeds’ does not disappoint. I postponed reading this one because I wanted more time with Javier, but wish I hadn’t done that. Although he isn’t a huge part of this book, he was definitely influential. Alana and Dereck’s story proved to be engaging and entertaining in and of it’s own right. If you’re a fan of these series, I definitely recommend this book and these series.

If you’re a Javier junkie, like me, you’ll be glad to know that he does make an appearance in this one. He just isn’t the focal point of this book.

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Review: With Everything I Am (The Three, #2), by Kristen Ashley

With Everything I Am (The Three, #2)With Everything I Am by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in Kristen Ashley’s ‘The Three’ series, ‘With Everything I Am’ tells the story of Callum and Sonia. Callum, the King of Werewolves, meets his mate when she is a young girl. Although their initial interaction was brief, Callum was never far from Sonia’s mind.

Since she was a young girl, Sonia has dreamed about the wolf she “adopted” as a young girl. After the death of her parents, she is taken in by a family friend. Eventually her family’s cabin and “her wolf” remain only in her dreams.

When Sonia is attacked, Callum is forced to claim his mate earlier than he had intended. The threat to her safety has made it imperative that Callum step in. He no longer has time for the prolonged “human” courtship that he had planned for Sonia.

Unaware of the existence of supernatural beings, Sonia dismisses everything Callum does as the actions of a madman. Clearly, he is unhinged and completely delusional. Initially thinking that she’s been kidnapped for ransom, she soon decides that Callum is the leader of some fanatical cult instead. This made for some pretty comical situations as Callum tries to win Sonia over.

As Sonia comes to terms with the existence of werewolves and other supernatural beings, she slowly comes to question her own special abilities. Sonia has always had extremely heightened senses, but never knew the cause. Furthermore, she suffers from a debilitating illness that she must take daily injections to manage or risk suffering tremendously.

This book was definitely a slow-burn, as is typical of a Kristen Ashley book. At times, I found myself wondering if the storyline would ever progress. Similar to the first book, Callum was not upfront with Sonia about the prophecy and what she meant to him.

Eventually, everything between Callum and Sonia works itself out. Now two of the three prophesied couples have connected. Things are heating up and it is clear that war is on the horizon.

After finishing ‘With Everything I Am’, I was anxious to meet the third couple and see what Ms. Ashley has in store for these supernatural warriors. I am sure that the third book will prove to be much more action-oriented and dangerous. I cannot wait for Lucien’s father to get what he has coming.

Overall, this was a great story. It was a little slow at times, but the characters and storyline were well-developed and engaging. I enjoyed Sonia’s quirky personality and sense of humor quite a bit. I will definitely be continuing this series.

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Review: Disfigured Love, by Georgia Le Carre

Disfigured LoveDisfigured Love by Georgia Le Carre
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I love a great, dark story, ‘Disfigured Love’ ended up being a disappointment for me. It definitely had plenty of “dark” content, but it failed to trigger much of an emotional response. I never felt a strong connection to the main characters and the heroine’s reactions seemed forced.

Lena Seagull grows up in an extremely abusive household in Russia. Her father is a real bastard and her mother is the embodiment of Battered Wife Syndrome. For years he abuses everyone in the household, until he decides to begin selling off his children one by one. Meanwhile, the mother is paralyzed with fear and does absolutely nothing to prevent this.

When Lena’s father sells her to the human traffickers, she is sold in an online auction. Guy Hawke is the wealthy man that purchases Lena. Although he struggles internally with the idea of buying a girl, his conscience is not powerful enough to make him do the right thing. He knows that what he’s doing is horrible, but he doesn’t care. He wants Lena and he will force her to submit to him.

Guy wastes no time in abusing his new toy. He viciously and repeatedly rapes her. Lena, surprisingly, seems to take it all in stride. Honestly, it was so unbelievable that it was laughable.

All the while, he wears a mask, or blindfolds her, when they are together so that she cannot see his disfigured face. Of course, Guy has a tragic past that has left him emotionally scarred and is supposed to somehow excuse his behavior. Again, it was just too convenient and felt contrived. I didn’t buy it.

Following the classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’ storyline, the two end up falling in love. No big shocker there! When Lena discovers his big secret, this results in a big misunderstanding. Guy “sets her free”, but really he just tosses her out like a piece of trash.

In the end, they find their way back to each other. The misunderstanding is cleared up. They go on to live out the HEA. Cue the eye roll.

Overall, I give it 2 1/2 stars. It wasn’t the worst I’ve read, but it left a LOT to be desired. Mostly, it was just underwhelming. As a huge fan of darker reads, I actually liked the fact that the author wasn’t afraid to write about controversial topics, like abuse, in graphic detail. However, the appeal in a dark read is in the emotional response that it elicits. This book failed to do that.

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Review: POSSESSION, by Jaimie Roberts

POSSESSIONPOSSESSION by Jaimie Roberts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

***I was provided a complimentary ARC of this book, by the author, in exchange for honest feedback.***

Wow! Jaimie Roberts never ceases to blow me away with the completely f*cked-up stories that come out of her twisted mind. If you’ve followed my reviews for long, you know that dark, disturbing stories are my favorite kind. I just love a story that pushes my boundaries and makes me tremble with equal parts fear and anticipation. This is exactly that kind of story.

Now, if you’re not a fan of truly dark content then this book will have absolutely no appeal for you. Ms. Roberts is not an author that is afraid to write truly dark stories. This is not a quasi-dark story that toes the line. Nope! She steps right over the line and boldly keeps on going. So read the disclaimer and take it seriously. There is violence, rape, abuse, etc., and not in that fluffy “almost dark” way that fills the pages of many romance books. (No judgment. Just be forewarned.)

So, if knowing that, you choose to read this book then buckle up. Ms. Roberts holds nothing back. This book is graphic. It’s disturbing. It’s offensive. It will make you squirm in your seat and make you cringe. I loved every damn minute!

‘POSSESSION’ centers on Evelyn, who is a very young girl when she first meets the much older Drake Salvatore. She is certainly not a priority for her despicable parents, who frequently entertain shady characters of all sorts in their home. In fact, this is how Evelyn first comes to meet Drake.

While her parents are inattentive and downright negligent on their best days, Drake is anything but. After meeting Evelyn, he goes out of his way to spend time with her. He takes her for ice cream, buys her presents and becomes a father-figure of sorts. She comes to rely heavily upon him for companionship and protection. Only, his feelings toward Evelyn are a far cry from fatherly.

When Evelyn’s parents try to sell her to another, Drake comes to the “rescue”. At the age of 14, Evelyn is sold to Drake. However, she is to remain at home with her parents until she is 18 and Drake claims her.

To say the least, this whole scenario was very creepy. On the one hand, Drake assumes this protective, caring persona. He spoils Evelyn and seems to adore her.

On the other hand, there is nothing reassuring about a man that purchases a 14 year-old girl. He may be holding off until she is of legal age, but it is evident that his intentions are not innocent. This was made very clear in the opening pages of the book, before going back in time to tell their story from the start.

It was very hard to reconcile the two “Drakes” that were presented. We have the sweet guy that is almost swoon-worthy. This Drake is in stark contrast to the abusive, “rapey” monster that wants only to break Evelyn. My head was spinning.

From start to finish, I could not pull myself away from this book. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cover my eyes or dive right in. Days later, I’m still conflicted and trying to make sense of how I feel about this story, which really says something.

That being said, I do have a couple of criticisms. (Shocking, I know.) First, there were quite a few editing oversights. However, since I was provided an ARC, it is highly likely that many of those errors were corrected in the final version. So, that might be a non-issue.

The only other gripe that I have is that Evelyn’s reactions to some of Drake’s actions were not especially believable. I would have expected, and craved, much more emotion. Where was the anger, betrayal and pain? The things that he did were horrendous and she seemed to take it with a grain of salt. I know that her life was pretty bad, but still. I think I was more upset by his actions than Evelyn was.

Overall, this was still a fantastic dark read. I applaud Ms. Roberts for not being afraid to really embrace the dark aspects of this story. Doing so always causes a lot of controversy and upset. In my opinion, pushing readers limits is what makes a truly wonderful story. I love it when a story makes me uncomfortable and gets my heart racing. ‘POSSESSION’ certainly does that.

No rainbows and unicorns here. Expect to have your mind blown! This isn’t a story for everyone, but fans of dark romance/erotica won’t want to miss it!

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Review: Blackbird (Redemption, #1), by Molly McAdams

Blackbird (Redemption Book 1)Blackbird by Molly McAdams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Blackbird’ is the first book in Molly McAdams ‘Redemption’ series and is a lot darker than her previous works. I have enjoyed just about every book that I’ve read by Ms. McAdams and as a lover of dark romance, I was very excited to hear that she was trying her hand at writing “darker” romance. While not as dark as I was hoping for, ‘Blackbird’ proves to be a captivating read.

The story centers on Briar Chapman, a young lady that comes from a wealthy family. She is finishing up college and is engaged to Kyle Armstrong, the son of the Georgia governor. Much to her family’s disappointment, she chooses to make her own way, waiting tables while going to school.

One day she picks up a shift for a coworker and her life is forever changed. Just outside of the restaurant, she is kidnapped. The next thing she knows, she’s been sold at auction to a wealthy man.

Briar finds herself in a helpless situation. She is at the mercy of a man that says he owns her. He has no intention of ever letting her go and he refuses to entertain her pleas.

In time, Briar finds herself growing attached to her captor. Before long, she is questioning her own sanity and whether or not she really wants to return to her real life. Eventually, she has to face the fact that she has fallen in love with the man that she should hate.

While this story has many things in common with other captivity-themed romances, it also stands out from the rest in many ways. For starters, the man that purchased Briar, Lucas Holt, is not what he seems. The “world” that Lucas is a part of is also unlike any other that I’ve read about. The setting and circumstances were really quite unique. These differences were enough to make ‘Blackbird’ stand out from the rest.

There were quite a few twists and turns along the way. If you enjoy a bit of danger and action, this book delivers it in spades. In fact, ‘Blackbird’ was every bit as much of an organized crime romance as it was a captivity-themed romance.

My only gripe is that it wasn’t dark enough for my tastes. There were quite a few scenes that were heading into some very dark territory, but then something would happen right at the last moment and Briar would be saved. Lucas couldn’t ever really commit to do what he set out to do because he couldn’t stand the thought of hurting his blackbird.

While I can appreciate the sentiment, it was kind of a letdown for me. I love disturbing, dark stories and the strong emotional response that they elicit. This book was like a big tease in that sense.

I’m of the mindset that if you want to go dark, then go dark. Don’t skirt the edges of the forbidden territory while being too afraid to take that leap. This seems to be pretty common among authors that want to write “dark” content. I’m not sure if it is because they are afraid of the backlash that will come with delving into truly dark content, or what. However, for a fan of darker reads, this can be very frustrating.

Otherwise, this was a fantastic story. I would’ve liked it to be darker, but it was certainly much darker than anything that I’ve read by this author before. Even though it wasn’t as depraved as I would have liked, it was still a highly enjoyable read for me.

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Review: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story (Wonder, #1.5), by R. J. Palacio

The Julian Chapter: A Wonder StoryThe Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved ‘Wonder’ and think that everyone should read/listen to it at least once. However, with all of the different viewpoints offered, I felt like one of the most important POVs had been skipped. As much as I detested Julian in ‘Wonder’, I really wanted to know exactly what made him such a mean kid. How does a child learn to behave so hatefully?

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person that felt that Julian’s POV was needed. Immediately upon finishing ‘Wonder’, I went in search of Julian’s POV and I lucked out. The author wrote a separate short story to tell Julian’s side of the story. Of course, I dived right into Julian’s story right away and it proved to be a great decision.

I have to admit that as much as I wanted to hear Julian’s side of events and learn about what motivated him, I was a bit hesitant. Julian was a character that made me feel anger and rage at his actions. I had to keep reminding myself while reading ‘Wonder’ that he was just a child and that he probably didn’t fully grasp the impact of his words. Starting this book, I was worried that I wouldn’t find any redeeming qualities in Julian and that I would spend hours being upset by his callous behavior. Thankfully, my fears were unwarranted.

‘The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story’ takes place toward the end of the school year and the following summer. It begins when Julian is caught leaving mean notes for Auggie and Jack in their lockers. The Principal and school counselor are tipped off and are able to intervene, finding an especially cruel note before Auggie does.

While Julian’s actions were inexcusable, his family dynamics spoke volumes. I was immediately taken aback by his parents lack of concern for his behavior and their obsession with public image. It was clear to me that this is where Julian’s troubles really started. As a parent, I was appalled by these shallow individuals. Julian’s mother even went so far as to photo-shop Auggie out of the class photo! I just have no words.

Initially, Julian is defensive and doesn’t really grasp the severity of his actions. However, as the story progresses – and with no help from his parents – he comes to see the error of his ways. His grandmother, whom he spends his summer vacation with in France, is instrumental in this.

Julian’s grandmother tells him about a boy that she knew when she was younger. He was disabled and often treated cruelly by the children in the village because they were afraid of him. As a young Jewish girl, hunted by the Nazis, it was this boy that ended up saving her life. Despite the mistreatment that he had endured, he showed kindness and bravery. He risked his own life to save a girl that had never paid him much attention, except to avoid him.

After hearing his grandmother’s story, Julian is able to connect the empathize with Auggie. Finally, he feels genuine remorse for his actions and understands exactly what he did. It was like he turned a new leaf and I really liked this new Julian.

I’m very glad that I read Julian’s story. I was worried about what I would get when I started it, but it did not disappoint. I especially liked Julian’s grandmother. She provided the guidance and wisdom that Julian’s parents failed to.

On the flip side, I could not so easily forgive Julian’s parents. Yes, they too came around a bit at the end, but only with the grandmother twisting their arms. Some explanations were offered for Julian’s mother’s behavior, but I found them to be weak at best. Julian may have been a child, but his parents were not. They should’ve known better. I just couldn’t get past that.

Overall, this was a fantastic story. He isn’t an easy character to like, but this book serves as a reminder that even bullies are human. Despite his despicable behavior toward Auggie, Julian was only a child in need of some direction and positive role models. In the end, he becomes a better person. If you enjoyed ‘Wonder’, I would definitely recommend this one.

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