Review: Taken by the Russian, by Alexa Riley

Taken by the RussianTaken by the Russian by Alexa Riley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve finally read my first Alexa Riley book! I know I’m pretty late to the game…but it was good. I give it a solid 3.5 stars. I’m still trying to decide exactly how I feel about it, so my rating might change in the future.

I always struggle with how to rate quick, smutty reads like this one. I can’t rate it against other full-length books, because that isn’t the type of story that this is. Instead, my rating is based upon other comparable, short, smutty reads — if that makes any sense.

The story is very short and progresses quickly. There wasn’t a lot of character development and things just seemed to kind of happen without much build-up. That being said, I was surprised with the amount of development that was there, given the small number of pages.

Anya is a young girl, on the brink of her eighteenth birthday, at the onset of the story. She has been sheltered for most of her life, but is headed off to college. Her long-time bodyguard, Sasha, is supposed to deliver her to school, but he has other plans.

Sasha has worked for Anya’s father for several years. In exchange for bringing his family to America, he agreed to serve as Anya’s bodyguard for an agreed upon number of years. During that time, one of his primary responsibilities was making sure that she remained pure and untouched. That task proved to be almost unbearable for Sasha, who has lusted after her for years. Taking her to college is his last assigned duty before his time is up.

The huge age difference between Anya and Sasha definitely adds to the taboo nature of this story. Add to that the fact that Sasha had been fantasizing about Anya for years, since the time she was middle-school aged, and it is enough to make you pretty damn uncomfortable. Of course, that is the appeal.

Needless to say, Anya and Sasha eventually cross the line and their relationship morphs into something entirely new…and dirty. I’m pretty drawn to taboo and forbidden stories, but this was pretty over-the-top. I enjoyed it, but it was the kind of smutty entertainment that I just can’t take too seriously. Some of it was incredibly hot. Other parts were kind of disturbing.

All in all, I thought that it was a pretty good, smutty read. I can definitely see what the appeal is, now that I’ve read my first Alexa Riley book. Usually, I prefer a lot more build-up and development in my stories, but this is a great choice if you’re looking for a quick, dirty and hot type of read. This is definitely a “guilty pleasure” type of story.

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Review: Roses of May (The Collector, #2), by Dot Hutchison

Roses of May (The Collector #2)Roses of May by Dot Hutchison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘Roses of May’ is the second book in ‘The Collector’ series, by Dot Hutchison. Although there are a few connections, through characters, between the two books, they are really not a major factor. This book could easily be read as a standalone.

This book is told from multiple POVs, but the majority of the book is told from the POV of Priya Sravasti. Year’s ago, Priya’s sister, Chavi, was murdered by a serial killer that has managed to evade capture for over a decade. Now it seems that she has become the murderer’s latest obsession.

Priya and her mother have moved all over the country trying to lay low and avoid Priya’s new stalker. With each new springtime murder, Priya receives flowers like the ones left on the victims. It is clear that they are coming from the murderer.

Meanwhile, three eager FBI agents work with Priya to try and find the killer before he strikes again. Some have a more personal stake in the manhunt and over the years they’ve formed a bond with Priya and her mother. Eventually they begin considering ways to use Priya to help them draw out the killer.

All in all, it was an okay type of read. I didn’t hate it, but I never really felt a strong connection to any of the characters either. It was pretty predictable and lacked the tension and anxiety that I would have expected for a suspense/thriller. It also seemed to have several long lulls, where I was waiting for something…anything…to happen. In my opinion, this follow-up wasn’t nearly as good as the first book.

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Review: On the Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe RoadJellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘On the Jellicoe Road’ is the first book I’ve read/listened to by this author. After all of the glowing reviews for this one, I was prepared to be blown away. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out that way for me. It ended up being an “okay” story for me.

My first problem has less to do with the actual story, and more to do with the format that I chose. I listened to the Audible edition and that was a big mistake. The problem didn’t stem from the quality of narration, so much as the complexity of the story. There were simply too many moving parts for me to try and keep track of while listening to an audiobook. It is incredibly hard to pull off a book like this in audiobook format and it didn’t work for me.

I spent hours trying to figure out who the characters were and what the hell was going on. The transitions between characters and time frames was not always obvious, making matters even worse. I must have been hours into the story before I figured out that there were actually two stories playing out — one in the present and one in the past. Needless to say, I lost a lot of time being utterly confused and unaware of what was going on.

By the time I began to piece some things together, I had already missed so many of the “connections” and details that it was kind of pointless. When the big reveals came toward the end, they were kind of meaningless to me. I never really connected with the characters or the storyline. I had simply missed too much to play catch-up at that point.

The story centers on Taylor Markham, a girl that was abandoned on the Jellicoe Road by her mother at the age of 11. She lives at a boarding school (orphanage???). When the lady that has taken care of her disappears, she is certain that something is amiss. Taylor sets out to find Hannah, or discover what really happened to her.

When she runs across a book/journal written by Hannah, she begins to unveil some long-standing secrets. Along with some friends from her school, she has several creepy encounters and a variety of adventures. There is some sort of rivalry described between the two groups of kids…but I was pretty confused so I can’t say I ever really grasped what that was about for sure.

Overall, this ended up being a middle of the road story for me. I do suspect that I’m not doing this story justice though. I was just too lost for most of the book to take much away from the experience this time around.

I do plan to re-read this in the future, because I have some lingering questions. I’m sure they were answered along the way and I just didn’t catch it. I definitely won’t be listening to the audiobook on my second attempt. This story will require my full attention.

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Review: The Iron Tiara, by Beth Flynn

The Iron TiaraThe Iron Tiara by Beth Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved ‘Nine Minutes’. So, when I saw that Beth Flynn had published a spin-off, I was all over it. No way was I going to miss anything remotely related to Grizz and Ginny!

‘The Iron Tiara’ is the story of Anthony Bear and Christy Chapman. If you’ve read ‘Nine Minutes’, you’ll remember Anthony as the leader of the “rival” biker gang on Florida’s west coast and Grizz’s best friend. This book shows a softer side to the intimidating biker.

Like Grizz and Ginny, Anthony and Christy’s relationship began with an abduction and captivity by the leader of a dangerous biker gang. That is where the similarities end though. Christy was an adult at the time she was taken. Anthony’s motives were also much different than Grizz’s.

While Grizz stole Ginny because he wanted her and had every intention of claiming her as his woman, Anthony did not set out to possess Christy. In fact, he loathed her initially. Their relationship evolved as Anthony watched her and came to realize that his preconceived notions about who she was were entirely unfounded.

Anthony took Christy as leverage. Her step-father owed Anthony a lot of money and Anthony planned to hold her hostage until he paid up. Unfortunately, Christy wasn’t the cherished princess that Anthony had envisioned. In fact, her relationship with her step-father was probably worse than Anthony’s relationship with him was.

After Christy’s step-father, Van, skips town, Anthony continues to keep Christy as his prisoner. As the reality that he isn’t coming back begins to dawn on him, he decides to keep her for entirely different reasons. He wants her, whether he is ready to admit it to himself or not.

Meanwhile, it becomes evident that Anthony isn’t the only one looking for Christy. Her step-father’s careless spending placed her on the radar of some very dangerous people. It is then that her captor transitions to the role of protector.

Despite the captivity theme, the relationship between Anthony and Christy develops over time. Anthony woos Christy gradually, even though he recognizes his feelings pretty early-on. Don’t expect any type of sex slave scenarios to play out here.

I enjoyed the slow burn of their relationship. Likewise, the glimpses of Grizz and Ginny’s story, told from a new POV, were a nice touch. Seeing the worlds of these characters intersect and putting the pieces together to form a more robust history was really nice.

That being said, I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as ‘Nine Minutes’. Don’t misunderstand me, it was great. ‘Nine Minutes’ is a tough act to follow.

In the end, I though that this was a wonderful spin-off. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m still dying to get my hands on the next book in the ‘Nine Minutes’ series and this book provided some extra background and paved the way for what is to come. I cannot wait!

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Review: The Things We Wish Were True, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

The Things We Wish Were TrueThe Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Things We Wish Were True’ was a book that I picked up with my Kindle Unlimited membership. I listened to the Audible edition and it was better than I expected. This story had a lot going on, but the author managed to weave the characters and events together seamlessly. It was my first Marybeth Mayhew Whalen book, but it won’t be my last.

The story is set in the small, southern town of Sycamore Glen, North Carolina. I enjoyed the description of this town and thought that the author did a fabulous job of capturing the essence of a small southern town. So often, authors are guilty of only portraying southern towns as being filled with idiotic, racist rednecks, feeding into all of the worst stereotypes of the people in this region of the country.

As a Mississippi native, I appreciate that this author didn’t do that, taking the time to present a more balanced view. There are certainly some racist rednecks in the South, but they aren’t a good representation of the majority. Having lived in, and traveled to, various locales across the country, I can assure you that racist, ignorant rednecks are everywhere. Sad, but true.

The story is told from multiple POVs. Everyone seems to get a chance to share their version of events. With a robust cast of characters, I admit that this was a little confusing at first. However, it wasn’t long before I had all of the characters sorted and I was completely lost in the goings on of this small community.

This is the type of town where everyone is connected somehow. Maybe their grown kids went to school with the young parents that are now raising their own families in town, as was the case for Zell. Maybe they’ve returned to town to lick their wounds, returning to the safety of their parents’ home after a failed marriage, as Jancey did. Perhaps, like Lance, they’re struggling to raise their children alone after being abandoned by their spouse. Or, maybe they’re trying to grow their family while working hard to keep their secrets at bay, like Everett and Bryte.

Everyone has a story and their lives are interconnected. Some connections are obvious, while others are revealed slowly, over the course of the book. The tragic near-drowning of a child at the community pool will pull them all together and set a series of events in motion.

Despite being a relatively short book, there was a lot going on. A child abductor is in their midst. Lies, betrayals and secrets abound. However, the author manages to incorporate many different elements without the story feeling “over the top” or outrageous. Granted, some things were a bit too coincidental, but it worked overall.

All in all, this was a great story. I really enjoyed it and found myself lost in the small town drama that played out. If you’re looking for an entertaining read that has a little mystery, without a high level of suspense and anxiety, I think this is a good choice.

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Review: Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part 3 (King, #7), by T. M. Frazier

Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part Three (King, #7)Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part Three by T.M. Frazier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As much as I have enjoyed the ‘King’ series, I have mixed feelings about this book. Preppy is a favorite character of mine, but I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed with this final book in his story. At the same time, I was glad that everything was tied up and that the series drew to a close. I think it was time. It is kind of bittersweet for me.

Like earlier books in the series, Preppy, Bear and King team up to take on those that would do them harm. This time around, Dre is a target. Picking up right where the last book left off, Dre is in a dire situation and has to fight for her life. That isn’t the last time that they’ll find themselves in a life or death struggle though.

Despite the action and danger that fills the pages, I was left feeling somewhat bored. Maybe I’ve just grown tired of the constant danger and implausibility of this series, but I just wasn’t surprised or even anxious while reading this one. It felt kind of flat for me.

That being said, it was nice to see these characters all “grown up” and settled down. Each of them managed to find their happy place, going on to have children and live out their HEAs. These rough and tumble, drug-dealing guys have become the picture of domestic bliss. It is kind of sweet, in a bizarre way.

Overall, I thought that this ended up being a pretty good book. It didn’t hold my attention like the earlier books in the series, but I was also glad to see everything wind down and come to a close. It was a great ride while it lasted, but it was time.

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Review: Yasmeena’s Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and Survival, by Jean Sasson

Yasmeena's Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and SurvivalYasmeena’s Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and Survival by Jean Sasson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in Kuwait, ‘Yasmeena’s Choice’ is a graphic account of war crimes committed by Iraqi soldiers. The focus of Ms. Sasson’s work is the lives of women in the Middle East. Accordingly, this book is centered on the experience of Yasmeena, a young Lebanese woman that is in Kuwait at the time of the Iraqi invasion. After surviving a harrowing experience, she tells her story, bringing these atrocities to light.

Yasmeena is a flight attendant and it is only by chance that she finds herself in Kuwait on the day that Iraq invades it’s much smaller and more peaceful neighbor. She had agreed to trade shifts with a coworker. It’s funny how sometimes the small, seemingly mundane events in our lives often have the ability to set off a chain of events that is unforeseeable. This small act of kindness toward a coworker ends up being the most significant decision of Yasmeena’s life.

When the Iraqis invade, Yasmeena finds herself stranded in besieged country. She runs into a family friend, who invites her to stay with him and his family at their home while they wait out the Iraqis. At this point, everyone is sure that the invasion will be very short-term. Nobody could have predicted that the occupation would have gone on for so long before other nations intervened.

Stopped at a road block, Yasmeena is arrested and sent to a prison of sorts. However, this prison houses only female prisoners and their sole purpose is to satisfy the sexual urges of the Iraqi soldiers. Nothing was off-limits. When a soldier tired of his chosen victim, he just killed her and took another one. It was despicable.

Not surprisingly, this was an incredibly difficult story to read. The author did not hold back. This book is meant to upset and outrage readers and it certainly hit it’s mark. Yasmeena’s accounts of life as a female prisoner for her and the other girls under the Iraqi soldiers was horrifying.

This book serves to raise awareness and shine a light on one of the brutal realities of war — the crimes against women and children. The torture and rape of civilians, particularly women and children, is not something unique to Iraqi soldiers or this particular war. Yet, it is a topic that few dare to address. It is the worst kept “dirty little secret” of war that nobody wants to discuss. However, if it continues to be hidden away and ignored, then there is no hope for change.

Despite the brutality of this story, I think that it was an important book. It is a call to action, forcing readers to think about the plight of women in this war-torn region of the world. More importantly, it exposes the human side of these crimes and the emotional impact on the victims, making it harder to dehumanize them. Books like this one are painful, but necessary.

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Review: Kings Rising (Captive Prince, #3), by C. S. Pacat

Kings Rising (Captive Prince, #3)Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like earlier books in this series, ‘Kings Rising’ had my rapt attention from beginning to end. This book was action-packed and full of emotion. It broke my heart, only to piece it back together slowly. I loved every minute!

This book sees both Damen and Laurent fighting to reclaim their kingdoms. Despite their differences, the two are forced into a tenuous alliance. They need one another, if either of them hopes to succeed. This makes for plenty of emotional highs and lows along the way as the two attempt to navigate through their new realities. In many ways, the tables have turned. At the same time, so much remains unchanged.

Finally, all of Damen’s secrets are out in the open. No longer does he live in fear of what will happen when Laurent finds out who he really is. Instead, he now lives with his wrath. If he thought that Laurent would be angry, he was right.

To say that I found this a little hypocritical is putting it mildly. I kept thinking, “where does Laurent get off?” After all, Damen was his slave by force. Of course he would keep a secret like that. What did he expect him to do, tell his captor his true identity and face certain death?

That feeling only grew stronger as Laurent revealed some secrets of his own. I mean, where did he get off being so self-righteous? It seemed to me that Damen was played, yet again. If anything, Laurent proved, once again, to be one of the most manipulative characters that I’ve ever encountered.

Even so, I cannot deny that I absolutely loved this book. Every interaction between Damen and Laurent was like a delicious little drop of heaven for me. I spent the moments between their encounters holding my breath, waiting for their next interaction. It was pathetic really, but I have no shame.

In the end, I was left feeling quite satisfied. I wasn’t sure that these two would ever get there, but they eventually get some peace. I’m not a big fan of M/M romances generally, but I absolutely loved this series. It was heartfelt and sexy, with plenty of action along the way. The characters and storyline were well-developed and engaging. I would definitely recommend this series to others.

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Review: Prince’s Gambit (Captive Prince, #2), by C. S. Pacat

Prince's Gambit (Captive Prince, #2)Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the ‘Captive Prince’ series progresses, I find myself completely lost in the story of Damen and Laurent. Talk about a slow-burn, I have been dying for something to happen between these two. The anticipation was absolutely killing me.

While the first book primarily focused on the hedonistic indulgences and cruelty of Laurent’s court, this second book shows more of the inner workings. Many of the pieces are beginning to fall into place. There is far more to Laurent’s situation than meets the eye. In many ways, he is every bit the captive that Damen is.

The nearer Laurent gets to the day that he will claim his throne, the more underhanded his uncle becomes. It is evident that he has no intention of ever relinquishing the power of being King. He does everything within his power to discredit and undermine his nephew at every turn.

Unfortunately for Laurent’s uncle, his own manipulations end up being unexpectedly counterproductive. He coerces Laurent into serving near the border, anticipating that he and the substandard group of soldiers that he sent him with will end up being killed off. The assassins that he sends will surely finish off the job if the poor state of the group does not manage to die of their own accord.

Instead, Laurent and Damen form an unlikely alliance. Their tenuous relationship grows much stronger, even becoming the best of friends. Damen often finds himself in the position of a trusted confidante for Laurent. Before long, the two are practically inseparable.

At last, it is evident that there is far more going on between Laurent and Damen than meets the eye. Of course, there is a pervasive ominous feeling to this book. Damen’s identity is still a secret at this point. The looming threat of discovery lingers, tainting his interactions with Laurent. The more he grows to care for Laurent, the more Damen fears that his betrayal will come to light.

I enjoyed every minute of this book. I was taken in by the evolution of Damen and Laurent’s relationship from enemies to friends to lovers. I want things to work out for them so badly, even as I know that disaster is lurking around the corner. So many secrets. So many feelings. My heart is breaking for these two.

Needless to say, I thought that this was a wonderful book. I will dive into the third book immediately. I absolutely must know how things work out for Damen and Laurent. Despite the fact that M/M is not my usual preferred genre, I have absolutely fallen in love with this story. I want Damen and Laurent to get the HEA so badly.

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Review: Captive Prince: Volume One (Captive Prince, #1), by C. S. Pacat

Captive Prince: Volume One (Captive Prince, #1)Captive Prince: Volume One by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Captive Prince’ has been on my radar for a long time now. I have seen a plethora of glowing reviews from friends that have loved this series. As curious as I was, I kept putting off reading this series because M/M reads aren’t really my thing. However, my curiosity finally got the best of me and I downloaded the first audiobook in the series.

The rest is history! I blew through all three audiobooks in a couple of days, listening to them back to back until I had devoured the entire series. This series was fantastic!

Since I finished all three books in the series before sitting down to write my reviews, I’ll do my best not to give any big spoilers. The specifics of where one book ended and the next began are a little hazy for me. However, they were all worthwhile and highly entertaining books.

‘Captive Prince: Volume One’, introduces us to Damen and Laurent. The two are princes from rival kingdoms, only Damen’s true identity is a secret to everyone in Laurent’s court. If his true identity were known, he would surely be executed. Damen is surrounded by enemies, betrayed by his half-brother and sold into slavery.

Although the two are enemies, Damen and Laurent have many things in common. Both princes have fallen prey to family members who want to seize their crowns. Damen had his rule usurped by his illegitimate half-brother, Kastor, while Laurent is at the mercy of his uncle, who rules in his stead until Laurent is old enough to claim his crown.

That being said, it is hard to envision Laurent in the role of a victim. From the first introduction, his manipulative, and often cruel, nature is apparent. His treatment of Damen is deplorable as he strives to assert his power over his new, wild and unbroken pleasure slave. Laurent is clearly a character that enjoys head games.

On the other hand, Damen is a character that has instant appeal. He is put in an unspeakable situation and betrayed by the brother that he looked up to. My heart went out to Damen. I wanted to see him prevail.

Upon Damen’s arrival in the Vere, he is thrown into a life of debauchery. The Verethian court is filled with hedonistic and taboo sexual activities. The members of the courts indulge in every depraved act you can imagine. Nothing is off-limits, with the exception of enjoying pleasure slaves of the opposite gender in an effort to prevent the conception of illegitimate children that would sully the Verethian bloodlines. Rape and pedophilia are a way of life.

Accordingly, this will not be a book for many readers. It is full of dark, controversial and offensive content. This is not a lovey dovey type of story AT ALL. You will be appalled.

In fact, that is a large part of the appeal of this story. There aren’t too many graphic sex acts depicted, but the constant lingering threat of rape gives this book a very ominous feeling. I spent the entire time on the edge of my seat, waiting for the assault that I knew was inevitable. The anticipation, and resulting anxiety, was immense.

For most of this book, Laurent portrays a spoiled, bratty and cruel prince. He treats Damen harshly and is extremely abusive. However, there are brief glimpses of another side of him. I have no doubt that there is far more to Laurent than meets the eye.

This book definitely had my rapt attention. It wasn’t like most of the books that I read, but I was completely hooked. Without missing a beat, I dived right into the second book to continue Damen and Laurent’s story.

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