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: 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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Review: The King (Masterpiece Duet, #1), by Skye Warren

The King (Masterpiece Duet, #1)The King by Skye Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been dying to get my hands on Damon Scott’s story ever since he was introduced in ‘The Pawn’. He was just so sexy and dangerous that I couldn’t help but be drawn to his character. At the same time, it was clear that he wasn’t entirely “bad”. He had an underlying protective, even kind, nature that would sometimes shine through. When Penny was later introduced, the obvious tension and history between the two piqued my interests even more. I had to have this book.

Thankfully, I can say that this book did not disappoint. The Damon and Penny’s story was absolutely captivating. It was a story of youthful innocence against the backdrop of the city’s gritty criminal underbelly. It was also a story of innocence lost, addiction, betrayal and other unspeakable acts. There were so many facets of this story and I loved every single one.

Penny first meets Damon when she is a young girl. Living on the streets to try and escape his crazy father, a teenaged Damon grows fond of the bold little girl from the trailer park near the woods where he was camped. Left on their own as Penny’s father leaves her for days at a time to feed his gambling addiction, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. In many ways, Damon becomes an older brother type of figure in her life, although it is apparent that some of his feelings aren’t very brotherly.

Eventually, the two lose contact, but neither one forgets about the other. Penny grows into a teenager, struggling to make ends meet while her father continues to gamble away every bit of her money that she earned waiting tables. Meanwhile, Damon rises up from the back alleys to become a king of sorts in the criminal underground, his power surpassing even his own father’s.

When Penny’s father’s addiction places her in grave danger again, she finds herself in the crosshairs of Jonathan Scott. Knowing that his son cares about Penny only makes her an irresistible temptation for Damon’s deranged father. While Damon works hard to try and free Penny from the situation that her own father placed her in, Jonathan Scott sets out to harm Damon and he plans to use Penny as the tool to do so.

If you’ve read the ‘Endgame’ series, then you’re already aware of the outcome for Jonathan Scott and the state that Penny was left in. This book provides the backstory that was not provided in that series. It details the events leading up to Penny’s horrible attack and provides far more details about the events that followed. Some of the timeline overlaps with the ‘Endgame’ series, but most of it does not.

This book leaves off with a lot of questions unanswered, which is no big surprise since there is another book expected in this series. I am dying to see how Damon and Penny will move forward. I’m not even humoring the thought that they won’t be moving forward together at this point. It just isn’t going to happen. No way!

I will certainly be reading the next book as soon as it is released. There is no way that I would miss it. If you are a fan of the ‘Endgame’ series, you don’t want to miss this spin-off series. If you haven’t read the ‘Endgame’ series, I would recommend that you start there. You could certainly read this series as a standalone, but you’ll miss a lot of the backstory and details that are provided in that series. They’re both wonderful though, so enjoy!

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Review: Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia, by Jean Sasson

Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi ArabiaPrincess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in a while I try to read something that is “deeper” than my usual smutty romance selections. This was one of those books. I listened to the Audible version and I could not pull myself away from the plight of Princess Sultana Al Sa’ud and the other women from this story.

Her story offered a poignant look at what life is like for women in Saudi Arabia. Even the wealthiest and most “privileged” women are not spared the cruelty of the misogynistic and oppressive culture. Women are treated as property to be “owned” and managed by men. They are traded like cattle and punished for perceived infractions in cruel ways.

From birth, girls are treated as second-class citizens, a disappointment to their family and inferior to all males. This was highlighted by Princess Sultana’s accounts of growing up with a spoiled and sadistic younger brother. No matter what he did, she would always be wrong. Time and time again, she was forced to be subservient to him, no matter how egregious his behavior was.

Sexual abuse is also rampant in the world that Princess Sultana described. Young girls are forced to marry much older men, while older wives are forced to take a backseat while their husbands forsake them for their younger brides. Young or old, there is no bright side for the wives.

While the girls “virtue” is fiercely guarded — their body sacred until such time as their father or other male guardian decides to gift it to another — the boys and men engage in a variety of depraved sexual acts. One especially disturbing scene tells the story of a trip to Egypt where Sultana’s brother and other men commit acts of extreme sexual violence. It was absolutely heartbreaking and terrifying.

More than anything, I couldn’t get past the unfairness of the situation. These women had no power or control in their lives. It is so far removed from the life I’m luck enough to lead that it was unfathomable to me.

The indifference and cruelty of the men also took me aback. The often barbaric punishments they doled out seemed to be the norm. The life of the females was valued so little that they could be extinguished with scant more concern than one would have when swatting a fly. It was unimaginable to me.

Not surprisingly, this book was pretty depressing. The life lead by these women was grim, even as they tried to make the most of the little joy they could find in the absence of the men. Much of the content was upsetting and discouraging.

That being said, I still think that this is a book that everyone should read. It will anger and sadden you. However, turning a blind eye to atrocities like the ones that play out on the pages of this book does not make the reality go away. Raising awareness is important in order to facilitate change — and change is necessary. Yet again, I am reminded of how blessed I am for the life I was born into.

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Review: Seven Days (The Game Series, #7), by L. P. Lovell and Stevie J. Cole

Seven Days  (The Game Series, #7)Seven Days by L.P. Lovell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The final installment in the series, ‘Seven Days’ gives the answers that I’ve been craving. I have been completely consumed with these short serials, reading the entire series in a single day. Each one has kept me on the edge of my seat and none more so than this final serial.

While I had guessed the identity of Number 3 fairly early on, I was pretty shocked by his motivations. Talk about whiplash! I’m not sure exactly what these guys were thinking, but this was one seriously messed up game that they were playing.

Although I finally got the answers I wanted, I found myself left with new questions that I hadn’t pondered earlier on. Now that I know who was behind the game and why, I can’t help but want to know more. When did this game get started? Were the players always the same? Why on earth would anyone continue to play?

Nobody left me with more questions than Ella herself. After everything, I was perplexed by her final actions in this series. I had a serious WTF moment at the end.

That being said, this series was one hell of a ride. It was suspenseful, mysterious and erotic as hell. I never knew what was going to happen next. Even now, I wonder what the future has in store for Ella, Tobias and Preston. I anticipate that there will be a spin-off series to address those issues. I will definitely be reading it if that comes to pass.

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Review: Six Zeros (The Game Series, #6), by L. P. Lovell and Stevie J. Cole

Six Zeros  (The Game Series, #6)Six Zeros by L.P. Lovell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! Finally all of the debauchery comes to a peak. All of the earlier installments were building up to this point in this twisted story. I don’t even know what to say!

If Ella was courting danger before, she marries it in this serial. I was on the edge of my seat as the events in this serial played out. It was sick, disturbing and completely addicting!

I don’t want to give anything away in this sixth installment. I’ll just say that I was completely blown away by the direction that the game went in. The dynamics of the game are more complex than I ever could have imagined at the start of this series.

Whether or not Ella can recover from the events that unfolded in this serial is yet to be seen. I had my suspicions and it looks like some were spot-on. Nonetheless, I need answers. I need to know exactly how everything fits and why Ella was drawn into this perverse game. One more serial to go and I won’t come up for air until I have the answers that I want.

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Review: Four Strikes (The Game, #4), by L. P. Lovell and Stevie J. Cole

Four Strikes: A Dark Erotic Billionaire Menage Short (The Game Book 4)Four Strikes: A Dark Erotic Billionaire Menage Short by L.P. Lovell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just when you think it couldn’t get any more screwed up another player enters the game! It was clear from the earlier serials that there was somebody else pulling strings behind the scenes. Finally, this mysterious third player, “Number 3”, matriculates.

There is a shift in the mood that accompanies Number 3. Ella had just started getting used to the idea of her new arrangement with Tobias and Preston. Having a new, unknown player enter the game changes everything. The small amount of trust that had developed between her and the guys is put to the ultimate test.

While part of me wants to believe that Tobias wouldn’t let Ella get hurt, a part of me realizes that there is absolutely no reason to trust him. After all, he’s orchestrated some pretty messed up head games. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem that Tobias and Preston really trust Number 3 either. If they can’t trust him, then there is no way that Ella should.

Like earlier installments, Ella is faced with tests that push her limits and make her question the fabric of her very character. These tests keep getting more warped as the story progresses. What is right and what is wrong becomes increasingly unclear. There often is not a “right” choice, just a decision between the lesser of two evils.

Just as I start to lose faith in Tobias and Preston, Tobias does something that surprises me. I’m not sure what the hold is that Number 3 has over these two, but clearly he wields a lot of power. It seems that Ella may not be the only victim of this sordid game.

This series continues to build up to what is bound to be a huge twist. My suspicions are starting to grow as to the identity of Number 3, but time will tell. It’s on to the next one for me. I won’t stop until I’ve finished this entire series!

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