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 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: The Secret Wife, by Gill Paul

The Secret WifeThe Secret Wife by Gill Paul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘The Secret Wife’ was a nice, enjoyable historical fiction/romance. Although it lacked the “wow” factor, I found it to be a good story overall. It was interesting and I enjoyed the details related to the time period. However, given the subject matter, the book lacked the suspense that I would have expected.

The story alternates timeframes, as well as locations. In 2016, Kitty Fisher discovers that her husband is having an affair. She has recently inherited a cabin in the United States from a great-grandfather that she never knew existed. Given the recent revelations about her marriage, she packs her bags and leaves her home in London, setting out for the cabin at Lake Akanabee.

Soon after her arrival, Kitty discovers some old writings in the cabin. She becomes consumed with uncovering the story of her great-grandfather, Dmitri Malama. The more she unearths, the more apparent it becomes that Dmitri’s life was anything but unremarkable.

Through the writings, a new look at Russia in 1914 and the downfall of the Romanov family is offered. Unlike many other stories centered on the Romanov family, which tend to speculate about Anastasia’s fate, this book focuses on Tatiana Romanov. I found this part of the story to be fascinating and highly entertaining. I lavished in every detail of this era in Russian history.

Dmitri was a cavalry officer who meets Tatiana when he is injured. Tatiana volunteers at the hospital where he is sent for treatment. The two fall in love, only to be separated thereafter by the overthrow of the Russian Tsar and the subsequent restrictions placed on the Romanov family.

Even after the reported murder of the Romanovs, Dmitri holds out hope that Tatiana is alive. Eventually, he gives up hope. He goes on to start a family of his own and relocates to America.

However, things aren’t always what they seem. When fate thrusts Tatiana back into his life, Dmitri is forced to make some very hard choices. Can he reconcile his love for Tatiana with the new life that he has made for himself and the wife that has stuck by his side throughout the years?

All things considered, I expected this to be a much more emotional read. Instead, it felt sweet and maybe even a little sad. Even with Tatiana’s reappearance, the story failed to elicit the tremendous emotional highs and lows that I expected. Things just fell together too perfectly.

Dmitri’s wife was just too accepting and almost complacent. I even felt the same way about how things worked out for Kitty and her husband. It was like these characters had been given a heavy dose of a sedative. Where was the anger and sense of betrayal?

Overall, it ended up being a good but not great type of story for me. It had a lot of unrealized potential. I needed more emotion and a stronger connection to the characters. It felt kind of “flat” to me, for lack of a better descriptor.

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Review: After Ever Happy (After, #4), by Anna Todd

After Ever Happy (After, #4)After Ever Happy by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth book in the ‘After’ series, ‘After Ever Happy’ is the first book in the series that had a different “feel” to it. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of dramatic shenanigans between Tessa and Hardin. However, this time around they aren’t the sole focus of the book. The result is a much more somber vibe.

After everything that went down at the end of the third book, Tessa is left markedly changed from the girl she was before. Those tragic events forced her to take a long, hard look at her relationship with Hardin. She finally faces the facts — they’re toxic.

Despite her love for Hardin, she knows that she needs to get away from him. Like the clichéd saying, “sometimes love isn’t enough”. Nothing could be more true for this dysfunctional couple at that point in time.

Even though Hardin comes to his senses and does his best to get Tessa to forgive him, it won’t come easy this time around. Tessa has made up her mind and it will take years for Hardin to prove himself to her. It was long overdue.

With Tessa and Hardin living separate lives for most of this book, the story definitely had a different feel to it than earlier books. As much as it was what the logical me said needed to happen, the illogical part of me couldn’t help but feel like this new direction wasn’t as captivating. After all, this series’ entire guilty pleasure appeal was based on the very same things that made this couple such a train wreck — fighting, angst, jealousy, breaking up and making up. With those elements largely missing from this book, I didn’t feel the same pull to the story.

That being said, I think that the author had used up all of the major angst-ridden story elements that readers could handle. Although the loss of this drama resulted in a slightly less engaging story for me, I don’t think I could’ve handled another book full of Tessa and Hardin’s back and forth fighting. This series has left me emotionally exhausted and I just don’t have it in me.

Luckily, Tessa and Hardin do get the HEA eventually. It was long overdue and I was glad to see it. Finally, they have started to mature and deal with some of the issues in their relationship. As much as I loved to hate this couple, I have to admit that if there was ever a couple that stuck it out, it was them. Talk about hanging in there for better or worse.

Overall, this was still a great read. I have been completely hooked on Tessa and Hardin’s story right from the start. It was one hell of an emotional rollercoaster ride. I feel content, but emotionally drained. I know that there are two remaining books in this series, but I’m stopping with this one for now. I don’t want to upset the balance. I’m feeling content with how this book ended and I’m not sure I could handle it right now if something disrupted that peace.

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Review: After We Fell (After, #3), by Anna Todd

After We Fell (After #3)After We Fell by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like the first two books in the series, ‘After We Fell’ was completely consuming. Although the back and forth drama between Hardin and Tessa gets to be very irritating, I can’t seem to turn away from it. It’s like I’m stuck in an abusive relationship with this couple. I know it isn’t healthy. I know I should remove myself from the situation…but I just can’t do it. After all, maybe they’ll change.

Picking up where ‘After We Collided’ left off, Tessa’s father has reappeared in her life. Only, her father is not the man that she remembered from her childhood. He is homeless and has some serious addiction issues.

While Tessa wants to give her father a chance, Hardin cautions her against it. Hardin is an ass all of the time, but I really thought that he took it to a whole new level when her father was introduced. I couldn’t believe how incredibly insensitive and cruel he was. Even though he was absolutely correct to be concerned, he responded in a manner that showed absolutely no regard for Tessa’s feelings. I couldn’t believe some of the things he said about her father to her. Of course, like always, Tessa gets over it like it was hardly a blip on her radar.

More than the first two books, Hardin’s own issues with addiction were very apparent. Interestingly, the author seemed to avoid addressing this issue head on. I kept waiting for some sort of intervention, but it never really happened. I guess there was already enough drama in this story without tackling Hardin’s drinking problem.

This book also features plenty of fighting, breaking up and making up between Hardin and Tessa. If you expected Hardin and Tessa to settle down and start acting like a mature, committed couple, prepare to be disappointed. ‘After We Fell’ is full of the same angst-filled cycle of jealousy, acting out and game playing that were in previous books. Betrayals are around every corner and there is no shortage of drama.

From disastrous family vacations, to secrets, there is plenty of deceit to go around. Zed is back on scene again, playing a big role in the tension between Hardin and Tessa. Of course, he is only involved because Tessa pulled him in again. Meanwhile, there are more revelations about Tessa’s “friends”. I swear, they never learn their lessons!

Like the first two books, this book ends with a huge upset. If I ever thought that I would have the strength to quit this dysfunctional couple, the ending sucked me right back in. I absolutely had to see where the next book would lead.

I love to hate, and hate to love, this series! It is like watching a bad train wreck in slow motion. You know it’s going to be a disaster, but you just can’t turn away.

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Review: After We Collided (After, #2), by Anna Todd

After We Collided (After, #2)After We Collided by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After finishing the first book in the ‘After’ series, I immediately jumped into this second book. There was no way that I was going to quit this series with the way things ended at the end of ‘After’–absolutely, no way! I had to know how things were going to play out for this disastrous couple. They are like crack! It might kill me. I know it’s really not healthy…but I just can’t seem to pull myself away from it!

If I thought that Hardin and Tessa were going to grow up and start treating each other better, I would’ve been sorely disappointed. These two are every bit as toxic as they were the first time around. The back and forth, break-up and make-up, abusive cycle continues, strong as ever. Of course, I’m such a glutton for punishment that I had to have a front row seat for all of it!

Picking up right where the first book ended, Tessa does her best to try and piece her life back together. She has been betrayed by everyone that she thought were her friends — most of all, Hardin. Unfortunately, the manipulative jackass succeeded in tying her to him when he tricked her into moving into an apartment with him and away from the dorms. This will make distancing herself from him more difficult than she had hoped.

While Tessa makes a weak attempt at moving on, Hardin sets out to prove that his feelings for her are genuine. Of course, every time he starts to make any progress in that regard he does something that sabotages all of his efforts. They truly are their own worst enemies.

For what it’s worth, Hardin does seem to show some actual emotions in this book. Mainly, his regret and heartache shines through. It’s hard to feel sorry for him though, since all of his pain is entirely the result of his own cruel actions. To make matters worse, every time he starts to gain a little “nice guy” stock, he goes and does something abhorrent again, reminding me of what a despicable asshat he is. Some big revelations about his past only further prove that he is not to be trusted. He really is deplorable…but I love to hate him!

I also found myself feeling a little more irritated with Tessa’s weakness this time around. Can you say “doormat”? How many times is this girl going to fall for his crap? She also played the same childish games over and over, using other guys to make Hardin jealous, only to play the victim when she got the reaction she was looking for all along.

I felt sorry for Tessa at first. By the end of this book, I was marveling at the fact that she hadn’t been weeded out as part of the process of natural selection. Surely, this girl is too stupid to live!

That being said, I still can’t pull myself away from this angsty, infuriating story. It is like watching a trashy talk show or soap opera. It’s unrealistic. The relationships are toxic. It probably kills off brain cells. However, I can’t get enough of it. It is my latest guilty pleasure. I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but I’m completely hooked on this series.

Like the first book, ‘After We Collided’ ends with a huge cliffhanger. Anna Todd certainly knows how to pull me back in. At this point, I think my relationship with this series is much like the relationship between Hardin and Tessa. I should probably cut all ties and get out while I can, but I just can’t seem to resist the pull. I’m on to the third book in this addictive, dysfunctional romance.

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Review: After (After, #1), by Anna Todd

After (After, #1)After by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you thought the ‘Fallen Crest High’ series was full of angst and teenage melodrama, you haven’t seen anything yet! ‘After’ is like many other teenage/college-aged romances, with all the “end of the world” dramatics…on steroids. I found this book to be equal parts irritating and addicting.

The “adult” part of me has to acknowledge the truth in much of the criticism I’ve seen regarding this story. Hardin and Tessa’s relationship was a train wreck. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes and thinking “hang it up already”. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy this story. It was a total guilty pleasure. Even though I was often annoyed, or even infuriated, by the goings on in this book, I couldn’t turn away. I really enjoyed this book, despite the responsible adult in me saying I should run far in the other direction.

The story centers on Theresa “Tessa” Young and her relationship with Hardin Scott. Tessa is portrayed as the quintessential sheltered prude. She is a sweet virgin, who dresses conservatively and arrives at her dorm with her over-bearing mother and high school sweetheart in-tow. Immediately, Tessa stands out and becomes a target for her roommate’s hard-partying group of friends.

More so than anyone else, Hardin seems to take extreme pleasure in tormenting Tessa. He is constantly toying with her and trying to humiliate her. He goes out of his way to put her down, but he’s always there. Despite all of his insults, he is constantly showing up in her daily life.

Little by little, Tessa and Hardin form a tenuous friendship. Eventually, it grows into more. There are plenty of obstacles along the way — none larger than Hardin’s broody, closed-off, and often volatile nature. Time and time again, Tessa forgives Hardin for his reprehensible behavior.

These two might take the prize for the number of times a single couple can go back and forth, breaking up and making up, in a single book. It did start to wear on my nerves, even as I couldn’t turn away. They were the perfect example of everything that only works in fiction. In real life, these two needed some serious counselling and intervention. They were toxic, to an extreme degree. No way would I ever want to be any where near a couple like this in real life. However, for a smutty romance, they definitely kept things interesting.

While I don’t want to give anything away, I will say that the ending of this book gutted me. I actually cried. I was so furious, I think I might have felt the betrayal as acutely as Tessa did!

So many times, I told myself that when this book was over that I wouldn’t be diving back in for another round of their melodramatic, childish antics. I was kidding myself. There was no way that I was going to skip the next book after that ending. It’s on to the next book for me.

As an aside, this book was apparently written as fan-fiction originally. It is supposed to be based on the lives of the boy band “One Direction”. Since I’m not very familiar with this group, I don’t have anything to offer in terms of how closely this book follows any of those band members. If it does closely follow one of the bandmate’s lives, God help the poor girls that are his prey.

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