Review: Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga, #2), by Kiersten White

Now I Rise (The Conqueror's Saga #2)Now I Rise by Kiersten White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I finished the first book in ‘The Conqueror’s Saga’, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next book. I absolutely loved Mehmed, Lada and Radu. I was completely taken in by their unique personalities and the love that they had for one another. Despite the fact that their interests were often conflicting, they managed to remain the closest of friends, and sometimes more.

However, I am sad to say that I didn’t get the same pleasure from reading ‘Now I Rise’. It was like this book came along and burst my bubble. Any seeds of resentment and anger that were planted in ‘And I Darken’ came to life in this book. My view of these characters has been irreparably changed…and not for the better.

One of the things that really stood out to me about the first book was the loyalty that this trio seemed to have for one another. Even as their political and religious alliances were in opposition, they always found a way to support one another and place their personal relationships first. Yes, for Mehmed and Lada there were a few betrayals, but I never felt like they were more than superficial, based upon the expectations of their positions. Perhaps I just wanted to believe that, especially where Mehmed was concerned, even though the writing was on the wall.

In contrast to the first book, ‘Now I Rise’ is full of betrayal and underhanded manipulations. Every one of them turns their back on the people that care for them, some to a greater degree than others. However, none of them were innocent of treachery in this book.

Mehmed, in particular, was a character that I grew to despise. He claims to love Lada, but sells her out at every turn. Honestly, I began to dislike him in the last book as he repeatedly chose to sleep with other women while professing his love for Lada. What a pig! I wanted to make excuses for his behavior then, but I’ve got my head on straight now. This book helped me come to the realization that he is nothing more than a calculating, self-centered, power-hungry asshat! I hope that Lada kills him.

Although I like Lada more than Mehmed, she is equally obsessed with power and consumed by her blind ambition to reign. I think I probably cut her a little more slack because she is a big time underdog. It is rare to encounter such a strong, badass female lead character, so I really want to like her. Unfortunately, I found her pretty unappealing for much of this book also. She may not have betrayed Mehmed and Radu in the huge way that they both betrayed her, but she did plenty of horrible things in order to assert her power over those she hoped to rule. The brutal tactics she employed didn’t sit well with me either, regardless of the fact that I wanted her to achieve her end goal.

Sweet Radu also proved to be a big disappointment this time around. Turning his back on his sister, he willingly submits to Mehmed’s every self-serving demand. It was pathetic. He befriends and then betrays close friends in order to further Mehmed’s quest to conquer Constantinople. Even as he knows that what he is doing is wrong, he repeatedly chooses to sacrifice others that are innocent in the hopes that he will gain the affection of a man that he knows will never love him the way that he does. I wanted to pity him, but my anger toward his actions never let that emotion set in. In some ways he was every bit as bad as Mehmed, but his duplicity was hidden beneath a façade of presumed harmlessness.

After finishing this book, I feel hollowed out. There is a part of me that still wants to see how things will work out. I’d hate to miss it if Lada ends up killing Mehmed. However, a part of me is just disgusted with all of these characters that I once loved.

I’m not sure that I can bear to watch them destroy one another. It is clear that this isn’t going to be a HEA type of story. The damage is done and I suspect that their insatiable hunger for power and unobtainable love will just end up destroying them all. It is fitting, but not necessarily something that I feel like watching play out. I guess I’ll see how I’m feeling when the third book is released. For now, I’m going to lick my emotional wounds and give my disappointment plenty of time to sink in.

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Review: The Sister, by Louise Jensen

The SisterThe Sister by Louise Jensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Recently, I’ve been reading a bit more mystery/suspense. ‘The Sister’ seemed like it would be a great match for me. I love a book that can keep me on the edge of my seat, wondering what is going to happen next and making my heart rate quicken.

Grace, the heroine is still reeling from the death of her best friend, Charlie, years later. She never really got over the way that Charlie died unexpectedly. She’s left with many unanswered questions, as Charlie died before explaining the cryptic note that she left Grace, apologizing for some unknown wrong.

When Grace goes to see Charlie’s alcoholic mother, Lexie, she decides to seek out the father that Charlie never met. Enlisting the help of her long-time boyfriend, Dan, Grace begins digging into the past. What they unearth is unexpected.

It seems that Charlie had a half-sister that she never knew about, Anna. Before long, Anna has infiltrated Grace’s life. The two seem to have far more in common than Charlie. Exactly how much they have in common is something that Grace could not have guessed.

The more enmeshed Anna becomes in Grace’s life, the more things start to fall apart for Grace. Suspicious things start happening. It seems that somebody is out to destroy Grace. She’s being stalked and a string of calamities follow her every move. At more than one point, I questioned Grace’s sanity while listening to this audiobook.

The story unfolds in pieces, jumping back and forth between the past and present. Piece by piece, the truth comes to light. Sometimes the alternating timeframes don’t work so well for me, but I think it helped build the suspense in this story and worked well.

That being said, I wasn’t as shocked by the “big reveal” as I expected to be. Honestly, it wasn’t surprising at all. If anything, the culprit was so obvious that I dismissed it as a possibility.

Even though the person harassing Grace was not surprising, the motivations came to light little by little. Although they weren’t particularly shocking either, some were a little unexpected. There were a few details that I didn’t anticipate.

Overall, I give this one 3.5 stars. It was good, but failed to provide the shocking twist that was promised. It held my attention and was entertaining, but didn’t make my heart pound or keep me on the edge of my seat. It was good, but I expected more from this one.

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Review: Black Swan Affair, by K. L. Kreig

Black Swan AffairBlack Swan Affair by K.L. Kreig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I started ‘Black Swan Affair’, I anticipated a steamy love affair and a fair amount of angst. I had absolutely no idea that this book would gut me the way it did. This book ripped my heart out! Several days later, I’m still trying to get ahold of my emotions and come to terms with what this book made me feel.

The story centers on Maverick DeSoto, who is marrying her childhood best-friend, Kael. Only, Maverick isn’t in love with Kael. She’s in love with his older brother, Killian.

After an intense opening scene with Maverick and Killian arguing on the day of her wedding, I knew that I was in for a hell of a ride with this book. Killian is trying to stop Maverick from going through with her wedding to his brother and she is determined to marry Kael to spite Killian. It was like watching a bad train wreck in slow motion.

For most of this book, my heart broke for Kael. He was so in love with Maverick and she just couldn’t see past her love for Killian to appreciate what she had in front of her all the time. Kael truly did have enough love for both of them.

In contrast, I despised Killian until about 85% through. He seemed to want to have his cake and eat it too. He had married Maverick’s sister, Jillian, without so much as an explanation, leaving Maverick brokenhearted. I doubted the sincerity of his feelings for Maverick right from the start. After all, who would do that if they really loved somebody?

Then, there is Maverick. Jilted by Killian, she sets out to do the same thing to him that he did to her…marry his sibling. Only, she actually claims to love Kael, even if she isn’t in love with him. Kind of cruel, if you ask me. All the while, she pines over Killian.

The longer Kael and Maverick are married, the more he begins to creep his way into her heart. Slowly, she begins to fall in love with her husband. She is determined to push Killian out of her mind and Kael is eager to help her make that happen.

However, there are some big secrets being kept from Maverick. When they come to light, everything will change. Suddenly, the reasons for Killian’s shocking marriage will be explained. The betrayal and lies run deep. Everyone except for Maverick seems to be in on it. She has to decide whether she can get past this deception at all.

I loved every painful moment of this story. It broke my heart, but I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to scream and throw a tantrum so many times while reading this one. In the end, I came to a place of acceptance with the decisions that were made. Yet, I can’t say that I felt content with the ending.

I don’t think that there was any way for this to work out with a perfect happy ending. It just wasn’t that kind of story. I understood why Maverick made the decisions that she did and think it was the right one…but it still hurt so much. This one definitely got me in the feels. I highly recommend any book that can make you feel the way that this one does.

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Review: My Skylar, by Penelope Ward

My SkylarMy Skylar by Penelope Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once I finished ‘Jake Undone’, I had to start ‘My Skylar’ to get Skylar’s story. This book can be read as a standalone, but reading ‘Jake Undone’ will provide a brief introduction to Skylar and a little insight into her background. Similarly, you’ll have the backstory for Jake and Nina, Skylar’s super-supportive friends, if you’ve read that book first. However, it is not necessary to read ‘Jake Undone’ first to understand and/or enjoy ‘My Skylar’.

Skylar and Mitch meet when they are young children. Mitch’s grandmother lives across the street from Skylar’s family. He comes to stay with his grandmother one summer while his parents split up.

The two find that they have a lot in common, despite their separate upbringings. In no time at all, they become best friends. They spend every waking moment with each other, until Mitch has to return to his home.

When Mitch’s father shows up unexpectedly early to pick him up, he is surprised. He is only more surprised by the news that his parents are getting divorced. As a young boy, the demise of his parent’s marriage has shook his belief in the foundation of marriage. He even questions the permanence of “love”.

Skylar does not hear from Mitch for years. As a teenager, she hears his name at a party and immediately the memories come back. She has never forgotten the boy that walked into her life all those years ago, even if he seemed to have forgotten her.

When Mitch returns as a teenager to live with his mother in his grandmother’s home, Skylar and him pick up their friendship where they left off. It is almost like he never left. Only, now there is a definite sexual attraction brewing between the two.

This was a story that delivered a ton of angst and teenage melodrama. There were several times that I found myself wanting to shake Mitch and Skylar. So much heartache could’ve been avoided if they had only been open and honest with each other. It was incredibly frustrating at times, as they danced around each other ignoring the elephant in the room.

Along the way, the story takes a few unbelievable twists. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the story, but I did think that some of the twists were over-the-top. Skylar and Mitch were dramatic enough without having some of the extra twists in my opinion. I kept thinking “What else?”. It was like the universe was working to keep these two apart.

This story follows Mitch and Skylar’s relationship from childhood into adulthood and there are plenty of angst-filled moments along the way. They are together, then they aren’t. They’re inseparable, then they’re estranged. It was enough to give me whiplash at times.

Despite all of the back and forth, I found myself glued to my headphones while I listened to their story. It was angsty and over-the-top, but I loved it. My heart broke at times, but it worked out perfectly in the end. I recommend this story for anyone that loves a HEA, but isn’t afraid to work for it or cry a few tears along the way.

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Review: Forbid Me (The Good Ol’ Boys, #2), by M. Robinson

Forbid Me (The Good Ol' Boys, #2)Forbid Me by M. Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading ‘Complicate Me’, I couldn’t wait to start the next book in the series. M. Robinson’s stories have a way of sucking me in. Like it’s predecessor, ‘Forbid Me’ proved to be an emotional, angsty story of forbidden love. I couldn’t get enough.

‘Forbid Me’ is the story of Lucas’s little sister, Lily and his best friend, Jacob. Much like half-pint, Lily has always been around the “Good Ol’ Boys” for all of her life. Also like half-pint, she was very much “off-limits” to any of the guys. As much as they sheltered Alex, who was only a couple of years younger than the boys, it was far worse for Lily, who was seven years younger than Jacob.

The age-difference between Lily and Jacob might be tough for some to swallow. After all, she was around 15 when they first started exploring their attraction. He was in his early twenties at the time. If Alex was “half-pint”, then Lily was “jail bait”.

Most of the conflict in their story centers upon the forbidden nature of their relationship. In many ways, it was very similar to ‘Complicate Me’. Jacob spends a lot of time trying to deny his attraction to Lily because she is so much younger and the sister of his best friend. Eventually, Lily has had enough of Jacob’s rejection and tries to move on, only to have him then figure out how much he wants her. Once he’s no longer fighting his attraction, they waste time trying to hide it from their friends/family.

Where this story differed from ‘Complicate Me’ was in the personalities of the characters. Lily was no shrinking violet. This was one bold, outspoken heroine. M. Robinson did a great job of crafting her character. She managed to keep her from coming across as young or “victimy”, which was essential, given the age difference between her and Jacob. If anything, you felt like she was the one taking advantage of Jacob.

Jacob also stood out from Lucas’s character. Yes, he was attracted to a younger, off-limits girl, but that was where the similarities ended for me. He didn’t engage in the same self-destructive behaviors that Lucas did. He also seemed to give more regard to Lily and her feelings. Sure, he made plenty of mistakes along the way, but there wouldn’t have been much of a story otherwise.

Overall, this was a great story. It was sweet, taboo and very angsty. I listened to the Audible version and it was well-narrated. If you’re looking for a sweet, forbidden love story, this is a good choice.

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Review: Complicate Me (The Good Ol’ Boys, #1), by M. Robinson

Complicate Me (The Good Ol' Boys, #1)Complicate Me by M. Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book had been sitting on my TBR list for quite a long time. I am a big fan of M. Robinson’s work. After reading ‘El Diablo’, I knew that I needed to read ‘The Good Ol’ Boys’ series. ‘Complicate Me’ is the first book in that series and it does not disappoint. I loved this angsty, coming of age romance.

Unlike the other books I’ve read by this author, this isn’t a “dark” read. However, don’t mistake that for a lack of emotion or tension. What this book lacks in kink, it makes up for in angst.

Alex, aka “Half-pint”, grows up in a small, close-knit community. As an only child, she plays with the older sons of her parents’ friends. A few years younger, she follows them around everywhere they go and inserts herself into their group. She is “one of the boys” and they look after her.

As they grow up, their relationships change. As the boys indulge in their hedonistic desires, Alex becomes “the child” in the background. The boys are older and are discovering girls, beginning to date and explore their sexuality.

Alex is prevented from experiencing many of the normal rites of passage as she grows a little older. The boys make sure of that. They protect her fiercely, preventing any romantic inclinations that other boys might have toward Alex. They keep her sheltered, even as they fool around with anything in a skirt.

Unlike the other boys, Lucas has never viewed Alex as a sister. They have a special relationship. He is her “Bo”. Lucas loves Alex, but knows that she is too young to act on it. The fact that Alex is off-limits is something that he is frequently reminded of by the other boys.

Instead, Lucas does what is expected of him. He hooks up with the other girls in town that are his age. Alex is forced to watch as Lucas sows his wild oats all over town.

These two never seemed to be able to get on the same page. The timing was never right. Over and over, they broke each others’ hearts. It was a sweet torture to read their story.

As I listened to their story, I empathized with Alex. M. Robinson did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of young love and first heartbreak. The emotions were raw and so real they were almost tangible. I was immediately transported back to my teenage years, remembering the emotional highs and lows of youth that gradually fade over time with the loss of innocence.

There were so many times that I was furious with the decisions that these two made, but I couldn’t quit listening. Lucas, in particular, made some insensitive decisions that damaged his relationship with Alex. Despite his claim to be in love with Alex, Lucas spent a lot of time choosing other girls over her. They spent a lot of time hurting one another before they figured things out.

I absolutely loved this angsty, emotional, coming of age love story. There was plenty of heartache, but it only made this book all that much more addicting. I fell in love with all of the characters. I will definitely be continuing this series.

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Review: The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Kite Runner’ had been sitting on my TBR list for years. I kept putting it off because while I was sure that it would be a fantastic book, it isn’t the type of smutty romance that I usually read. I knew that I’d have to be in the right kind of mood to read it. Finally, I found myself wanting to read something a little different to break me out of a reading rut and I downloaded the Audible version of ‘The Kite Runner’ and started listening.

As expected, this book was nothing like my usual love stories. This book is the type of book that makes you think about your life and reevaluate your values and what you think you know. It is the type of book that makes you question what you’d do in a given situation if the tables were turned.

If you’re like me, and have always been blessed to live in a country where you’ve never experienced the brutality and terror of warfare firsthand, this book serves as a reminder of how lucky you truly are. As a woman, and a mother of two daughters, I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that I was born in a country where women are treated as equals. Sure, there are still some inequalities. However, when I think of how women are treated in many other regions of the world, I am incredibly thankful to have the freedoms that I do.

I won’t rehash this story, because it’s been done a million times already and I don’t think there’s anything I could say that hasn’t been said already. However, I will say that this was a wonderful book. It was grim, brutal and depressing, but also beautiful at times. It was emotional and infuriating, but you can’t say that you didn’t “feel” while reading this one. I experienced a full range of emotions.

In the end, it grounded me and put all of my petty gripes into perspective. We all need to be reminded of how blessed we are at times. I highly recommend this book to anyone that is looking for an emotional and enlightening story.

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