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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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: Behind Closed Doors, by B. A. Paris

Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whew! This was certainly one creepy and screwed up story. I expected it to be really messed up, but not in quite the way that it was. A pervasive sense of uneasiness stayed with me the entire time that I was reading this book. Creepy…Very creepy.

The book opens with a dinner party at Jack and Grace’s home. Jack is a successful attorney, well-known for advocating for battered women. Grace is the soft-spoken, elegant wife. Everything about their life seems to be the picture of perfection.

It is all a lie. What goes on behind closed doors would shock their friends and the community. Nothing is what it seems. Jack is not the man that everyone thinks he is. Only Grace seems to be aware of his true nature and she is racing against the clock to stop him before he does worse than he already has.

This story kept me on the edge of my seat right up to the very last word. There was no time wasted and the story moved quickly. It was a nice change of pace for me.

I was appalled by some of the things that Jack did in this book. Yet, it was the anticipation and the fear of the unknown that was most chilling. Unlike other books dealing with abuse and sociopaths, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ did not provide a lot of graphic, gory details. Instead, the author chooses to give you just enough information to piece things together for yourself and leaves the rest to your imagination. If your mind is like mine, it can go to some pretty disturbing places when lead down that path.

There were several times that I did want to shake Grace. Mainly, I couldn’t understand how quickly she seemed to submit to Jack’s will. Although, seeing how things worked out for her on the few occasions when she did try to get away did help to convince me. It was unbelievable that Jack could wield so much influence, but it worked for the storyline I suppose.

Overall, this was a fantastic, fast-paced story. I listened to the Audible version and the narration was great. I highly recommend this standalone for anyone that loves a suspenseful, psychological thriller but cannot stomach the gory details. If you can keep your imagination under control, the author doesn’t provide any horrendous details that will leave you scarred. You will definitely be creeped out though. Count on that.

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Review: Vicious (Sinners of Saint, #1), by L. J. Shen

Vicious (Sinners of Saint, #1)Vicious by L.J. Shen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first started seeing the fantastic reviews for this book from all of my friends, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical. After all, I was one of the oddballs that didn’t love ‘Blood to Dust’ like most of my friends did. I wasn’t sure if maybe this just wasn’t the author for me. Luckily for me, my curiosity won out.

While I may not have fallen in love with ‘Blood to Dust’, ‘Vicious’ was a fantastic read for me. This book had one of the biggest a**holes ever to grace the pages of a romance novel…and I couldn’t get enough! I could not believe the stuff that this guy did!

On the other hand, Emilia, was one of the kindest and strongest heroines that I’ve ever encountered. I absolutely loved her inner-strength and her self-awareness when it came to her weakness for Vicious. She didn’t deserve his cruel treatment, but she endured it incredibly well.

Emilia’s parents take a job working for Vicious’ parents when she is in high school. He is the spoiled, but neglected, rich kid. As he frequently points out, she is the “Help”.

From their very first meeting, Vicious makes it a point to make Emilia’s life a living hell. He bullies her relentlessly, even as he is somewhat protective and possessive. She is his to torment and he makes it known.

When Emilia begins dating one of his closest friends, Vicious steps it up a notch. He is outraged at the defiance of Emilia and Dean, used to being in control of everyone and everything around him. Emilia is essentially ran out of town by Vicious and doesn’t see him again until their paths cross again a decade later.

From the start, I was intrigued by the relationship between Emilia and Vicious. There was a constant push and pull between the two of them, and a playfulness underlying their adversarial actions. Vicious, in particular, left me feeling confounded.

This story is a slow-burn and the history between the main characters is well-developed. I appreciated the thoroughly thought out back-story and the slow build-up of anticipation. I loved the pace that this story moved at.

As Vicious’ past comes to light, I grew to understand his actions a little better. Don’t get me wrong, he did some inexcusable things. However, it was hard to view him as a monster after everything he’d endured.

When Vicious screws things up – and he does, of course – Emilia makes him really work for forgiveness. You know how I feel about the necessity of groveling, and grovel he does! Emilia is no pushover and she’s been at the losing end of his games one too many times.

The only thing that I could’ve lived without was the whole pen-pal connection. It felt a little too similar to ‘Punk 57’ for me, especially when combined with the high school bullying theme, and I didn’t think it added much to the story. Both of these books were released so close together, that they were probably being written during the same period of time. However, the similarities were noticeable. They probably stand out to me more than usual since I read ‘Punk 57’ fairly recently.

All things considered, this was a “win” for me. This book was so much better than I expected and I’m so glad that I picked it up. I loved the angsty, back and forth relationship between Vicious and Emilia. I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of this series will go.

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