Review: Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1), by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a spectacular world Laini Taylor has crafted in this book! Every once in awhile I enjoy a paranormal/fantasy type of story, but it definitely isn’t my go-to genre. Yet, Laini Taylor has managed to suck me in once again. The beauty of her words and the vivid imagery that she creates never ceases to amaze me.

This book centers on Lazlo Strange, aka “Strange the Dreamer”. An orphan, he has never really had a home or felt like he fit in. The closest he’s come to a sense of normalcy is during his time in the Great Library. He grows up to become a librarian, submersing himself in the stories that he loves so much.

More than anything else, he is captivated by tales of the “unseen city”. He remembers hearing the stories about the city and the travelers that used to return from having crossed over the city’s borders. Then one day, the city seemed to be forgotten. Unlike everyone else in his town, Lazlo remembers the feeling of having his memory of the name of the city pulled away from him. In it’s place is the name “Weep”.

When a mythical hero, the Godslayer, arrives in town, Lazlo is able to join the group on their quest for Weep. This is his biggest dream come to life. He finally has a chance to see the legendary city that he’s only fantasized about.

What awaits Lazlo is more than he had imagined. Mythical beings, age-old grudges and a history that melded the worlds of gods and men. As more of Weep’s past is unearthed, the brutality of the city’s past is brought to light. Lazlo is forced to look at the city and it’s inhabitants through a new lens.

Although Lazlo was the central focus for much of this story, Ms. Taylor provides a robust cast of characters. Each member of this large cast brings something special to the story. I don’t want to say too much for fear that I might spoil this story for others.

Sarai is such a character. Her relationship with Lazlo is essential to the progression of the plot. From his dreams to his reality, Lazlo could not have found a better match than Sarai. They made each other better for having known one another. Their relationship was sweet and innocent, but also intense and emotional. I loved watching their bond evolve and seeing how their actions changed how they viewed the “outside” world.

From start to finish, this was an entertaining and captivating story. Laini Taylor’s writing is poetic. You can’t help but notice the beauty of her prose.

I listened to the Audible version of this book and it was well-narrated. My only criticism is that it was a bit hard to follow at first. This author’s works are multifaceted and incredibly detailed. At first, this can be a bit difficult to follow when listening. I did have to rewind a few times in the beginning to keep my characters and events straight. However, I was able to get it all sorted out pretty soon and I wouldn’t trade the richness of the story for the small amount of time lost.

Overall, I thought that this was a wonderful story! I would definitely recommend it, whether you’re a die-hard fan of paranormal/fantasy or if you’re just an occasional dabbler, like me. Laini Taylor has created a fantastical and intriguing world. I am looking forward to seeing where this series will go.

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Review: Until the Sun Falls from the Sky (The Three, #1), by Kristen Ashley

Until the Sun Falls from the Sky (The Three, #1)Until the Sun Falls from the Sky by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It has been a while since I read a vampire story, but ‘Until the Sun Falls from the Sky’ was just what I needed. This story puts a different spin on the “vampire and human fall in love” trope. This one took a little time to warm up to, but in the end it was well worth it.

In Kristen Ashley’s ‘The Three’ series, human and supernatural beings have coexisted for centuries. A war fought centuries earlier resulted in some rules to keep vampires in check and to keep both species alive. This has helped to maintain the balance of power and to keep vampires from hunting the humans to extinction.

Willing families have served as “concubines” for the vampires. When the children of the concubines come of age, they attend a gathering known as the Selection, where they are selected by a vampire to serve on a contractual basis. While serving their vampire, they are receive lavish gifts and attention. Even after their time of service is finished, the vampire continues to provide for their former concubine for the entirety of their life. The concubine provides sustenance to the vampire and companionship.

Leah Buchanan was born into a family of concubines. Her lineage included some of the most desired concubines in history. She was raised to believe that service to the vampire race is to be honored and even enjoyed, but Leah has no interest in ever fulfilling her predestined concubine role.

When Leah is finally unable to avoid attending a Selection, she goes begrudgingly. Whispers of a powerful vampire, Lucien, make her nervous. It seems that the mysterious Lucien has been waiting for Leah. She doesn’t know anything about Lucien, except she senses that he is a vampire that even other vampires fear.

As expected, Leah is selected by Lucien. Right from the start, he commandeers Leah’s life. The contract is altered and Leah is not offered the opportunity to decline to be Lucien’s concubine. It is clear that Lucien is willing to do anything to have Leah as his and is willing to break any rule to have her. She doesn’t stand a chance.

With every opportunity that she has, Leah defies Lucien. She is unaccustomed to the highhanded, domineering ways of this powerful vampire. Although he tries to be patient with Leah, his actions proved to be incredibly frustrating on more than one occasion. Lucien was definitely not an easy character to like. He had as much to learn about human ways as Leah did about the vampire world.

Eventually, Leah and Lucien manage to get on the same page. However, insecurities plague Leah and Lucien unwittingly adds to her insecurities with his reckless actions. Every time that I thought they were going to get things straightened out, something else would happen.

Meanwhile, there is war brewing in the background. It is clear that Lucien is getting ready to lead some sort of rebellion and that he is tired of abiding by the rules that were set in place following the last war. Leah’s role in this rebellion is largely unclear, but what is known is that she will be an integral player.

This is the first book in “The Three” series and I will definitely be continuing on to the next books. The following books are expected to focus on two other couples with different paranormal abilities. I am very interested to see where this will lead.

If you enjoy paranormal romances with over-the-top Alpha males, then this is a good choice. If you can’t tolerate a leading male that is a huge jerk for much of the story, acting in a callous and dominating manner, then this will not be a good choice. Personally, I have a weak spot for a$$holes, so this worked out splendidly for me. However, Lucien is a character that will make many readers cringe and want to throw their book/Kindle against a wall.

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Review: Riot (Scarred Souls, #4), by Tillie Cole

Riot (Scarred Souls, #4)Riot by Tillie Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

***I was provided an ARC of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley.com, in exchange for honest feedback.***

I love this series! Each one of the books in this series has grabbed my attention and left me craving more. I just cannot get enough of these tortured fighters and the women that tame them. It may sound ridiculous – and logically, it kind of is – but it just works so damn well.

There is something about the over-the-top, Alpha-male heroes in this series that appeals to me on a very primal level. In fact, much of the dialogue would be laughable in any other book, but Tillie Cole pulls it off flawlessly. The heroes are similar to those from Kresley Cole’s ‘Immortals After Dark’ series, in their overwhelming need to answer to their baser needs. Phrases like “my female” and other possessive, rudimentary speech patterns fill the pages, but it manages to be incredibly H-O-T.

In this fourth, and final (?), book, we meet “901”. He’s the Blood Pit’s undefeated champion fighter and he’s proved to be a challenge to Master Arziani, the head of the Arziani Georgian crime mob. It is clear that 901 fears nothing, including Master Arziani. This presents a tremendous problem for the crime boss, who needs to reign in his champion.

When Master Arziani shows off his new favorite pleasure slave, “152”, he finally finds the leverage he’s been searching for. Despite his attempts to hide his interest, 901 is taken aback by 152’s beauty. He’s never wanted for anything as much as he wants her.

The two are thrown together, as Master Arziani uses 152 as a tool to break 901. No matter how hard 901 fights his attraction, he ultimately must cede control in this regard. Master Arziani has finally found a way to control 901.

Meanwhile, Valentin is determined to rescue his sister, 152, from the life of slavery that he was able to escape. Along with Luka and Zaal, he plots to bring down Master Arziani once and for all. Their plans are daring and they know that they will either succeed or die trying.

From start to finish, this book kept me on the edge of my seat. The plight of 152 and 901 was desperate and heartbreaking at times. Arziani was sadistic and seriously unhinged, so I never knew what to expect from him.

Unlike earlier books in the series, which followed a predictable pattern of the hero’s escape/rescue from slavery and gradual acclimation to “normal” life on the outside, aided by the heroine, this book saves the rescue for last. In contrast to earlier books, this book is primarily set during the time of captivity. 901 and 152 are both slaves when they meet and fall in love. Only later, are they rescued.

This book was fantastic. I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it and could not put it down. Old and new characters come together and everything comes full-circle. We finally get the HEA that these characters deserve. I can only hope that there will be a spin-off series in the future. I loved it!

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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: Reap (Scarred Souls, #2), by Tillie Cole

Reap (Scarred Souls, #2)Reap by Tillie Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taboo And Sexy!

I love forbidden, taboo love stories and ‘Reap’ did not disappoint! Centered on the love story of Zaal and Talia, two lovers from rival Mafia families, there was plenty of angst and conflict to go around. Add in the fact that Zaal has spent the greater part of his life being drugged and forced to fight as a slave, and you have a gripping story.

Despite being a conditioned killer, Zaal had an extremely vulnerable side that I found endearing. With his Alpha-male protectiveness, I found him to be irresistibly as a main character. I came to think of him as a kind of gentle giant. He was tough as nails, but also sweet and tender with Talia.

Talia was also a fantastic character. She was strong-minded and kept things interesting with her rebellious antics. Tired of being under the thumb of her powerful Mafia family, she took every chance that she could to live for herself. At the same time, she was realistic about the world that she was born into.

The history between their two families is tragic and cannot be changed. Actions taken years before either of them were born continue to impact their present reality. When the nature of their relationship is brought to light, their love is put to the test.

I enjoyed every minute of this story. The characters were engaging and the story flows easily from where the first book left off, transitioning smoothly and tying up loose ends. The connection between Zaal and Talia was almost tangible it was so strong. I would have liked more of their story, but only because I’m greedy.

The sneak-peek into the next book in the series has me very excited as well. It will certainly be a game-changer for Zaal, in a good way. I am looking forward to reading it ASAP.

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Review: Souls Unfractured (Hades Hangmen, #3), by Tillie Cole

Souls Unfractured (Hades Hangmen, #3)Souls Unfractured by Tillie Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 “He Can Hold My Hand Any Day” Stars!

Book 3 in the “Hades Hangmen” series, ‘Souls Unfractured’ tells the story of Flame and Maddie. If you’ve read the first two books in this series, then you should remember Maddie as one of the beautiful, “cursed” sisters that was rescued from a religious cult. Similarly, you’ll recognize Flame as the MC’s resident scary guy with a cutting problem. No two people could seem less likely to fall in love, but Ms. Cole makes it happen.

The story is well-written and captured my interest right off the bat. One of the things that I found intriguing was that this book focused far more on Flame’s past trauma, than Maddie’s. As a result, I felt far more connected with Flame than the other Heroes from earlier books in the series.

I was incredibly impressed with how Ms. Cole was able to address his past sexual assaults, while not taking away from his character’s strength or badass biker appeal. She skillfully weaved some very sensitive topics from Flame’s childhood into the story, showing a raw, emotional side of the much-feared killer. She made him human. Given the brutality that he is known for, that was no easy task.

Flame was definitely the best part of this story for me. Maddie’s character, for the most part, seemed pretty interchangeable with the previous heroines in this series. She’s gorgeous, traumatized, afraid of most men, sweet and sheltered. Victimized by pedophiles that used false religious prophecies to perpetuate their crimes, she shares a horrid past that is similar to Mae and Lilah.

Similarly, Flame’s story added something new to the familiar kidnap and rescue plot. After all, even Cain, aka Rider, is tired of kidnapping these girls at this point. This time around, their kidnapping was comparable to a “catch and release”. It had to be the shortest, and least dramatic, kidnapping ever! So yes, Flame’s story was what kept me tuned in.

As Flame and Maddie slowly built their relationship together, I found myself rooting for Flame. I wanted him to experience affection sooo badly. When his walls finally started to come down, all I could think was, “Damn, hand holding never seemed so erotic before!” I’ve read many sex scenes that weren’t even close to being that hot!

I’m a sucker for a happy ending and was glad to see Flame and Maddie get theirs. While this book did have many similarities to the earlier books, I have enjoyed them all enough that the redundancies didn’t take away from my enjoyment of this story.

I’m looking forward to the next book in this series. I cannot wait to see how things work out. I’m particularly curious to see how things will play out for Cain, now that he seems to be getting a very small taste of what he deserves.

Overall, I really enjoyed ‘Souls Unfractured’. It was very well written and held my attention from start to finish. It had many similarities to the first two books in the series, so whether or not they appealed to you might be a good indicator of whether or not this one will or won’t suit your tastes as well.

Note: This book, like the two prior books in this series, contains descriptions of child abuse, including child rape. If these topics are triggers for you, you may want to avoid this title.

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Review: Heart Recaptured (Hades Hangmen, #2), by Tillie Cole

Heart Recaptured (Hades Hangmen, #2)Heart Recaptured by Tillie Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another Fantastic Book In The Hades Hangmen Series!

Picking up where “It Ain’t Me, Babe” left off, “Heart Recaptured” focuses on the story of Lilah and Ky. Unlike Mae, Lilah had no desire to flee the religious cult that she had been raised within. She still holds strongly to her beliefs and teachings of the cult leaders.

Ky is immediately attracted to Lilah’s beauty, but isn’t prepared to deal with her extreme religious beliefs. He’s a man unaccustomed to having his advances turned down or having to work to gain the affections of a woman. Ky can’t begin to comprehend the depth of her beliefs, anymore than she can comprehend the strange and frightening ways of life outside of the cult compound.

When Ky is assigned to teach Lilah about the world outside of the compound in order to help her make the transition into her new reality, both of them are pushed out of their comfort zones. The more time the two spend together, the stronger their attraction grows. Ky quickly becomes Lilah’s protector and gains her trust. Little by little, she begins to come out of her shell.

Despite it all, Lilah still hangs on to the belief that her beauty is a curse and that she is evil. The long-standing impact of the cult’s teachings and her subsequent self-loathing was incredibly sad. She is deeply scarred and, at times, seems entirely incapable of moving on with her life.

Eventually, the cult, now led by Prophet Cain (Rider), makes a reappearance. She is thrust back into a world that she thought she had wanted, only to then recognize how much she’d grown to love her new life and to question the validity of the cult’s teachings. Submitted to unspeakable horrors, she eventually finds her personal salvation.

It becomes apparent that Prophet Cain is no longer the kind-hearted Rider that we loved in the first book. He has forsaken his morality in exchange for power. He has become a passive bystander to the cruelties and perversions of the cult. While he may be conflicted, he lacks the strength to stand up for what he knows to be right, looking the other way as atrocities are committed in the name of God. In his role as their leader, he has become a follower, nothing more than a puppet for the cult elders. With his obsession for Mae still burning strong, there is no doubt that we’ll be seeing more of Prophet Cain in the future.

Ms. Cole’s storytelling continues to amaze me. This story is captivating and deeply disturbing. I am completely enthralled with these characters and the strength of these women. I cannot wait for the next book in this series to see what lies in store for Flame, Maddie and the rest of the characters we’ve been introduced to along the way.

Spectacular book!

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Review: Rebel (Dead Man’s Ink, #1), by Callie Hart

Rebel (Dead Man's Ink, #1)Rebel by Callie Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since reading the ‘Blood & Roses’ series, I’ve wanted to get the full story of Alexis, Sloane’s kidnapped sister. Finally, I got around to reading ‘Rebel’ after having it sit on my shelf for a while. Although it wasn’t exactly what I expected, it was a fantastic story.

Despite my initial impression from the ‘Blood & Roses’ series, Alexis wasn’t in the possession of the human traffickers for long. Kidnapped after witnessing a murder, she is auctioned off quickly. Luckily, she is purchased by the nephew of the man that she saw murdered. Her decision to try and help a stranger may have placed her in danger, but ultimately, it saved her also.

For most of this book, Alexis (aka Sophia) is trying to stay alive. She doesn’t fully understand what it is that her latest captor wants from her. She just knows that she needs to keep her family safe, which means keeping her real identity a secret.

Once she figures out that her new “owner”, Rebel, isn’t going to rape her or pimp her out, she begins to get to know him. Despite her best efforts, she cannot deny that she has a strong attraction to the outlaw biker. Eventually, they act on their attraction.

Although I already knew many of the facts surrounding Alexis and Rebel’s story from the ‘Blood & Roses’ series, this book began to fill in the details. My perception of Alexis changed drastically after reading this book. No longer, do I view her as a selfish, spoiled and uncaring person, as I did before. This book made me look at her actions from a different vantage point.

Overall, this was a great story! It did end with a big cliffhanger, so brace yourself. I listened to the audible version and the next book has not been released in that format yet. As soon as it is out, I’ll be continuing this series.

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Review: The Knight (Endgame, #2), by Skye Warren

The KnightThe Knight by Skye Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

***I was provided an ARC of this book in exchange for honest feedback.***

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see an ARC land on my shelf! When ‘The Knight’ showed up, I did a happy dance and squealed like a preteen girl! I just had to know where things would go between Avery and Gabriel. I dropped everything and dived right in to this book.

Picking up where ‘The Pawn’ left off, Avery is heartbroken and destitute. She is living in a rundown motel on the bad side of town, where her sleepless nights are spent listening to the prostitute next door service her many Johns. She is definitely at a low point in her life.

The only thing that seems to be spurring her on is her fury. Avery is determined to get her mother’s house back, even if that means going up against Gabriel. She refuses to let him get the best of her again.

Luckily for me, Avery is not quite as resolute in her decision to ward off Gabriel. The two cannot seem to resist one another, regardless of the pain and heartache that is bound to follow. Although they have fewer interactions in this book than they did in ‘The Pawn’, their electric connection is still there and every bit as strong.

If I thought that Gabriel’s motivations were unclear in the first book, they prove to be even more elusive in ‘The Knight’. For most of this book, he was outright cruel and callous in his treatment of Avery. I spent a fair amount of time questioning whether he every really cared about Avery, or if he really did only see her as a tool for his revenge. Not knowing kept me on the edge of my seat throughout this book.

Supporting characters, such as Avery’s best friend and her ex-fiancé, return in ‘The Knight’ and play a more pivotal role in the story. Likewise, a couple of new characters are introduced that have me intrigued. I’m very curious to see if they will get their own books later on, down the road. I’d love to hear more of their stories.

Avery’s mother also plays a more central role in this book. It becomes clear that there is far more of her story to be unveiled. The circumstances of her life and death are very mysterious. I am sure that this enchanting woman’s story will be utterly captivating. I am hopeful that her story will be told in the next book of this series.

Like ‘The Pawn’, this book does end with a bit of an upset. ‘The Knight’ answers all of my questions about Gabriel and Avery, only to plant new seeds of doubt about her mother and the source of the danger that follows Avery. I don’t want to give too much away, but you will want the next book immediately.

I can not get enough of this series! I am 100%, completely addicted. If you like suspenseful, angsty and emotionally-charged romances with a bit of darkness, I highly recommend this series.

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Review: Shatter Me (The Jaded, #1), by Alex Grayson

Shatter Me (The Jaded, #1)Shatter Me by Alex Grayson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story was upsetting, raw and gritty. I personally love darker stories, but the harrowing account of abuse that Bailey survived was difficult to read about. One particularly graphic scene toward the end required me to take a “time out”, which almost never happens for me.

Essentially, this is a story about a young woman, Bailey, that is on the run from her abusive husband. With little more than the clothes on her back, she moves from town to town, picking up whatever work she can in order to keep her moving. She’s learned the risk of staying in one place too long the hard way. It’s a mistake she doesn’t plan to make again.

When Bailey finds herself in a small town in Ohio, she is immediately welcomed by the town’s friendly residents. Making friends with the waitress she met almost immediately upon her arrival, she is soon hooked up with a job and a place to stay. For the first time in her life, Bailey begins to feel like she might have found a place to fit, where somebody actually cares about her.

After a childhood filled with neglect and abuse while her druggie parents turned a blind eye, and a horrifying marriage, Bailey has some serious self-worth issues. When her new boss, Jaxon, and a variety of other townsfolk take an active interest in her, Bailey is overwhelmed with the support and sense of security she feels. Although she continues to look over her shoulder, she allows herself a bit of a reprieve. She begins to explore her feelings for Jax, even though she doubts she will ever be able to have a “normal” relationship with any man.

If Bailey’s husband, Steven, was the epitome of a monster, then Jax was the quintessential knight in shining armor. Quickly sensing Bailey’s troubled past, Jax steps into the role of protector. If you love a strong Alpha-male, Jax is your guy.

Although his actions were a bit over-the-top and there was a strong “insta-love” vibe, I absolutely loved his character. As the story unfolds, there are events in Jax’s past that explain many of his early actions that seemed over-zealous at the time. He has his own ghosts that haunt him and Bailey’s situation brought it back to the surface.

As a heroine, Bailey was someone that I both pitied and admired. If anyone had ever been dealt a bad hand in life, it was her. She had never known anything other than abuse in her life. She endured things that nobody should ever have to, both as a child and as an adult. Yet, she was strong and resilient. She showed such courage and fight, despite everything that she’d endured.

While I was very much absorbed in Bailey’s story, there were some things that drove me crazy with this book. There were many times that I found myself skimming, because I was overwhelmed with unnecessary details that didn’t add value. It was very frustrating to be on the edge of my seat wondering when Bailey’s psycho husband was going to pop out of the shadows, only to have the suspense derailed by detailed descriptions of every room in a house that went on for pages, etc. I really didn’t need to know the color of the decor or detailed descriptions of what everyone was wearing, so on and so forth. All of the unnecessary details were distracting and took away from the story.

I also had some reservations about the way things played out toward the end. I guess that it is “technically” a HEA, but I wasn’t left feeling very happy. Bailey and Jax get a future together, but that is where the happy ends. I’ll just say that it didn’t work out so well for everybody else and I was left feeling gutted.

Despite my reservations, I thought this was a great story. It was heartbreaking and difficult to read, but all of the best books make you feel things, whether you want to or not. This book will definitely elicit an emotional response.

That being said, take the disclaimer seriously. There are graphic descriptions of abuse, physical, psychological and sexual, contained in this book. There is an abundance of dark material in this book. Although it isn’t gratuitous, in my opinion, it is definitely not for the faint of heart.

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