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: Breach (Breach, #1), by K. I. Lynn

Breach (Breach, #1)Breach by K.I. Lynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is definitely one of those times when I find myself in the minority. Most of my friends loved ‘Breach’ and I, sadly, did not. I was really looking forward to reading this book and I was sure that it would be right up my alley after hearing about all of the steamy sex scenes that filled the pages. I love some smutty goodness, after all!

Unfortunately, there was little else but sex to fill the pages. From start to finish, this book was filled with pretty much nothing but sex scenes. I’m no prude, but they needed to give it a rest.

I’m the type of reader that needs a connection between characters — preferably before they jump into bed, but I can even work with a relationship that develops afterward. However, at some point they need to actually develop a strong connection. I need to be drawn into the story and feel a bond with the characters and their plight. Otherwise, the reading experience is more like being a bystander while two random strangers have lots of meaningless sex. It’s just pointless.

While some of the sex scenes had potential to be very hot, the lack of a connection to the characters and the storyline left me with a lackluster feeling. I just didn’t care. There was no build-up or anticipation. I never felt a strong connection with the characters and didn’t get the feeling that they ever felt a strong connection with each other. As a result, I never felt any type of emotional connection to the story and the “steamy” sex scenes fell flat for me.

I kept thinking that if the author spent half as much time on fleshing out the characters and the storyline as she did on the sex scenes that this story could be really good. Instead, every time I turned a page Delilah and Nathan were having sex again. Sex was the outcome of every single interaction these two had. Jealous? Have sex. Threatened? Have sex. Nervous? You guessed it – sex! It got to the point where it was tedious for me.

In the end, this book ended up being just mediocre for me. Some of the sex scenes were pretty good, but they were so gratuitous that even the good scenes induced eye-rolling. I listened to the Audible edition and found myself fast-forwarding through many sex scenes toward the end because I just couldn’t take anymore. I get it – they have LOTS of sex. I just needed more of a story to go along with it. That never happened.

The first book in the series, ‘Breach’ ends with a cliffhanger. Usually, that would send me diving right into the second book to see what happened. Although I’m in the minority with this one, I feel absolutely no desire to do so. Even with the “shocking” ending, I just couldn’t bring myself to care. All I felt was relief that finally something had happened that might make these two stop having sex and come up for air. Since I never felt anything for the main characters, I couldn’t bring myself to care where the story will lead. I’m glad so many friends have loved this one. It just didn’t work for me.

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Review: One Contract (The Game Series, #1), by L. P. Lovell and Stevie J. Cole

One Contract (The Game Series, #1)One Contract by L.P. Lovell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, this serial was certainly intriguing! The first in a series of seven serials, ‘One Contract’ is attention grabbing and serves to set the stage for things yet to come. It has definitely got my attention. Although this story is just getting started, I’m very curious to see where it will lead. In fact, I know that I will be diving right into the next serial immediately.

The heroine, Ella Taylor, is really in a bad spot. After being dumped by her boyfriend for another woman, she is stuck in an expensive NYC apartment that she cannot afford. To make matters worse, she has lost her job. Facing certain homelessness, she is desperate.

Out of nowhere, she receives an invitation to interview. Despite the unusual manner in which she received this unsolicited request for an interview, she is intrigued. The invitation comes from a well-known billionaire that made his fortune as a result of developing a new social media platform. Without a doubt, she has to land this job.

After a brief initial interview with the billionaire, Tobias Benton, Ella is invited to a second, more personal interview over dinner. What Ella discovers is far more than she bargained for. She’s offered an opportunity that she isn’t in any position to turn down, no matter how uncomfortable it makes her.

Ella is introduced to Preston Lucas, Tobias’ partner. The two men would like for her to play a game with them for the next seven days. If she wins, she’ll get more money than she could possibly earn in years, much less in a week. If she lasts the entire seven days, she’ll still get paid a significant amount. Only if she loses does she leave empty-handed. Sounds easy, right? Wrong.

The two men promise that Ella will not be harmed, but it is clear that there is far more to this game than a little kink. She is expected to submit to them completely. She also isn’t allowed to ask any questions. The only assurance she has is that she won’t be damaged irreparably and that she will be given pleasure beyond anything she’s ever known.

As expected, Ella accepts this unusual proposition after wrestling with her morals. One super-sexy scene, and I’m hooked. I’m dying to know what these two are really up to. It is clear that there is far more at play here than just a kinky sexual fantasy. I’m definitely jumping right into the next serial immediately.

If you’re looking for a quick, steamy, erotic read, then this is a great one. It can easily be read in one sitting. It is the first of seven, but all of the serials have been released so you won’t have to wait before diving into the next one. I enjoyed every minute of this ménage short.

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Review: Royally Screwed (Royally, #1), by Emma Chase

Royally Screwed (Royally, #1)Royally Screwed by Emma Chase
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Royally Screwed’ is a book that has been on my radar for quite a long time. After finishing a couple of mediocre books and being in a bit of a reading rut, I thought that it might be the time to change it up with something sweet and “fluffy”. It ended up being exactly what I needed to lighten the mood.

Nicholas Pembrook is the Prince of Wessco. His sex appeal is only rivaled by his arrogance. He seems to have it all – money, admiration, power, looks.

However, Nicholas knows that beyond the glamour and glitz there are drawbacks to being a prince. For such a young man, he carries a heavy burden. He is expected to do what is demanded of a man in his position, regardless of his personal desires. Prince to a country in turmoil, he is expected to marry a woman “fitting of a prince”.

With only a few months of freedom left before he will have to choose a bride, Nicholas sets out for New York City to track down his rebellious younger brother. Stopping into a coffee shop to escape a downpour, he is immediately attracted to Olilvia. She is everything that he longs for, but is forbidden. The more she resists his advances, the more determined he is to have her.

Olivia Hammond has her own set of stressors to live with. Following the death of her mother, she has had to step up to keep her family’s business afloat. As her father tries to drown his sorrows, Olivia is forced to assume the role of the “responsible adult” in her household, a role that she feels like she is failing at.

There is no denying the attraction between these two. Their connection is strong, but social conventions and global expectations work to keep them apart. They know from the start that there can be no happily ever after in their future. What starts as a short-term fling, soon becomes more.

This serves to provide plenty of angst and conflict along the way. Knowing where this story was bound to lead, I still couldn’t help but fall in love with this couple. Nicholas had his fair share of jerky moments, but they were easily forgiven.

If you’re in the mood for a sweet, feel-good type of love story with a touch of angst, then ‘Royally Screwed’ is a great choice. Was it predictable? Yes. Did that negatively impact my reading experience? Absolutely not. ‘Royally Screwed’ was a fresh take on a familiar storyline.

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Review: Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror, #1), by Karina Halle

Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror, #1)Darkhouse by Karina Halle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have been wanting to read this story for a long time. I have had the Audible edition sitting on my shelf for months, if not years. Finally, I decided to give it a shot.

Unfortunately, this book ended up being a disappointment for me. It ended up being kind of “meh”. I just couldn’t ever connect with the characters or the story.

I’m beginning to think that I need to stick to Karina Halle’s dark romance/dark erotica. I love many of her other books that fall in those sub-genres. However, every book of hers that I’ve tried outside of those sub-genres has been a let down for me. Maybe this is related to my expectations for the author, based on her other works that I’ve loved. Who knows? What I do know is that this one didn’t work for me.

The heroine, Perry Palomino, is a young twenty-something that works a dead-end job and seems to lack much of a social life. She is trying to prove herself responsible after having problems with drug use and mental health issues in her teen years. She seems to have gone from one extreme to another, going from out of control to pretty boring.

Dex Foray, the “hero”, is mostly just a douchebag. He rubbed me wrong right from the start. I love an “a$$hole” leading male as much as the next girl, but somewhere along the way there has to be something appealing about the guy thrown in there to keep me hoping. There has to be a glimpse of a redeeming quality provided every now and again. Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen in this book until it was way too late. He remained an insulting, demeaning a-hole for pretty much the entire book. I couldn’t stand him!

These two cross paths one night at an old, abandoned lighthouse that is owned by Perry’s uncle. The lighthouse is rumored to be haunted. When Perry and Dex have a very creepy experience, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Perry shares the experience on her sister’s blog and it goes viral. Next thing she knows, Dex is proposing that the two of them do a “ghost hunters” web show. It sounds like a nice break from her boring day to day life, so Perry agrees.

Before long, Perry and Dex are traveling around together, visiting haunted places. Along the way, there are a few spine-tingling encounters. They keep running across an old “clown” lady that delivers cryptic messages and forecasts for their futures.

What hung with me more than anything else was irritation with Dex. I kept wondering why he had to be such a degrading jackass to Perry. More importantly, I couldn’t figure out why she kept putting up with his nastiness. Sure, he was supposed to be hot, but that was no excuse.

If I had to hear one more snide comment about how NOT hot Perry was, or how his girlfriend was so beautiful, I was going to throw up or punch something. I got it. Perry was nothing special in a superficial way. Why did it have to be brought up every other minute?

In the end, there was a twist or two. Admittedly, I didn’t see them coming. However, I’m not sure if that is because it was especially surprising…or if it was due to the fact that I had kind of tuned out a lot of this story.

This is one of those times when I find myself in the minority. I didn’t love this story like I expected to. It ended up just being kind of “meh”. In fairness, I was in a bit of a reading rut at the time and there weren’t too many books that appealed to me when I started this one.

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Review: Irreparable Damage (Irreparable, #1), by Sam Mariano

Irreparable Damage (Irreparable, #1)Irreparable Damage by Sam Mariano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was dark, taboo and offensive. Accordingly, I thought that it was a fantastic read! Not the best dark captivity story out there, but definitely not the worst either. If you enjoy darker stories and don’t shy away from controversial subject matter, then ‘Irreparable Damage’ is worth a read.

The first in a series, this book tells the story of Willow Kensington. Willow is abducted right after her 18th birthday by sex traffickers. Her father is a powerful Mafioso and her captors think that they can use her to get at her father. Innocent Willow is caught in the crosshairs, despite having almost no interaction with her father.

While undercover trying to locate another missing girl, private investigator Ethan Wilde runs across another girl whose picture recently came his way. He hadn’t accepted Willow’s case yet, but fate has their paths crossing. Unfortunately, to maintain his cover he must harm Willow before he can save her.

Following Willow’s rescue, she struggles with the after-effects of her captive experience. Her healing is only made more difficult by the fact that she will not discuss everything that happened to her at the hands of her captors. She is torn by the fact that her rescuer was also the man who committed the worst crimes against her. She won’t condemn him, but she can’t cope either.

Returning to his wife and children, Ethan faces his own demons following his most recent case. He cannot stop thinking about the girl that he assaulted. He wonders how she is doing and whether she hates him. He waits to be held accountable for his crimes, but with each day that passes it becomes increasingly clear that Willow isn’t going to turn him in – no matter how much he deserves it.

Ethan’s guilt transforms into an obsession, masked as concern. Before long, he’s stalking the teen online and “checking up on her”. The lies begin to pile up and he is drifting away from his wife.

Of course, Ethan isn’t the only one that can’t get Willow’s trauma in captivity off their mind. Willow is finding that her nightmares surrounding her assault are turning increasingly erotic. Yep, she’s fantasizing about her assailant. (This is smutty, dark erotica, not non-fiction after all! Know that what you’re signing up for isn’t a harrowing, true-to-life account.)

Willow and Ethan begin meeting up to vent and discuss their feelings about what transpired. It seems that they are the only two people that can relate to one another. Admittedly, I rolled my eyes at the idea of the victim actually consoling the attacker and vice versa. However, even as I was rolling my eyes I was anxiously flipping pages to see where the story would go.

This story was pure, smutty goodness! It was definitely a “guilty pleasure” type of read for me. It was unbelievable, taboo and hot. Clearly, this isn’t a book that you choose for intellectual enlightenment. It was dirty, sexy and fun.

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Review: The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm… I’m at a loss with this one. I can’t say that I loved it, but I didn’t dislike it either. I feel like I’m missing something. This is a story that I should probably go back and re-read at a time when I can give it my full attention…but I didn’t feel a strong enough connection the first time around to make me want to do that.

When I listen to an audiobook, I’m usually doing something else that requires part of my attention (i.e. driving). For this reason, I try to keep my audiobook selections pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, this book proved to be too detailed for me to follow in that format. I ended up having to “rewind” several times to reorient myself because I’d find myself completely lost.

‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ ended up being a bit too complicated of a story for me to take in via audiobook. There were details and connections that I’m sure I missed. The fact that I didn’t understand some of the Russian words and wasn’t able to look them up at the time, certainly contributed to my bewilderment.

In a nutshell, the story dealt with religious persecution as the “old gods” and religions were being pushed out by Christianity. The story is set in medieval Russia and the imagery crafted by the author was beautiful. Even when I was admittedly lost, I greatly enjoyed the detailed descriptions provided.

The heroine, Vasya, had special abilities and represented “good” in this book. Her mother was determined to have her, even knowing that she would sacrifice her own life. As a result, Vasya grows up to be resented by her father in a way.

When her father decides to remarry, largely in an attempt to tame the spirited Vasya, a political marriage is arranged to Anna. Anna had planned to become a nun and religion is a very large part of her identity. To say the least, she ended up being a nightmare for Vasya.

When the self-righteous Anna teams up with the fear-mongering priest, Konstantin, nobody is safe. Let the witch hunts begin!

Meanwhile, Vasya is given a protective talisman. She is tied to “Frost”, the winter demon king. Through their abilities and old “magic” the two are interconnected. — I won’t lie. I am hazy on the details here.

In many ways, this story was intriguing. At some point, I might give it another try because I’m certain that I missed a great deal. I had a hard time staying focused on this story, not because it was bad, but because I was preoccupied. Nonetheless, it ended up being a “good but not great” read for me this time around. It just didn’t keep my attention.

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Review: Tormentor Mine (Tormentor Mine, #1), by Anna Zaires

Tormentor Mine (Tormentor Mine, #1)Tormentor Mine by Anna Zaires
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I saw that Anna Zaires had released another dark romance, I was sure that I’d found my next 5-star read. Some of her other dark series are amongst my favorites. I absolutely love that this lady is not afraid to write some scary, twisted and disturbing content. Creating anti-heroes that make you fall in love with them, in spite of your better judgment, is a specialty of hers.

Unfortunately, while this story was good, it didn’t live up to my expectations for this writer. Don’t get me wrong…it was good. I just expected more — more emotion, more drama, more darkness. I waited, but it never came.

You might remember Peter Sokolov from the ‘Twist Me’ series. He was the man that Julian promised to provide with a list of the names of the individuals responsible for the deaths of his wife and son. Since his actions placed Nora in danger, Julian considered them to be a betrayal. Nora saw things differently and provided the list to Peter.

This book begins Peter’s story. His history is revealed as he works his way through the list of names, seeking revenge for the murder of his family years earlier.

Sara Cobakis is the wife of one of the men on the list. He had no intention of ever falling in love with her. She served one purpose to him – to give up the location of her husband. Peter stalks her, torments her and gets the information that he needs from her to exact his revenge. That should be the end of his interactions with her, but it isn’t.

Along the way, Peter cannot stop thinking about the woman whose husband he killed. She has become his new obsession. Regardless of what his initial plans were, he decides that he is going to make Sara Cobakis his. Neither of them could have expected true feelings to develop.

Of course, eventually they do develop feelings for one another. It is set up perfectly for these two to live out their happily ever after, until a twist at the end. Again, it was nice. It just wasn’t the dark, twisted story that I craved. It ended up being kind of sweet actually…which is fine, it just wasn’t what I expected.

In all fairness, I should say that I’m in a bit of a reading rut right now. Maybe I would’ve enjoyed it more at a different time when I wasn’t in a “funk”. Who knows? If I re-read/listen to this story later and my opinions change, I’ll update my review then.

Nevertheless, this was just a “good” story for me. I wanted to love it, but it didn’t happen. I liked it though. I was hoping for something much darker and edgier. It didn’t happen this time. It was sweet, in kind of unbelievably convenient way.

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Review: Black Hearts (Sins Duet, #1), by Karina Halle

Black Hearts (Sins Duet, #1)Black Hearts by Karina Halle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since reading ‘On Every Street’, I have been a huge fan of Karina Halle’s work. Admittedly, I’m still a little bitter over the fact that Ellie and Javier didn’t end up together. Being a “glass half full” kind of lady, I see this spin-off series as Ms. Halle’s chance to give those of us on team Javi a little something. After all, if we can’t have Javier and Ellie then we can at least have Vicente and Violet. (Take that Camden!)

If you haven’t read ‘The Artists Trilogy’ followed by the ‘Dirty Angels’ series, I would do that before starting the ‘Sins Duet’. You could probably read the ‘Sins Duet’ without having done so, but then you would be missing a lot of the backstory. Without understanding the history between these characters’ families, you won’t get the full impact of everything that transpires in this series. I would definitely recommend going back and reading those series before diving into this one. Don’t worry though, they’re fabulous!

If you haven’t read those series, you may want to stop reading this review. It is highly likely that it will contain spoilers for the books in those series. Since this series is largely built upon the history laid out in those books, it would be difficult to review this book without discussing some of that background.

Taking place years after the end of ‘Dirty Promises’, Javier and Luisa’s children are grown. Many more years have passed since Ellie left Javier behind to be captured by the authorities. Not being one to forget any affront, Javier has been biding his time.

Vicente’s relationship with his father is somewhat strained. The son of a notorious drug lord, Vicente never had a childhood resembling anything that would be considered “normal”. From a very young age, he was groomed to take over his father’s cartel. While other kids were playing soccer, he was learning to be a cold-hearted killer. He has only known the father that is feared by the world and seems to have no emotions or weaknesses.

When Vicente stumbles upon a file on Ellie Watt/McQueen, his curiosity gets the best of him. He is determined to find this woman that managed to capture his fathers’ heart, only to leave him the broken shell of a man that he knows now. With this seed planted in his mind, he sets out to San Francisco to find Ellie and make his father proud.

On the one hand, Vicente really detests his father. Yet, he yearns for his approval and affection. He has arrived at a stage in his life where he wants to challenge and usurp his father. Where Javier is considered, Vicente has a lot of mixed feelings.

Arriving in San Francisco, Vicente locates Ellie and her family. Immediately, he is drawn in by Ellie and Camden’s daughter, Violet. He sets out to use her as a means to gain access to her family. Only, he ends up falling in love with the innocent, kind and beautiful young lady. She is the polar opposite of everything he has ever known. She is refreshing in a life of violence.

While Vicente is busy falling in love with Violet, Javier is working on his own plan for revenge. He sees Violet as a way to mold his son into the hardened man that he’ll need to be to run the cartel. At the same time, Violet is an effective means to his long-awaited revenge on Ellie. Vicente never really had the freedom that he thought he had been granted, if only briefly.

This was a steamy and completely addicting story. I started this book and before I realized it, I was at the end. I was consumed by this story. Luckily, I waited until the second book was released so that I could start it immediately.

If you’re a fan of ‘The Artists Trilogy’ and/or the ‘Dirty Angels’ series, I highly recommend this spin-off series. I love the characters, new and old, that have been introduced. If you haven’t started this yet, I recommend going back to the beginning and taking it all in. This book, as well as each of it’s predecessors, is fantastic! I highly recommend it! I cannot get enough of this story!

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Review: The Man I Love (The Fish Tales, #1), by Suanne Laqueur

The Man I Love (The Fish Tales, #1)The Man I Love by Suanne Laqueur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading ‘An Exhaltation of Larks’, I knew that I wanted to read every book written by Ms. Suanne Laqueur. Her writing is exquisite. The stories and characters that she brings to life are raw and emotional, heartbreaking and inspiring. I’ve definitely gone a little “fangirl” where she is concerned!

‘The Man I Love’ tells the story of a close-knit group of friends at Lancaster University. In many ways it is a coming of age story, set against the backdrop of a terrible tragedy. They were young and carefree until the unthinkable happens. Then, this group of friends struggles to survive in the aftermath of a terrible attack.

Each of them copes with the trauma in a different way. As young, college students, they don’t appreciate the need to seek out professional help. All of them develop some destructive behaviors. In the months and years that follow they fall into a downward spiral, nearly destroying themselves and their relationships with those that they love.

No relationship undergoes more strain that that of Erik “Fish” Fiskare and Daisy Bianco. Erik was a theatre tech when he met Daisy, a lead ballerina at the school. The two were head over heels in love. They had the kind of relationship that others envied…until that day. Nothing was the same after that day.

Aside from Erik and Daisy, there is a robust cast of characters that make this story memorable. Will Kaeger, Erik’s best friend/roommate and Daisy’s dance partner, also plays a pivotal role. He is left to live with guilt and questions whether or not his actions were to blame for the events of that tragic day. It was his brief love affair with another student, James, that seems to have been the motivator for James’ horrific actions on that day.

Spanning over a decade, the long-term effects of a single traumatic event are played out through these character for readers. This story was absolutely beautiful, but also tragic and highly emotional. These characters both broke my heart and inspired me.

The first book in a series, ‘The Man I Love’ proves to be an addicting read. I will definitely be reading the other books in this series immediately. I highly recommend this book. I am utterly captivated by this story and these flawed, very human characters.

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