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: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story (Wonder, #1.5), by R. J. Palacio

The Julian Chapter: A Wonder StoryThe Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved ‘Wonder’ and think that everyone should read/listen to it at least once. However, with all of the different viewpoints offered, I felt like one of the most important POVs had been skipped. As much as I detested Julian in ‘Wonder’, I really wanted to know exactly what made him such a mean kid. How does a child learn to behave so hatefully?

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person that felt that Julian’s POV was needed. Immediately upon finishing ‘Wonder’, I went in search of Julian’s POV and I lucked out. The author wrote a separate short story to tell Julian’s side of the story. Of course, I dived right into Julian’s story right away and it proved to be a great decision.

I have to admit that as much as I wanted to hear Julian’s side of events and learn about what motivated him, I was a bit hesitant. Julian was a character that made me feel anger and rage at his actions. I had to keep reminding myself while reading ‘Wonder’ that he was just a child and that he probably didn’t fully grasp the impact of his words. Starting this book, I was worried that I wouldn’t find any redeeming qualities in Julian and that I would spend hours being upset by his callous behavior. Thankfully, my fears were unwarranted.

‘The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story’ takes place toward the end of the school year and the following summer. It begins when Julian is caught leaving mean notes for Auggie and Jack in their lockers. The Principal and school counselor are tipped off and are able to intervene, finding an especially cruel note before Auggie does.

While Julian’s actions were inexcusable, his family dynamics spoke volumes. I was immediately taken aback by his parents lack of concern for his behavior and their obsession with public image. It was clear to me that this is where Julian’s troubles really started. As a parent, I was appalled by these shallow individuals. Julian’s mother even went so far as to photo-shop Auggie out of the class photo! I just have no words.

Initially, Julian is defensive and doesn’t really grasp the severity of his actions. However, as the story progresses – and with no help from his parents – he comes to see the error of his ways. His grandmother, whom he spends his summer vacation with in France, is instrumental in this.

Julian’s grandmother tells him about a boy that she knew when she was younger. He was disabled and often treated cruelly by the children in the village because they were afraid of him. As a young Jewish girl, hunted by the Nazis, it was this boy that ended up saving her life. Despite the mistreatment that he had endured, he showed kindness and bravery. He risked his own life to save a girl that had never paid him much attention, except to avoid him.

After hearing his grandmother’s story, Julian is able to connect the empathize with Auggie. Finally, he feels genuine remorse for his actions and understands exactly what he did. It was like he turned a new leaf and I really liked this new Julian.

I’m very glad that I read Julian’s story. I was worried about what I would get when I started it, but it did not disappoint. I especially liked Julian’s grandmother. She provided the guidance and wisdom that Julian’s parents failed to.

On the flip side, I could not so easily forgive Julian’s parents. Yes, they too came around a bit at the end, but only with the grandmother twisting their arms. Some explanations were offered for Julian’s mother’s behavior, but I found them to be weak at best. Julian may have been a child, but his parents were not. They should’ve known better. I just couldn’t get past that.

Overall, this was a fantastic story. He isn’t an easy character to like, but this book serves as a reminder that even bullies are human. Despite his despicable behavior toward Auggie, Julian was only a child in need of some direction and positive role models. In the end, he becomes a better person. If you enjoyed ‘Wonder’, I would definitely recommend this one.

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Review: Wonder (Wonder, #1), by R. J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! I am so glad that I finally got around to listening to this story. ‘Wonder’ had been sitting on my TBR list for a really long time, but I had been waiting for a time to listen to it with my daughters. That time finally arrived last weekend, when we had to spend a full day in the car on a trip.

I had read many great reviews for this book, so I had really high hopes going into it. In fact, I was worried that I would be disappointed, as I often am with a book that is surrounded by so much hype. However, I can say that this book did not let me down in any way. In fact, it exceeded every expectation that I had. I absolutely loved this story!

‘Wonder’ tells the story of a young boy, August Pullman aka “Auggie”, who is going to begin attending school for the first time ever. Auggie has been homeschooled for years by his mother because he was born with severe facial deformities, requiring multiple operations over the course of his young life. Despite the myriad of surgeries that he has undergone, he still lives with significant facial disfigurement. Now, Auggie will be entering the fifth grade at Beecher Prep.

Told from multiple POVs, this book provides a thorough account of Auggie’s experiences. I was especially impressed with the raw honesty of his sister’s POV. Growing up with Auggie wasn’t easy, as she always came second to his needs. She struggled with resentment and guilt over having those feelings, as she truly loved her brother but craved the attention of her parents also.

Auggie’s POV was also brutally honest. He was well aware of how other people viewed him. Yet, no amount of awareness can make a child immune to the stares and cruel words. His story was heartbreaking, but inspiring.

It was also easy to relate to the POVs of others, including Jack, the boy who befriends Auggie at school. Although some of his actions were upsetting, he was only human. I had to remind myself that he was just a young boy, battling his own insecurities and trying to fit in at a very impressionable age. Even good people do bad things sometimes.

As a parent, I both admired and sympathized with Auggie’s mother. My heart went out to her. I could only imagine how difficult it would be to enroll your child into school, wanting to provide as normal a life as possible, while also wanting to shelter and protect him. I don’t know what I would’ve done in her shoes.

Not surprisingly, this was an incredibly emotional story. At times, it was downright depressing. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Auggie and his resilience. This story broke my heart, but it also inspired me.

Most importantly, this story will make you reflect on your views and behaviors. This story highlights the cruelty of people’s actions, bred from ignorance and fear. Never have I read a story that so effectively prompts readers to examine the impact of their actions and words. For children, this was a wonderful lesson in empathy.

This book prompted some thoughtful discussion with my daughters (5 and 10) about bullying and the “golden rule”. Although some of the story went over the head of my 5 year-old, who was primarily hung-up on the hilarity of the “farting nurse”, my 10 year-old didn’t miss a beat. I have no doubt that this story will stick with her and make her more considerate and empathetic toward other children.

‘Wonder’ is the type of book that should be required reading in schools and I’m glad to hear that it is in some schools already. Just like ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ (Anne Frank’s Diary), this book is a book that guides you to be a better, more thoughtful, person. It is beautiful and engaging. No doubt about it, this book left it’s mark on me. I highly recommend this book to everyone, young and old!

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Review: Caraval (Caraval, #1), by Stephanie Garber

Caraval (Caraval, #1)Caraval by Stephanie Garber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a surprisingly captivating world Stephanie Garber has created in ‘Caraval’! I listened to the Audible version of this book and I was mesmerized by the beautiful and vivid imagery that ‘Caraval’ contained. I was drawn in by the world that Ms. Garber created and it held my attention right to the very end.

Every once in a while, I love a great paranormal romance. I love to leave reality behind and take off on a journey to a place where magic and fairytales exist. This was the perfect story to do just that.

Scarlett, aka “Crimson”, and her sister Tella have lived under the oppressive rule of their father. His cruelty seems to know no bounds and he takes satisfaction in tormenting his daughters. Knowing how close the girls are to one another, he uses their love against them. When one of his daughters breaks a rule, it is the other one that will receive the punishment.

Awaiting her arranged marriage to a Count that she’s never met before, Scarlett is just biding her time until she can get away from her sadistic father. She’s literally counting down the weeks until she will be married and can take her sister with her to her new home. Unlike Scarlett, Tella is skeptical of the mysterious fiancé that seems to say all of the right things but whose identity remains shrouded in mystery.

Before Scarlett can be married off, she receives an invitation from Legend, the famous mastermind behind the Caraval. Despite writing to Legend ever since she was a young child, Scarlett has never received a response before. Now, with the clock counting down to her wedding, it seems like fate that she would receive her first ever response and an invitation to participate in the Caraval.

With the support of her sister, Scarlett sets off for the mysterious island where Legend has indicated that the Caraval is taking place. Along with Tella, she sets sail with Julian, a young sailor, to participate in the forbidden game. Both sisters know that they are risking their lives by sneaking off against their father’s wishes. However, they are willing to take their chances in order to seize a once in a lifetime opportunity.

From that point forward, the girls are caught up in a magical and dangerous world. Appearances are not what they seem and even time moves differently in this new world. Caraval is a game where the stakes are very high and not everyone will come out alive or unscathed.

I don’t want to give anything away or ruin the surprise for others. There were many twists and turns that I didn’t see coming while listening to this story. Just when I thought I had everything figured out, something else would happen that made me question everything again. This story held my attention and kept me guessing right to the very end.

If you like adventure/fantasy/paranormal stories with plenty of twists and turns, this is a great choice. There is some romance, but it took a back seat to the magical world of Caraval. For me, the adventure and mystery of Caraval reigned supreme. Of course, there is a love story weaved into this fantastical story as well. Just, don’t plan on a super-smutty type of story where the focus on the romance is paramount.

All in all, I thought that this was a wonderful story. I was enchanted by the world that Ms. Garber created and cannot wait to read the next installment. This book filled my head with some beautiful and vibrant imagery that will hang with me for quite some time. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a paranormal/fantasy/adventure to read. It was fantastic!

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