Review: Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part 3 (King, #7), by T. M. Frazier

Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part Three (King, #7)Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part Three by T.M. Frazier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As much as I have enjoyed the ‘King’ series, I have mixed feelings about this book. Preppy is a favorite character of mine, but I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed with this final book in his story. At the same time, I was glad that everything was tied up and that the series drew to a close. I think it was time. It is kind of bittersweet for me.

Like earlier books in the series, Preppy, Bear and King team up to take on those that would do them harm. This time around, Dre is a target. Picking up right where the last book left off, Dre is in a dire situation and has to fight for her life. That isn’t the last time that they’ll find themselves in a life or death struggle though.

Despite the action and danger that fills the pages, I was left feeling somewhat bored. Maybe I’ve just grown tired of the constant danger and implausibility of this series, but I just wasn’t surprised or even anxious while reading this one. It felt kind of flat for me.

That being said, it was nice to see these characters all “grown up” and settled down. Each of them managed to find their happy place, going on to have children and live out their HEAs. These rough and tumble, drug-dealing guys have become the picture of domestic bliss. It is kind of sweet, in a bizarre way.

Overall, I thought that this ended up being a pretty good book. It didn’t hold my attention like the earlier books in the series, but I was also glad to see everything wind down and come to a close. It was a great ride while it lasted, but it was time.

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Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne

The Marsh King's DaughterThe Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lately, I’ve been reading a little more suspense/thriller. ‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ is the most recent book in this genre to catch my attention. It certainly lived up to my expectations for a creepy, edge of my seat story.

The story centers on Helena, a woman with a secret past. While she lives her “normal” life as a mother, occupied with mundane daily issues, there is far more going on beneath the surface. She is always looking over her shoulder, never quite able to settle down or rest easy.

What Helena hasn’t told anyone is that her father is the notorious “Marsh King”. He abducted her mother when she was a young girl, holding her captive for many years and forcing her to be his wife. Helena is a product of her mother’s abuse at the hands of her abductor.

Of course, Helena did not know this for much of her youth. She was raised in a cabin in an isolated marsh. She grew up hunting and learning to survive off of the land. Truth be told, she loved it. She didn’t know of any other way.

Looking back, she can see that her childhood wasn’t without hardship. Her father’s rule was supreme. If she or her mother dared to cross him, they were punished swiftly and harshly. As a child, she didn’t have a basis for comparison. Now, it is clear to her that his actions were abusive.

Helena has long since come to terms with the fact that her father is a narcissistic psychopath. Everything in their lives revolved around keeping him happy. They lived in constant fear of setting him off, knowing that he could turn into a cruel, sadistic monster with the flip of a switch.

When Helena receives word that her father has escaped from prison, she has no doubt that he will be coming for her. After all, she knows that she was to blame for his eventual arrest. A man like her father doesn’t forget and he doesn’t forgive.

Her worst fears are proved true when a series of gruesome clues begins to pile up. It seems that her father is taunting her and trying to draw her back into a game that they used to play when she was little…only this time, she is hunting him. Sometimes, the hunter becomes the hunted though.

As Helena trekked through the wilderness in search of her father, I had chills. An eerie feeling pervaded this story from start to finish. All I can say is that it was creepy…very creepy.

Despite my enjoyment, I have to admit that I had a difficult time connecting with Helena. I admired her strength and the fact that she stood out from other heroines. However, I couldn’t really relate to her much. It made it a little more difficult for me to connect with the story, but eventually I did.

Once this story got warmed up, it had my complete attention. As Helena’s past was revealed through flashbacks, I began to piece together the entirety of the her life’s story. Her father, who seemed harmless at first, was gradually shown to be a truly cruel man as the violence he bestowed upon his family increased over the years.

This was a great book. It kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time I was listening. There is something to be said for a book that can still make you want to check under your bed for monsters. If you’re in the mood for something creepy and disconcerting, this is the one.

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Review: The Bad Guy, by Celia Aaron

The Bad GuyThe Bad Guy by Celia Aaron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love dark romance and stories with captivity themes are among my favorites. So when I read the blurb for ‘The Bad Guy’, I was sure that it would be right up my alley. I wasn’t wrong. It was just the type of “reformed” bad guy story that I love.

When Sebastian Lindstrom sets eyes on the girlfriend of one of his company’s executives, he is determined to have her by any means necessary. A highly-functional psychopath, he doesn’t conform to the social constraints of polite society. He sets out to possess her. Stalking, kidnapping and manipulation are all on the table.

Camille Briarlane has the “perfect” boyfriend. He’s patient and doting. She knows that he wants to take their relationship to the next level. She only wishes that she felt half as passionate about him as she did for her teaching job. She’s not sure what is holding her back, but something is.

When Camille accepts a job over Christmas break as a researcher in the Amazon, she has no idea that she’s walking into a trap. Instead of being taken to the airport, she is taken prisoner. The sexy man that she once danced with at her boyfriend’s company’s party has stolen her. It is clear that he is unhinged and will go to any length to have her. She only hopes that she can get out alive.

I should be clear that this book is far different from most dark romances with a captivity theme. If you’re looking for a really dark story with whips, chains and an abusive anti-hero, you won’t find it here. It just wasn’t that type of story.

Yes, Sebastian kidnaps Camille. Yes, he holds her captive in his family’s countryside mansion. At times she even fears him.

However, Sebastian has no intention of physically harming her. He comes off as determined to woo her and absolutely clueless about how to make that happen. He knows that Camille is the woman for him, even if he doesn’t understand “normal” emotions. He is sure that given enough time, she will come to realize that they are meant to be together also.

As messed up as the situation was, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Sebastian. There was an underlying vulnerability and even innocence to him that is hard to pinpoint. He didn’t feel things in the same way as others, but Camille brought out his humanity.

Eventually, Sebastian has to face some hard truths. He realizes that he cannot make Camille love him. The harder he tries to force her hand, the more she will slip away. He begins to grow a conscience.

Likewise, Camille has to come to some realizations about her life. Her “perfect” boyfriend is not so perfect after all. Right or wrong, she has feelings for Sebastian that she needs to evaluate.

Overall, this ended up being a great book. It is a standalone and didn’t leave me with any unanswered questions. It was different than other captivity-themed romances, but that only made it stand out from the rest. If you want a taboo love story that toes the line without leaping into “dark” territory, this is a great choice.

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Review: The Shack, by William Paul Young

The ShackThe Shack by William Paul Young
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While most of my friends seem to have a love or hate relationship with this book, I can’t say that I do. I am the rare reader that didn’t have a strong opinion about this book, one way or the other. I found it to be good and entertaining enough, but I didn’t find it to be life-changing or especially inspirational for me. It was certainly a change from my usual type of story, so that was refreshing in a sense. However, in the end it was in the “good but not great” category for me.

‘The Shack’ tells the story of Mackenzie, aka “Mack”, whose youngest daughter was abducted and murdered. Mack is expectedly devastated and distraught. He is also exceptionally angry at God, feeling that a worthy god wouldn’t have allowed such a heinous crime to occur to such an innocent young girl as his daughter, Missy.

Understandably, Mack is never the same man after the loss of Missy. His relationships are forever changed as he drowns in his own guilt and misery. He has lost faith and turns his back on God.

When Mack receives a note in his mailbox from God, luring him back to the cabin where his daughter was murdered, he doesn’t know what to think. Could somebody be so cruel as to play this type of a sick joke on him? Is the murderer still watching and toying with him? Could the murderer want to kill him as well? Is it possible that Missy could still be alive?

Mack doesn’t know what to think. However, he knows that he won’t be able to rest until he gets to the bottom of it. Borrowing a Jeep from a friend, he sets out for the cabin – the site of his worst nightmares.

During his time at the cabin, Mack has if forced to confront his loss of faith. Over the course of the book, he gets the closure that he needed and leaves a changed man. It was about as rosy as it could get for a book that centered on the murder of a child.

Personally, I didn’t feel any great sense of peace or satisfaction while reading this story. While I can see why some people felt that this book restored their faith and gifted them with a greater sense of empathy, it just didn’t work that way for me. I saw where author was going, I just wasn’t jumping on board that train.

In fact, I think I was more upset with Missy’s killer by the end of the book than Mack was. I couldn’t let it go. I wanted vengeance and justice for her young life. I wasn’t going to be satisfied unless the child murderer was found and put to death. That’s just me though, I’m bloodthirsty like that.

I’m also not what I would consider to be a very religious person. I don’t offend easily and I respect the views of others. I was raised as a Methodist, but I’m not a devout follower by any means.

That being said, nothing ever amazes me like the lack of tolerance that many self-professed “Christians” have for anyone with views that differ from their own. (Not that this is a phenomenon exclusive to Christians either. There seems to always be some in every group/religion.) We all know them, they’re the “my way or the highway” and “what I believe is right and your beliefs are wrong” people. A quick glance at the reviews for this book revealed that it has garnered lots of that type of attention–no big surprise there.

On the one hand, I can see that the author attempted to bridge the gap and present a book that might cross religions. However, since the book was so heavily based on Christian principles and beliefs, this attempt fell flat. It was clear that the god presented was based on Christian teachings.

Yet, even amongst Christians there are many differences in theology. This author focused largely upon one of those areas where different denominations have varying beliefs — free will vs. predestined fate. The author was clearly in the “free will” camp. Not surprisingly, readers who fall in the “predestined fate” camp will take issue with one of the major premises of the story.

If you are able to appreciate a story that has strong religious themes that may or may not align with your beliefs, then you might enjoy this one. I found it to be a good story, but I would have liked to feel more of a sense of justice. Things at the end were too nice, tidy and convenient for me.

If I were a more religious person, I might have enjoyed it more, or I might have despised it…who knows? It might be a great choice if you’re looking for somebody’s response to the age-old question, “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” For me it was good, just not great.

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Review: Almost Missed You, by Jessica Strawser

Almost Missed YouAlmost Missed You by Jessica Strawser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine this: You’re on vacation with your husband and young son. Everything is seemingly perfect. In fact, your considerate husband has agreed to watch your son while you relax with a drink and a good book on the beach for a couple of hours. Then, you return to your hotel room to find everything missing except for your personal belongings. Your husband and child are nowhere to be found. No note. Nothing.

That is exactly what happens to the heroine in this book, Violet. I cannot even begin to imagine the all-consuming sense of betrayal that she must have felt. My heart broke for this mother and her child.

As more time passes and it becomes clear that Violet’s husband, Finn, is not planning to return, pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place. Finn has secrets that he’s been keeping from Violet…and he isn’t the only one. It seems that some of her closest friends have been keeping secrets from Violet as well. Truth be told, she has been lying to herself for a long time also.

Told from the POVs of Violet, Finn and their best friend, Caitlyn, this story comes together little by little. Jumping between past and present-day, Violet and Finn’s fateful first encounters seem to be straight from a storybook. As Finn’s past is revealed, the image of a picture-perfect marriage with Violet begins to show cracks.

I don’t want to say too much about this story, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. However, I will say that I was completely absorbed in this story and the mystery, until right about 80% or so. Once Finn’s motivations were revealed, I have to say that I was a little let-down. All I could think was, “Seriously? That’s it?”. Then, there was some other craziness toward the end that seemed a little unnecessary and unbelievable as well.

Overall, it was a good story. It did start to lose appeal toward the end for me, but it had my rapt attention up to that point. All things considered, I give it 3.5 stars.

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Review: Dirty Promises (Dirty Angels, #3), by Karina Halle

Dirty Promises (Dirty Angels, #3)Dirty Promises by Karina Halle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Karina Halle wasn’t kidding when she said that this was the darkest book that she’s written. I knew when I opened up this book to find a couple of pages of forewarning from the author about how dark and disturbing the content was, that this was going to be a book that I loved. It certainly did not disappoint!

I have been a die-hard Javier fan from the start. There is something about him that I just can’t resist. He definitely isn’t a nice guy by any means, but I find him absolutely irresistible. In fact, I’m still pretty peeved with Ellie for choosing Cam over Javier. I don’t think that I’ll ever get completely past that.

Unlike ‘Dirty Deeds’, ‘Dirty Promises’ is centered on Javier and his wife, Luisa. While Javier was never a “good guy”, this book gives us a front row seat to his downward spiral into the depths of his depravity. The fact that his life as a cartel leader had corrupted him was hinted at in the last book, but I couldn’t even begin to fathom how far gone he was.

After the way things worked out in ‘Dirty Deeds’, Javier is a broken man. His violent, gory actions are extreme, even for him. He pretty much succumbed to madness.

While Javier is acting out his most brutal and depraved fantasies, he has completely neglected his wife. Luisa has tried to be patient and has done her best to overlook Javier’s indiscretions. However, there comes a point when she can no longer do so.

Of course, Javier has an enemy in his midst working to capitalize on Javier’s anguish. Betrayal after betrayal, this book completely gutted me. Aside from the sheer brutality, my heart wasn’t prepared for the emotional pain that this book would deliver. I was absolutely gutted by this story.

Even as the Javier fangirl that I am, I found it hard to forgive him for some of his actions in this book. No doubt about it, they were despicable. Luisa’s actions were easier to understand when confronted with the reality of what Javier put her through. I liked her before, but my heart really went out to her in this book. If there was anyone that was the “victim” in this scenario, it was definitely Luisa.

Without a doubt, this was one of the most intense dark stories that I’ve read in some time. I actually cried as Luisa suffered, which doesn’t happen very often. It was gritty, depraved and highly emotional. As disturbing as Javier’s world is, I cannot get enough! I loved this book!

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Review: Blackbird (Redemption, #1), by Molly McAdams

Blackbird (Redemption Book 1)Blackbird by Molly McAdams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Blackbird’ is the first book in Molly McAdams ‘Redemption’ series and is a lot darker than her previous works. I have enjoyed just about every book that I’ve read by Ms. McAdams and as a lover of dark romance, I was very excited to hear that she was trying her hand at writing “darker” romance. While not as dark as I was hoping for, ‘Blackbird’ proves to be a captivating read.

The story centers on Briar Chapman, a young lady that comes from a wealthy family. She is finishing up college and is engaged to Kyle Armstrong, the son of the Georgia governor. Much to her family’s disappointment, she chooses to make her own way, waiting tables while going to school.

One day she picks up a shift for a coworker and her life is forever changed. Just outside of the restaurant, she is kidnapped. The next thing she knows, she’s been sold at auction to a wealthy man.

Briar finds herself in a helpless situation. She is at the mercy of a man that says he owns her. He has no intention of ever letting her go and he refuses to entertain her pleas.

In time, Briar finds herself growing attached to her captor. Before long, she is questioning her own sanity and whether or not she really wants to return to her real life. Eventually, she has to face the fact that she has fallen in love with the man that she should hate.

While this story has many things in common with other captivity-themed romances, it also stands out from the rest in many ways. For starters, the man that purchased Briar, Lucas Holt, is not what he seems. The “world” that Lucas is a part of is also unlike any other that I’ve read about. The setting and circumstances were really quite unique. These differences were enough to make ‘Blackbird’ stand out from the rest.

There were quite a few twists and turns along the way. If you enjoy a bit of danger and action, this book delivers it in spades. In fact, ‘Blackbird’ was every bit as much of an organized crime romance as it was a captivity-themed romance.

My only gripe is that it wasn’t dark enough for my tastes. There were quite a few scenes that were heading into some very dark territory, but then something would happen right at the last moment and Briar would be saved. Lucas couldn’t ever really commit to do what he set out to do because he couldn’t stand the thought of hurting his blackbird.

While I can appreciate the sentiment, it was kind of a letdown for me. I love disturbing, dark stories and the strong emotional response that they elicit. This book was like a big tease in that sense.

I’m of the mindset that if you want to go dark, then go dark. Don’t skirt the edges of the forbidden territory while being too afraid to take that leap. This seems to be pretty common among authors that want to write “dark” content. I’m not sure if it is because they are afraid of the backlash that will come with delving into truly dark content, or what. However, for a fan of darker reads, this can be very frustrating.

Otherwise, this was a fantastic story. I would’ve liked it to be darker, but it was certainly much darker than anything that I’ve read by this author before. Even though it wasn’t as depraved as I would have liked, it was still a highly enjoyable read for me.

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