Review: The Things We Wish Were True, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

The Things We Wish Were TrueThe Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Things We Wish Were True’ was a book that I picked up with my Kindle Unlimited membership. I listened to the Audible edition and it was better than I expected. This story had a lot going on, but the author managed to weave the characters and events together seamlessly. It was my first Marybeth Mayhew Whalen book, but it won’t be my last.

The story is set in the small, southern town of Sycamore Glen, North Carolina. I enjoyed the description of this town and thought that the author did a fabulous job of capturing the essence of a small southern town. So often, authors are guilty of only portraying southern towns as being filled with idiotic, racist rednecks, feeding into all of the worst stereotypes of the people in this region of the country.

As a Mississippi native, I appreciate that this author didn’t do that, taking the time to present a more balanced view. There are certainly some racist rednecks in the South, but they aren’t a good representation of the majority. Having lived in, and traveled to, various locales across the country, I can assure you that racist, ignorant rednecks are everywhere. Sad, but true.

The story is told from multiple POVs. Everyone seems to get a chance to share their version of events. With a robust cast of characters, I admit that this was a little confusing at first. However, it wasn’t long before I had all of the characters sorted and I was completely lost in the goings on of this small community.

This is the type of town where everyone is connected somehow. Maybe their grown kids went to school with the young parents that are now raising their own families in town, as was the case for Zell. Maybe they’ve returned to town to lick their wounds, returning to the safety of their parents’ home after a failed marriage, as Jancey did. Perhaps, like Lance, they’re struggling to raise their children alone after being abandoned by their spouse. Or, maybe they’re trying to grow their family while working hard to keep their secrets at bay, like Everett and Bryte.

Everyone has a story and their lives are interconnected. Some connections are obvious, while others are revealed slowly, over the course of the book. The tragic near-drowning of a child at the community pool will pull them all together and set a series of events in motion.

Despite being a relatively short book, there was a lot going on. A child abductor is in their midst. Lies, betrayals and secrets abound. However, the author manages to incorporate many different elements without the story feeling “over the top” or outrageous. Granted, some things were a bit too coincidental, but it worked overall.

All in all, this was a great story. I really enjoyed it and found myself lost in the small town drama that played out. If you’re looking for an entertaining read that has a little mystery, without a high level of suspense and anxiety, I think this is a good choice.

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Review: The Secret Wife, by Gill Paul

The Secret WifeThe Secret Wife by Gill Paul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘The Secret Wife’ was a nice, enjoyable historical fiction/romance. Although it lacked the “wow” factor, I found it to be a good story overall. It was interesting and I enjoyed the details related to the time period. However, given the subject matter, the book lacked the suspense that I would have expected.

The story alternates timeframes, as well as locations. In 2016, Kitty Fisher discovers that her husband is having an affair. She has recently inherited a cabin in the United States from a great-grandfather that she never knew existed. Given the recent revelations about her marriage, she packs her bags and leaves her home in London, setting out for the cabin at Lake Akanabee.

Soon after her arrival, Kitty discovers some old writings in the cabin. She becomes consumed with uncovering the story of her great-grandfather, Dmitri Malama. The more she unearths, the more apparent it becomes that Dmitri’s life was anything but unremarkable.

Through the writings, a new look at Russia in 1914 and the downfall of the Romanov family is offered. Unlike many other stories centered on the Romanov family, which tend to speculate about Anastasia’s fate, this book focuses on Tatiana Romanov. I found this part of the story to be fascinating and highly entertaining. I lavished in every detail of this era in Russian history.

Dmitri was a cavalry officer who meets Tatiana when he is injured. Tatiana volunteers at the hospital where he is sent for treatment. The two fall in love, only to be separated thereafter by the overthrow of the Russian Tsar and the subsequent restrictions placed on the Romanov family.

Even after the reported murder of the Romanovs, Dmitri holds out hope that Tatiana is alive. Eventually, he gives up hope. He goes on to start a family of his own and relocates to America.

However, things aren’t always what they seem. When fate thrusts Tatiana back into his life, Dmitri is forced to make some very hard choices. Can he reconcile his love for Tatiana with the new life that he has made for himself and the wife that has stuck by his side throughout the years?

All things considered, I expected this to be a much more emotional read. Instead, it felt sweet and maybe even a little sad. Even with Tatiana’s reappearance, the story failed to elicit the tremendous emotional highs and lows that I expected. Things just fell together too perfectly.

Dmitri’s wife was just too accepting and almost complacent. I even felt the same way about how things worked out for Kitty and her husband. It was like these characters had been given a heavy dose of a sedative. Where was the anger and sense of betrayal?

Overall, it ended up being a good but not great type of story for me. It had a lot of unrealized potential. I needed more emotion and a stronger connection to the characters. It felt kind of “flat” to me, for lack of a better descriptor.

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Review: After We Fell (After, #3), by Anna Todd

After We Fell (After #3)After We Fell by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like the first two books in the series, ‘After We Fell’ was completely consuming. Although the back and forth drama between Hardin and Tessa gets to be very irritating, I can’t seem to turn away from it. It’s like I’m stuck in an abusive relationship with this couple. I know it isn’t healthy. I know I should remove myself from the situation…but I just can’t do it. After all, maybe they’ll change.

Picking up where ‘After We Collided’ left off, Tessa’s father has reappeared in her life. Only, her father is not the man that she remembered from her childhood. He is homeless and has some serious addiction issues.

While Tessa wants to give her father a chance, Hardin cautions her against it. Hardin is an ass all of the time, but I really thought that he took it to a whole new level when her father was introduced. I couldn’t believe how incredibly insensitive and cruel he was. Even though he was absolutely correct to be concerned, he responded in a manner that showed absolutely no regard for Tessa’s feelings. I couldn’t believe some of the things he said about her father to her. Of course, like always, Tessa gets over it like it was hardly a blip on her radar.

More than the first two books, Hardin’s own issues with addiction were very apparent. Interestingly, the author seemed to avoid addressing this issue head on. I kept waiting for some sort of intervention, but it never really happened. I guess there was already enough drama in this story without tackling Hardin’s drinking problem.

This book also features plenty of fighting, breaking up and making up between Hardin and Tessa. If you expected Hardin and Tessa to settle down and start acting like a mature, committed couple, prepare to be disappointed. ‘After We Fell’ is full of the same angst-filled cycle of jealousy, acting out and game playing that were in previous books. Betrayals are around every corner and there is no shortage of drama.

From disastrous family vacations, to secrets, there is plenty of deceit to go around. Zed is back on scene again, playing a big role in the tension between Hardin and Tessa. Of course, he is only involved because Tessa pulled him in again. Meanwhile, there are more revelations about Tessa’s “friends”. I swear, they never learn their lessons!

Like the first two books, this book ends with a huge upset. If I ever thought that I would have the strength to quit this dysfunctional couple, the ending sucked me right back in. I absolutely had to see where the next book would lead.

I love to hate, and hate to love, this series! It is like watching a bad train wreck in slow motion. You know it’s going to be a disaster, but you just can’t turn away.

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Review: After We Collided (After, #2), by Anna Todd

After We Collided (After, #2)After We Collided by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After finishing the first book in the ‘After’ series, I immediately jumped into this second book. There was no way that I was going to quit this series with the way things ended at the end of ‘After’–absolutely, no way! I had to know how things were going to play out for this disastrous couple. They are like crack! It might kill me. I know it’s really not healthy…but I just can’t seem to pull myself away from it!

If I thought that Hardin and Tessa were going to grow up and start treating each other better, I would’ve been sorely disappointed. These two are every bit as toxic as they were the first time around. The back and forth, break-up and make-up, abusive cycle continues, strong as ever. Of course, I’m such a glutton for punishment that I had to have a front row seat for all of it!

Picking up right where the first book ended, Tessa does her best to try and piece her life back together. She has been betrayed by everyone that she thought were her friends — most of all, Hardin. Unfortunately, the manipulative jackass succeeded in tying her to him when he tricked her into moving into an apartment with him and away from the dorms. This will make distancing herself from him more difficult than she had hoped.

While Tessa makes a weak attempt at moving on, Hardin sets out to prove that his feelings for her are genuine. Of course, every time he starts to make any progress in that regard he does something that sabotages all of his efforts. They truly are their own worst enemies.

For what it’s worth, Hardin does seem to show some actual emotions in this book. Mainly, his regret and heartache shines through. It’s hard to feel sorry for him though, since all of his pain is entirely the result of his own cruel actions. To make matters worse, every time he starts to gain a little “nice guy” stock, he goes and does something abhorrent again, reminding me of what a despicable asshat he is. Some big revelations about his past only further prove that he is not to be trusted. He really is deplorable…but I love to hate him!

I also found myself feeling a little more irritated with Tessa’s weakness this time around. Can you say “doormat”? How many times is this girl going to fall for his crap? She also played the same childish games over and over, using other guys to make Hardin jealous, only to play the victim when she got the reaction she was looking for all along.

I felt sorry for Tessa at first. By the end of this book, I was marveling at the fact that she hadn’t been weeded out as part of the process of natural selection. Surely, this girl is too stupid to live!

That being said, I still can’t pull myself away from this angsty, infuriating story. It is like watching a trashy talk show or soap opera. It’s unrealistic. The relationships are toxic. It probably kills off brain cells. However, I can’t get enough of it. It is my latest guilty pleasure. I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but I’m completely hooked on this series.

Like the first book, ‘After We Collided’ ends with a huge cliffhanger. Anna Todd certainly knows how to pull me back in. At this point, I think my relationship with this series is much like the relationship between Hardin and Tessa. I should probably cut all ties and get out while I can, but I just can’t seem to resist the pull. I’m on to the third book in this addictive, dysfunctional romance.

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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: Kings Rising (Captive Prince, #3), by C. S. Pacat

Kings Rising (Captive Prince, #3)Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like earlier books in this series, ‘Kings Rising’ had my rapt attention from beginning to end. This book was action-packed and full of emotion. It broke my heart, only to piece it back together slowly. I loved every minute!

This book sees both Damen and Laurent fighting to reclaim their kingdoms. Despite their differences, the two are forced into a tenuous alliance. They need one another, if either of them hopes to succeed. This makes for plenty of emotional highs and lows along the way as the two attempt to navigate through their new realities. In many ways, the tables have turned. At the same time, so much remains unchanged.

Finally, all of Damen’s secrets are out in the open. No longer does he live in fear of what will happen when Laurent finds out who he really is. Instead, he now lives with his wrath. If he thought that Laurent would be angry, he was right.

To say that I found this a little hypocritical is putting it mildly. I kept thinking, “where does Laurent get off?” After all, Damen was his slave by force. Of course he would keep a secret like that. What did he expect him to do, tell his captor his true identity and face certain death?

That feeling only grew stronger as Laurent revealed some secrets of his own. I mean, where did he get off being so self-righteous? It seemed to me that Damen was played, yet again. If anything, Laurent proved, once again, to be one of the most manipulative characters that I’ve ever encountered.

Even so, I cannot deny that I absolutely loved this book. Every interaction between Damen and Laurent was like a delicious little drop of heaven for me. I spent the moments between their encounters holding my breath, waiting for their next interaction. It was pathetic really, but I have no shame.

In the end, I was left feeling quite satisfied. I wasn’t sure that these two would ever get there, but they eventually get some peace. I’m not a big fan of M/M romances generally, but I absolutely loved this series. It was heartfelt and sexy, with plenty of action along the way. The characters and storyline were well-developed and engaging. I would definitely recommend this series to others.

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Review: Prince’s Gambit (Captive Prince, #2), by C. S. Pacat

Prince's Gambit (Captive Prince, #2)Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the ‘Captive Prince’ series progresses, I find myself completely lost in the story of Damen and Laurent. Talk about a slow-burn, I have been dying for something to happen between these two. The anticipation was absolutely killing me.

While the first book primarily focused on the hedonistic indulgences and cruelty of Laurent’s court, this second book shows more of the inner workings. Many of the pieces are beginning to fall into place. There is far more to Laurent’s situation than meets the eye. In many ways, he is every bit the captive that Damen is.

The nearer Laurent gets to the day that he will claim his throne, the more underhanded his uncle becomes. It is evident that he has no intention of ever relinquishing the power of being King. He does everything within his power to discredit and undermine his nephew at every turn.

Unfortunately for Laurent’s uncle, his own manipulations end up being unexpectedly counterproductive. He coerces Laurent into serving near the border, anticipating that he and the substandard group of soldiers that he sent him with will end up being killed off. The assassins that he sends will surely finish off the job if the poor state of the group does not manage to die of their own accord.

Instead, Laurent and Damen form an unlikely alliance. Their tenuous relationship grows much stronger, even becoming the best of friends. Damen often finds himself in the position of a trusted confidante for Laurent. Before long, the two are practically inseparable.

At last, it is evident that there is far more going on between Laurent and Damen than meets the eye. Of course, there is a pervasive ominous feeling to this book. Damen’s identity is still a secret at this point. The looming threat of discovery lingers, tainting his interactions with Laurent. The more he grows to care for Laurent, the more Damen fears that his betrayal will come to light.

I enjoyed every minute of this book. I was taken in by the evolution of Damen and Laurent’s relationship from enemies to friends to lovers. I want things to work out for them so badly, even as I know that disaster is lurking around the corner. So many secrets. So many feelings. My heart is breaking for these two.

Needless to say, I thought that this was a wonderful book. I will dive into the third book immediately. I absolutely must know how things work out for Damen and Laurent. Despite the fact that M/M is not my usual preferred genre, I have absolutely fallen in love with this story. I want Damen and Laurent to get the HEA so badly.

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Review: In Farleigh Field, by Rhys Bowen

In Farleigh FieldIn Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘In Farleigh Field’ tells the story of several characters in England in the midst of WWII. As the brutal war continues in Europe, each member of a group of friends plays a pivotal role in the war effort, while remaining largely unaware of the role that each of them are playing. Friendships are tested. Emotions and betrayals run deep. Many hard lessons are learned.

Of all the characters, Ben and Pamela were my favorites. Ben was the “nice guy” that is friend-zoned. He has always loved Pamela, but his affections have always taken a back seat to his friendship with Pamela and Jeremy. The three of them grew up together and Jeremy always seems to outshine Ben. He is the war hero. He has Pamela’s love. Ben is relegated to the role of dutiful friend.

It would be easy to hate Pamela in many ways. She was pretty oblivious to Ben’s feelings for most of the book. She couldn’t see past Jeremy’s handsome face and his cocky demeanor. Many would argue that she was naïve, but I would argue that she made a conscious decision to remain blissfully unaware. She didn’t want to believe what was right in front of her face and she chose to lie to herself rather than deal with the disappointment of facing reality.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t hate her. She was not a bad person. She was just living in a fantasy world. If anything, I felt bad for her. I knew that her illusions of a perfect life with Jeremy would eventually be shattered, but I knew that I would feel no joy when it happened.

Jeremy was easy to hate. He was just too “perfect” from the start, while it was clear that he was anything but. Despite being a war hero that returns home following a miraculous escape from a German prison camp, I couldn’t bring myself to like him.

The guy was a jackass. He was inconsiderate, self-absorbed and manipulative. He showed little regard for Pamela, right from the start, even as she fawned all over him. It was clear that he didn’t care for her in the same way, but he continued to string her along. He clearly knew that Ben did care for her and he enjoyed flaunting her in front of his supposed “best friend”. Hands-down, he was a jerk.

When Pamela’s youngest sister, Phoebe, discovers the body of a suspected spy on the family estate, it sets off a chain of events. Suspicions mount in the community as speculation goes wild. Each working in secret, Pamela and Ben try to get to the bottom of the mysterious soldier’s identity and why he was found where he was. Who was he trying to contact? Is there a traitor in their midst?

Things continue to heat up as the fear of a German invasion increases. Meanwhile, there are several personal battles going on. Emotions run high and betrayals run deep.

While there were several twists and turns along the way, I can’t say that I was particularly surprised by most of the revelations. I never experienced a moment when I was shocked or really felt blindsided. I was somewhat appalled by some of the events that came to pass, but they weren’t really unexpected. Instead, they served only to confirm what I already knew.

Unfortunately, I never felt a strong connection to any of the characters. I really liked Ben and Pamela, but my feelings never went beyond “like”. Accordingly, I wasn’t particularly invested in their lives or the outcome of the story.

All things considered, this story was kind of bland. It was “okay”, but I didn’t ever feel a strong connection to the storyline or the characters. There were some interesting tidbits along the way, but it wasn’t a particularly compelling read for me. I need more emotion in my reads. This one felt a bit “frigid” for lack of a better descriptor.

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Review: Wicked Abyss (Immortals After Dark, #18), by Kresley Cole

Wicked Abyss (Immortals After Dark, #18)Wicked Abyss by Kresley Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The ‘Immortals After Dark’ series is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. The over-the-top Alphas that fill this supernatural world are perfect, in a very primal sort of way. Kresley Cole knows exactly how to hit the spot when creating this type of male. I know I should be appalled by their obsessive and controlling caveman antics, but I just can’t help myself.

I have listened to the Audible edition of all of the books in this series, except for ‘A Hunger Like No Other’. Despite the fact that I usually prefer to avoid explicit erotica selections in this format, it has always seemed to work for me with this series. Usually, I find it kind of creepy to have the narrators bringing intimate sexual acts to life as I’m sitting in traffic.

For some reason, that has never bothered me with this series. This probably has something to do with the fact that the series is already ridiculous in many ways, so having the narrator grunt and groan so animatedly doesn’t really detract from this series in any way. Just know that you will laugh out loud if you choose to listen to this series. Again, it definitely falls in the “guilty pleasure” category for me. You will get some strange, and amused, looks in traffic if you roll down your windows. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

That being said, I didn’t find myself enjoying this story as much as the others. I can’t really pinpoint why, but it just didn’t do it for me. I’m a moody reader, so maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this light-hearted, over-the-top smutty romance.

This book is the story of Abyssian “Sian” Infernas, the King of Hell, and Calliope “Lila” Barbot. Like other couples in this series, they have a very love/hate relationship. As expected there is plenty of sexual tension and rivalry in the beginning, which eventually gives way to some pretty passionate mating action. If you’ve followed this series, you know the drill.

Also like earlier books in the series, the meddling Valkyrie, Nix, is instrumental in the story. If you’re a fan of the super-crazy Nix, like I am, then you’ll enjoy her interference and manipulations. I can’t wait to read her story. One day soon, I hope we’ll get it.

Despite the fact that this couple wasn’t one of my favorites from this series, I did enjoy their story. The imagery was especially remarkable. I could picture the jade beaches like I was standing there, feeling the smooth green sand between my toes. I absolutely loved that part of the story.

I have to say that I don’t regret reading this one, even if the story wasn’t a big stand-out for me. I was definitely in the minority with this one among my friends. I still plan to continue the series and it remains one of my favorite guilty pleasure go-tos. In fact, I might even return to this one at a later date to see if it holds more appeal when I’m in a different frame of mind.

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Review: Undeserving (Undeniable, #5), by Madeline Sheehan

Undeserving (Undeniable, #5)Undeserving by Madeline Sheehan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Madeline Sheehan has done it again! If you’re like me, you’ve been waiting a long time for the next book in the ‘Undeniable’ series. This series is probably my favorite biker series of all of them, and there are plenty of them to choose from. And let me tell you, this book was worth the wait!

When I first saw that the book was going to center on Preacher, I have to admit that I didn’t expect to love it. After all, he was Eva’s father and was already kind of old in ‘Undeniable’. For some reason, I had envisioned a present-day romance with an elderly Preacher and some new love interest. Before you succumb to the fit of nausea those thoughts will leave you with, know that I was completely wrong. Thank God for that!

Although the story does feature a present-day Preacher, along with Eva and other characters that we’ve grown to love over the course of this series, the actual love story takes place in the past. Dying, Preacher finally opens up to Eva about his one true love. He has plenty of secrets to share and the truth about her mother will shatter Eva’s ideas about who her mother was.

Everything that Preacher told Eva about her mother, was a lie. She wasn’t a junkie. She didn’t walk out on Eva…at least not in the way that she thought. These were all lies. The truth was so much more – more beautiful, more loving, and far more painful. Sometimes it is too hard to face the truth.

Preacher’s love story was heartfelt and incredibly tragic. I could not put this book down. Start to finish, I was hooked.

He first meets Eva’s mom, Debbie Reynolds, aka “Wheels”, when she tries to steal his wallet. From that point forward, the two form an unlikely friendship. Preacher is fresh out of prison and uncertain about the direction of his life, especially where his father’s motorcycle club is concerned. He recognizes the desperation and resilience in the beautiful, young runaway that tries to best him.

This book is a beautiful and highly emotional. Your heart will melt, and it will break. This story made me feel elated and also completely devastated. There was so much tragedy in Preacher’s past, but also so much love and happiness.

I won’t give too much away, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I’ll just say that this is one book that you don’t want to miss if you’re a fan of this series. It is phenomenal!

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