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: 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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Review: Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia, by Jean Sasson

Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi ArabiaPrincess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in a while I try to read something that is “deeper” than my usual smutty romance selections. This was one of those books. I listened to the Audible version and I could not pull myself away from the plight of Princess Sultana Al Sa’ud and the other women from this story.

Her story offered a poignant look at what life is like for women in Saudi Arabia. Even the wealthiest and most “privileged” women are not spared the cruelty of the misogynistic and oppressive culture. Women are treated as property to be “owned” and managed by men. They are traded like cattle and punished for perceived infractions in cruel ways.

From birth, girls are treated as second-class citizens, a disappointment to their family and inferior to all males. This was highlighted by Princess Sultana’s accounts of growing up with a spoiled and sadistic younger brother. No matter what he did, she would always be wrong. Time and time again, she was forced to be subservient to him, no matter how egregious his behavior was.

Sexual abuse is also rampant in the world that Princess Sultana described. Young girls are forced to marry much older men, while older wives are forced to take a backseat while their husbands forsake them for their younger brides. Young or old, there is no bright side for the wives.

While the girls “virtue” is fiercely guarded — their body sacred until such time as their father or other male guardian decides to gift it to another — the boys and men engage in a variety of depraved sexual acts. One especially disturbing scene tells the story of a trip to Egypt where Sultana’s brother and other men commit acts of extreme sexual violence. It was absolutely heartbreaking and terrifying.

More than anything, I couldn’t get past the unfairness of the situation. These women had no power or control in their lives. It is so far removed from the life I’m luck enough to lead that it was unfathomable to me.

The indifference and cruelty of the men also took me aback. The often barbaric punishments they doled out seemed to be the norm. The life of the females was valued so little that they could be extinguished with scant more concern than one would have when swatting a fly. It was unimaginable to me.

Not surprisingly, this book was pretty depressing. The life lead by these women was grim, even as they tried to make the most of the little joy they could find in the absence of the men. Much of the content was upsetting and discouraging.

That being said, I still think that this is a book that everyone should read. It will anger and sadden you. However, turning a blind eye to atrocities like the ones that play out on the pages of this book does not make the reality go away. Raising awareness is important in order to facilitate change — and change is necessary. Yet again, I am reminded of how blessed I am for the life I was born into.

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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: The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff

The 19th WifeThe 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recently, I have been seeing a lot of reviews and advertisements for ‘The 19th Wife’ popping up everywhere. Maybe this has something to do with the new movie coming out about Brigham Young, because this book has been out for quite some time. Whatever the reason, after this book popped up on my recommendations for the umpteenth time, I was intrigued. I downloaded the Audible version and started listening.

This book was absolutely fascinating! Aside from the stories being told, the format was unique. This book blends fact and fiction, telling the present-day fictional story of Jordan, a young man whose mother has recently been charged with the murder of her polygamist husband, alongside the journals and “non-fiction” accounts of early Mormon polygamists. Most notable is the story of Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young’s “nineteenth” wife. Of course, how accurate these accounts of early Mormon polygamy in the United States are is a source of great controversy.

As I was listening to this book, my heart went out to the women in these stories. It is hard to imagine having to put up with some of the stuff that these ladies did. The control over their lives was absolute. As a mother of two young girls, I cannot imagine the horror of having daughters not much older than mine being forced to marry dirty old men.

More than anything, this book sheds light on terrible abuses committed in the name of religion. I am always amazed when I read these types of stories and see the lengths that some people will go to, just because some nut job “said it was so”. It seems laughable, but there is no doubt that it was very real to these “believers”.

As this story unfolds, I gained a better understanding of exactly how absolute the control of the “Prophet” was. The manipulations and crimes were multiple. Even if somebody wanted to escape their nightmarish existence, they had very little knowledge – if any – of how to do so or any means to get out. These communities are, by design, the perfect breeding grounds for victimization.

While the fictional plight of Jordan and his mother was entertaining and suspenseful, I found myself more strongly drawn to the historical aspects. Ann Eliza’s story was captivating. She was such a strong and rebellious woman, born into an unthinkable situation. I could not quit listening to her account of life growing up in a polygamist community.

Aside from Ann Eliza’s personal story, the history of polygamy in the United States and it’s ties the Mormon Church were very enlightening. This book did a fabulous job of “connecting the dots” for me, as I admittedly haven’t read much on the topic. Although the present-day Mormon Church has renounced the practice of polygamy, it remains a shameful part of the church’s past.

In the meantime, that shame and unwillingness to speak openly about this practice has fostered an environment where this practice is allowed to continue. It seems that the church and the government are content to look the other way and pretend that this practice is not still thriving in the shadows. As a result, the Mormon Church and law enforcement have inadvertently created an environment that actually perpetuates the cycle of abuse in these cult communities.

From start to finish, this was a captivating read. I was completely absorbed in this story. I highly recommend this book. I only wish that I had known about it years ago.

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Review: Deep Redemption (Hades Hangmen, #4), by Tillie Cole

Deep Redemption (Hades Hangmen, #4)Deep Redemption by Tillie Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have loved every book in this series, but I was more nervous about this book than any of the others. Let’s face it, Rider is not an easy character to like. He was a major contributor to the pain and suffering at the hands of his religious cult in previous books. If not an active participant, Prophet Cain certainly chose to look the other way while many atrocities were committed in his name.

Now, he finds himself reaping what he sowed. After finally growing a pair and standing up against the ritual raping of young children, Rider aka Prophet Cain, is at the mercy of his twisted sibling. Cain’s twin, Judas, has assumed his identity as the Prophet. Cain is imprisoned and subjected to daily beatings at the hands of his brother’s co-conspirators.

While imprisoned, he befriends Harmony, one of the “cursed daughters of Eve”. She is going to be forced to marry his brother, posing as him. Cain is determined to stop that from happening and to rescue Harmony from the cult.

He is finally opening his eyes to the evil that the cult harbors. His blinders have been removed and he must come to terms with the role he played in propagating the crimes committed in the name of religion. He now knows that his entire life was a lie.

With the help of some insiders, Rider sets out to right the wrongs of his past. Redemption will not be easily obtained and he knows that some wrongs will never be forgiven. Nobody is less forgiving of him than himself.

After everything he’d done, I was surprised at how easily Rider worked his way into my heart again. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Rider, but after Lilah’s book, I was sure that he was irredeemable. As it ends up, that wasn’t the case.

Harmony also proved to be an incredibly strong heroine. I think she might be the strongest of all the ladies in this series so far. I was blown away by her resilience, not just of body, but of mind and spirit. She had endured more abuse than I could imagine, but was strong enough to offer forgiveness. I absolutely loved her character!

There were far more twists and turns in this book than I had anticipated. Every time I thought I knew where the story was headed, something new would surprise me. It kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

If you’re a fan of the series, this is another great addition. To fully understand this story and to get maximum enjoyment out of it, you need to read the books in the series in order. If you haven’t already, read this series! It is fantastic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Fantastic Book In The Hades Hangmen Series!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spectacular book!

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Review: The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Kite Runner’ had been sitting on my TBR list for years. I kept putting it off because while I was sure that it would be a fantastic book, it isn’t the type of smutty romance that I usually read. I knew that I’d have to be in the right kind of mood to read it. Finally, I found myself wanting to read something a little different to break me out of a reading rut and I downloaded the Audible version of ‘The Kite Runner’ and started listening.

As expected, this book was nothing like my usual love stories. This book is the type of book that makes you think about your life and reevaluate your values and what you think you know. It is the type of book that makes you question what you’d do in a given situation if the tables were turned.

If you’re like me, and have always been blessed to live in a country where you’ve never experienced the brutality and terror of warfare firsthand, this book serves as a reminder of how lucky you truly are. As a woman, and a mother of two daughters, I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that I was born in a country where women are treated as equals. Sure, there are still some inequalities. However, when I think of how women are treated in many other regions of the world, I am incredibly thankful to have the freedoms that I do.

I won’t rehash this story, because it’s been done a million times already and I don’t think there’s anything I could say that hasn’t been said already. However, I will say that this was a wonderful book. It was grim, brutal and depressing, but also beautiful at times. It was emotional and infuriating, but you can’t say that you didn’t “feel” while reading this one. I experienced a full range of emotions.

In the end, it grounded me and put all of my petty gripes into perspective. We all need to be reminded of how blessed we are at times. I highly recommend this book to anyone that is looking for an emotional and enlightening story.

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Review: It Ain’t Me, Babe (Hades Hangmen, #1), by Tillie Cole

It Ain't Me, Babe (Hades Hangmen, #1)It Ain’t Me, Babe by Tillie Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this story! It was unlike anything I had ever read before and nothing like I expected. It was better!

Aside from the MC club turf wars, violence, partying and promiscuity that we all expect when reading a biker story, this book focused largely on the story of Mae. After escaping the brutality of a religious cult, just barely, Mae finds safe haven with an outlaw MC Club. The story follows her adjustment to life in the outside world and the progression of her relationship with the club’s President, Styx.

Both Mae and Styx have secretly pined for the other since a chance encounter when they were children. Each of them heal the other and bring one another to life. Their story was beautiful.

While the book does end in a manner that makes it clear that there will be more to follow, it did not leave off in a stressful or frustrating cliffhanger situation. It can easily be read as a stand-alone. I will definitely be reading the next book(s) in this series and will probably re-read this one as well. It will be added to my favorites list for sure!

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