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: Yasmeena’s Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and Survival, by Jean Sasson

Yasmeena's Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and SurvivalYasmeena’s Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and Survival by Jean Sasson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in Kuwait, ‘Yasmeena’s Choice’ is a graphic account of war crimes committed by Iraqi soldiers. The focus of Ms. Sasson’s work is the lives of women in the Middle East. Accordingly, this book is centered on the experience of Yasmeena, a young Lebanese woman that is in Kuwait at the time of the Iraqi invasion. After surviving a harrowing experience, she tells her story, bringing these atrocities to light.

Yasmeena is a flight attendant and it is only by chance that she finds herself in Kuwait on the day that Iraq invades it’s much smaller and more peaceful neighbor. She had agreed to trade shifts with a coworker. It’s funny how sometimes the small, seemingly mundane events in our lives often have the ability to set off a chain of events that is unforeseeable. This small act of kindness toward a coworker ends up being the most significant decision of Yasmeena’s life.

When the Iraqis invade, Yasmeena finds herself stranded in besieged country. She runs into a family friend, who invites her to stay with him and his family at their home while they wait out the Iraqis. At this point, everyone is sure that the invasion will be very short-term. Nobody could have predicted that the occupation would have gone on for so long before other nations intervened.

Stopped at a road block, Yasmeena is arrested and sent to a prison of sorts. However, this prison houses only female prisoners and their sole purpose is to satisfy the sexual urges of the Iraqi soldiers. Nothing was off-limits. When a soldier tired of his chosen victim, he just killed her and took another one. It was despicable.

Not surprisingly, this was an incredibly difficult story to read. The author did not hold back. This book is meant to upset and outrage readers and it certainly hit it’s mark. Yasmeena’s accounts of life as a female prisoner for her and the other girls under the Iraqi soldiers was horrifying.

This book serves to raise awareness and shine a light on one of the brutal realities of war — the crimes against women and children. The torture and rape of civilians, particularly women and children, is not something unique to Iraqi soldiers or this particular war. Yet, it is a topic that few dare to address. It is the worst kept “dirty little secret” of war that nobody wants to discuss. However, if it continues to be hidden away and ignored, then there is no hope for change.

Despite the brutality of this story, I think that it was an important book. It is a call to action, forcing readers to think about the plight of women in this war-torn region of the world. More importantly, it exposes the human side of these crimes and the emotional impact on the victims, making it harder to dehumanize them. Books like this one are painful, but necessary.

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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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Pre-Review: Tailspin, by Jaimie Roberts (Expected Release Date: 06/20/17)

TAILSPINTAILSPIN by Jaimie Roberts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has wrecked me! I can’t even begin to make sense of all my emotions right now. I’m angry, devastated, completely gutted and heartbroken. I’m so damn conflicted! This story…argh! It really hit me in the “feels”.

Full review to come once I’m able to get a grip. Seriously! I devoured this book and I’m a total mess right now.

**I received an ARC from the author.**

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Review: I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and DivorcedI Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As you can tell from the title, this book focuses on a very disturbing topic – child abuse. Unfortunately, the forced marriage of young girls to older men is an all too common occurrence in many areas of the world. Nujood is only one such victim. This book tells her story.

Essentially sold by her deadbeat father to a man more than three times her age, Nujood’s childhood comes to an abrupt end. At ten years old, she is repeatedly beaten and raped by her new husband. She is also moved to a remote village where she further isolated from anyone that might be able to help her.

Eventually, she is able to go to visit family in the city. After her own parents fail to help her, she is able to get some guidance from one of her father’s other wives. Then, this incredibly brave little girl sets out for the courthouse to ask for a divorce.

I could not get over how courageous this ten year-old little girl had to be. What she did would be intimidating in any country, much less in a country where women are extremely oppressed and viewed as property. Yet, this little girl was brave enough to walk into a courthouse and demand to see a judge and ask for a divorce. I was in awe of this young girl.

Thankfully, the judges decide to take up Nujood’s cause. She is given a “safe haven” of sorts while the case is brought before the court. Since Nujood was younger than the legal age for marriage in Yemen, her father and husband were brought up on charges.

From there on out, the court proceedings turned into a bit of a circus. Nujood’s case made international news and she became a sort of poster-child for women’s rights and child abuse organizations. Meanwhile, her father and husband alternated between placing blame on the other and trying to plead ignorance and innocence on their own part. It was pathetic.

Eventually, the men responsible paid a small fine and Nujood was granted her divorce. While the divorce was unheard of and paved the way for other young girls in the Middle East to speak out, the forced marriage of young girls is still a huge problem. Of course, that is only one manifestation of a much larger problem. Nonetheless, in a place where women and children have virtually no rights, this was a remarkable case.

From start to finish, I was taken in by Nujood’s story. My heart broke for this young girl, who was the same age as my oldest daughter. I can’t even begin to imagine maltreatment that girls like Nujood are forced to endure. Once again, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have been born in a region of the world where women have rights. As the mother of two young girls, this is something that is never far from my mind.

Although this didn’t prove to be the in-depth expose that I had hoped for, it was definitely a worthwhile read. At less than 200 pages, or around 2 hours of listening time, Nujood’s story serves to raise awareness of a very important topic. While this isn’t the type of story that you read for enjoyment, it is the type that you read for enlightenment. It is painful, but necessary to read stories like Nujood’s.

I won’t pretend that everything worked out like I would’ve liked. The granting of her divorce was only one triumph, in a world of defeats for women. Nujood was ultimately returned to the very person that sold her in the first place. Where is the logic in that? I can’t help but wonder where Nujood is now, nine years later. I can’t help but wonder if her notoriety has turned her into a cash cow for the very father that shared responsibility for her abuse in the first place.

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Review: The Club (Colombian Cartel, #1), by Suzanne Steele

The Club (Colombian Cartel # 1)The Club by Suzanne Steele
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m having a hard time deciding how to rate/review this one. On the one hand, I liked that the author didn’t shy away from dark content. On the other, the author didn’t necessarily weave said content into the story in a logical manner.

Antonio Ramirez is a crime boss of sorts. He owns strip club(s) and rules them with an iron fist. Although the full extent of his criminal dealings isn’t really revealed, it is clear that he is a guy that is feared and respected. His brother is Ricardo Ramirez, an even scarier guy.

Roxanne is a cage fighter. Along with her best friend, she has profited from throwing matches. When they get caught trying to scam Ricardo, he takes the women as payment. Roxanne is shipped off to marry Antonio, a gift from his brother. Meanwhile, her best friend is forced to marry Ricardo.

Of course, Roxanne is a virgin and is extremely surprised to be attracted to Antonio. That explains the pleasure and orgasms that she has while enduring the gentlest rape in history. Did I mention that she’s a closet masochist that ends up enjoying his sadistic tastes? (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes.)

One night is all it takes and he’s in love. She holds out a little longer, but can’t fight the attraction that she feels for Antonio while trying to maintain her righteous hate for her new husband. Eventually, she admits what was apparent from the start and quits trying to escape Antonio…or his spankings.

More often than not, this story left me feeling confused and wondering if I’d missed a few pages somewhere to explain exactly how the story arrived at a certain point. The characters’ emotional responses seemed contrived, rushed and, at times, ridiculous given the situation. It was hard to connect with the story when you can’t believe the responses of the characters to the given situations.

For example, with little more than a flip of the page, the hero goes from loathing the heroine that has been forced upon him by his brother to being completely obsessed and in love with her. Hmm… A few more conversations between the two might’ve helped to sell that a little better. It just didn’t work for me.

The short length of this story is a large part of the problem. There was way to much going on to cover in a short novella. If this novella had been fleshed out and made into a full-length novel, it would have been much better and wouldn’t have felt so forced.

Captivity, forced marriages, dubious consent and other dark themes are amongst my favorites…but they take time to craft into a story that is believable. It takes a lot of build-up to illustrate the gradual evolution of those relationships in order to sell it to the reader. That didn’t happen with this story. Instead, it felt forced and a bit “smutty”, lacking the emotional depth and connection that a story like this usually evokes.

Overall, I give this one 2 1/2 stars. It had potential, but was poorly executed. Instead of being a dark captivity story that tugs at your heart and makes you squirm in your seat, this story will make your eyes roll and might even make you laugh.

I’m slightly curious about the best friend and brother’s story, but probably won’t go there because I’m worried it’ll end up being just like this one. Maybe I’ll try another one of this author’s works sometime in the future. For now, this author’s style just doesn’t seem to match up with my tastes.

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Review: Killing The Sun: Part 3, by Mara White and K. Larsen

Killing The Sun: Part 3Killing The Sun: Part 3 by Mara White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this third, and final, installment of the ‘Killing The Sun’ series, the tension between Danny and Aimee is at an all-time high. Aimee is finally ready to stand up to Danny, even as she still yearns for his love on some level. With Aimee slipping away, Danny is at his most brutal.

For the first time while reading this series, I really feared what Danny might do to Aimee. He was always violent and controlling, but I never got the sense that he wanted to truly harm Aimee before. Now, there is no telling what he might do to her. He might even want her dead.

As Danny is brought to justice for his criminal activities, Aimee’s secrets also come to light. In fact, she proved to be more duplicitous than Danny, in my opinion. It was like there was this whole other person that I was blind to before. Part of me felt betrayed by her, while another part felt proud that she had it in her.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that this series took me by surprise. It was a whirlwind of steamy sex and betrayals. And that ending! I am dying to know what happens next. I would kill for an epilogue or another book. I imagine a dark romance with Danny and Aimee living out the HEA together…but I always root for the anti-hero. Damn these two twisted geniuses!

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Review: Killing The Sun: Part 2, by Mara White and K. Larsen

Killing The Sun: Part 2Killing The Sun: Part 2 by Mara White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After finishing ‘Killing The Sun: Part 1’, I jumped right into Part 2. Even as I was outraged by Danny’s behavior, I have to admit that I couldn’t get enough. I’m that sicko that is always rooting for the “bad guy”.

Danny is probably irredeemable, but I don’t care. I am equal parts appalled and intrigued. Deep down, I think he really does love Aimee in his own, twisted way. She probably needs to get far, far away from Danny…but I hope that she doesn’t.

This second installment delves deeper into the relationship between Danny and Aimee. If you were ever unclear on just how “bad” Danny is, you won’t be by the end of this serial. He is a selfish man, consumed with lust and power. Aimee becomes the object of his obsessions and darkest fantasies. She too discovers her darkest desires, but at a cost to her self-worth.

As old patterns begin to reemerge, Aimee again decides to get some space from Danny. She is spending more time with her neighbor, and friend, Wade. She is also reunited with the handsome stranger from the elevator, Leif.

Yet, regardless of Aimee’s plans, Danny has no intention of letting her go. He may give her a little time to humor her, but he is always watching. He is not a man that lets go easily and Aimee is reminded of his presence the minute she begins to think about moving on with somebody else.

This second serial ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. Be ready. You’re going to want to dive right into the third installment ASAP. I am completely hooked on this messed-up, twisted story!

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Review: Killing The Sun: Part 1, by Mara White and K. Larsen

Killing The Sun: Part 1Killing The Sun: Part 1 by Mara White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Killing the Sun’ is a collaborative work by Mara White and K. Larsen. Before now, I’d never read anything by Ms. White, although I have enjoyed many of Ms. Larsen’s works. I will definitely be looking for more of Ms. White’s work in the future.

In ‘Killing the Sun: Part 1’ we meet Aimee Olsen, a young twenty-something that has returned to New York City from San Francisco, deciding to return to her boyfriend of over six years, Danny. Why did she ever leave? Well, here’s the kicker — He’s married! Yes, Aimee’s pampering boyfriend of SIX YEARS was married the entire time that they were together. Poor Aimee was absolutely clueless. Yet, despite her righteous fury, she has decided that she can’t be without him and she’s moving back to Danny.

Jumping back and forth between past and present, the history of Aimee and Danny comes to light. Aimee was a young lady that was trying to run as far from her small-town upbringing as possible. She had recently arrived in New York City when she met Daniel Montclair, aka Danilo Bartolini. She was young, beautiful and uneducated. She came across as incredibly naive, but hopeful.

Danny embodies all of the characteristics that Aimee does not. He is dark and dangerous. Danny grew up in the city and climbed his way to the top, fighting for everything he has. He is no stranger to violence or criminal activity. When he meets Aimee, he cannot deny the pull to her wholesome goodness. She is his “Sunshine” and after one night together, he has no intention of letting her go.

Little by little, Danny and Aimee’s past is unveiled. Initially, I was rolling my eyes at Aimee’s stupidity. The saying, “Fool me once…” was running through my mind. However, I came to see how Aimee got sucked into Danny’s orbit. I also grew to believe that Danny’s love for Aimee was genuine, despite the fact that he was married to another woman.

While I can’t say that I agree with Aimee’s choices, I did come to understand her motivations. It was easy to see how she was taken by Danny and his protective persona. Even as Danny’s behavior grew increasingly controlling and violent, leaving me wanting to shake Aimee and tell her to “get out”, I could not pull myself away. I was absolutely hooked on their story.

The story is told in three serials, each of which had me glued to my Kindle. While many readers struggle with serials and novellas, preferring to read only full-length books, I love a great serial now and again. Sometimes, a quick read between larger, full-length novels, is just what I need.

That being said, my biggest complaint about the ‘Killing the Sun’ series is that I think that it would have read better as one full-length book vs. three serials. There was no logical “break” in the story or big climactic event that served as a dividing point between each serial. It is almost like the author(s) just decided to end each serial when they hit a certain page number or date, without any regard for what was going on in the story. This was especially noticeable at the “end” of Part 1. I was just reading along and then I flip a page and out of nowhere it says that I’ve got to buy book 2 to continue. It was abrupt and left me scratching my head.

Of course, the story was so good that I immediately went out and bought the second part. So, while I may not have cared for the serial format, I did enjoy this story quite a bit. I wouldn’t let it deter you from reading this story, just be forewarned that you may want to consider buying the compilation of all three at once vs. each serial individually.

This story also has many “dark” elements, as well as cheating. If those are touchy subjects for you, then I’d steer clear of this one. Danny and Aimee’s relationship becomes increasingly controlling and abusive as he feels her slipping away from him.

For me, this was a fantastic dark read. I loved every minute of their story. I jumped right into Part 2 as soon as I finished this one. If you’re a fan of darker stories, then this one is a great choice!

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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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