Review: Mists of the Serengeti, by Leylah Attar

Mists of the SerengetiMists of the Serengeti by Leylah Attar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Telling the story of two people brought together by an unspeakable act of violence, ‘Mists of the Serengeti’ proves to be a heartfelt and emotional read. Listening to the Audible edition, I found it difficult to motivate myself to get out of my car once my commute was over. I lost myself in this story.

Rodel Emerson and Jack Warden meet in the wake of a terrorist attack. When a shopping mall in Africa is bombed, Jack’s young daughter and Rodel’s sister are among the dead. This prompts Rodel’s trip to Tanzania to collect her sister’s belongings and lay her to rest.

While going through her sister’s things, Rodel stumbles across unexpected information. Always one for an adventure, her sister had agreed to help transport children safely across the country. In honor of her sister’s memory, Rodel commits to complete the work that her sister started.

Soon she realizes that her sister was involved in a dangerous cat and mouse game. She was helping rescue albino children, who are highly sought after because it is believed that they possess special powers. They are often murdered and their body parts sold as key ingredients for witchcraft. These children are even sold by their own families because of the money that they can bring in. It was a horrifying reality that Rodel was not prepared for.

When Rodel ends up at Jack’s home with a young girl in tow, his grandmother offers them sanctuary until the weather clears up. Unbeknownst to them at the time, this is the beginning of a great adventure. Despite his gruff demeanor and all-consuming grief, Jack’s character won’t let him send Rodel and the girl out into the African wild without protection. He knows that this foreigner is in over her head and has no idea of the danger that she’s in.

Gradually, Jack and Rodel’s attraction grows. They help each other through their grief. Each has to face their feelings of survivor’s guilt and the what-ifs that haunt them. Meanwhile, they are on a life or death mission to try and save these hunted children, since they could not save their own loved ones on that tragic day.

‘Mists of the Serengeti’ was a touching and highly emotional story. I listened to the Audible version and it was well-narrated. The imagery was beautiful. I could envision the plains of Africa as if I were right there with Jack and Rodel.

Although there was plenty of tragedy, I was impressed with the author’s ability to address such subject matter without letting it affect the overall mood of the book. It is easy to imagine the dreary, depressing book that this easily could have been. Instead, it was inspiring and heartfelt.

With a slow-burn romance and plenty of action/adventure, this book kept me fully engaged. It was heartbreaking at times, but I fell in love with this story and it’s characters. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone looking for an heartfelt romance with mature characters.

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Review: Heat (Elements of Chemistry, #2; Hypothesis, #1.2), by Penny Reid

Heat (Elements of Chemistry #2; Hypothesis, #1.2)Heat by Penny Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the shocking ending of the first serial, I wasn’t sure where Kaitlyn and Martin’s story was going to lead. However, ‘Heat’ picks up right were ‘Attraction’ left off, so you won’t be left hanging for long. In fact, this book featured one of the quickest resolutions to a big conflict that I’ve ever encountered. It was even a little anti-climactic for me, as I love the grovel.

That being said, I still enjoyed this book immensely. Kaitlyn never gets old. Her quirky, but endearing, antics kept me laughing again and Martin is just the guy to balance out her light-hearted personality.

This installment highlights the change in their relationship from friends to lovers. The intimacy between the two is incredible and there is plenty of sexiness. For most of this book, they are blissfully happy and inseparable.

Then, things go bad. I knew it would happen, but it was still painful to bear witness to. Expect another big cliffhanger that will leave you clamoring for the third installment.

Overall, this is still a fabulous series. I love the push/pull between Kaitlyn and Martin. After finishing this one, I had to dive into the last book immediately. I just couldn’t get enough of these two!

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Review: Attraction (Elements of Chemistry, #1; Hypothesis, #1.1), by Penny Reid

Attraction (Elements of Chemistry #1; Hypothesis, #1.1)Attraction by Penny Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a light-hearted, fun story that had me smiling from start to finish. I enjoyed every minute of this audiobook. I needed something kind of sweet and this was the perfect story.

Kaitlyn Parker is an introvert and a very quirky girl. She’s been matched as a lab partner with Martin Sandeke for 2 years. Despite the fact that they both come from families of extreme wealth and fame, the two couldn’t be more different on the surface. She’s the studious loner and he’s the resident manwhore.

The two have never spoken outside of the lab, until Kaitlyn overhears something that she shouldn’t have. When she hears the conniving plan of one of Martin’s supposed friends, she knows that she has to tell Martin what she’s overheard. She might think that Martin is a total “jerkface”, but she can’t stand by silently while somebody plans to drug him and have their way with him. That’s taking it too far.

When Kaitlyn approaches Martin to tell him about what she heard, the dynamics of their relationship changes immediately. Soon the two are engaged in a whirlwind romance. Martin convinces Kaitlyn to go away to his island home with him and some friends for a week. Let the fun begin!

One minute they’re hot. The next they’re cold. Both of them have some definite personality quirks and social hang-ups to contend with. Together, they’re absolutely hilarious. Kaitlyn’s inner monologue was enough to keep me in stitches. That girl was too funny!

Martin had plenty of selfish moments, which made for some tense moments. He was certainly used to getting exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it. Kaitlyn was good for him in that regard. She was the first woman that didn’t just throw herself at his feet.

Of course, this is only the first serial installment in the ‘Elements of Chemistry’ series. Accordingly, you can expect a cliffhanger ending that will leave you wanting the next serial immediately. Luckily, I waited until they were all released. So, I didn’t have to wait before diving into the next one.

This was a great, short, and absolutely adorable audiobook. It was sweet and very funny. The narration was great as well. It was a nice change of pace and I was able to jump right into the next one immediately.

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Review: Heat Wave, by Karina Halle

Heat WaveHeat Wave by Karina Halle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have loved every Karina Halle book that I’ve read up to this point. So, when I saw that she had a new, forbidden love story released, I was sure that it would be an instant hit with me. After all, Ms. Halle can write a taboo love story with an anti-hero that you love to hate and hate to love like nobody else. Javier Bernal, anyone?

Unfortunately, ‘Heat Wave’ failed to deliver for me. It elicited plenty of emotions, just not the ones that were intended. Mostly, I was just damn angry! I don’t mean angry in that infuriating, but irresistible, way that I love when a book is tearing my heart out only to piece it back together. Nope, this wasn’t the kind of anger and emotional pain that has me craving another taste, no matter how it wrecks me. This book just made me straight-up mad!

Veronica Locke, aka “Ronnie”, met Logan Shephard at a charity function one night. She was there as a prop for her mother’s political career. He was there to rub elbows with the uber-wealthy with hopes of finding an investor for his dream resort.

Right away, the two seemed to have a connection. They gravitated to each other, bonding over their mutual discomfort at being present at the stuffy, black-tie affair. After a few minutes of light, flirtatious chatter they’re getting ready to ditch the event when everything changes.

When Ronnie’s sister enters the room, Logan drops Ronnie without a second thought. The next thing you know, Logan has married Ronnie’s “perfect” sister, Juliet. The two move to Hawaii where they plan to live happily ever after. Nice, right?

To say the least, this guy really made a bad first impression on me, as did Ronnie’s competitive, self-absorbed, selfish sister. I don’t believe for a second that Juliet didn’t know what she was doing when she walked over to Ronnie and Logan. Sadly, there was no coming back for either of them in my book. I hold a grudge that way.

Speaking of which…Juliet ends up dying when her car drives off a cliff. Of course, Logan is heartbroken and bereft. Boohoo. As if she wasn’t irritating enough, “perfect” Juliet only becomes more “perfect” in death. I wanted to throw up! Maybe I’m mean, but I call it karma.

Years later, Ronnie’s career as a chef is in ruins and she is desperate to find a job. With the loss of her last job after her affair with the head chef, she had to move back in with her parents. Constantly reminded of how she’ll never measure up in her parent’s eyes, Ronnie knows that she needs to get out of their house ASAP.

Begrudgingly, she takes a job that her parents have arranged for her. As much time as she’s spent trying to avoid Logan, she knows that she will soon be face to face with him for the first time in years. She feels equal parts hate and lust for the man that she blames for her sister’s demise. Now, she’ll be working for him as the chef at his resort in Hawaii, a place he built with her sister.

From that point forward, the story revolves around Ronnie’s forbidden desire for Logan. Meanwhile, every time she turns around accounts of how perfect Juliet was are thrown in her face from everyone she meets. She pines over Logan and he seems to pine over a ghost.

Finally, Logan seems to have a change of heart. I knew it would happen, but I expected something more convincing. Nope. With the exception of one or two very weak professions that “it always should have been Ronnie”, Logan seems to continue to view Ronnie as second-best.

He actually explains to her that he ditched her the first night they met because he found her sister more attractive. I think it went something like, “Juliet walked in and well, just look at her”. He’s a guy and couldn’t help himself, etc., etc. This guy made me feel very stabby!

As much as I love Ms. Halle’s work, ‘Heat Wave’ didn’t do anything for me aside from making me seriously consider seeking out anger management counseling. I hated Logan…and not in a good way. This guy was really a piece of work! I wanted Ronnie to grow a spine and date somebody that actually placed her first. That didn’t happen. This book left me with heartburn.

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Review: A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced to live out the rest of his life on “house arrest” in the Metropol hotel, following his “conviction” by a Bolshevik tribunal. He was convicted of being an unrepentant aristocrat and is stripped of his wealth by the new Bolshevik regime. From one of the hotel’s most prestigious guests, to a member of the wait staff, Count Rostov manages his fall from grace with poise and dignity.

This book provided beautiful imagery and a thought-provoking dialogue on the rise of communism in Russia over a period of about 30 or so years, beginning in 1922. I was amazed at the insights of Count Rostov related to world events, especially considering that he was confined to a large hotel for the majority of his adult life. He was an intriguing and remarkable personality.

Beyond all else, Count Rostov remained a gentleman. At times, his focus on manners and his devotion to various formalities seemed ridiculous. After all, he was essentially imprisoned in a gilded cage. What did he have to lose?

However, I came to appreciate the formal mannerisms of Count Rostov. He truly was a gentleman. By staying true to himself, he refused to let the regime win. He wasn’t bitter. He didn’t waste energy on blatant defiance of the Bolsheviks. He kept his head high and maintained his composure. It was truly impressive.

Over the course of the decades spent in the Metropol, a colorful cast of characters comes into the Count’s life. Despite the fact that he cannot leave the hotel, he always has something interesting going on. Most notable were a handful of the hotel’s employees, a famous actress and two young girls.

The first girl, a nine year-old named Nina Kulikova, becomes a constant in Alexander’s life when she has a prolonged stay at the hotel. Alexander takes her under his wing, becoming a mentor of sorts. Together, the two make a game of spying on the hotel’s various occupants and become virtually inseparable. Alexander counsels her on the characteristics of a princess. Nina breathes life into his day to day existence.

Years later, Nina returns to ask a favor of her old friend. She needs the Count to watch over her daughter while she goes in search of her husband, who has been taken by the regime. Alexander agrees.

As time passes and there is no word from Nina, Alexander raises her daughter as his own. Young Sofia is the source of his life’s joy and purpose. Along with the other members of the hotel staff that comprise his inner circle, Sofia is brought up to be a proper young lady.

Spanning decades, ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ provides romance and political intrigue. It certainly is no small undertaking. Accordingly, the story does seem to drag at times. There was just so much time covered and so many changes occurring, while the Count’s life remained rather stagnant at times. Truly, that was his punishment – to be excluded from life outside the hotel while having a bird’s nest views to watch it from the windows and balconies.

While I was taken aback by the beauty of this story at times, I also found myself bored for much of this book. Sure, there were many things that I found to be quite interesting about the Count’s life and the ongoing commentary on Russia’s Bolshevik-era politics. However, I found my mind wandering frequently.

That being said, I do think that this book is worth a read. It was interesting, if not always entertaining or gripping. I certainly feel more “enlightened” for having read this book. It was a nice change for me. Now, I think I’ll jump right back into my preferred romance genre with a feel-good story that is about as deep as a kiddie pool. LOL.

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Review: Smoldering, by Tiffany Aleman

SmolderingSmoldering by Tiffany Aleman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had this audiobook sitting on my Audible shelf for a long time. Finally, I decided to give it a shot as a way to recuperate from the book hangover I was suffering from after finishing K. A. Linde’s ‘Avoiding’ series. ‘Smoldering’ ended up being a good choice for that purpose.

The heroine, Kelsey, is a young lady from a very wealthy family. The daughter of a prominent politician, she is little more than a prop for her parents’ social image. Always yearning to please them, she has allowed herself to be controlled by her parents.

On the day of her wedding, she finally has a long overdue epiphany. She’s standing at the altar, in the midst of marrying a man that she hates, when she realizes that her parents will never truly love her. Trying to please them or make them proud is a pointless endeavor.

For once, she decides to make a decision based upon her happiness. Knowing the fallout will be tremendous, she musters up the courage to take a stand. She leaves her groom standing at the altar and doesn’t look back.

Despite being disowned by her parents, she knows that she has done the right thing. Cut off completely, she moves with her best friend and makes ends meet by working as a waitress. Her life is a far cry from the opulence of her past, but she is happy for the first time in her life.

When she meets Riley Jackson, a local military man, things are finally going right for her. The two have a whirlwind romance and fall in love quickly. Theirs was definitely a case of insta-love.

Just as their relationship begins to get more serious, Kelsey’s past and present collide. What ensues is a clusterf*ck of epic proportions. Betrayal. Hurt. More betrayal. It gets really ugly, really quick.

While I love angst and usually live for the emotional pain a great story can evoke, this story left me feeling a little irritated. With the way Riley was so quick to dismiss Kelsey, and the way he acted almost immediately afterwards, I just couldn’t believe that he really cared all that much for her in the first place. I just didn’t buy it.

Then, after all of Riley’s insensitive actions, he barely even mutters an apology before Kelsey takes him back. Seriously? To make matters worse, she actually assumes a large part of the blame because she had never told him about her ex…even though she didn’t lie and it never really came up.

I absolutely hate it when the heroine turns into some sort of weak, pushover that takes on the blame for the hero’s bad behavior. Ugh! Kelsey needed to grow a damn spine and send Riley packing for good. He didn’t even grovel. Nope. I was not happy at all.

Overall, it ended up being just an “okay” book for me. It started out strong, but then everything hit the fan and there was no coming back for me. Once everything was kind of “resolved” and the characters got their HEA, it seemed to drag on and on also. Maybe I was just irritated because their HEA was not a HEA for me…but the last 45 minutes of this audiobook seemed unnecessary to me.

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Review: Dirty Ugly Toy, by K. Webster

Dirty Ugly ToyDirty Ugly Toy by K. Webster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you follow my reviews, you know that I love dark, twisted stories. Based on the title alone, I knew that this story would be right up my alley. K. Webster never fails to deliver just the type of mindf*ck that I love and this book was no exception.

‘Dirty Ugly Toy’ begins with a scene that immediately had me questioning exactly what kind of a sick individual Braxton Kennedy really was. He has finished with one of his “toys”. She is bound, gagged and it is time to make her disappear from Braxton’s presence forever.

Once he’s disposed of his last toy, Braxton goes on the hunt for another one. He has particular tastes. He wants the filthiest, most drug-addicted and desperate woman on the streets to act out his depraved fantasies with. He will pretty her up, just to break her down again.

Jessica turned to prostitution in order to feed her heroin addiction. She will do anything for her next fix. Self-respect left her long ago. The woman she used to be would not recognize herself now.

When Jessica, aka “Bunny”, is picked up by Braxton, she cannot resist the lure of the $500,000 that he promises for 6 months of her time. She would do anything for that kind of money and all the heroin that it would buy. Without reading the fine print, she signs his contract and becomes Braxton’s new toy.

From the start, Jessica proved to be a challenge for Braxton. She challenged him in ways that he had never been challenged before. She was anything but submissive, even as he did his best to humiliate and degrade her.

Braxton behaves in a reprehensible manner. He was a really hard character to like because his behavior was so damn cruel and deplorable at times. It was clear that he was one seriously messed up individual, but I couldn’t excuse his callous treatment of Jessica. Regardless of his “mommy issues”, his treatment of her was despicable.

That being said, the story was actually not as dark as I had anticipated. There were a few scenes with violence, but Braxton’s cruelty was most pronounced in the emotional abuse he subjected Jessica to. The flashbacks from her past were the source of the darkest content and not her BDSM relationship with Braxton, which ended up being pretty tame.

Overall, this was a great story. It was dark-ish, but I would’ve liked for it to be a little darker. There was plenty of twists and turns to hold my attention throughout this book. If you like dark stories with a bit of mystery/suspense, then this is a good choice.

On the other hand, I should say that I was not overly impressed with the Audible narration for this book. The narrators’ voices just didn’t appeal to me at all. This is one that I’d recommend reading vs. listening to. It took me quite a while to get into the story because the voice of the narrator was so off-putting.

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Review: Pennies (Dollar, #1), by Pepper Winters

Pennies (Dollar, #1)Pennies by Pepper Winters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mind-Blowing!

Whew! Pepper Winters never fails to blow my mind! I know when I pick up one of her stories that I’m in for a mindf*@k and that is exactly what I got with ‘Pennies’.

This story was so disturbing that I needed to take a little time to decompress after finishing it, before writing this review. I just needed time to come to terms with what I had just read and process my emotions. To me, that’s a sign that I’ve just finished a phenomenal book. You know it’s great when it stays with you and occupies your thoughts long after you’ve finished it.

This story is told in multiple POVs, but is centered on the experiences of Tasmin, aka Pimlico. At eighteen, Tasmin has led a privileged and sheltered life. When she is taken from one of her mother’s formal functions, her existence as she knows it comes to an end. Tasmin becomes Pimlico, a sex slave.

Purchased by Alrik, a sadistic and cruel man who refers to himself as “Master A”, Pimlico lives in constant terror. She suffers unspeakable acts at the hands of Master A and his friends. He takes pride in his visciousness.

When Elder Prest sets eyes on Pimlico, he is equally intrigued and enraged. He finds himself having to fight back his urges to take her for himself, while also wanting to kill Alrik for his abuse of the slave girl. He’s no stranger to deviant acts, a notorious criminal himself, but something about Pimlico calls to him.

Pimlico, despite the horrors she’s endured, does not break. She is defiant to the end, even as she submits in calculated measures to survive. She does what she has to do to survive, but she will never give Master A what he wants most…her voice.

This was a hard story to read in so many ways. Not only was Pimlico’s account of life as a slave harrowing, but there was never any sense of hope. When Elder enters the story, it is clear that he is no knight in shining armor. In fact, he may prove to be as bad, if not worse, than Master A. Pimlico is faced with a choice between the lesser of two evils, with no happy ending in sight for her.

Ms. Winters has, yet again, managed to create a story that held my attention from start to finish. I cannot wait to see where she plans to take readers with this series. No doubt, it will be one dark and depraved journey and I plan to be front and center! I am dying to see what becomes of Pimlico and Elder, even as I dread finding out what’s in store for poor Pim.

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Review: The Pawn (Endgame, #1), by Skye Warren

The Pawn (Endgame #1)The Pawn by Skye Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has wrecked me. It completely blew my mind. I am a total mess, suffering from the book hangover that this one left me with. Wow…just wow!

I have read several of Skye Warren’s books. Some of them have been great. Some have been okay. Others have been a miss for me. This book is by far the best book that Skye Warren has released to date, in my opinion. You do not want to miss this one.

As you can gather from the blurb, Avery James puts her virginity up for auction. Gabriel Miller is the man that buys her. He isn’t a nice guy. He is responsible for the downfall of her father and Avery’s current dire financial situation.

In more ways than one, Avery has to pay for the sins of her father. Her father was convicted of fraud and embezzlement. Gabriel Miller was one of his alleged victims and the man that brought her father to justice. Now he’s seeking vengeance.

When I read the blurb, I thought this would be like a thousand others. I was wrong. Avery’s plight pulled me in and held me tight. I didn’t expect to feel the raw emotion that I did or care much, but I did. This book brought me to my knees!

I won’t spoil the ending, but I have to say that I wasn’t prepared for it. Although a part of me expected it, I was in no way ready to deal with the fallout. I have so many questions. I’m enraged, devastated and completely addicted to this series.

I would kill to have an ARC of the second book. This is going to be one of those waits that is unbearable. I must know where this story goes. I need the next book. Thankfully, it is due to be released in a few weeks time. I think I’d go out of my mind if I had to wait much longer.

Read this book.

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Review: From Sand and Ash, by Amy Harmon

From Sand and AshFrom Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautiful, heartbreaking and inspirational. Loved it! Amy Harmon is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. Each of her books that I’ve read has been incredibly emotional and touching.

‘From Sand and Ash’ is a gripping account of true love in WWII-era Italy. This story held my attention from start to finish. I fell in love with the characters and the visually rich setting. This book was so beautifully crafted that the scenes were nearly tangible.

At the same time, the beauty was in stark contrast to the brutality of the Nazi regime. Although I knew at the onset where the story would lead, it was easy to see how the brutality of the time snuck up on the complacent and disillusioned Italian people. I could relate to the responses from many of the characters that refused to acknowledge the danger until it was too late. The shift was gradual and insidious.

This is undoubtedly one of the most compelling romances that I’ve read this year. The love between Eva and Angelo was unbelievable. They had the type of love that is incredibly intimate and real. They weren’t perfect, but they loved each other in spite of their imperfections.

If you love a forbidden love story, this is your book. Never has there been a couple with the odds stacked against them more than these two. They fought for each other and their love, refusing to give up no matter how hopeless their situation might have seemed.

This story was inspirational and heartfelt. I was deeply moved by Eva and Angelo’s story. Not only was this book highly entertaining, but it was the type of book that leaves a lasting impression. I will not be forgetting these characters and their plight anytime soon. I can only hope that it will be made into a movie at some point.

If you’re looking for a suspenseful, heartfelt story, this is a great choice. This is the type of book that feeds the soul. It is beautiful and inspiring. This is a new favorite of mine and one of my top reads for the year.

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