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 Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, I can see why this dystopian classic has made such an impression on so many. This is a book that definitely hangs with you, haunting your thoughts, long after you finish the book. It is thought-provoking and terrifying.

The story centers on the heroine, Offred, who is a “handmaiden” in this futuristic world created by Ms. Atwood. As a handmaiden, Offred’s sole purpose is to produce a baby for the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Once she has served her purpose, she will be reassigned to another high-ranking man for the same purpose. This pattern will repeat over and over, until she is no longer able to bear children. What happens then, nobody really wants to talk about. Worse yet, if she fails to produce a child then she will face a fate reserved for the lowliest of women.

This is the world that Offred and others are left with after a brutal civil war stamped out the rights that citizens like Offred had taken for granted. The overthrow of the democratic government was gradual…until it wasn’t. The changes that took place were very insidious.

One moment, people like Offred were consumed with trivial problems, like where they were going to go out for dinner that night. The next thing they knew, a civil war was raging. Soon, their every movement was monitored closely. Of course, this was for their own “protection” and “safety”. Then, women weren’t allowed to hold jobs or manage their own money. (After all, the poor little dears shouldn’t have to bear that burden. A man should handle those sorts of things.) Next, anyone that dared to oppose the new regime was eliminated. Before long, citizens like Offred cannot even recognize their new reality. They are stuck under the rule of an incredibly oppressive, misogynistic regime.

Worst of all, their complacency paved the way for this gradual overthrow. Little by little, they handed over their rights with little resistance. They refused to see the writing on the wall and wanted to believe the lies that they were spoon-fed. Once they wised up, it was too late. Now, they are a people broken. Women, especially, face a grim fate.

This book is remarkable! Although it can be rather slow-moving at times, the message was powerful. This story serves as a cautionary tale and a necessary reminder. Civil rights are hard won and easily lost.

It is easy to draw comparisons to many of this books’ events and the events of the past and present. Ms. Atwood highlights many important issues and offers a great deal of social commentary. There were so many important topics that she touched upon that I can’t even begin to list them.

This book is considered to be a classic for a reason. It is a book that needs to be read and taken in by readers. While it isn’t necessarily the most entertaining read, it is certainly one of the most enlightening and thought-provoking. I highly recommend that everyone read this book, at least once.

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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: “It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass, by Joanne Hanks and Steve Cano

“It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass by Joanne Hanks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading ‘The 19th Wife’, I wanted to know more about polygamy in religious cults like the FLDS. I ran across this book when searching for other books on the topic. Given the often disturbing and emotional nature of the topic, I was glad to see a book that seemed to approach the topic with humor. In that regard, this book really stood out from the rest.

I listened to the Audible version of this book and my biggest complaint is that it was too short to really explore the topic as in-depth as I wanted to. The author did a fantastic job of pointing out the downright laughable “prophecies” that were a part of her day-to-day life in the polygamist community that she lived in. Written after leaving the polygamist community and breaking away from the cult, she does a good job of pointing fun at her blind obedience and outright idiocy. I just wanted more.

This autobiographical account tells the story of Ms. Hanks, who entered into the polygamist cult as an adult, along with her husband. At that time, she was the only wife and she later helped her husband to “recruit” additional wives later on. Of course, they believed at the time that this was the will of God. Looking back, she recognizes it was really the will of horny guys that were able to craft “prophecies” to their liking.

I really liked the fact that the author did not try to portray herself as a victim, while painting her husband as the monster. Yes, he certainly “reaped the rewards” of plural marriage. However, they made a decision to enter into the polygamist lifestyle together, as consenting adults. Fools they may have been, but victims…no.

On the other hand, there were several things that I really struggled with while reading this book. First of all, I had trouble grasping that two well-educated adults raised outside of a polygamist community would ever be so naive. (He was a Chiropractor and she had a degree in Interior Design. Both had lived in “modern” cities and were exposed to “modern” ideas, as well as the condemnation of polygamist cults by the mainstream Mormon Church.)

Maybe I’m just too skeptical, but I call bullshit. My personal theory is that for whatever reason this woman felt compelled to humor her husband’s desire to have multiple wives. Maybe she was insecure. Maybe they were both closet perverts. I don’t know, but I don’t believe that these two adults actually bought into the religious cult BS.

That being said, I did appreciate the honesty of the author with regards to the ridiculous cult teachings. She also was forthcoming about the emotional toll that plural marriage takes on the wives and the disharmony it creates in a household. In my humble opinion, any woman that says that she is “okay” with hearing her husband have sex with his new, younger bride down the hall is either lying…or glad to be relieved of the chore because secretly she hates his guts. The author didn’t try to paint a rosy “I just love my sister wives” picture for readers and I was thankful for that.

The other thing that really bothered me about this book was that I was pretty appalled by the actions of the author and her husband. On some level, I wanted to relate to the woman and even feel bad for her as her husband took on more wives. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

After all, she had been an integral part of the decision making process every step of the way. She even helped her husband select his second wife, who was a teenager at the time. While she griped about having to “raise” his second wife like she was another child in her home, I kept thinking “because she is, you sicko!”.

As far as I was concerned, she was as culpable as her husband. They preyed upon this young girl. Her husband may have been the dirty old guy that wanted to sleep with the teenager, but she facilitated it. She may have been 18 by the time the marriage was consummated, but it was sick. Just yuck!

Overall, this was a 3 star read for me. I would have liked more of an in-depth expose, but realize that this was just the account of one woman that lived in a polygamist community for several years. While this book was actually pretty humorous, I had trouble believing that these adults could have been so gullible. I couldn’t help but questions their true motivations for entering into such a taboo lifestyle. Nonetheless, I appreciate that the author points out many of the lies that seem readily apparent to most of us already. It goes to show that even intelligent individuals can be duped when it suits them.

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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: The Unbroken Line of the Moon (Sagan om Valhalla, #4; The Valhalla Series, #4), by Johanne Hildebrandt

The Unbroken Line of the Moon (Sagan om Valhalla #4; The Valhalla Series - English Translation Order #1)The Unbroken Line of the Moon by Johanne Hildebrandt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I purchased this audiobook based upon the recommendation of a friend. I didn’t realize at the time that this book was actually the fourth book in a series. That being said, I enjoyed it quite a bit and felt that it was easily read as a standalone. Of course, I can’t really know what I might have missed in the earlier books that might have enhanced my reading experience.

‘The Unbroken Line of the Moon’ is set in the tenth century, when the Vikings and Christians were battling over the Nordic lands that comprise present-day Sweden, Norway, Denmark and England. As this is a period of history that I haven’t spent much time reading about, I can’t speak to whether or not it was an accurate portrayal of this time period. For me, it was an interesting and entertaining introduction to the religious mysticism of that time.

The story opens with the heroine, Sigrid, learning that she is to be wed to Erik, the Swedish king. She doesn’t want to leave her homeland, but understands that it is her duty as a princess to marry in order to secure a better position for her father and her people. Sigrid has been chosen to serve the goddess Freya and has visions of the future.

On the way to meet her future husband, Sigrid meets Sweyn. She is immediately taken aback by the illegitimate son of Harald Bluetooth, the ruler of Denmark. Despite her upcoming nuptials, she and Sweyn have a brief, but intense, love affair.

Sigrid goes on to marry Erik, carrying Sweyn’s child. As Sweyn goes on to achieve success driven by his love for Sigrid, she does whatever she must to secure the safety of their child. Guided by her visions, she manipulates events to ensure that Sweyn lives to fulfill his destiny and claim his crown, even if it means pushing him away from her.

This story was brutal at times, as the Viking battles played out in vivid detail. The gods and goddesses were cruel and harsh often times, demanding bloody sacrifices. Trustworthy friends were in small supply, as Sigrid learned the hard way.

Although this story didn’t have as much romance as I usually prefer, there was enough of a love story to hold my interest. I found myself getting lost in this tumultuous time of the Viking warriors. It was brutal, but intriguing.

All in all, this was a great story and something a little different from my usual reading choices. My only complaint is that Sigrid and Sweyn’s story is not wrapped up completely with this book. I wanted Sigrid to get her HEA after everything that she had been through, but I will have to read further into the series in order to see if that happens or not. I plan to do that sometime soon.

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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: 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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Review: The Roman (The Florentine, #3), by Sylvain Reynard

The RomanThe Roman by Sylvain Reynard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every time that I read a Sylvain Reynard book I feel a little more enlightened. The writing is so eloquent and intelligent that I am always blown away by this author’s work. I love the way that she works the history and art into each of her stories. I truly feel like I’ve learned something each time I finish one of her books.

Aside from this author’s impressive intellect, I have been taken aback by how much I have enjoyed ‘The Florentine’ series. Mixing fact and fiction, she has created a fantastical story that I have devoured. It is unlike any other vampire story that I’ve read and I have been captivated with this story from the beginning.

That being said, there is a fine balance between providing enough details to “build” the story and providing enough action to keep readers engaged. I often find that this author is a little heavier on the former, resulting in longer stories that sometimes provide too much detail. This time around, I didn’t find that to be the case though. In fact, ‘The Roman’ was a surprisingly quick read.

It did take me a little time to remember exactly where the story had left off, but it all came back to me pretty quickly. Then, I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book, waiting to see how things would end up for Raven and William. Although there were plenty of predictable elements, there were also many twists that I did not see coming.

In the end, it was a great conclusion to a great series. The ending was surprising for me in many ways. I didn’t see it coming, but it was nice. It left me with a nice, satiated feeling.

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Review: Dark Prince (Dark, #1), by Christine Feehan

Dark Prince (Dark, #1)Dark Prince by Christine Feehan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve waited a long time to check out a Christine Feehan book and I think that maybe I set myself up for disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed ‘Dark Prince’. However, I expected to be blown away…and I wasn’t.

I listened to the Audible edition of ‘Dark Prince’ and I can’t say that I’d recommend that version to others. The narration just didn’t work for me. I think that if I had read the Kindle version, I probably would’ve enjoyed this story a lot more. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I’ll be sure to sample the audiobook next time if I decide to continue this series.

This story centers on Raven Whitney, a lady with psychic abilities that has gone to Romania to escape the stressors of her work. She has worked with police agencies, using her abilities to help solve murders, but she can’t scrub the horrors that she’s seen from her mind. She needs to get away and clear her head.

While on vacation, she meets Mikhail Dubrinsky, a wealthy local. However, Mikhail is far more than meets the eyes. He is the prince of the Carpathians, an ancient race of immortal beings.

The Carpathians are facing extinction, as the females have become pregnant with decreasing frequency. Additionally, there has not been a female Carpathian born in hundreds of years. If unable to find their life mate, Carpathian males are consumed by their darkness and go mad, requiring Mikhail to have them “put down”. Slowly but surely, their race is dying out.

As if they weren’t facing enough challenges, there is a murderer on the loose. Carpathians, particularly female Carpathians, are being hunted down and killed. With few females remaining, Mikhail’s hunt for the killer is a top priority.

This was the first book I’ve read about the Carpathians and I have to admit that I was a little confused at first. This race of immortals has shared abilities with other, more familiar, immortal races. It took me a little while to figure out that Mikhail was able to shape-shift and also had vampiric characteristics. Once I realized that, it was much easier to follow along.

Aside from the narration, I found myself really liking this paranormal romance. Raven and Mikhail were compelling characters. I would have liked for there to me more time spent on the love story/romance, but that is just me. I crave all the smutty details.

While this story didn’t awe me like I had expected after all the praise I heard for this author, I did think that it was good. In fact, if it weren’t for the unappealing narration, it might have been a great read for me.

I am very intrigued by the supporting characters. Gregori, in particular, holds a lot of appeal for me. I already looked ahead, hoping that his story would be the next in the series. Sadly, it wasn’t. I’ll have to read a couple more books in this series before I get to his book.

Right now I’m on the fence about whether or not I’ll continue this series. I am very curious about Jacques and Gregori, but I’m not thrilled with the narration at this point. Maybe I’ll come back to it at some later point.

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