Review: The Secret Wife, by Gill Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: In Farleigh Field, by Rhys Bowen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Bandit (The Stolen Duet, #1), by B. B. Reid

The Bandit (The Stolen Duet, #1)The Bandit by B.B. Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Bandit’ has been sitting on my TBR list for quite some time now. At last, I got around to reading it. It didn’t disappoint. This was one steamy read with plenty of push and pull between the main characters.

The heroine, Mian Ross, has known a lot of tragedy in her young life. She’s survived the death of her mother, only to be orphaned when her father is incarcerated for murder. To make matters worse, the man that her father killed was her father’s best friend and like a second father to her. His murder left Mian completely isolated from anyone that had ever cared about her.

With no other options, Mian is taken from the home where she had spent her adolescence being taken care of by the son of her father’s victim. She is sent to live with a distant aunt and uncle, that could care less about her welfare. This is made very clear when they throw her out after she becomes pregnant as a teenager, following another tragic event.

After losing her latest job waiting tables, Mian is desperate. She will do anything to keep her young baby fed, even if it means risking her own life. She decides to burglarize Angeles Knight, aka “Angel”, the boy that raised her. Only, Angel is no longer a boy. He has grown into a very dangerous man and has stepped up to take his father’s place at the head of his family’s criminal enterprise.

When Mian is caught stealing from Angel, he returns the favor. He spent his youth lusting after the forbidden, and much younger, Mian. Now, he finally has her where he wants her. He knows that she will do anything for her infant son. Angel takes her son and Mian plays right into his hand, just like he knew that she would.

What follows is a dark-ish story, with a lot of push and pull between the two main characters. Angel’s two best friends also play a crucial role in this book, as Angel shares a lot with his friends. Angel has to balance his desire for revenge with his lust for Mian. The result was a deliciously steamy and angsty read.

Despite the fact that I really enjoyed this story quite a bit, it wasn’t without problems. Mainly, the editing was horrendous. I mean, REALLY BAD. I was pretty surprised by that, since this book has been out for a long time and is pretty popular. Incorrect words and misspellings were frequent, as were elementary grammatical errors. For example, using the word “then” when it should have been “than”, etc.

Overall, I give this one 3.5 stars. It was still pretty good, but the editing needs some serious work. The number of mistakes was very distracting and did take away from the story. If you’re a stickler for editing, this one will drive you insane. If you can overlook some serious grammatical issues, then you might consider giving this one a try. I am still curious about where their story is headed, so I’ll be reading the next book immediately.

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Review: Tormentor Mine (Tormentor Mine, #1), by Anna Zaires

Tormentor Mine (Tormentor Mine, #1)Tormentor Mine by Anna Zaires
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I saw that Anna Zaires had released another dark romance, I was sure that I’d found my next 5-star read. Some of her other dark series are amongst my favorites. I absolutely love that this lady is not afraid to write some scary, twisted and disturbing content. Creating anti-heroes that make you fall in love with them, in spite of your better judgment, is a specialty of hers.

Unfortunately, while this story was good, it didn’t live up to my expectations for this writer. Don’t get me wrong…it was good. I just expected more — more emotion, more drama, more darkness. I waited, but it never came.

You might remember Peter Sokolov from the ‘Twist Me’ series. He was the man that Julian promised to provide with a list of the names of the individuals responsible for the deaths of his wife and son. Since his actions placed Nora in danger, Julian considered them to be a betrayal. Nora saw things differently and provided the list to Peter.

This book begins Peter’s story. His history is revealed as he works his way through the list of names, seeking revenge for the murder of his family years earlier.

Sara Cobakis is the wife of one of the men on the list. He had no intention of ever falling in love with her. She served one purpose to him – to give up the location of her husband. Peter stalks her, torments her and gets the information that he needs from her to exact his revenge. That should be the end of his interactions with her, but it isn’t.

Along the way, Peter cannot stop thinking about the woman whose husband he killed. She has become his new obsession. Regardless of what his initial plans were, he decides that he is going to make Sara Cobakis his. Neither of them could have expected true feelings to develop.

Of course, eventually they do develop feelings for one another. It is set up perfectly for these two to live out their happily ever after, until a twist at the end. Again, it was nice. It just wasn’t the dark, twisted story that I craved. It ended up being kind of sweet actually…which is fine, it just wasn’t what I expected.

In all fairness, I should say that I’m in a bit of a reading rut right now. Maybe I would’ve enjoyed it more at a different time when I wasn’t in a “funk”. Who knows? If I re-read/listen to this story later and my opinions change, I’ll update my review then.

Nevertheless, this was just a “good” story for me. I wanted to love it, but it didn’t happen. I liked it though. I was hoping for something much darker and edgier. It didn’t happen this time. It was sweet, in kind of unbelievably convenient way.

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Review: Almost Missed You, by Jessica Strawser

Almost Missed YouAlmost Missed You by Jessica Strawser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine this: You’re on vacation with your husband and young son. Everything is seemingly perfect. In fact, your considerate husband has agreed to watch your son while you relax with a drink and a good book on the beach for a couple of hours. Then, you return to your hotel room to find everything missing except for your personal belongings. Your husband and child are nowhere to be found. No note. Nothing.

That is exactly what happens to the heroine in this book, Violet. I cannot even begin to imagine the all-consuming sense of betrayal that she must have felt. My heart broke for this mother and her child.

As more time passes and it becomes clear that Violet’s husband, Finn, is not planning to return, pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place. Finn has secrets that he’s been keeping from Violet…and he isn’t the only one. It seems that some of her closest friends have been keeping secrets from Violet as well. Truth be told, she has been lying to herself for a long time also.

Told from the POVs of Violet, Finn and their best friend, Caitlyn, this story comes together little by little. Jumping between past and present-day, Violet and Finn’s fateful first encounters seem to be straight from a storybook. As Finn’s past is revealed, the image of a picture-perfect marriage with Violet begins to show cracks.

I don’t want to say too much about this story, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. However, I will say that I was completely absorbed in this story and the mystery, until right about 80% or so. Once Finn’s motivations were revealed, I have to say that I was a little let-down. All I could think was, “Seriously? That’s it?”. Then, there was some other craziness toward the end that seemed a little unnecessary and unbelievable as well.

Overall, it was a good story. It did start to lose appeal toward the end for me, but it had my rapt attention up to that point. All things considered, I give it 3.5 stars.

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Review: Never Let You Go, by Chevy Stevens

Never Let You GoNever Let You Go by Chevy Stevens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book that I’ve ever read by this author, but it certainly won’t be the last. ‘Never Let You Go’ was a suspenseful and highly engaging read/listen. I listened to the Audible version and I did not want to pull myself away from this story until I had finished it. I kept telling myself, “just another few minutes and I’ll turn it off”. Once I got started on this book, I had to keep going. It was great!

The story unfolds little by little, alternating between present time and flashbacks to the past. From the start, we know that Lindsey has built herself a new life after escaping an abusive husband. Yet, her abusive past is revealed gradually through her flashbacks. Told in this manner, it is easy to see how Lindsey got sucked in by her ex-husband, Andrew. I was enthralled, watching how charming he was initially and how he gradually increased the control he had over her life until it was absolute. As the violence escalated, it was evident that Lindsey had to get out of her marriage or that she would die at Andrew’s hands.

Now, over ten years later, Lindsey has established a new life for herself and her daughter, Sophie. A young child when Lindsey took her daughter on the run, Sophie is now a teenager. She knows nothing of her father, except what her mother has told her and the few articles that she’s been able to find.

As much as she loves her mother, she can’t help but be curious about the father that she’s never known. She’s only ever known the life of a child of a single-mother, struggling to make ends meet. She envies the children of the wealthy parents whose houses her mother cleans. She can’t help but wonder what it must be like to have both parents.

Now that Andrew is due for release from prison, Sophie’s dreams of the father she hasn’t known since she was five have the chance to become a reality. As she begins to work on building a relationship with him, her mother begins to fear for their safety.

Strange things start to happen. It is clear that somebody is messing with Lindsey. She’s scared…and she should be. Somebody is out to get her and she is terrified that Andrew is out to finish what he started all of those years ago.

From start to finish, this story had my full attention. My heart was pounding and I was on the edge of my seat from the time that these strange occurrences began haunting Lindsey, until everything was out in the open. There were quite a few twists and turns along the way. I had my suspicions, but I was definitely surprised by the way things worked out. I didn’t piece things together until the author wanted me to.

Overall, this was a fantastic story. If you’re in the mood for a thriller/suspense/mystery, then this is a good one. It will definitely make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

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Review: Dirty Souls (Sins Duet, #2), by Karina Halle

Dirty Souls (Sins Duet, #2)Dirty Souls by Karina Halle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘Black Hearts’ left off with a rather ominous vibe that honestly, left me giddy. (I know, I know. I’m kind of messed up like that.) While Violet and Vicente were getting settled in and playing house, Javier was moving in on his son and his new lover. You just knew that whatever was going to happen wasn’t going to be good for the young lovers…and I couldn’t wait!

In case I haven’t said it enough, let me just be clear that Javier Bernal is one of my all-time favorite anti-heroes. He has owned a piece of my heart since the very beginning, despite his despicable ways. I guess that, like him, I’m still stuck in the past where Ellie and him are concerned. I always will be.

I totally understand why Ellie left him. In fact, I probably would’ve been pissed if she hadn’t. After all, I hate a doormat heroine. That being said, after some hardcore groveling I wanted Ellie and Javier to mend their relationship. I still refuse to see the writing on the wall, even as it is clear that Camden and Luisa are here to stay. A girl can dream, I guess.

Now that I’ve gotten all of that out into the open, I have to admit that I have never been more appalled by Javier’s behavior than I was in this book. He has done some pretty terrible things before, but never did he stoop to such a cruel and personal level as he did in this book. (Note: Some of the dead prostitutes from his last dark spell might disagree with me on this point.) The things that he did were beyond forgiveness and shocking, even to him.

While ‘Black Hearts’ was relatively mild and only hinted at the darkness to come, ‘Dirty Souls’ is incredibly dark and brutal. Just about every fear that I had for Violet and Vicente at the end of the first book was brought to life. On top of that, this book birthed new horrors that I hadn’t even thought of.

Given the history between Javier and Ellie, I couldn’t believe that he would go there with his daughter. It was like the last bits of humanity that remained within Javier were being snuffed out in front of my eyes. Yet, at the same time, there were glimpses of remorse that hinted at the remnants of a soul remaining within Javier. It was emotionally painful to watch as he actively worked at destroying what little love remained between him and Ellie through his intentional and callous actions.

I don’t want to give too much away, because I think anyone that is a fan of this series should read this. As I’m sure you’ve already figured out if you’ve read the first book in the series, Javier has taken Violet and Vicente. He intends to teach his son a lesson and he plans to use Violet to do that. She is also a means to get his long awaited revenge on her mother.

This book was an action-packed, suspenseful and emotional read. I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish. I absolutely devoured this book. That being said, even for a die-hard fan of Javier, like me, his depravity was hard to forgive. His hunger for power has changed him so much over the years, as he’s gained and lost everything that he’s ever wanted. It was brutal, it was heartbreaking….and I could not have loved it more!

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