Review: When It’s Real, by Erin Watt

When It's RealWhen It’s Real by Erin Watt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I picked up ‘When It’s Real’, I wanted something that was sweet and heartwarming. I loved ‘Paper Princess’ by Erin Watt, so when I started seeing this book pop up on friends’ pages, I knew that I’d want to read it. I was not disappointed.

This book was everything that I had wanted. It was the kind of light and fluffy read that puts a smile on your face and leaves you feeling contented. Although it was predictable and not particularly original, it was still a highly entertaining read. After all, who doesn’t love a modern-day, rags-to-riches love story?

The story centers on the “fake” romantic relationship between Vaughn Bennett and Oakley Ford. Essentially, their relationship is a publicity stunt concocted by Oakley’s management team to revamp his bad-boy image. Oakley is a famous singer. Vaughn is the everyday, girl next door teenager.

While Oakley is accustomed to a life surrounded by admirers, he is lonely. He has no doubt that if the fame were to go, so would everyone that claims to care about him. All the booze, drugs and women that fill his time cannot fill the void within him.

Worst of all, Oakley has been in a rut. He hasn’t written anything new in a while and everything is sounding the same to him. It’s like he’s lost his magic.

More than anything, he wants to work with a famous producer that is known for his ability to produce the best hits. However, Oakley’s irresponsible shenanigans have gotten in the way. The producer doesn’t believe that Oakley is a serious artist and is refusing to work with him until he proves himself.

Vaughn needs for their fake relationship to be as believable as Oakley does. Her family is depending on her. She knows that she will never be able to earn this type of money any other way and she desperately needs the money. Her “real” boyfriend will just have to understand.

Along the way there is plenty of humor, as Oakley and Vaughn banter back and forth. They kind of start off on the wrong foot and their relationship begins with a healthy rivalry. Of course, the more time these two spend together, the more they start to develop real feelings for one another.

There are a few bumps along the way, but nothing too surprising. It was pretty predictable, but a sweet and fun read. I listened to the Audible version and the narration was terrific as well. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone that is looking for a light-hearted, feel good type of love story. It is a standalone, so you won’t be left hanging. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a spin-off featuring Oakley’s bodyguard and Vaughn’s sister. I’ll be looking forward to reading that one also if it comes to light.

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Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3), by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3)A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not sure that I can say much about this book that hasn’t been said already, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. ‘A Court of Wings and Ruin’ was a great finale to the series. I have loved watching Feyre evolve over the course of this series and this book did a wonderful job of bringing everything full circle. If you’re a fan of the series, then this book is a must-read.

That being said, I honestly didn’t think that this book was as spectacular as the second book. This is probably a reflection of my personal tastes more than anything. I am primarily a romance reader. I like a little fantasy and adventure, but I need a healthy dose of romance thrown in.

While this third book definitely continued the love story, it wasn’t as smutty as I would’ve liked. There, I said it. I wanted more steamy, hot times with Feyre and Rhysand. The second book definitely provided more to work with in that regard, but I understand that this book is not marketed for adult romance readers, like me. Again, it is just a matter of personal preferences.

On the other hand, this book was action-packed. From start to finish, there was always something adventurous and deadly brewing. There was never a dull moment. It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat right to the very end.

I won’t say much about the storyline, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. There are a lot of changes that occur during this book. Some are heartbreaking, others will make you melt. I was left with a feeling of contentment, resolute that everything was “right” in this make believe world that I grew to love so much.

While this series has drawn to a close, I am left wondering if Ms. Maas has any plans to create a spin-off series. There were so many characters introduced in this series that have grown dear to me. I feel like their stories want to be told and she certainly planted the seeds to do this. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, this was a fantastic book and series. I would definitely recommend this series to others. ‘A Court of Mist and Fury’ is still my favorite by far, but this one was great in and of it’s own right also.

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Review: The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey, #2), by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Daughter (Iron Fey, #2)The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in ‘The Iron Fey’ series, ‘The Iron Daughter’ definitely had my attention from start to finish. I’m a sucker for angst and emotional pain in my romances. This book was jam-packed with both. However, it also had a healthy dose of action for the adventure junkies out there.

‘The Iron Daughter’ begins with Meghan in captivity at the Winter Court. Ash has transformed into someone unrecognizable, denying any feelings for Meghan and turning his back on her. As his antics become crueler, Meghan is forced to come to terms with the possibility that she never really knew Ash at all.

Appearances aren’t always as they seem though. This is a lesson that Meghan learns time and time again as she attempts to navigate the politics and manipulative games of the Winter Court. The sadistic tendencies of the court members may be the only thing that Ash was fully honest about.

As you can probably guess already, Queen Mab played a much more significant role in this book. Prince Ash’s brothers were also introduced, making the story more multidimensional. Each has their own motives for their actions and their own agenda. The same is true for multiple characters in the Winter Court that also enter the picture during this book.

Eventually, all hell breaks loose. Meghan and Ash are thrust back together by circumstance. Ash is faced with the same feelings of betrayal that Meghan had been forced to cope with when the tables are turned on him. There’s nothing quite like the harsh sting of betrayal to put things in perspective.

While there was plenty of angst and adventure to keep me engaged, I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t something that drove me crazy with this series. This series featured one of my biggest pet peeves in a story, beginning in the first book and only becoming more pronounced in subsequent books–the “perfect, dead ex-girlfriend”. Every time I heard Ariella’s name I wanted to scream, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”. Seriously! Who can compete with the beautiful ex-girlfriend that is canonized upon death? Nobody – that’s who!

In spite of the infuriating fixation with the dead ex, I still found this book to be a fantastic read overall. Aimed toward a younger audience than most of my book choices, I was able to listen to this story with my kids. Other than a few “mild” naughty words (no f-bombs or anything), there was no content that was concerning or too controversial for them to hear. In fact, it was kind of provided some insight into my fifth-grade daughter’s blossoming interest in boys. I’ll just say that I wasn’t the only one in the car that was sick of the repeated mentions of the “perfect” Ariella.

As expected, the book doesn’t offer a lot of resolution. One adventure comes to a close and readers are primed for another one to begin. Luckily, I didn’t start this series until all of the books had been released so I was able to jump into the next one immediately. Otherwise, the wait might have killed me.

I listened to this book in the Audible format and I have to say that the narration was superb. I really enjoyed the voices for each character and the emotional responses of the characters was almost tangible. If you’re an audiobook listener, I’d definitely give this audiobook a shot.

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Review: Irreparable Damage (Irreparable, #1), by Sam Mariano

Irreparable Damage (Irreparable, #1)Irreparable Damage by Sam Mariano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was dark, taboo and offensive. Accordingly, I thought that it was a fantastic read! Not the best dark captivity story out there, but definitely not the worst either. If you enjoy darker stories and don’t shy away from controversial subject matter, then ‘Irreparable Damage’ is worth a read.

The first in a series, this book tells the story of Willow Kensington. Willow is abducted right after her 18th birthday by sex traffickers. Her father is a powerful Mafioso and her captors think that they can use her to get at her father. Innocent Willow is caught in the crosshairs, despite having almost no interaction with her father.

While undercover trying to locate another missing girl, private investigator Ethan Wilde runs across another girl whose picture recently came his way. He hadn’t accepted Willow’s case yet, but fate has their paths crossing. Unfortunately, to maintain his cover he must harm Willow before he can save her.

Following Willow’s rescue, she struggles with the after-effects of her captive experience. Her healing is only made more difficult by the fact that she will not discuss everything that happened to her at the hands of her captors. She is torn by the fact that her rescuer was also the man who committed the worst crimes against her. She won’t condemn him, but she can’t cope either.

Returning to his wife and children, Ethan faces his own demons following his most recent case. He cannot stop thinking about the girl that he assaulted. He wonders how she is doing and whether she hates him. He waits to be held accountable for his crimes, but with each day that passes it becomes increasingly clear that Willow isn’t going to turn him in – no matter how much he deserves it.

Ethan’s guilt transforms into an obsession, masked as concern. Before long, he’s stalking the teen online and “checking up on her”. The lies begin to pile up and he is drifting away from his wife.

Of course, Ethan isn’t the only one that can’t get Willow’s trauma in captivity off their mind. Willow is finding that her nightmares surrounding her assault are turning increasingly erotic. Yep, she’s fantasizing about her assailant. (This is smutty, dark erotica, not non-fiction after all! Know that what you’re signing up for isn’t a harrowing, true-to-life account.)

Willow and Ethan begin meeting up to vent and discuss their feelings about what transpired. It seems that they are the only two people that can relate to one another. Admittedly, I rolled my eyes at the idea of the victim actually consoling the attacker and vice versa. However, even as I was rolling my eyes I was anxiously flipping pages to see where the story would go.

This story was pure, smutty goodness! It was definitely a “guilty pleasure” type of read for me. It was unbelievable, taboo and hot. Clearly, this isn’t a book that you choose for intellectual enlightenment. It was dirty, sexy and fun.

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Review: Winter’s Passage (The Iron Fey, #1.5), by Julie Kagawa

Winter's Passage (Iron Fey, #1.5)Winter’s Passage by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At around 50 pages, ‘Winter’s Passage’ is a nice bridge between ‘The Iron King’ and the second full-length book in the series. This novella picks up right where ‘The Iron King’ leaves off, with Meghan journeying back to the Winter Court with Ash to fulfill her end of their contract. Of course, there is plenty of adventure along the way and the introduction of a few new characters.

This ended up being a very sweet and heartfelt novella. Ash and Meghan are falling in love and their feelings are getting harder to deny. It was pervaded with the sweet, innocent feel of first love.

However, this short read also had a sense of impending doom that was always lurking in the background. Ash and Meghan know that their romance is strictly forbidden. More than Meghan, Ash knows the cruelty of the Winter Court. The closer the two become, the more Meghan’s fate in the Winter Court haunts them both. With each step, the sense of dread grows.

This novella was a nice lead-in for the second book. However, it wasn’t absolutely necessary to follow and understand the series. After finishing this novella, I jumped right into the second book only to find that much of the information provided in this novella was also provided in ‘The Iron Daughter’. So, while this was a nice, quick “extra”, it isn’t really required in my opinion. It was sweet and I liked it, but there isn’t anything revolutionary or critical here.

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Review: The Iron King (The Iron Fey, #1), by Julie Kagawa

The Iron King (The Iron Fey, #1)The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve had ‘The Iron Fey’ series sitting on my Audible shelf for quite some time. Paranormal/Fantasy isn’t my “go-to” genre, but I was curious about this series after seeing some great reviews for it. Yet, every time that I was in the mood for this type of story there always seemed to be another book released that was higher up on my TBR priorities.

I finally got around to listening to this audiobook on a recent cross-country family road trip. Since my children, as well as my 89 year-old grandmother, were in the car, my usual smutty romance selections were off the table. After all, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for giving my grandmother a heart attack and I certainly wasn’t prepared to answer any questions that might arise from my children related to something they might hear in a dark romance novel.

Since this series is aimed at a younger audience, it ended up being the perfect time to give it a listen. Other than a few “mildly bad” words, which were no cause for a freak-out in my opinion, this book was clean enough for my girls (ages 5 and 10). It also had enough adventure and suspense to keep the adults in the car engaged in the story. While my youngest daughter wasn’t exactly following the story closely, she did pay enough attention to pick up on the general theme and point out who her favorite characters were. I’m not sure that I could’ve found another series that would have worked as well for our group.

The story centers on a high school girl, Meghan Chase. She is a heroine that is easy to relate to because she is flawed, but strong and personable. I appreciated the fact that Meghan was a good role model for young girls. She had the same insecurities of all young, teenage girls, but was able to rise above – and even make light of – teenage drama. Topics, such as bullying and body image were addressed, but not in an over-the-top, in your face kind of way that reeks of an after-school TV special. The author addressed these issues subtly and without much fanfare.

Meghan’s reality changes overnight, when she discovers that her younger brother, Ethan, has been taken into the Nevernever. A changeling has taken his place in the human world, while the real Ethan has been taken.

Everything that Meghan thought she knew was wrong. The man that raised her, and disappeared when she was six, wasn’t really her father at all. She is the daughter of Oberon, the King of the Summer Court. It ends up that Meghan is half faerie and not entirely human at all.

In addition, her neighbor/best-friend, Robbie, is really “Puck”, the faerie of legends. He had been sent by her father to watch over her for years. Revealing her true identity to her, Puck goes on to become her tour guide through the faerie world.

As Puck and Meghan set out to find Ethan and return him to the human world, they embark on a series of adventures. Along the way, Meghan meets Ash, the Winter Prince, who becomes her love interest. Meanwhile, she must carry on in spite of the contempt of the Summer Queen, Titania and other members of the faerie courts that look down upon her because she is a “half-breed”.

From start to finish, I was captivated with this story. The characters were easy to relate to and the storyline was compelling. I was lost in the fantastical world that Julie Kagawa created. It was absolutely magical!

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Review: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! There was so much about this book that I really loved. ‘Eleanor & Park’ was touching and beautiful in it’s simplicity. This book captured the essence of first love and the perils of high school, while also tackling some serious issues, like abuse.

I listened to the Audible version and I have to give kudos to the narrator(s). The narration was extremely well done. The voices of the characters really drew you in and made you feel like you were right there in the moment with the characters. It says a lot about the narration when it can pull you into a story so completely.

As I was listening to this story, my heart broke for Eleanor. She had such a horrible home life and her school life wasn’t any better. The poor girl couldn’t escape bullying wherever she went. I felt so bad for her as she tried to navigate her difficult teenage years while trying to stand proud in the face of such cruelty. She was so smart, but trapped by the life she was dealt.

Park’s life stood out in stark contrast to Eleanor’s. He was raised in a home that was pretty much “ideal”. Of course, he had the typical teenage concerns and conflict with his parents. However, his petty problems only served to highlight how fortunate he was to have loving parents when contrasted with Eleanor’s reality.

Although Park initially avoided any association with Eleanor, succumbing to peer pressure, he eventually opened up to the girl that sat beside him on the school bus. That took a great deal of bravery on his part. Let’s face it, teenagers can be very cruel. Park risked joining Eleanor at the bottom of the social hierarchy when he decided to go against the grain and be kind to her. Little by little, they formed a friendship. Eventually, that friendship grew into more.

Park became the single most positive part of Eleanor’s daily life. He was the only person that showed her concern and treated her kindly. As the two grew closer, his family also served as a safe haven for Eleanor. For these reasons, I grew to love Park also.

This is a coming of age story and a story of first love. Rainbow Rowell managed to transport me right back to high school. Everyone who has been a teenager can relate to the experiences and emotions of these characters. This is the type of story that serves to remind us of the consequences of our actions and the effect of our words.

From start to finish, I was enthralled with ‘Eleanor & Park’. I was sure that this would be a 5-star read for me right up until about the 90% mark. Then, the story ended rather abruptly and I was left wanting. I couldn’t believe that the author that wrote such a beautiful story would end it in that way. It just didn’t seem fair or right. After everything, I was furious to see it close in the manner it did.

Overall, it was still a fabulous story. I won’t lie. I hated the way that the story ended. I just don’t need my fiction to be that true to life.

In fairness, the ending doesn’t seem to be an issue for most of my friends that have read this book. For me, it was upsetting enough to knock a star off the rating. The ending wrecked me and I went in search of a second book or an extra something that would provide closure. It didn’t happen and I’m still reeling. So, I loved it….right up until the ending.

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Review: Lone Star, by Paullina Simons

Lone StarLone Star by Paullina Simons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Lone Star’ is a beautiful coming of age story, brought to us by the same author that gave us ‘The Bronze Horseman’. It tells the story of a group of teenaged friends from Maine that set out on a European adventure before they begin college. I enjoyed this story immensely.

However, I couldn’t help but to keep comparing it to Ms. Simons’ better-know work, ‘The Bronze Horseman’. In contrast to that epic story, ‘Lone Star’ fell noticeably short, despite being great in and of it’s own accord. In so many ways, it isn’t a fair comparison to make. They are different types of stories and, let’s face it, not many books will ever measure up to the greatness of ‘The Bronze Horseman’ in my mind. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but to compare them.

That being said, I loved the way that Ms. Simons was able to capture the essence of youth in this story. More often than not, I find that teenagers are either portrayed as mini-adults or pre-teens. Accurately capturing the behaviors and emotions of this age group seems to be particularly challenging for many authors. This is probably because their emotions and maturity levels are all over the place. Regardless, I thought that Ms. Simons did a great job of selling these characters as believable teenagers. The one exception to that would be Johnny Rainbow, which I’ll get to later.

Told from multiple points of view, this story follows Chloe, her best friend, Hannah, and their boyfriends as they travel eastern Europe. Barcelona is their destination, but to gain permission to go on this trip of a lifetime, Chloe had to agree to a few conditions set by her grandmother. She must lay flowers on the grave of her grandmother’s one-time lover, who was murdered by the Nazis in WWII.

Along the way, the four meet another young American traveler. Johnny Rainbow is an incredibly charming young man that seems to be an expert on getting around Europe. He repeatedly crosses paths with the other young travelers and insinuates himself into their group. It was clear that he had eyes for Chloe. The only person that seemed unaware of this was Chloe’s oblivious boyfriend, Mason.

Johnny was a pivotal character in this story. I always had a strong distrust for him, even as he seemed to do everything perfect. In fact, that was probably it. He was just too damn perfect. Like me, Blake was suspicious of Mr. Perfect right from the start.

Aside from his overwhelming charm and charisma, I had a hard time believing that he had done everything that the author would have us believe. At nineteen, he had traveled Europe, making connections virtually everywhere that they were going. He had also been accepted to some very prestigious schools, and promptly been kicked out. He had a band and performed in the US. He was a street performer and a tour guide. Whatever the topic may be, Johnny was an expert on it. Want to go somewhere? He’s already been. Etc., etc. I just found him to be a little too accomplished for a nineteen year-old boy.

Despite not buying into Johnny completely, I still found myself lost in this story. I loved Chloe and as she began to fall for Johnny, I fell for him also. Their story was reminiscent of naiveté, youth and summer flings. It was sweet and innocent and earth-shattering all at the same time.

Meanwhile, I loved Blake also. While I can’t say that I ever grew especially attached to Mason or Hannah, I adored Blake. He was always the steady friend that could be counted on. He was kind and responsible, even while being taken for granted.

When their trip ends, the relationships between these friends are forever altered. Some will grow closer. Some will grow apart. Hearts will be broken. I even cried.

The ending is not necessarily the way that I had envisioned, but I thought it was fitting. In fact, I’d say that it worked out perfectly. Sure, it was kind of sad…but it was kind of beautiful also. I especially liked the tie-in to the characters from ‘The Bronze Horseman’ at the end. That was a really nice touch.

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic love story. It was sweet and incredibly touching. It may not be the huge, epic romance that ‘The Bronze Horseman’ is, but it is still a wonderful story.

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Review: Forbidden, by Tabatha Suzama

ForbiddenForbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! That was some deeply disturbing and super depressing stuff. I’m thinking this was somewhere between a 3 1/2 and a 4 star read for me. This one will take some time to digest. In fact, as I write this review days later I’m still not sure exactly what to make of this story.

Lochan and Maya have been forced to grow up too quickly. As the oldest, these two siblings have had to take on the responsibility of raising their three younger siblings. Their drunken, deadbeat mother breezes in and out of their lives when she chooses, leaving all of the day to day responsibilities up to her two oldest children. As a result, Lochan and Maya have a relationship that more closely resembles that of a husband and wife than that of a brother and sister.

Since I knew where this story was heading from the start, I wasn’t surprised at all when the siblings’ relationship started to take on a more romantic feel. However, I was incredibly surprised when I found myself rooting for them as a couple. Going into this book, part of me had convinced myself that they were going to be step-siblings or half-siblings or some other relation that would somehow lessen the taboo nature of their relationship. That wasn’t the case and I had to deal with some very uncomfortable feelings. It was so wrong, but they were just so damn right for each other at the same time.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’d be right too. Awkward, right? I’m going to get it out and just say what we’re all thinking, “Ew!” I’m not going to try and deny that this was some seriously messed up stuff. Just the thought of incest makes me cringe. To say the least, this was a very uncomfortable read as a result.

Nonetheless, I found myself hoping that Lochan and Maya would somehow get a HEA. Even as I knew it was totally improbable, I wanted them to be happy. No teenagers ever deserved happiness more than these two. They bore the weight of the world on their shoulders. Right to the end, they sacrificed for their younger siblings.

Of course, this is not that kind of story. This is the type of story that you go into knowing that it will break your heart…and it does. I cried big, fate tears and probably went through half a box of Kleenex while reading this story.

Aptly titled, ‘Forbidden’ is taboo and controversial. While I won’t try to justify incest, consensual or not, I will say that this story was a heartbreakingly beautiful love story. You will fall in love with each of the siblings, as you hate their worthless mother. You’ll respect Lochan and Maya for their strength and dedication to their family. You will feel their love, anger, and desperation, even as you curse the injustice of it all. No way around it, you will FEEL while reading this story.

As much as anything else, this story made me feel conflicted. I usually don’t waver much in my convictions. However, this book made me question my values and morals. I found myself pondering “what if” more than I was comfortable with. Days later, I have to say that this story still has me feeling unsettled.

Will it make you highly uncomfortable? Yes. Would I recommend it? Absolutely! In my opinion, the books that challenge the status quo and make me look at life through a different lens are the best kinds of books. Agree or disagree, but consider alternate viewpoints. Books like this aren’t necessarily there to change what you believe, so much as they are there to make you examine why you believe what you do and consider other perspectives. Are there situations in which there should be exceptions to some steadfast rules of morality? This book will make you think about that type of thing.

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Review: Dishonorable, by Natasha Knight

DishonorableDishonorable by Natasha Knight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading the blurb for ‘Dishonorable’, I was sure that this would be a dark, twisted and disturbing story. In other words, I thought that this would be just what I needed to satiate my thirst for depravity. Unfortunately, this book didn’t deliver on that front for me. It was the type of story that plays with the idea of darkness, without really ever crossing the line into truly “dark” territory. Don’t get me wrong, it was great. It just wasn’t what I thought I was going to get.

The heroine, Sofia Guardia, is essentially forced into marriage with Raphael Amado. Her grandfather wronged him in some terrible way and Raphael has demanded Sofia as repayment. Sounds twisted, right? Well…kind of.

While Raphael’s intentions were certainly bad, he wasn’t the monster that I had imagined – hoped for – in my depraved mind. You see, he was pretty much after her inheritance and not necessarily her. For many readers, I’m sure this will be a positive turn of events. However, it was pretty disappointing.

Of course, in time, Sofia and Raphael’s relationship grows more intimate. From the start, the chemistry between the two is pretty intense. Their initial interactions are heated, to say the least. However, they soon reach a middle ground. Eventually, flirtation becomes more.

Although I didn’t find the dark read that I was craving, I couldn’t deny the appeal of this story. Raphael was such a damaged hero and he grew on me. While Sofia might have been young, I found her to be admirable and mature for her age. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the idea of this couple.

The supporting characters were well-crafted and interesting. They breathed life into the story, while not stealing the spotlight. Raphael’s brother, proved to be especially endearing to me.

This book had a little of everything. It had romance, without being syrupy. It had plenty of danger and an aura of darkness, even if it never really turned “dark”. There was a feeling of impending doom that seemed to lurk in the background for most of the book, serving to keep readers on edge.

Overall, this was a great story. Despite the fact that it wasn’t the dark romance that I had anticipated, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I love an a$$hole that ends up being redeemable. The worse they are, the more I love them. Raphael certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard.

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