Review: Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part 3 (King, #7), by T. M. Frazier

Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part Three (King, #7)Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part Three by T.M. Frazier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As much as I have enjoyed the ‘King’ series, I have mixed feelings about this book. Preppy is a favorite character of mine, but I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed with this final book in his story. At the same time, I was glad that everything was tied up and that the series drew to a close. I think it was time. It is kind of bittersweet for me.

Like earlier books in the series, Preppy, Bear and King team up to take on those that would do them harm. This time around, Dre is a target. Picking up right where the last book left off, Dre is in a dire situation and has to fight for her life. That isn’t the last time that they’ll find themselves in a life or death struggle though.

Despite the action and danger that fills the pages, I was left feeling somewhat bored. Maybe I’ve just grown tired of the constant danger and implausibility of this series, but I just wasn’t surprised or even anxious while reading this one. It felt kind of flat for me.

That being said, it was nice to see these characters all “grown up” and settled down. Each of them managed to find their happy place, going on to have children and live out their HEAs. These rough and tumble, drug-dealing guys have become the picture of domestic bliss. It is kind of sweet, in a bizarre way.

Overall, I thought that this ended up being a pretty good book. It didn’t hold my attention like the earlier books in the series, but I was also glad to see everything wind down and come to a close. It was a great ride while it lasted, but it was time.

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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 Ever Happy (After, #4), by Anna Todd

After Ever Happy (After, #4)After Ever Happy by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth book in the ‘After’ series, ‘After Ever Happy’ is the first book in the series that had a different “feel” to it. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of dramatic shenanigans between Tessa and Hardin. However, this time around they aren’t the sole focus of the book. The result is a much more somber vibe.

After everything that went down at the end of the third book, Tessa is left markedly changed from the girl she was before. Those tragic events forced her to take a long, hard look at her relationship with Hardin. She finally faces the facts — they’re toxic.

Despite her love for Hardin, she knows that she needs to get away from him. Like the clichéd saying, “sometimes love isn’t enough”. Nothing could be more true for this dysfunctional couple at that point in time.

Even though Hardin comes to his senses and does his best to get Tessa to forgive him, it won’t come easy this time around. Tessa has made up her mind and it will take years for Hardin to prove himself to her. It was long overdue.

With Tessa and Hardin living separate lives for most of this book, the story definitely had a different feel to it than earlier books. As much as it was what the logical me said needed to happen, the illogical part of me couldn’t help but feel like this new direction wasn’t as captivating. After all, this series’ entire guilty pleasure appeal was based on the very same things that made this couple such a train wreck — fighting, angst, jealousy, breaking up and making up. With those elements largely missing from this book, I didn’t feel the same pull to the story.

That being said, I think that the author had used up all of the major angst-ridden story elements that readers could handle. Although the loss of this drama resulted in a slightly less engaging story for me, I don’t think I could’ve handled another book full of Tessa and Hardin’s back and forth fighting. This series has left me emotionally exhausted and I just don’t have it in me.

Luckily, Tessa and Hardin do get the HEA eventually. It was long overdue and I was glad to see it. Finally, they have started to mature and deal with some of the issues in their relationship. As much as I loved to hate this couple, I have to admit that if there was ever a couple that stuck it out, it was them. Talk about hanging in there for better or worse.

Overall, this was still a great read. I have been completely hooked on Tessa and Hardin’s story right from the start. It was one hell of an emotional rollercoaster ride. I feel content, but emotionally drained. I know that there are two remaining books in this series, but I’m stopping with this one for now. I don’t want to upset the balance. I’m feeling content with how this book ended and I’m not sure I could handle it right now if something disrupted that peace.

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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: After We Collided (After, #2), by Anna Todd

After We Collided (After, #2)After We Collided by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After finishing the first book in the ‘After’ series, I immediately jumped into this second book. There was no way that I was going to quit this series with the way things ended at the end of ‘After’–absolutely, no way! I had to know how things were going to play out for this disastrous couple. They are like crack! It might kill me. I know it’s really not healthy…but I just can’t seem to pull myself away from it!

If I thought that Hardin and Tessa were going to grow up and start treating each other better, I would’ve been sorely disappointed. These two are every bit as toxic as they were the first time around. The back and forth, break-up and make-up, abusive cycle continues, strong as ever. Of course, I’m such a glutton for punishment that I had to have a front row seat for all of it!

Picking up right where the first book ended, Tessa does her best to try and piece her life back together. She has been betrayed by everyone that she thought were her friends — most of all, Hardin. Unfortunately, the manipulative jackass succeeded in tying her to him when he tricked her into moving into an apartment with him and away from the dorms. This will make distancing herself from him more difficult than she had hoped.

While Tessa makes a weak attempt at moving on, Hardin sets out to prove that his feelings for her are genuine. Of course, every time he starts to make any progress in that regard he does something that sabotages all of his efforts. They truly are their own worst enemies.

For what it’s worth, Hardin does seem to show some actual emotions in this book. Mainly, his regret and heartache shines through. It’s hard to feel sorry for him though, since all of his pain is entirely the result of his own cruel actions. To make matters worse, every time he starts to gain a little “nice guy” stock, he goes and does something abhorrent again, reminding me of what a despicable asshat he is. Some big revelations about his past only further prove that he is not to be trusted. He really is deplorable…but I love to hate him!

I also found myself feeling a little more irritated with Tessa’s weakness this time around. Can you say “doormat”? How many times is this girl going to fall for his crap? She also played the same childish games over and over, using other guys to make Hardin jealous, only to play the victim when she got the reaction she was looking for all along.

I felt sorry for Tessa at first. By the end of this book, I was marveling at the fact that she hadn’t been weeded out as part of the process of natural selection. Surely, this girl is too stupid to live!

That being said, I still can’t pull myself away from this angsty, infuriating story. It is like watching a trashy talk show or soap opera. It’s unrealistic. The relationships are toxic. It probably kills off brain cells. However, I can’t get enough of it. It is my latest guilty pleasure. I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but I’m completely hooked on this series.

Like the first book, ‘After We Collided’ ends with a huge cliffhanger. Anna Todd certainly knows how to pull me back in. At this point, I think my relationship with this series is much like the relationship between Hardin and Tessa. I should probably cut all ties and get out while I can, but I just can’t seem to resist the pull. I’m on to the third book in this addictive, dysfunctional romance.

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Review: After (After, #1), by Anna Todd

After (After, #1)After by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you thought the ‘Fallen Crest High’ series was full of angst and teenage melodrama, you haven’t seen anything yet! ‘After’ is like many other teenage/college-aged romances, with all the “end of the world” dramatics…on steroids. I found this book to be equal parts irritating and addicting.

The “adult” part of me has to acknowledge the truth in much of the criticism I’ve seen regarding this story. Hardin and Tessa’s relationship was a train wreck. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes and thinking “hang it up already”. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy this story. It was a total guilty pleasure. Even though I was often annoyed, or even infuriated, by the goings on in this book, I couldn’t turn away. I really enjoyed this book, despite the responsible adult in me saying I should run far in the other direction.

The story centers on Theresa “Tessa” Young and her relationship with Hardin Scott. Tessa is portrayed as the quintessential sheltered prude. She is a sweet virgin, who dresses conservatively and arrives at her dorm with her over-bearing mother and high school sweetheart in-tow. Immediately, Tessa stands out and becomes a target for her roommate’s hard-partying group of friends.

More so than anyone else, Hardin seems to take extreme pleasure in tormenting Tessa. He is constantly toying with her and trying to humiliate her. He goes out of his way to put her down, but he’s always there. Despite all of his insults, he is constantly showing up in her daily life.

Little by little, Tessa and Hardin form a tenuous friendship. Eventually, it grows into more. There are plenty of obstacles along the way — none larger than Hardin’s broody, closed-off, and often volatile nature. Time and time again, Tessa forgives Hardin for his reprehensible behavior.

These two might take the prize for the number of times a single couple can go back and forth, breaking up and making up, in a single book. It did start to wear on my nerves, even as I couldn’t turn away. They were the perfect example of everything that only works in fiction. In real life, these two needed some serious counselling and intervention. They were toxic, to an extreme degree. No way would I ever want to be any where near a couple like this in real life. However, for a smutty romance, they definitely kept things interesting.

While I don’t want to give anything away, I will say that the ending of this book gutted me. I actually cried. I was so furious, I think I might have felt the betrayal as acutely as Tessa did!

So many times, I told myself that when this book was over that I wouldn’t be diving back in for another round of their melodramatic, childish antics. I was kidding myself. There was no way that I was going to skip the next book after that ending. It’s on to the next book for me.

As an aside, this book was apparently written as fan-fiction originally. It is supposed to be based on the lives of the boy band “One Direction”. Since I’m not very familiar with this group, I don’t have anything to offer in terms of how closely this book follows any of those band members. If it does closely follow one of the bandmate’s lives, God help the poor girls that are his prey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Breach (Breach, #1), by K. I. Lynn

Breach (Breach, #1)Breach by K.I. Lynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is definitely one of those times when I find myself in the minority. Most of my friends loved ‘Breach’ and I, sadly, did not. I was really looking forward to reading this book and I was sure that it would be right up my alley after hearing about all of the steamy sex scenes that filled the pages. I love some smutty goodness, after all!

Unfortunately, there was little else but sex to fill the pages. From start to finish, this book was filled with pretty much nothing but sex scenes. I’m no prude, but they needed to give it a rest.

I’m the type of reader that needs a connection between characters — preferably before they jump into bed, but I can even work with a relationship that develops afterward. However, at some point they need to actually develop a strong connection. I need to be drawn into the story and feel a bond with the characters and their plight. Otherwise, the reading experience is more like being a bystander while two random strangers have lots of meaningless sex. It’s just pointless.

While some of the sex scenes had potential to be very hot, the lack of a connection to the characters and the storyline left me with a lackluster feeling. I just didn’t care. There was no build-up or anticipation. I never felt a strong connection with the characters and didn’t get the feeling that they ever felt a strong connection with each other. As a result, I never felt any type of emotional connection to the story and the “steamy” sex scenes fell flat for me.

I kept thinking that if the author spent half as much time on fleshing out the characters and the storyline as she did on the sex scenes that this story could be really good. Instead, every time I turned a page Delilah and Nathan were having sex again. Sex was the outcome of every single interaction these two had. Jealous? Have sex. Threatened? Have sex. Nervous? You guessed it – sex! It got to the point where it was tedious for me.

In the end, this book ended up being just mediocre for me. Some of the sex scenes were pretty good, but they were so gratuitous that even the good scenes induced eye-rolling. I listened to the Audible edition and found myself fast-forwarding through many sex scenes toward the end because I just couldn’t take anymore. I get it – they have LOTS of sex. I just needed more of a story to go along with it. That never happened.

The first book in the series, ‘Breach’ ends with a cliffhanger. Usually, that would send me diving right into the second book to see what happened. Although I’m in the minority with this one, I feel absolutely no desire to do so. Even with the “shocking” ending, I just couldn’t bring myself to care. All I felt was relief that finally something had happened that might make these two stop having sex and come up for air. Since I never felt anything for the main characters, I couldn’t bring myself to care where the story will lead. I’m glad so many friends have loved this one. It just didn’t work for me.

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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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