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: Midnight Soul (Fantasyland, #5), by Kristen Ashley

Midnight Soul (Fantasyland, #5)Midnight Soul by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The fifth, and final (?), book in the ‘Fantasyland’ series, ‘Midnight Soul’ tells the story of Franka Drakkar and Noctorno “Noc” Hawthorne. Like earlier books in the series, this book features two characters that are from parallel worlds. There is plenty of magic and fantastical elements throughout. Yet, despite all of that, I found this to be just an “okay” read.

While Kristen Ashley worked hard to redeem Franka Drakkar in this book, for me the damage was done. I pitied her, but I never really grew to like her. As a result, I never really felt fully invested in her story.

Similarly, “Noc” was not a character that I ever really felt a strong connection with. After all, wasn’t he supposedly in love with Cora just a couple of books back? He was a nice guy, but to me, he came off as kind of desperate and lonely. Franka seemed to be the only option because all the “better” heroines had already been spoken for.

Even though I never felt bonded to these characters, I did appreciate having Franka’s history revealed. My heart went out to her and it explained a lot about her nasty behavior. She wasn’t a character that was easy to love, but at least I felt like I understood why she worked so hard to push people away.

This book also stood out from the others in that Franka goes to Noc’s world and not the other way around. I guess it is consistent in the sense that the woman always seems to follow the man to his world, but Noc was the first hero from this world. As a result, this book had a different “feel” to it.

While this book is supposed to be the last in the series, I wonder if that is “firm”. There were several teases and loose ends left over. Mainly, this book seemed to pave the way for another book centered on the other Circe and Dax.

If this is truly the last book, then I’m a little bummed. Theirs is a story that I’d love to read. If another book isn’t coming, it seems kind of cruel to tease us readers like that. Maybe we’ll get a novella or something at least.

Overall, this was a middle of the road type of story. I liked it, but nothing about it was particularly compelling. I listed to all of the audiobooks for this series back to back, so it could be that I was just on ‘Fantasyland’ overload by the time I got to ‘Midnight Soul’. Whatever the reason, this one ended up being my least favorite of all the books in the series. It was okay, but nothing that I couldn’t live without.

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Review: The Golden Dynasty (Fantasyland, #2), by Kristen Ashley

The Golden Dynasty (Fantasyland, #2)The Golden Dynasty by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of all the books in Kristen Ashley’s ‘Fantasyland’ series, ‘The Golden Dynasty’ was by far my favorite. I love dark, controversial romances that make you love them in spite of all reason. This was one of those stories. I spent as much time cringing as I did smiling, but I couldn’t have asked for more. I loved this one!

If you’ve read many of Ms. Ashley’s books, then it goes without saying that the hero is an over-the-top Alpha. Dax Lahn, King of Suh Tunak and the Horde of Korwahk, was pretty intimidating, even by her standards. In his world, the men are warriors that are prized for their physical dominance and ability to take what they want, including a wife. As they roam around raiding villages, they murder, rob and rape. They are barbarians.

Circe goes to sleep in her world, but wakes up in a parallel world. She has no idea of how she ended up there, unlike Finnie who agreed to trade places with her otherworldly twin in the first book. A quick assessment of the situation has Circe, rightfully, terrified. She has awoken to a real-life nightmare.

Along with several other women, Circe is caged. Provided only scraps of clothing, she is told that she has been selected to participate in a great Korwahk tradition. What tradition? The wife hunt.

The wife hunt is exactly what it sounds like. A group of women are rounded up and dressed in skimpy outfits. Then, after being displayed for the Horde warriors, they are released…and hunted. The men track down the women, overpowering any other warrior challengers, and “claim” their wife right then and there. To say the least, this is a horrific, traumatic and uncivilized tradition.

This is how Circe comes to be Dax’s wife. Understandably, she hated him. Their relationship developed gradually. Eventually, it turned into something beautiful. This was a story that appealed to baser urges.

As primitive as Dax could be, he revered his wife in his own way. This was something that Circe came to recognize and appreciate. Granted, she was far more forgiving that I could have ever imagined possible…but it is fiction and a romance, so you knew it had to happen to move the story along.

Even as the feminist side of me thinks that I should be appalled by this story, the honest part of me has to admit that I was completely addicted. Circe came to wield a great deal of power in her own way, capitalizing upon the great deal of admiration that her husband had for her. It certainly wasn’t a politically correct type of story, but it was beautiful in it’s own right.

I fell in love with Dax, right along with Circe. Here was this super-tough, barbarous bad-ass, who truly couldn’t understand why his behaviors were so off-putting to his new wife. Even as he was determined to dominate her, he was saddened to think of his actions crushing her spirit in any way. He wanted her to submit to him, while loving the fight and her spirit.

If you are looking for a romance with a hot-headed Alpha hero, then look no further. This book will not disappoint. It is by far, my favorite of the books in this series.

On the other hand, if you are sensitive to darker subject matter, like rape and physical violence, then you’ll want to steer clear of this one. It is full to the brim with controversial topics. All the more reason for me to love it, but I know that isn’t the case for many readers. Be forewarned.

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Review: Dirty Filthy Rich Men (Dirty Duet, #1), by Laurelin Paige

Dirty Filthy Rich Men (Dirty Duet, #1)Dirty Filthy Rich Men by Laurelin Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Laurelin Paige continues to blow me away with this series! I cannot get enough of this twisted, angsty love story. If I thought that ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ was addicting, I hadn’t seen anything yet!

The first full-length book in the ‘Dirty Duet’ series, ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Men’ was every bit as captivating as ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’. I love this story and the constant push and pull between the characters. This book kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen next.

Donovan, in particular, has my rapt attention. He is certainly one of the most contradictory heroes that I’ve ever encountered. He is aloof, possessive and completely confusing. Naturally, I cannot get enough! I am appalled by some of his harsh and inconsiderate behaviors. I want to hate him, but I can’t. Like Sabrina, I am under his spell.

Weston also comes to life in this book. While ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ predominantly featured Sabrina’s fantasy version of who Weston was, this book introduces readers to the real Weston. Despite some less than flattering behaviors, I have to say that I really liked Weston. After all, he never pretended to be something that he wasn’t. Underneath his manwhore ways, he ends up being a pretty decent guy.

Sabrina has certainly got her hands full with both of these dirty, filthy, rich men in this book. My head was spinning at times. Talk about an emotional roller coaster! I was glued to the pages of this book.

If you love angsty, emotionally charged love stories, then you don’t want to pass this one up. I am hooked on this story! There are plenty of surprising twists and turns along the way that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Not to mention, it is hot, hot, hot! Days later, I’m still thinking about these characters and where this story might lead. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book!

As an aside, ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ is included as the prologue in this book. So, if you haven’t already read it separately, you’ll get the backstory with this one also. However, if you’re not sure if you want to pay for the full-length book yet, it is offered for free and you can get a feel for the story.

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Review: Dirty Filthy Rich Boys (Dirty Duet, #0.5), by Laurelin Paige

Dirty Filthy Rich Boys (Dirty Duet,  #0.5)Dirty Filthy Rich Boys by Laurelin Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Laurelin Paige has definitely got my attention with this freebie prequel. I am completely and totally hooked on this twisted story. No doubt about it, I will be jumping right into the full-length book immediately!

‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ tells the story of Sabrina Lind, Weston King and Donovan Kincaid, all students at Harvard. Unlike Weston and Donovan, Sabrina does not come from a wealthy family. She is attending on a scholarship and in awe of the extreme wealth of the students that surround her. No one has her attention more than the extremely handsome and rich playboy, Weston King.

Something about Weston caught her eye the first time that he waltzed into class late like he owned the world. Although she hasn’t worked up the courage to approach him, she attends every party at the house that he shares with some of his friends. She watches from the shadows as he chooses a different girl every night to share his bed, never even noticing her.

Sabrina has her mind set on Weston, even though she realizes that one night with him is all she’d get. He never does repeats. Nonetheless, she wants him.

Then one night, Weston’s best friend and roommate, Donovan, comes to her rescue. Suddenly, she is feeling conflicted. Donovan is older, and the Teacher’s Assistant for her Business Ethics class. His hot and cold behavior only serves to make matters more confusing. Suddenly, Weston is not the only guy that Sabrina is fixated on.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that this was one hot little prequel. Holy hell! I was completely sucked into this story. This story was addicting and sexy. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Oh…and that ending! I am definitely diving right into the full-length book immediately! I am hooked!

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Review: Damnable Grace (Hades Hangmen, #5), by Tillie Cole

Damnable Grace (Hades Hangmen, #5)Damnable Grace by Tillie Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like all of the ‘Hades Hangmen’ books, ‘Damnable Grace’ is one that will rip your heart out. This series definitely tackles some offensive and upsetting content. It is not a series that will appeal to many readers because of the tough subject matter.

If you’re like me, and love dark books that push your limits and make you cringe, then ‘Damnable Grace’ is a great one. The fifth book in the series, it centers on Phebe and AK. If you’ve followed this series, you’ll remember AK as the “leader” of the psycho trio. You might also remember Phebe as the beautiful mistress of the “false” prophet who was cast aside for his new, younger mistress.

Phebe had been trained from a very young age to lure men into the cult with sex. She was trained to be a “Sacred Sister”, one of the girls sent out by the cult to recruit, or “fish”, for new male members. She was prized for her sexual allure and was considered to be the best of all the girls. She is used to men using her for their sexual pleasure and has never been valued for anything else. A devout believer, she has only recently begun to question the cult teachings.

When Phebe is sold by Rider’s brother, the “false prophet”, to a leader in the Aryan Brotherhood, Meister, she is in for more suffering than she could have imagined. Meister has been obsessed with Phebe from the first time that he saw her and his cruelty knows no bounds. At his hands, Phebe will endure unthinkable acts and will be left scarred, both physically and emotionally.

AK has not forgotten the beautiful woman that he left behind after the Hangmen raided the cult commune. When he and a few of his brothers are sent in to rescue Phebe from the Aryan Brotherhood’s compound, it was worse than anything that he could have imagined. The heinous abuse taking place at that compound were unthinkable. It was all he could do to maintain composure until he could get Phebe out of there.

In the weeks that followed, both Phebe and AK must come to terms with their pasts. Both have survived cruelty and tragedy. Each of them lives with loss and guilt. These two had a long road ahead of them, but they helped one another heal and face their pasts. Their story was tragic and messy, but beautiful.

It had been quite a while since I’d submersed myself in the world of the Hades Hangmen. So, I was worried that I wouldn’t remember all of the relevant details from the previous books. However, my concerns were completely unwarranted. Ms. Cole provided plenty of reminders throughout to keep me abreast of what was going on and what had passed.

While every Hades Hangmen book has made me cringe at times, none did so more than this one. It was absolutely brutal at times. Child abuse, rape, extreme sexual violence, murder…there was no shortage of depravity in this book.

Of all of the books in this series, I have to say that this one is my least favorite to this point. I enjoyed AK and Phebe’s story, but I wasn’t completely consumed with it like I have been with other books in this series. Even so, it was still a great book.

If you enjoy, dark and gritty stories, I highly recommend this series. Each of these characters has carved out a piece of my heart. They aren’t easy books to read, but they are well worth it.

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Review: Desperation Road, by Michael Farris Smith

Desperation RoadDesperation Road by Michael Farris Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up ‘Desperation Road’ after I kept seeing it pop up on my feed with several 5-star ratings. I didn’t read any of the reviews before I went into this book, which was probably a good thing because I was able to experience everything fresh, without any idea of what was going to transpire. It ended up being quite a big surprise for me, but not in the way that you’d probably expect.

You see, McComb, Mississippi is my hometown…and it is the setting of this story. My family has a very long history in this small southern town. In fact, my grandmother’s uncle – my great, great uncle – was McComb’s Chief of Police in the 1920’s. He is one of 3 officers that have been killed in the line of duty in the history of McComb’s police force. He was gunned down when serving a warrant for forged checks. His murderer escaped and an international manhunt ensued, with the murderer being caught in Canada and eventually hung in Magnolia.

Going into this story, I had absolutely no idea of where the story was set and it caught me off guard. While other readers were engrossed in the story, I found myself lost to a strong case of nostalgia. I haven’t been back in years, since I was a young teen, but as the author described Delaware Avenue and the angular arches of Centenary United Methodist Church, it felt like I was right back there again. I could so easily picture the surrounding towns, like Magnolia, and the businesses like the Fernwood Truck Stop that the author described. He really did a fantastic job of accurately portraying the geography and physical lay of the land.

That being said, because I spent so much time reminiscing, I did find myself missing details of the story more than a few times. I was listening to the Audible version and had to “rewind” this story several times to reorient myself. For most listeners, this probably won’t be a problem. It is always a little trickier to stay abreast of what’s going on when listening to a story that bounces between multiple characters, but this one was more difficult for me because I kept getting lost in my own memories.

The story itself was suspenseful and utterly captivating. Alongside the vivid descriptions of the town and surrounding areas, a full cast of characters makes this story stand out. Everyone in this book has a story to tell. The secrets, betrayals and motivations are many.

The two characters that are the central focus of this story are on separate paths, not intersecting until you are well into the story. As the story unfolds, past and present collide. Will they be offered the chance to redeem themselves?

Russell Gaines has just been released from prison, after serving time for killing a young man. He returns to his hometown, where the brothers of his victim have been awaiting his release – and their revenge – for the duration of his imprisonment. As with other characters, the details of his past are revealed little by little.

Maben is wandering alongside the Interstate when we first meet her. Every possession she owns is carried in the trash bag thrown over her shoulder. Along with her young daughter, Annalee, she trudges on toward the town she hasn’t been to in years. She is a much-changed version of the girl she was when she left her hometown. Addiction and loss have left their mark on her. In an act of desperation, she jeopardizes the only good thing that she has left in her life.

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic and engaging read. I will probably go back to it at some point to catch the details that I suspect that I’ve missed while I was reminiscing. Even so, it was a great story that kept me guessing right to the very end. This author sucked me right in to the plight of these characters. It is my first book by Michael Farris Smith, but will not be my last.

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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: 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: 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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